Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

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What Needs to Arise from the Ashes of the Emerging Church

March 4, 2014

RipIn 2006, I wrote six articles on why I was not a part of the Emerging Church. Here is the final one, and all you have to do is read backward to find the rest. At that time, I predicted that the Emerging Church movement would fall apart and cease to exist in the years to come. I didn’t say that out of animosity or a desire to curse them. Unfortunately, the Emerging church movement was decontructionist in nature, and thus subject to the same inertia of all deconstructionist movements: They fall down with their own tendency to self-criticize.

In other words, once you start throwing stones as a group, you inevitably start throwing stones at each other. Decontructionist movements always devolve into bickering.

A few years ago Dan Kimball–who wrote the book “The Emerging Church“– wrote an article where he admitted the movement had splintered and was no longer a viable entity. Others such as Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones (a.k.a The Tall Skinny Kiwi) also have lamented and written about the fragmentation of the movement.

But all three men have one thing in common: They still believe in the principles of the Emerging Church even if they no longer believe the movement is viable. The problem is, every one of them recognizes a significantly different set of principles that embody their view of the Emerging church. Perhaps this is another reason it has come to an end.

But since I was a bellringer for this movement’s demise, perhaps it is time to admit some of the things I learned from reading, meditating and participating with some of the leaders of this movement. This is not an homage to something I didn’t believe in–I’m not Cassius Brutus or his kin–but rather this springs from my desire to acknowledge the good things the Emerging church was trying to do.

1. The Evangelical Church Has Become Shallow: As with any retrospective, my analysis of all things related to churches will be painting with a broad brush. Not all evangelical churches are shallow. But there is a pattern which goes back over twenty years in prominent Evangelical churches of emphasizing style over content. Let me just give a few examples:

  • Dominance of bass boosters, fog machines, expensive lighting systems, electronic keypads etc. in large megachurches.
  • Pastors buying the sermon series of other preachers instead of digging into the Word on their own (thank you Rick Warren for that egregious error).
  • Christian bestsellers are all penned by superstar pastors since these pastors can guarantee that their congregations will buy the first 50,000 copies. Therefore, most Christian books are ghost-written and designed for marketing instead of teaching..
  • Worship services are designed to sound like concerts instead of providing a place for the congregation to have communion with the Holy Spirit.
  • Tendency to mirror conservative political buzz instead of being a prophetic voice.

The Emerging Church desired to have more intimate gatherings of people instead of the consumerist approach we buy into. In this, they are correct. As I wrote in this series on the Walmartization of the church, this trend will not stop as long as people desire little commitment to a local church. I am sorry the Emerging Church was not able to make more of an impact on these practices.

2. Social Justice: If you look back ten years to the messages preached from Evangelical pulpits, you didn’t hear much talk about climate change, recycling, feeding the poor, sex trafficking, backyard gardens, gender equity, GMO proliferation etc. The Emerging Church dedicated themselves to social justice and their voices convinced many in the Evangelical world that this was true and undefiled religion. Now you can hear them being preached everywhere. I am concerned that as the Emerging Church loses its soapbox, we may forget these critical emphases.

3. Narrative Theology has one great result: Narrative preaching seeks to understand where each book of the Bible can be found in the larger  story of God. That is to say, all Scripture was penned as a partnership between God, the writer and the culture to whom he was writing. Evangelical preachers have sought to understand what God was saying in each passage, keeping in mind the human elements of the writers while not really paying much credence to their personality. For instance, we recognize the difference between the Gospel written by Doctor Luke and the one that comes from the mouth of the peasant John. Their language is different as is their focus. But that’s as far as we go. We rarely, if ever, parse the cultures to whom books were written. This is a serious error and I thank the Emerging church and their emphasis on reading the original culture as well as reading the original language. It helps to know that culture’s views on poverty, slavery, sex, women, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, church leadership etc. before we finish up our study. Evangelicals are too inclined to only look what God might be saying and not enough to the ideas of the author and the contextual culture. I suspect that as the Emerging Church disappears, we may go back to only one side of the Scriptural partnership. Hopefully writers like Tom Wright and Roger Olson can help us stay on a good interpretive track.

4. People Are Leaving Church Because We Are too Institutional: This past year, well-known writers such as Rachel Held Evans and Donald Miller have admitted they rarely go to church. CNN ran a series of articles three months ago suggesting that children who grew up in Evangelical churches are leaving those same churches when they hit their twenties. Everyone has proposed a different reason for this, but I think the Emerging Church identified the reason better than all the rest: The Millennial Generation doesn’t perceive real community in their home church and this is what they yearn for more than anything else.

Recently, our church decided we need to buy a building so our current ministries don’t die off. We are meeting in 7 different locations around the city doing the work we are called to do. As I met with various members of the church to discuss a move, I asked them one question: What do you value about our church? The answer was consistent and overwhelming: People join our church because of its sense of genuine community. We actually know each other. We are involved in each other’s lives. The biggest fear that people expressed about owning a building is that we would get too big and lose that sense of belonging to one another. This response has made our leadership team sit up and ask tough questions. Primarily, we want to know if we can do this and stay close to each other. If at any point we decide that is not possible, we will give up trying to have a building.

Today’s Evangelical church  must come to grips with the movement of young people away from the “Show” and the “Celebrity Pastor”. If we are not intimate, genuine, relational and humble, our churches will die just as surely as the Emerging church.

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Dealing with Grief When You Still Have to Work

February 27, 2014

griefI highly recommend this excellent article by Paolina Milana. Very few people can get enough time off from work when they’re dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. This article has some practical and accurate advice. But one thing she says is something I see often when counseling people with recent grief.

Milana remarks,

“The urge to change may hit hard. You always wanted to study gorillas in Rwanda—should you quit your job and go? You never imagined you’d be working 24/7 as cook, maid, babysitter, home improvement maven, and financial manager, without even a dime to show for it—should you divorce your spouse and abandon your kids? Is it too late to run away and join the circus? Know that all of these thoughts are normal. Know, too, that experts strongly suggest not making any major life changes during periods of grief.”

My experience is that during seasons of grief we believe it is time to change everything. This helps to acknowledge that nothing will ever be the same now that this person is gone; but it causes way more problems in the long run. The best idea is to change some minor things and leave one year before any major life changes. Read the entire article for some other great advice.

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10 Days of Teaching: Ten Most Important Things We need to know in 2013

December 20, 2013

During the final ten days of this year, I want to emphasize ten ideas that I believe will add to your emotional and spiritual well-being. Some of these have to do with practical matters (such as body image, working with culture and dreaming) and others of a more sublime nature (such as the Resentment Well, Grace and Forgiveness, and Faith’s expressions). 

Come with me as I empty out some of my more private thoughts from the journals of 2013. journal

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The Person You Really Need

November 19, 2013

I don’t like this particular guy. His voice grates on my nerves and the things he talks about are annoying. I have called him “fake” and “plastic” to people who know me well enough to not take everything I say too seriously. This guy rarely listens to anything I say, and he perpetually lets me know all his life accomplishments. He pretends to always be successful, even when other people know it’s not true.

In recent months, he has said some nasty things about me to other people. These people are friends of mine and told him he was wrong to his face. Because they are my friends, they haven’t told me what he said, only that he’s been saying things to them and other people.

I wish he would go away. Why do I have to have him in my life?

Last night, I was thinking about a gathering I was invited to, a party I know he has also been invited to. I don’t doubt he will be there, which is why I was considering not going. I am still considering that. But last night, I read something which has made it harder to keep feeling the same way about this guy.

I was reading some quotes from The Lord of the Rings and one of them slew me with its truth and intensity. (Note: If you don’t know the story, let’s just say it’s an epic book about people on a journey to get rid of the cause of so much grief). In a scene in the underground mines of Moria, the wizard Gandalf is speaking to one of the young hobbits.Gandalf-Gollum-Wide-560x282 This young man is complaining about the wispy phantom who is dogging their steps through the mine: Gollum. To everyone’s minds, Gollum is the epitome of all things rotten in the world. Yet he will not leave them alone. Pippin complains to Gandalf that Bilbo should have killed Gollum when he had the chance. Gandalf’s answer is remarkable:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.

Gandalf knows one thing about all men, even Gollum: He has some part to play in the events of the future. Even though some of those events may be evil, his part is important. If you know the end of the story, if it were not for Gollum, Frodo could never have cast the ring into the fire. His heart could no longer bear to part with his “treasure” and he pulled it back to himself with fierceness and stubborn will. As Gollum bit off his finger and ultimately fell into the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo and the rest of the world was released from the ring’s wretched power.

Without Gollum, Frodo’s life would have been easier; and he would have become a slave to that ease. The ring would have become his jailer and his death.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul says “Therefore, I was given a thorn in the Flesh, a messenger of Satan…three times I plead with the Lord to take him away. Then the Lord said “My grace is sufficient for you.” Many people believe that Paul is referring to a physical ailment. But the word “messenger” – the same word used for Angel in the Bible – always refers to a personal being, not an illness or injury. Paul is asking God to take away a person who is causing great pain in his life. But God has no intention of doing that. We know now that Paul had several people who followed him around talking him down and stirring up trouble for him. Maybe this is who he asked God about.

But God said “No way, Paul. This guy is yours to deal with, and I will allow it.”

Why? Often in life, we cannot become the person we were always meant to be unless there is a foil, a person we consider a villain and a rotten person. I am not saying we should welcome every horrible person into our lives, or live without boundaries. But, perhaps it is best to see that some of these people we can’t stand are actually there for a reason. And maybe we won’t find the “best” that God has for us unless we accept these people have to be there.

After hearing Gandalf and the deep truth of Paul, I thought about this guy I am having trouble accepting. My meditation did not instantly make him more palatable to my taste. I still don’t like him. But I can now embrace his place in my life. He may turn out to be one of those people who shape me in ways my friends cannot.

Perhaps.

Therefore, I will stop asking for God to take him away. I am still wary of him and I don’t have to like him. Now I am asking God to use him in my life.

Let’s see what happens.

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Five Plus Two (plus one) Equals 15,000

October 24, 2013

worship_kneelingI sat in the front row of my church recently and thought: “Finally, we broke through“. We failed to do this for the few weeks previous. One Sunday, we even felt completely submerged in despair, desperation and grim feelings. Though not everyone felt that way, it was a spiritual attack and we were not handling it well.

One primary reason for this is that people have not understood the power of worship. Worship is not a noun. I heard someone say recently to a friend who was discouraged: “We need to get some worship in you guy“. Another friend recently posted about a pastor who said “Let’s get our worship on.” These comments thrust worship into noun-status, relegating worship into a “thing” that we “receive”.

This is so far from accurate, we should cringe when we hear it.

Worship is a verb. It is an activity we perform with three distinct goals (we don’t always employ each goal, but they are all legitimate):

1. To pull away from the rat race of this world and re-connect with God whom we may have neglected or not taken time to connect with

2. To teach our souls that God is the center of the universe and deserving of praise and adoration, and not we ourselves.

3. To deny the soul-sucking beliefs and emotions that are inspired by selfish people and evil designs in this world. When we worship, we focus on God, his power and Truth and pull away from the negative influences of people and unclean spirits.

When we see worship as a noun, we passively receive some benefit from music, fellowship, church service structure or architecture. Though music can sometimes change our mood, it fails to change or address the deeper issues of the mind, emotions, memories and imagination. Only God can work with us on that level.

So, with those concepts in mind, let me go back to the worship service I reference at the top of this article. The week before, I had challenged the church to come together to do warfare against false beliefs and negative emotions by preparing for worship early and by coming together as a group to honor God whole-heartedly. For weeks, we had not done this and therefore, we were buried in the avalanche of life’s troubles and worries. That morning, instead of being buried, we broke through with a cry of relief and joy. Most people who were privileged to be there, and who shared in the experience, say it was one of the most dramatic times they had spent with God in a long while.

I remember experiencing the opposite on many occasions. I have sat in church services where it appeared to me (and I may have been wrong about this) that very few people were attempting to have a living, breathing relationship with God during their offering of worship. They were going through the motions. This brought to mind a dream I had 25 years ago. Let me share the dream then go on to a short teaching.

In the dream, another man and I were walking into a small country church. There were dozens of people there and the pianist was playing a well-known worship hymn. For some reason, no one could see my friend and I. We just observed what was happening among the people. I noticed that everyone’s mouths were moving, but I could only hear musical words coming from a few of them. That’s when I saw  a man standing beside my friend and I.

“Would you like to know what you’re seeing” he asked me.

“I don’t understand” I said. “Why can’t I hear most of them?”

He explained. “The ones you can hear mean what they are saying. The rest are just singing a well-known song. You are hearing what God is hearing. He can’t hear those who don’t mean what they’re singing.”

That’s when I woke up in a sweat. Through this dream, I came to realize that there is great truth in John 4:24, 25: “God is spirit; those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in Truth. God is seeking people such as this to worship Him.” God seeks out worshipers. This is not because God is vain, but because He knows that in worship, we connect deeply to him. In our worship, we throw down our self-absorbed ways and acknowledge our creator, bless his goodness, see his beauty and love and receive his power. It is in worship that we fully partner with God so that God is released in us to change us and re-structure all the damaged parts of our minds and hearts.

Let me dwell for a moment on this concept of partnership. Those times I have sat in the service where no one seems to be meaning what they’re singing, where no one is really connecting with God – I often get upset and start praying for them. I have often prayed that God would “break through and pour out His Presence.”

But recently, I realized God cannot just do this unless people are in agreement with it. If few people in a room want the presence of God to be seen, God cannot manifest his presence as He would want. But if enough people in the room (I can’t give  you a percentage, but it doesn’t have to be the majority) desire to have God show up and change our lives, then we experience that organic partnership that brings about miracles.

Remember the time Jesus was teaching the crowds and they all realized they were hungry. It would have taken hours – maybe days – for everyone to go home and have a meal. Jesus’ teaching was important, but they were hungry. So he tells the disciples to find something for the crowds to eat.

Matthew and Luke tell us there were 5,000 men at this meeting. It is reasonable to assume there were as many women and children there, so it is also reasonable to say that the crowd numbered somewhere around 15,000. They wanted more of Jesus and he wanted to feed them. There are a lot of deeper truths here, but I don’t have time to graze through them. Feel free to think more about this yourself.

A young boy came forward with his lunch: Five small barley loaves and two small fish. The word “small” is repeated in the Greek language. We are to see his offering as a small thing by human standards. But in offering his meal, he is offering to God a partnership with huge implications. Here is the deeper truth: It is not the size of the thing we are bringing to the partnership that is important: It is the attitude of wanting God to take what is ours and use it to God’s designs that changes our world.

The heart of worship is an attitude of surrender. It is not wise to come into God’s presence and bring nothing. Surrendering attitudes, decisions, relationships, plans, goals, desires, habits, money, sex, power, indifference, fears, loneliness – whatever we give to God freely with a full heart becomes the basis for a miracle.

Try this today. Get alone and put on some spiritual music that causes you to focus on God. Sing along with it if you like. But focus on inviting God to meet with you. Then, when you begin to experience his presence on the inside, surrender anything that wants to take your focus away from worship. Ask God to partner in this thing with you. Ask God how he wants you to act differently. Like the boy who had to give up the meal and then saw 15,000 people fed to overflowing, God will show you what comes next.

Recently, in worship, I surrendered my anger toward a colleague who had treated me poorly (by my estimation). I feel I am right in this situation, but once I surrendered my right to be angry, God showed me a perspective on his heart. My heart was filled with compassion for him, and God showed me how to bless him. Which I was able to do the next week. We have now renewed our friendship because of this. This is the kind of miracle I embrace. It changes our lives.

Worship is a verb, an action we perform so we can partner with the Living God to change this world.

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The Danger of Dishonor

September 23, 2013

Stuart and I prayed for a half hour about his wife. She was suffering  through a series of painful attacks, bizarre maladies that seemed unrelated to each other. Her doctors could not find the cause. She had migraine headaches, chest pain, nausea, joint irritation, ear infection, low fevers, foot pain, tremors and panic attacks.

During the previous six months, she had seen a gynecologist, neurologist, arthritic specialist, gastroenterologist, pain specialist, physiotherapist and immunologist, and was now being sent to both a psychologist and psychiatrist. Having failed to find any physical cause which would tie in all of these symptoms, the doctors decided they needed to check if her emotional state caused all of these problems. This referral to the psychiatrist seemed to mock her pain, and she gave up trying to fight it all.

As I was praying, I had a thought that this may not have a physical root cause. I sensed an enemy of the soul, an unclean spirit, was attacking her. Though I have not seen this happen often, I know it does occur. But because this is not a common reason for people being ill, I kept quiet about it. I continued asking the Holy Spirit for more insight into this, and as I did, another thought went through my mind. I acted on it.

“Stuart, do you have a problem with pornography?”

“Sometimes. I don’t like to admit it, but I view porn every couple of weeks.”

“Just porn? Have you ever acted on your fantasies with other women?”

He hesitated and looked down. This, coupled with his worried expression, lent me courage to press further.

“What have you done, Stu?” He then began telling me about a web site he had joined several months earlier which allowed married people to find sexual partners with other married people. After telling me about a number of women he had talked to, he assured me he had never met any of them in person. He was quite adamant that he did this because of curiosity, not because he wanted an affair. I had heard variations of his story from a lot of men and women.

I knew my next question was most critical. His answer may hold the key to his wife’s illness. “Stu, did you talk about your wife with any of the women?” He blanched openly at my question.

“A lot of the women wanted to know why I was on the web site. It bothered me that they asked what was so wrong with my marriage that would lead me to seek out an affair. So I told them some stories. I have to admit Mike that many of the things I said weren’t true. I lied to a few women.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them all that my wife didn’t want sex any more, that she was only interested in the kids and her business. Which, of course, is not true at all.”

What I told him next is the basis of this article. Stuart had dishonored his wife. To honor someone means to show respect to them, to show how they are important and special in our lives and in general. Therefore, to dishonor a person means to disrespect them, lie about them or act like they are unimportant. I explained to Stuart how his dishonor had started with his porn usage. By looking at hundreds of women in various sexual poses and situations, he had downgraded his wife to lesser status. This made it so much easier for him to lie to other women and tell them how unimportant his wife was to him. I explained this was only the beginning of his problems.

After a while, he stopped me and asked “So, what you’re saying is that my wife’s illnesses are God’s judgment on her for the way I’ve acted?”

“Stu, that’s not it at all. God forgave all your sins on the cross. He has washed you clean by the blood of Jesus. You are not guilty in God’s eyes. The Bible says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No, it is not God who is bringing these illnesses upon your wife. God himself does not bring disaster and illness upon us. God is love and would never harm us. But there is a class of beings in this universe whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy our lives (John 10:10). Collectively, we call these beings “Satan”, but they really are a host of opportunistic spirits looking to attack and destroy our lives. However, they are not allowed to attack us unless they have permission.”

“How do they get permission?”

“If people commit certain sins over a period of time, then the enemy is allowed to attack in those areas.” I explained to Stuart some of the verses from the Bible which show this, and then came back to my explanation of events.

“Stuart, your relationship with your wife is a covenant relationship. In spiritual terms, the covenant is the deepest promise you can make to a person. You may not know it, but to do harm to that covenant is to do harm to yourself and to her. Satan’s name means “accuser”. He loves to act as the Prosecuting attorney before God, claiming that we are guilty of crimes and need to be punished. When those crimes are against God, he will not allow us to be attacked. But when the crimes involve others, especially when we hurt those closest to us, we incur the wrath of the Accuser. You have dishonored your wife. There are few ways you could have acted worse than this.”

Here is the end of his story: He repented before God for his actions, quit the website and stopped viewing porn (this last part took a longer time to correct, but that’s another blog entry). He then anointed his wife with oil and we prayed for her.

From that day, her symptoms stopped and have not recurred.

Often, we dishonor our spouses a lot more than we realize. In order to see what this does, let’s look at 9 categories of dishonor.

  1. Gossip: When we break a confidence of a friend or loved one, we are dishonoring the relationship we have with them. I probably have done this more than I want to admit. Often, I make this mistake when complaining to a friend about people closest to me. This can even be done with a counselor, and if the counselor is unwise to allow it to go on too long, gossip can devolve into slander. This is what Stuart did to his wife. 2 Timothy 3:3 puts gossipers with some other nasty offenders.
  2. Broken Promises and Oaths: Once again, most people do not know how important an oath is in the Spirit realm. God tells us that broken oaths will have serious consequences (James 5:12). Many times in the Bible we are told not to break our vows or judgment will come. The enemy loves to prowl around looking for those who have broken their promises and oaths. Obviously, adultery is the classic example of this. But we can also make promises on many other levels, and each broken oath brings destruction on our heads.
  3. Violence and Abusive Language: Malachi tells us that God hates divorce. But it also tells us that he hates when a man covers his wife with violence as if it were a garment. Violence is a severe break of the covenant relationship. And violent words can also sever that covenant. When the enemy sees these things, he initiates a spiraling pattern of violence, fear and anguish. Few actions dishonor a person more than taking power away from them through violence or violent words.
  4. Threats: Threats can appear non-violent and still cause harm. If someone threatens to leave, to cut off intimacy, to get even, to take something away, then all of these dishonor the marriage vow. Most marriage vows contain the word “honor,” which means to count someone as important. If you deem a person valuable, you will not threaten them.
  5. Resentment: John Bevere calls resentment “the bait of satan”. Our enemy loves to dangle this in front of our noses. Resentment is not unforgiveness or hatred. It occurs when we decide “I will never let go of this hurt you have caused me.” More marriages are dishonored when partners will not release resentment than from any other cause. It is that common.. Resentment often becomes bitterness, which we are told in Hebrews 12 can regress into “a root of bitterness which grows up to defile many“.
  6. Curses: When we wish harm or ill on another person, we are cursing them. The stronger we wish these things, the more power the enemy has to bring them about. Unfortunately, many spouses say foolish things like “I wish you would die” or “I hope you get everything coming to you” or “I am done with you” never once knowing there is an enemy who views these as open invitations to wreak havoc in a household. The bible is clear that curses and blessings work (Luke 6:28, James 3:9).
  7. Reveling in hurt: There is a more passive way we can dishonor our spouse. When they fail or are wounded, if instead of bringing comfort and love we hold onto a smug attitude of “I told you so” or “You had that coming”, this reveling can give room to the enemy to drive a wedge between spouses.
  8. Neglect: Instead of actively hurting our spouse or betraying them, we neglect our duties to love, honor and cherish them. By withholding support, love, information, help, partnership, affection, or any number of other essentials, we leave them to their own devices and act as if they are meaningless to us. This neglect of our covenant responsibility offers the enemy an open invitation to attack.
  9. Humiliation: People rationalize their active criticism of their spouse in public. They think it helps to push them to make changes. But we often take it way too far. When we actively humiliate our spouse, it is the most public way we can use to say “You are not special to me.” When we do this, not only do people see us as weak and our marriage as troubled, the enemy sees it as dishonor and uses that springboard to cause trouble.

I believe there are four keys to overcoming these pieces of dishonor.

  1. Repent. This means more than just saying you’re sorry to God. It means to acknowledge and understand what you’re doing wrong and choose actions that counter-act it. Breaking off bad relationships, apologizing for hurts, cutting off access to things or people that make it worse – all of these are repentant actions.
  2. Change: Get to the roots of why you do what you do. A counselor or coach can help with this.
  3. Accountability: Admit to others what you have done and ask them to watch for it from you and call you on it if you persist in doing it.
  4. Pray for Blessing. The Bible tells us we are to bless others and not curse them. If we have cursed our spouse through dishonor, dedicate the future to blessing them through word, deed and prayer.
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Solving Procrastination Today (Not Tomorrow)

May 5, 2013

ProcrastinationI am distractible, impulsive, mildly lazy, and…..something else (I had it in my mind, but I thought about something I wanted to say later and then forgot it). Did I say distractible?

These qualities/handicaps are a perfect storm when it comes to procrastination. Not only do I secretly want to postpone everything until after I finish playing Scrabble online, I also can’t remember what it was I felt so passionate about five minutes before. In addition, in the middle of doing one thing, I get ideas about a half dozen  delicious activities while trying to avoid putting off something that is less delectable.

Do you see my problem? Do you relate to my problem? Of course you do. David Glenn, writing about surveys among post-graduate students (yes, those guys and gals who have actually proven they know how to work without watching re-runs of Lost as the hours tick closer to deadlines), says that 60% of these good students practice regular procrastination. In addition, the majority experience some level of self-loathing because of it.

This has got to stop. In my meanderings through 40 years of being in the work-force, I have actually learned to stay on task and complete necessary assignments. Years ago, I wallowed in self-loathing a lot, but now I rarely ever do it. I actually have learned how not to procrastinate – even with my personal proclivities in that direction.

Here’s how I do it. You may find better ways to handle yours, but at least you can start with mine. With procrastinators, a starting place is always a helpful place.

Six Ways to Avoid Procrastination

1. Do things as soon as you think about them. This one idea changed everything for me. I have so many things whiz through my mind like Space Invaders. I used to get annoyed at how whimsy my brain was – until I learned some of the ‘shooting star’ thoughts were actually things I had been avoiding. For instance: I was typing this article and realized (for the fiftieth time) that my screen is getting pretty gross with dust and fingerprints. I took that moment of personal disgust to propel myself out of the chair to find the cleaner and clean it off. Then, since I had the cleaner, I did the same thing to my tablet and smart phone. I had been putting off cleaning all three. This is what can happen if you leverage your distractedness and use it to approach a task you’ve been avoiding.

Yesterday in the grocery store, I saw some place-mats that looked perfect for the dining room table. In examining their price, I saw the word “Mat” and thought of a friend named Matt. I was supposed to call him and set up a lunch. So on the spot in the grocery store, I called. If I had left it until I was finished shopping, 3200 ideas would have already traveled through my mind, rubbing Matt off the face of this earth.

2. Understand why we don’t want to do certain things. Anything you have been consistently putting off is usually something you don’t want to do in the first place. The next time you put it off, ask yourself why you don’t want to do this. Then imagine what is the worst thing that could happen if you finish the task. Usually, it is our vague sense of impending problems that get in the way of doing work; and this procrastination actually cause more problems.

I normally don’t like talking on the phone. I like to see a person’s face and read their body language so I can catch the bigger picture. So I often procrastinate making phone calls. Recently, I asked myself what would be the worst thing that could happen if I did mis-read what they were saying. When that didn’t feel too onerous, I found it was easier to make the call.

3. Do things that have to be done a little at a time. At least half of the jobs I put off until later are huge. I get easily daunted by things that are going to take several hours to complete. This includes many household chores, some writing assignments and most errands that involve driving downtown.

But in particular, getting ready for major meetings often takes at least two hours. Unfortunately, setting aside strategy thinking causes me to miss some prime preparation thoughts; ideas that would have aided me if I had done them sooner. To prevent my lazy mind from taking over, I break the large tasks down into stages. Then I complete as much of the task as I can in a short period of time. The accomplishment of part of the goal makes it easier at a later point to come back to it.

This winter, I was building a retaining wall in the back yard for a new garden. It was so big in my mind that I literally put it off for a year. To overcome this, I considered the steps I would have to take to get it done. There were several dozen. But once I started to check off the completed items, I realized I was more than half done in so much less time than I feared.

4. Do unpleasant tasks at the same time every day. If there are items that have to be done regularly, get into a habit of doing them: a) early in the day b) at the same time every day. This is a type of behavioral conditioning and it works. Anything we do at the same time every day gets put into a mental place that brings a sense of satisfaction. There is even a payoff reward our brain gives us when we complete something that is done every day.

5. Do a bunch of tasks you’ve been putting off one right after another. The idea here is to get on a roll and when you get that sense of accomplishment, jump immediately into another one of your tasks that has lurked like a mocking sailor. For me, it has to do with phone calls again. Once I break the cell phone barrier and make the call, I ask myself what other calls need to be made. Since I always make lists of people I have to contact, one glance tells me who to call. When I have already called one person, the next person gets easier. At some point, our brain says “resistance is futile” and stops giving such a hard time.

6. Know how to keep lists. The best way to keep a list is to have it close to you at all times. I prefer an online list-maker called Wunderlist. It is free, available for every device and is the easiest program to use. And I look at it on average about a dozen times a day. It is always open on my computer, phone and tablet. And, when great ideas go through my head, I just pop it onto one of my lists and forget about it…until I read that list.

So what item is hanging over your head? Stop wallowing and put some of this into practice.

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Stop Reading the Bible Like a Cookbook

March 5, 2013

foodieBeing a “foodie” I like to peruse cookbook sites. My favorite is Punchfork which collects the offerings of a hundred websites and brings them together into a Pinterest format. Today, for instance, I am drooling over recipes for Spicy Salami sandwich with Olive Tapenade and French Onion tarts.

Selah.

I read Punchfork the same way I read cookbooks. Even though we may start reading a cookbook the first time from the front to the back, after that we jump around to the recipes we want to make. We don’t keep reading them in order.

I find people make a mistake if they read the Bible like a cookbook. They may have a subject they want to look up and they jump to a verse that contains a key word. Then they use that verse to justify (or sometimes change) their theological position. So why is this a mistake?

Let’s take an issue like the role of women in the Bible. If someone went through the Bible and looked up all the Bible said about women, it could get very confusing and even dangerous. One example should suffice. In the Old Testament, there were rules concerning how a woman was to act when she was having her monthly menstrual period. These rules were given in the context of regulations concerning the giving of the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel. That context is extremely important; without it, these verses about women are at best meaningless, and at worst harmful and can be used to abuse women.

All of the regulations in the Mosaic Law are designed to point people to their role as the “set apart” people of God. Food laws, clothing laws, ceremonial laws and even sexual laws were laid down to show that Israel was a unique nation, called by God to carry the knowledge of God to the world. Read Galatians chapters 3-5 to get a full understanding of this.

But the story of God’s working in this world has moved past the Mosaic Covenant. To use verses from that covenant understanding and apply them to today is to read the Bible like a cookbook and not like the narrative of God’s actions with mankind as it truly is. The rule about menstrual bleeding is typical of this misreading of the Bible.

When Jesus was ministering in a town one day a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind and touched him secretly. She wanted to be healed from her bleeding. She also was reluctant to come up to him because her bleeding made her unclean by the standards of the Mosaic covenant. That is why she touched his cloak without anyone knowing it. But Jesus knew that power had gone out from him.

He looked around and asked “Who touched me”? The woman had done it secretly, because the Mosaic Law had said no one was to touch a woman while she was bleeding. Now, we do not know if this woman’s bleeding was gynecological, but it is safe to assume it was. She was therefore treated as an outcast.

But when she touched Jesus, she was healed. When he subsequently brought her before the crowd, he told the world she had been healed. Jesus, as a rabbi had the authority to declare a woman ceremonially clean. But in truth, this is a sign of the New Covenant. All who are fouled by sin can be cleansed by touching Jesus. To show this, His touch restored this woman…not just her body, but also her place in the community.

 

The coming of Jesus and the way he treated women altered our understanding of the role of women in the life of God’s people. The Old Testament understanding of women was not wrong; it was incomplete. Jesus brings the final story and that is the one we must adhere to.

The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of God with man. We are told in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s message to mankind:

Hebrews 1:1-3

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

My point is this: Not every page in the Bible carries the same weight. We read the entire Bible through the lens of Jesus. If Jesus declares women clean when they are going through the time of their period, then they are clean. He is the one who allowed Mary to sit as his feet and listen to his teaching. He is the one who addressed the woman at the well with dignity and as an equal. All of the Bible points to Jesus, who is God and who brings all of the other chapters into focus.

It’s like reading a mystery novel where you do not find out the key to the whole thing until the end. I was watching a movie called “The Spanish Prisoner”. The director, David Mamet, claimed that you could guess how the movie ended by the clues in the first ten minutes. I watched the movie three times and then (and only then) did the first ten minutes make sense. The Bible is the same way. You need to understand what Jesus teaches so that you can go back and make sense of the beginning of the Bible.

For instance, Jesus is one who tells us to put away our swords. So when the rest of the Bible contains violence and national warfare, we are supposed to read that in the context of what God was doing at that time. God was showing his abhorrence for how some nations were acting. God has one way to live and the nation of Israel was not to share a worldview with these other nations.

But the fullest expression of God in Jesus shows a man who would not defend himself, but rather counsels that we turn the other cheek.

If you read the Bible like a cookbook, you take a verse you like and apply it to fit your understanding of how God worked during times that are different than ours. That is monumentally dangerous. The Bible is the story of God’s actions among men. The heart of that story is God becoming a man. When you know the heart of the story, then you can go back and see what God was doing in the plot leading up to the heart of the story.

 

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Your Brain Can Change

June 19, 2012

Imagine a girl born with the left side of her brain missing. Yet, as she grows into womanhood, she suffers from almost no missing abilities. Imagine a man whose left arm is severed. The pain in his missing limb (called “Phantom Pain”) is so excruciating, he can neither sleep nor concentrate. Yet, with a box consisting of $12 worth of materials, a helper can scratch his other arm and the pain is gone forever. Imagine a first-grade girl who has been labeled by 10 different doctors as severely mentally retarded. Yet, by the time she is 30 years old, she has earned her first doctorate in Child Developmental Psychology.

All of these people, and many more, are examples of the innate ability of the brain to change itself. A recent ground-breaking book by Dr. Norman Doidge called “The Brain that Changes Itself” has collated the work of over 500 scientists, doctors, counselors and researchers all dedicated to the field of neuroplasticity.

It has long been believed that the brain is incapable of significant change of any amount or degree. In technical terms this is called the immutability of the brain. The implications of this system of belief are staggering: it means that once our brain has developed in a particular way it is unlikely that we can ever change it. This has far-reaching effects on so many different disciplines – psychology, theology, medicine, child development, education, entertainment, sports, language studies, etc. If indeed the brain cannot change and is virtually locked into its original position or close to it, then most of what we are doing in church, counseling offices and schools is helping people adapt to who they already are.

However, the most recent discoveries about the brain conclusively tell us that the brain not only can change itself, but wants to do so on a regular basis. In fact, we already have much evidence of the brain is able to adapt to markedly changing situations. Our ability to learn anything is ample proof of that. A child’s ability to pick up a new language seemingly at will has always astounded adults. But now we are finding that with the right tools, and the desire, adults are able to accomplish this almost as ever easily as children can.

For the rest of this week and next, I’m going to be presenting many the implications of what this plastic brain can mean to all of us. I suggest up front that a plastic brain model helps us to begin rethinking the commonly held assumptions about addictive behavior. We’re also going to look at things like heterosexuality, homosexuality and other sexual preferences. In addition, we’ll study the biblical principles that are apropos to brain plasticity.

The conclusion we will derive by the end of this study is that changing our brains is extremely difficult – but it can be done. Our beginning point will be very similar to that of most 12-step programs: we need God to set us on the right road of renewing our minds. 

Brain plasticity is another way of saying “renewing your mind”. It can and is being done. But will you allow yourself to do it?

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Spiritual Formation for Extraverts

December 31, 2011

I watched my friends wander by the lake, sitting with their backs to the trees, lying on the grass, looking up at the sky. Most had serene, angelic looks on their faces. I, however, wanted to explode.

Our leadership team was at a spiritual retreat, working on our own “spiritual formation”. There are many definitions of this concept, but most of them involve three ideas:

  • the work of changing the inner part of who we are
  • the process of conforming that inner being to look like Jesus
  • the outflow of this is to serve others.

We were spending the day in silence. We were encouraged to meditate, walk, read, think, pray; anything but talk. As far as I could tell, I was the only one about to have a fatal attack of the jitters (I later learned I was not the only one). I cannot go more than about an hour without wanting someone to talk to. I am an unashamed extravert. That means I can only live inside my head for a little while before I have to externalize my thoughts and interact with others. If I go too long without externalizing my thoughts to another person, I start to get morose, paranoid and even depressed. I need the rest of the world to help me keep my proper bearings.

When we gathered the twenty people together, we shared our experiences. I wanted to externalize my anguish, but I could quickly tell it would have gone against the stream. Several people were telling how this was a refreshing, renewing experience; they wanted to do this on a regular basis. I listened to their descriptions and decided I needed to get a deeper life with God before attempting this again. In the years since, I have certainly tried to spend hours in silence. I can do it, but I leave with no less anxiety and muddled head than I did years ago. I have also read many books on the subject of spiritual formation. These books fall into certain categories: Meditation, silence, Prayer, Scripture Reading, Listening to God, Confession of sins. The books are all saying things I completely agree with and try to practice. I have to say I do well at prayer, reading the Bible, listening to God. But recently, I noticed something about the practices of spiritual formation and the books that advocate these practices: They are written by introverts and are primarily designed for introverts. I have said this to many people and rarely do I find someone who disagrees with me.

Just as I have been critical of authors who write on outreach, evangelism and social justice from a strictly extravert point of view, so now I want to take to task those who neglect the extravert when it comes to Spiritual Formation. First, some definitions. I define an extravert in the classic Jungian framework: a person who gains energy by being around other people, who can think and feel more clearly if they use those thoughts and feelings to interact with others and who is not as comfortable living on the inside of themselves. An introvert is the opposite: Someone who gains energy by periodically getting alone, who can think more clearly and feel more confidently when by themselves or in a quiet place and who are not comfortable externalizing their life in front of others.

So, how can an extravert focus on the inner part of who they are when they are much more proficient in externalizing their thoughts and feelings?

For several years, I taught short seminars on spiritual formation for church planters. Generally, Church Planters are the entrepreneurs of church leaders. In order to get a church going from scratch, it takes people who are multi-relational, outgoing and interactive. Introverts can plant churches, but they have to take a more organic, one-on-one approach. Extraverts often get a church off the ground faster with more energy. Therefore, when I taught this course to extraverts, I noticed they were not terribly interested. I don’t blame them. I had approached the subject as if all of us were comfortable with reflecting deeply within. I now realize that is not how it works. An extravert will never be able to grow internally if they take an introvert’s approach. After getting polite but mundane response to my seminar, I revamped it with the extravert in mind. The first time I presented my Extraverted Version of Spiritual Formation, I witnessed a dramatic transformation. These church planters engaged immediately in the concepts. Even now, several years later, these church leaders come up and mention that seminar as foundational in their understanding of spiritual formation.

Here are the basic elements that form the fabric of a dynamic spiritual formation process for Extraverts:

  1. An extravert needs to have more times devoted to spiritual formation than an introvert, but they must be of much shorter duration. Rarely can an extravert concentrate on any inner discipline for more than a half hour.
  2. They need to have people in their life they can bounce ideas, decisions, thoughts and reflections off. These people must be instructed to know their role is to interact –  they don’t have to agree or disagree on principle. It actually works better if extraverts can have several other extraverts they speak to every week and possibly every day about the spiritual truths they are learning.
  3. An extravert should seek to pass on what they are learning through mentoring, teaching, writing or music as soon as possible after coming to an understanding of a new truth.
  4. Every truth has a corresponding action associated with it. An extravert should learn they must do something with what they are becoming and learning and not just accept new ideas as philosophical concepts.
  5. An extravert desperately needs to have safe people they can talk with concerning the things they want to eliminate from their lives. These people should not be judgmental in nature, but neither can they be soft. They must challenge the extravert to new patterns of living based on the way God is changing them on the inside.

I am researching these things and may develop this teaching into a series of articles. At the very least, these five principles can change an extravert from the core outward. For instance, let’s talk about intercessory prayer. It is too difficult for me to spend hours praying on my own. However, if I can gather two or three other people to join me in prayer, the things Holy Spirit says to me often blends beautifully with what the others are praying. What they say often jibes perfectly with my thoughts and propels me into a new thought pattern altogether. If I sat for two hours trying to pray for someone, I would out-think myself and second guess my inner thoughts. But as soon as they come out of my mouth, I am often surprised at what I just prayed. In this regard, it is helpful when I am alone to pray out loud. Even if no one else is there, I can externalize my thoughts and listen to them as if someone else was praying. It helps.

Stay tuned…I am forming these thoughts as I grow.

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