Disconnecting: steps that I am taking

shutterstock_310726148I am thinking more and more about how my phone can be such a nuisance, or most honestly, a thief. I can check email when I sit down on the computer. This will make more more intentional. I seldom use my twitter account. The computer will work for that as well. I like Instagram, but don’t use it much. I will leave it on my phone for now. I already removed the Facebook app several weeks ago. I have not missed it a bit.
By taking things off of my phone, I am attempting to turn it into a phone that is not so “smart.” Use it for calls. Use it for texts. Use the Lothian bus app to go places. Use it for GPS when driving. But all of the rest? I want peace. And even more, I want to be more present when I am walking around, standing in queues, playing with my kids (which I usually do a good job of leaving devices on my desk), connecting and worshipping at church, talking with my wife, or going for a walk.
Let’s be honest: people are not lined up to see what is going on in my life. That is okay. Also, most people are only using social media to try and impress others. Insecure? Can we not feel important and valuable without letting others know what is going on? God is watching and he cares (Psalms 139 and Matthew 6:1-18 are great reflection points): isn’t that good enough?
I have just taken the following steps: 
  1. All email apps removed from phone. I will now have to check the computer for email which requires greater intentionality.
  2. Work email is also removed from my phone. I must use a computer for this also.
  3. I will use my blog more and social media less.
  4. Because I live internationally, I will keep my FB messenger app; it enables me to text my brother and other friends for free.
  5. I will not use social media platforms out of a motivation to “stay relevant.” If I want to use them in a way that is meaningful, fine. If I want to use them to communicate, that is okay. But I will not have it at my fingertips inviting me, out of guilt or a need of influence or a feeling that I will be a dinosaur if I disconnect, to use it when I do not want to.

Ahhhh, I feel better already. I have a feeling that this is the first of many blogs on this subject. I want to know the Lord, enjoy beauty, listen and talk with people, and not have the minute-by-minute interruptions that literally suck the “life” out of life.

Be less important: disconnect!

The Most Helpful Book I Read Last Year

As we embark on a new year, let’s do it with courage. What kind of courage? The courage to admit that no matter how much we pray, read our Bible, serve others and our local church, or give money, we might not be loving ourselves and others very well. We might be emotionally unhealthy. We might have emotionally unhealthy patterns of dealing with failure, disappointment, stress, people’s expectations, hurtful comments, family members, friends, and authority figures. You fill in the blank.

At our church here in Edinburgh, one of our pastors, Ben, introduced me to the author, Peter Scazzero. He has written several books, one of which I’m only 30 minutes from finishing. The title of the book is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. The subtitle is even more illuminating: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature. I’ve enjoyed listening to the audiobook version as a nice break from reading with my eyes (I do plenty of that in my PhD studies). As a current pastor who admits to being an emotionally healthy person and pastor for much of his life, he writes about busyness, stress, the need for a Sabbath, how we hide behind religious activity, healthy ways of dealing with others, being honest with people including ourselves, noticing and admitting and working through unhealthy patterns of behavior that are learned from our families growing up, and so much more. He quotes authors such as Martin Buber, Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

In a nutshell, the book is an invitation to a spiritually healthy life that includes, at its center, emotional and relational health. The honest truth is that for some people, their “religion” has made them unloving, unkind, and horrible to be around. Part of the catalyst for me reading this book is that a few weeks ago, I looked myself in the mirror and confessed: “I am emotionally unhealthy in several ways.” It immediately released a sense of peace and freedom in my heart to pursue Jesus and his health in a new and more genuine way.

I highly recommend this book, especially now as the new year has dawned and we have a renewed hope that his year can be better than the last. Ultimately, emotionally healthy people can lead to emotionally healthy churches, and emotionally healthy churches are better positioned to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ by their freedom to love well.

Some of his other books include:

10 Great Questions for the New Year

8B663066-E743-4531-B9F1-2BBEA10E2327In a couple of days, the sun will set on 2019 and 2020 will dawn. Whether it is rational or not, it is part of our experience in much of Western culture to feel a small dose of extra hope when we reflect on the year to come. We cannot help but think, “Who knows what good might come my way in the upcoming year?” There is nothing wrong or anti-Christian about having such thoughts. A renewed sense of hope is wonderful regardless of the avenue through which it comes (with a few exceptions, of course).

With this renewed sense of hope that things might improve, there is a window of time around the new year when people seem more willing to introspect, consider what changes need to be made, etc. We take stock. This is a good practice for Christians so long as this introspection is graciously and truthfully guided by the Holy Spirit. After all, introspection by itself can be quite brutal and hopeless. All of this to say, this is a time when we look ourselves in the mirror, make resolutions, and ask ourselves questions. The other day, I came across an article on http://www.desiringgod.org and I was shocked by how good the questions were. Honestly, most questions and exercises around the new year seem lame and futile, but these questions were refreshing for their honesty and Christ-centeredness. Tonight, my wife and I are discussing the first one (and maybe the second) and will continue until we are done. I strongly encourage you to do the same with someone you care about. The questions are taken from the article titled, “Ten Questions for a New Year.” Here are the questions:

  1. What’s one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  2. What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?
  3. What’s the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year?
  5. What’s the single biggest time-waster in your life, and how can you redeem the time?
  6. What’s the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently?
  8. What’s the most important way, by God’s grace, you will try and make this year different from last?
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
  10. What single thing can you plan to do this year that will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

I hope that you will take these questions to heart, share them with someone you care about, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin working in you as we prepare for another year.

 

 

 

 

Finding Peace in the Midst of “Insignificance”

“Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.”  

~Luke 3:23

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Christmas is upon us. Hopefully you are finding time to slow down, drink a cup of coffee or Earl Grey tea, and reflect. Don’t let the season pass you by. How sad is it when you find yourself thinking (or hear someone else saying): “I am just ready for this to be over.” Don’t live like this. Carve out a few slow and quiet slices of time that you can sit still and reflect upon the birth of Jesus Christ (or a nice walk in nature).

While working on other things this morning, I was reminded of the fact that Jesus did not begin his ministry until age 30. How could this be? He is the Son of God. I mean, he had some really important stuff to accomplish. Yet, he was born in typical fashion, blood and all, and then lived as a son, brother, and carpenter until the age of 30 (he obviously did not cease to be a son or brother when his ministry began). God himself, the only Redeemer, the one hope for humanity, was surrounded by sawdust and wood for the majority of his life. From my perspective, this work was very unimportant in comparison with what he came to do (Matthew 1:21). Yet, he was in no hurry. He lived a quiet, humble life, and waited on the Father’s release.

He didn’t strive to be important. 

He didn’t stive to be seen. 

He didn’t strive to accomplish something significant. 

He didn’t strive to people’s approval. 

He didn’t strive to make ministry happen (woe to us in our social media age).

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was very content working with wood. In light of his human nature, this surely was one of the places where he learned patience. In light of his divine nature, this surely was one of the places that his patience was manifested.

The point in all of this is that we can be at peace being “unimportant.” Maybe you feel like your life is buried away in some small shed, working with something that seems unimportant like wood. But it is important. You can do anything with a heart turned to God (Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31). You can do anything with a heart to please the Lord. You can do anything with an attitude of worship. You can take the mundane stuff and use it to serve others.

What I am trying to say is this: Because Jesus Christ spent the majority of his life hidden, we can be at peace with God, ourselves, and others when it seems that the current season of life we are in is not as significant as we feel it should be.

If you want to feel important, look at Jesus.

If you need peace, look to Jesus.

May the “Wonderful Counselor,” “Might God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) give you peace in your heart and communicate a sense of great value and importance to your soul.

Merry Christmas.

 

Being Offended (with additional reading links)

girls-3764702_640It is easy to think of big issues when we talk about Christian morality. But here is one that one of our pastors mentioned in a sermon this last week that really stuck with me: “Am I someone that is easily offended?”
Offense can take root and leak poison into your entire heart and life. It is TOO STRONG to keep locked away in a compartment. You cannot do it; nobody can. It cannot be restrained for long. It cannot be “compartmentalized.”
If this is you, then the offense must be brought to Jesus in prayer and most likely talked through with someone that you trust. Allow the Lord to speak into this broken, out-of-line area in your life. Bitterness and offense is a great thief and can absolutely prevent us from fulfilling our purposes in Christ. A bitter root can keep someone from wanting to serve in their local church, make a phone call to someone in need, read the Bible, share their money, pray, worship, etc.
A bitter heart will result in a disobedient life.
What we need as followers of Christ is tough skin and a tender heart. This a remarkable combination, and results in a person that can take hits but remain “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17 NRSV). 
Besides, if you are always being offended, then there is a good chance that you are focusing too much on yourself or thinking too highly of yourself (Pastor Allen Hickman use to always say this).
Now, don’t read this last comment as me saying that there are not real offenses. Oh my, there definitely are, ones that hit at our core and hurt everso deeply. Let’s face it: people can be so disappointing at times. But what if we allow these moments to bring us to the cross so that we can admit what we should be admitting with every breathe: our utter helplessness in dealing with anything. The bottom line is that we need the Lord to perform any good act with the right heart.
Allow the Lord to come, love on you, remind you of his forgiveness toward you, and then help you take the same step he takes. After all, Jesus commands us to pray like this: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). 

Further Reading: