3 Keys to Following God

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I like his “just the facts” approach to the Gospel story. I had a little laugh recently while reading the following passage:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus left as soon as the crowds began to gather? Typically, most leaders are hoping to draw a big crowd, but Jesus did something quite unusual at that point. When His ratings spiked–He took a hike! When the numbers were high–he said goodbye. When the crowds grew–he bid them adieu.

Doesn’t that strike you as being unusual? Why did Jesus do that? What can we learn from this story? Here are three keys to following God as a true believer.

3 Keys to Following God

1. God’s plan is rarely like our plan. He knows best, so we should trust Him and follow Him. He often leads us to do the unexpected…..the unpredictable…..the unthinkable!

2. We should never allow others to shape us by their expectations. I am a people-pleaser and the opinions of others matter greatly to me. But, I know that I should seek to live for an audience of one. Although we want to be good examples to those around us, ultimately, we should simply try to please God.

3. We should never exchange good for God. Some things are good to do, but they are not the things God has led us to do–they are good, but they are not God. The challenge is to live in such a way that we can discern the difference.

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5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

In my previous two posts I wrote about 6 Things I Hated Hearing as a Pastor followed by 7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor. In today’s post I want to explore 5 Things I Hated DOING as a Pastor. Keep in mind that I loved being a pastor and I loved most the tasks that came along with the position, but I didn’t love everything.

5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

1. Preaching on difficult topics. I preached on marriage, divorce, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, abortion, tithing, racism, prejudice, laziness, gossip, and numerous other difficult subjects, but I didn’t love doing it. As a pastor, I preferred to preach about Jesus and the encouraging passages that abound, but I knew that I was accountable to God to preach the whole Bible even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.

…even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.”

2. Visiting new parents in the hospital. I didn’t really hate visiting new parents, but it always felt a little awkward. I felt better visiting when the mother and the father were both present or when my wife could join me. As their pastor, I wanted to let them know that we celebrated with them on the birth of their child, but at the same time, I wanted to respect their need for privacy. As a man, I was certain that I didn’t understand everything that the new mother was going through physically and emotionally, so I wanted to give her space for rest and healing.

3. Addressing church conflict. When I faced conflict during my early years of ministry I simply prayed and hoped that it would go away. As the pastor, I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but it was something that I always dreaded.

…I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict…”

4. Asking for help. In the perfect church world, all the church members would jump in and volunteer when needed. Since that rarely happened, I often had to personally ask people for help.

5. Administering church discipline. The Bible clearly teaches that there are times when church discipline is required. The purpose of discipline is to help the offender discover his sin and his need for repentance. Even when church discipline was appropriate and best, it was always very difficult.

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3 Reasons to Smile More

My wife works for one of the finest dentists in Kentucky, so we often talk about teeth at our house. Lots of customers come to their office wanting to improve their smile. I think that they’re wise in doing so, because there are good reasons to improve your smile and even more good reasons to smile more often.

3 Reasons to Smile More

1. We will make more money. According to a recent study, the way we look has a direct bearing on our paycheck. According to the study, those who rated lower in appearance earned less than those who rated average or above.

…the biggest factor is the smile on our face.”

Appearance includes the style and neatness of our clothing, the shine on our shoes, the crease in our shirt, our choice of colors, the way we fix our hair, our makeup, and all the elements of our personal grooming. However, the biggest factor is the smile on our face, followed closely by our attitude and sense of humor. A good sense of humor and a positive attitude are particularly important as we move into the upper echelons of business.

2. We will make more friends. People do not want to be around an ol’ stiff, stick-in-the-mud! They are attracted to a person who is positive and friendly. A genuine smile is a good indicator of the type of person we are which causes others to want to get to know us.

3. We will make more converts.  In case all of this talk sounds less than spiritual, remember that we are ambassadors for Christ. As wise, conscientious ambassadors we want to improve our “abilities.” Let’s improve our respectability, approachability, and likeability. In this way we can draw people to us in order to point them to Christ!

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You Can Learn A Lot From Hiking

Laura and I have recently become interested in hiking. We don’t plan to thru-hike the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest trail anytime soon–we mainly focus on day hiking. As a result, we enjoy the trail with very little planning and minimal cost. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of similarities between hiking and everyday life.

4 Hiking Lessons

  1. Good equipment helps. Good hiking shoes, trekking poles, and backpacks make hiking more enjoyable and hikers more proficient. Likewise equipping ourselves as pastors, disciples, church members, and/or parents makes all the difference. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to be equipped with new knowledge and abilities.
  2. Sometimes you hike uphill. We love trails that have lots of climbing. We seek them out when we plan. It’s great exercise to make your way up a long, challenging climb. It’s so rewarding when you reach the top. Life often seems like a long, challenging climb. Christians are not exempt from difficulty. Those difficult life moments often shape us into better people and mold us into more dedicated Christians.
  3. Sometimes you hike downhill. Trails that go up eventually come down. Going downhill is easier, but not without challenge. You can easily lose your footing because you are moving faster and with little resistance. Going downhill can lead to a lack of concentration and focus which usually ends poorly. Life is a lot like going downhill. When things are going well and success seems easy we often make quick and uninformed decisions that cause us to fall. “Downhill” makes us feel invincible which leads to decisions laced with arrogance. Solomon warned us that “Pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, HCSB).
  4. You can do more than you think. Now that we are hikers, we’ve climbed hills we never imagined that we could. Slowly, steadily, step after step–eventually we reach the top! I’ve watched several YouTube channels of men and women who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. When they finished the 2,181-mile trek, they were amazed they covered the entire distance on foot. One guy said, “It blows my mind to think that I just walked from Georgia to Maine!” We should dream big and shoot high in life and in Christ! Through Him and over time we can do more than we could ever imagine (Phil 4:13).
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6 Tips for Beginning Runners

ShoesI’ve been an on-again-off-again runner for the past 35 years.  I love running, but on occasion, I’ve allow life’s responsibilities to cause me to set aside my favorite sport for matters that seem more pressing at the moment.  Over the last 7 years, I have been “on-again” with my running and I feel better as a result.

On January 18, 2010, I made the decision to step on the bathroom scale.  I knew I had put on “a little weight” and in my mind I thought I might, for the first time in my life, even weigh close to 200lbs.  The scale rocketed past the 200-mark and finally settled on 218.  I’m 5′ 11″ tall with a small frame–let’s just say that I was much heavier than I imagined.  That moment was a WAKE-UP CALL for me.

The next day I began to run (mostly walk) again and I began to think differently about eating.  Gradually, over the next few months, I lost a significant amount of weight.  I currently weigh around 165, but I still have to work at keeping my weight at a healthy mark.

You may be considering running.  You may want to drop a few pounds.  Allow me to share a few basics things that I would recommend as you begin.

6 Tips for Runners Who Are Just Beginning

1.  Start now.  If you feel any inspiration at all, then begin now.  Of course, if you have any health concerns, it would be wise to see your doctor and get his or her approval before beginning.

2.  Buy good shoes.  Find a local running specialty store and purchase a good pair of running shoes.  Go in the afternoon when your feet have “settled” for the day.  The clerk will measure and fit you properly which should provide you with a shoe that fits snugly around the heel and gives you a little extra room in front of the toes.  After you settle on the right shoe, you can buy additional pairs online at a discounted rate, but initially you should take advantage of the expert advice found at the running store.

3.  Walk a lot at first.  Start by mainly walking.  You will probably be able to walk a mile in 16-18 minutes.  Mix in a little running along the way.  Gradually walk less and run more.  Running coaches like Jeff Galloway say that you should continue to mix in some walking even after you become an accomplished runner.  Galloway advocates a “run-walk-method” for exercise and races.

4.  Keep a running journal.  You can use a simple spiral notebook, a 3-ring binder, a published running log (can be purchased at running stores or bookstores), or a web-based journal (runningahead.com, logarun.com, Runner’s World log).  There’s just something about writing it down!

5.  Keep an eating journal.  I personally found that the biggest key to losing weight was knowing how many calories I was eating.  I used livestrong/myplate.com to track what I ate and to keep a running total of my daily calories.  Other good sites include fitday.com, myfitnesspal.com, and myfooddiary.com.

6.  Subscribe to Runner’s World magazine.  Runner’s World magazine is an excellent source of information and inspiration for beginning runners.  For less than the cost of a nice meal, you can purchase a multi-year subscription.

Many people find that they are more consistent if they enlist a running partner.  I personally cherish the solitude of running alone most of the time.  Please leave a comment if you have any suggestions or questions.

 

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2 Ways to Eliminate Hurry

Speed Limit.25One of the great books on spiritual disciplines is John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  You can read my review of the book by clicking here.

One of the spiritual disciplines he talks about in the book is the practice of “slowing.”  Have you ever thought about “slowing” as a spiritual practice?  One of his mentors told him that if he wanted to grow spiritually that he must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from his life.  Listen to a great quote from his book:

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  Hurry can destroy our souls.  Hurry can keep us from living well….Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry.  For many of us the great danger is not that we renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.  We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Most of us battle the hurry sickness, but how can we treat it–how can we cure it?  There are two main practices that can help us swim against our culture’s current of hurry.

2 Ways to Eliminate Hurry from Our Lives

1.  Slowing.  Slowing involves cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.  Slowing will seem like such a “waste of time,” but it is invaluable.  Here are some examples.  Deliberately drive in the slow lane.  Chew your food slowly.  Get in the longest check-out line at the grocery store.  Go through an entire week without wearing a watch.  Read each sentence slowly–then read it again even more slowly.

2.  Solitude.  Solitude is a more traditional spiritual practice.  I’m not saying that we should take it to the extreme and join a monastery.  I’m just saying that solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us.  When we’re “alone” with God–He molds us!

We need some small measures of solitude every day.  A walk, a run, a short drive, working in the yard, sitting in the car before going into the office, a quiet time–all these serve as moments of solitude.  On occasion, we need longer periods of solitude.  Take an afternoon to yourself or even an entire day.  Go to a place where you will be uninterrupted and alone.  Spend the day relaxing, reading, walking, napping, etc.

Both of these practices have been vital to my spiritual growth and to my ability to hear from God.  By the way, if you haven’t read John Ortberg’s book on spiritual disciplines, you must do so.  Here’s a link to Amazon where you can purchase the book and get started.  I wish I had read this book as a new Christian and learned about the practice of “slowing” and many of the other spiritual disciplines that have helped me to grow in recent years.

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Churches & Car Dealerships

Car SalesmanIs there anything in life more frustrating than buying a car? Last week my wife and I attempted to replace one of our vehicles. It seems that every time I step on a car lot it tests my Christianity–that day was no exception. At one point during the “trial,” while the manager was making a dramatic last-ditch effort to make a sale, I wanted to ask “do I have the word stupid tattooed on my forehead or something?” I kept my cool, but I sent him back to his secret manager’s lair without a sale.

Don’t misunderstand, I realize dealerships are in the business to make money and salesmen are just trying to earn a living. I don’t fault them for that, but the truth is, buying a car is about as much fun as having your fingernails pulled out with a pair of needle-nosed plyers. Through the years, I have owned various brands: Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda, but my experience was usually the same. I believe both car dealerships and churches might benefit from some of the things I wanted to say to the dealership that day:

  • I’m not the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Believe it or not, I actually have a brain. I’ve done some reading and research in my life. I can think, evaluate, and make decisions. Don’t talk down to me.
  • Give me some space. Sometimes I like to window-shop a little before being bombarded with the “sales pitch.” I expect a “sales pitch” and I’m ok with that, but just give me some space first. Let me just “kick the tires” for a while. If I really like them, I will buy them from you and a car to go with them!
  • Be honest with me. We all know the stereotype that car salesmen are dishonest. In many cases, they probably earned that reputation. The church is sometimes viewed the same way, so honesty is paramount to me.
  • Don’t play games and don’t play me. There’s nothing I hate much more than “being played.” Almost everyone I know feels the same way. Car dealerships, churches, salesmen, and preachers should be transparent and genuine.
  • Give me the facts and give them to me fast. How long can it possibly take to calculate the value of my trade-in? I looked up the Kelly Blue Book price on the internet in 5 minutes before I left the house! Don’t go on and on–it won’t change the facts. Give me the facts and I’ll make a decision.
  • Sale, but don’t oversale. I came expecting a sale, but don’t go overboard or you will turn me off for sure.

Boy oh boy…..I feel so much better now that I got that off my chest. Thanks for allowing me to vent. Let me end with this question, “how often does an unchurched person want to make these same statements to us after he visits one of our churches?”

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