Replacing Excuses With Discipline

Over at Live Curious, Todd Clark posted yesterday that “You are the most important and difficult person you will lead this New Year.” He makes the case that leadership in general starts with leading yourself, then points to four disciplines that are critical for self leadership:

  • Spending time with God.
  • Rest.
  • Exercise.
  • Obedience.

Go check out the post for yourself. Self-discipline is a big deal and these four areas are easy to neglect. It’s easy to make excuses for why we just don’t have time to read the Bible, or get enough rest, or… whatever. But the good news is that these 4 practices aren’t actually hard to do. I mean, how hard is it really to take a few minutes to do some pushups? Or read a passage of Scripture that you can think about over the course of the day? Or turn the TV off and go to bed? (that one is killing me right now, to be honest)

Glacier Seattle vacation 2014
I found beauty in a moment of rest.

Our problem isn’t that these things are hard, it’s just that we so easily give in to the inertia of the status quo. But that won’t get you where you want to go. Maybe I’m just talking to myself here… that won’t get me where I want to go. I don’t want to move from one day to the next with no forward progress. I’m sure to slip up or take a step backwards from time to time, but the trajectory I want for my life is forward, deeper into the heart of God. That’s not likely to happen without some discipline on my part.

These 4 areas of discipline are a great place to start as we set out on the journey of a new year. I intend to start here and generate some more forward momentum. I’d love to help you do the same in your own life

Imagine if we replaced all our excuses with the discipline it takes to keep moving forward?!

Christmas Confession

I have a Christmas confession to make. I hope you won’t think less of me. I hope you won’t brand me a Christmas heretic after I tell you, and I hope we can still be friends if you disagree, but… I can’t sing the song “Silent Night.”

I don’t mean it’s out of my range or I just get choked up so much I can’t make it through the song. I just can’t bring myself to sing it.

I know it’s one of those traditions favored by the masses. I know it’s been sung by great people for almost 200 years. I know it makes such a nice scene when we stand in a circle with candles to sing it, and it sounds so pretty when all the little voices stretch to reach the “sleep in heavenly peace” notes, then gently tumble their way down the stairs of those same words to end the verse.

It’s just that, well… I just can’t imagine the birth of Jesus as a nice, pretty event. I have a pretty good imagination, but let’s be real; I’ve seen births happen. Not silent. 9 months earlier, this baby was at God’s right hand, holding together all of the known universe. Then, on that night he made his messy way out of another human being in a small Middle Eastern village that was so crowded his first bed had to be a manger!

Do you know what a manger is? It’s not some first century version of a bed fit for a king. It’s a feed box for barnyard animals! That’s what Jesus slept in to begin His revolutionary sojourn here on planet earth. A feed box!

And I’m not so sure “tender and mild” are the right words for this “holy infant.” Oh, Jesus definitely showed Himself to be most tender toward the hurting and oppressed, but mild? I’m sure he was as cute and cuddly as the next newborn baby, but his entry into this world was a cataclysmic event that marked the beginning of the end for Death (and all his friends). This was no mild addition to humanity. This was WAR! How about “tinder and wild”? This baby lit a fire that’s still being stoked by His Spirit 2000 years later as He breathes through His church!

I’m afraid we tend to sanitize and “pretty up” Jesus’ story too much, and in doing so risk losing sight of the earth-shaking nature of what was actually going on. God became man. GOD became man! The Light of Life humbled Himself to become one of us so that each of us could find our way back to His Father ~ our Father.

I don’t think it was a silent night, but it sure is something to sing about! You can still sing Silent Night if you want to. No one’s going to hold it against you. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking of Jesus as the gerber baby of the first Century. He’s the King who came and will return. He’s the one who conquered death and offers real, lasting, vibrant life.

To you.

Merry Christmas!

Now, go make some noise.

What Will You Try?

Talking about Jonathan’s daring attack on the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14, Erwin McManus (in Chasing Daylight) writes,

Jonathan had an unwavering confidence in God’s capacity. He had absolute trust in God’s character. He seemed resolute about whether God could be trusted. That was settled for him. Jonathan’s focus was not, What is God’s will for my life? but How can I give my life to fulfill God’s will?

(If you’re not familiar with that particular episode in Israel’s history, go read 1 Samuel 13:16 – 14:23 to see where this is coming from.)

Glacier Seattle vacation 2014 346
Not the cliffs at Mikmash! No Philistines were harmed in the climbing of this cliff.

Have you ever thought about the difference in these two questions? With the best of intentions, we often want to know What is God’s will for my life? And while there are some cases where God gave explicit directions to individuals in Scripture, more often than not, we don’t get a road map as much as we get a compass. This can be a maddening question to ask. I know… I’ve asked. What do You want me to do? Where do You want me to go?

The trouble comes when the still small voice isn’t very informative. What does it mean when I don’t see the burning bush? Am I missing something if I don’t hear the voice from Heaven telling me to go back to Egypt or to go west, young man? If the voice just keeps saying “I love you, son, now go love people my way so they’ll know I love them, too.” does that mean there’s something wrong with my ability to follow more specific instructions?

Maybe there is. It’s a real possibility that there is some pride or worry or other sin that is in the way of my hearing or yours. We need to be seeking God’s work to remove these obstacles in our lives. But maybe there’s another possibility…

Maybe the “for my life” part of the question needs to be dropped. Maybe we already know what God’s will is (it’s plastered all over the walls of Scripture in case you’ve missed it), and we need to work out how to give our lives to it. Jonathan knew that God was in the process of establishing Israel in order to reveal His blessing to the world, so he picked up his sword and went for a walk toward the enemy camp. Just so we’re clear, this was not a brilliant new strategic battle plan! Neither was it an act of obedience to a direct command from God. It was one small act of a man giving his life to fulfill God’s will. It was a match lit in accord with what God wanted that God fanned into a flame that He used to display His might. It was an attempt to try something that would open people’s eyes to what God could do.

Today, God is working to redeem the world around you. How can you give your life to that endeavor today? In your neighborhood? In your school or work? Sometimes, you just have to try something ~ to make an attempt. God’s capacity is still infinitely more than you can imagine. He’s still able to save “whether by many or by few.” What are you going to try?

I’d love to help.

Something Said “Run”… So I Did

I used to run.

A lot.

I tried cross country in Jr. High, but decided it wasn’t for me. In high school, I found I could run fast. I discovered the existence of a whole new gear that kicked in when I had a soccer ball at my feet. In college, I’d run from my apartment to class and from one class to the next if I was going outside. Not because I was late, but just because… something said run, so I did. Why walk when you can run? I liked it.

Later, I began to run far. Something said run, so I did. I thought it would be a good experience to run a marathon… so I signed up, began to train (sort of), and ran one. (I use the term “run” loosely in this case, since real marathoners may describe my last several marathon miles as something quite different from running!) The idea of ultra-marathons is fascinating to me, but so far, the fascination hasn’t been strong enough to overcome the knowledge my body has about what it would have to go through!

Sometimes, you just have to run!
Sometimes, you just have to run! (This is my son, in whom I am well pleased…)

I used to run.

Then I stopped.

I never decided I didn’t want to run anymore. I didn’t consciously come to the conclusion that I was too old to run. I didn’t knowingly phase running out of my life, and there was no injury that kept me from running. I just ran one day, then the next I didn’t.

But, there was often something inside that kept saying, “Run.” Sometimes, my wife even suggested “Why don’t you go for a run or something?” Often, I wanted to run, I just couldn’t or didn’t muster up the strength to shake off the depression that kept me from doing it. For a couple years, I’ve always had some kind of resistance that kept me from running. Too busy… too cold… I don’t feel good…

But today, I ran.

It was just a little over a mile. Not much. But it’s something. I didn’t run fast, and I didn’t run far, but I ran.

Life is like this sometimes… God can gnaw at your inner hearing, sometimes gently prodding, sometimes pushing with great force toward your next step. He is the voice inside that urges us to “run” a great life. Don’t just sleepwalk through the dreams God has for you. Answer His call to run. And don’t stop until you find yourself both exhausted and invigorated at the finish, in the company of all those who’ve run ahead.

Revealing Hope for Christmas

Last night, I began a series with my students on the book of Revelation. I have to admit, it was the most fun I’ve had in a while. From time to time, I ask my students what topics or passages they’d like to learn about, and Revelation is always on the list. So, this year, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s arrival in Bethlehem, we’re going to spend a few weeks looking into what pastor John had to say to his flock in the first century after Jesus’ birth! This may seem like an odd choice… What does Christmas have to do with the last book of the Bible? Isn’t the famous Christmas story in Luke? What am I doing mixing Christmas and Revelation? Well… let’s just say this is not a Charlie Brown Christmas! Check out chapter 12, then go add a dragon to your nativity set…

I’m really excited to dig deeper into the book of Revelation for our Christmas series this year. We’re going to fly through the book in 3 weeks, then take a few weeks to begin 2015 looking more deeply at the 7 letters near the beginning of the book.

Avalanche Creek at Glacier National Park
Avalanche Creek at Glacier National Park

One of the things that made last night so fun was I felt like I was really engaging the students with something they need AND want. Most of the students had never actually read the whole book and many of those who had expressed that they got lost in all the imagery and didn’t really feel confident in their understanding. There is so much that we assume about the book that causes more confusion than it should. When we get into too much speculation, we are often not reading the book honestly and end up with a really murky picture of what John was communicating. I want to help our kids see what’s really there.

Revelation is not a book to scare us to sleep at night or frighten us into submission before it’s too late. It’s a letter full of hope for the people of God.

If you know a middle school or high school student here in the Scottsbluff area who has questions about the end of the world, the second coming, Revelation, tribulation, etc. I hope you’ll encourage them to come join us at WestWay on the next couple Wed. nights as we try to clear up a few things about the book. I’ll be challenging some of their assumptions about the book as I don’t believe Revelation should scare us. I know with certainty that wasn’t John’s intent as he shared graphic depictions of the awe inducing things he was shown. John wanted to give his flock hope through the words that he wrote. Through the visions He showed John, Jesus was offering comfort and encouragement in the midst of terrible affliction.

As a book full of hope, Revelation shouldn’t scare us. It should motivate us to worship an incomparable King by living as His emissaries to a world desperately in need of redemption.