Good News is Living with Love

Jesus is clear in his life and teachings that our love for our God is foundational for living the life he desires for us to live. As I wrote the blog Principles and Practices (November 24, 2022), this is a very primary principle. We will become all he has for us as we first learn to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love others as we love ourselves. This kind of love will be seen in our joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control within ourselves and with others.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.

Galatians 5.22-26

The presence of God living in us through his Spirit naturally produces these qualities. In this passage, Paul wrote to remind the Galatians that there was no need for laws or lists of do’s and don’ts, but rather they were to simply love others in this way, nothing else. These first-century followers of Christ turned the world upside down, not by their use of force, power, persuasion, or money. Quite to the contrary, they didn’t have any of these resources; they just lived the kinds of lives that demonstrated the Spirit’s fruit through the way they treated others. They profoundly loved those around them, their enemies, the outcasts, the underserved…like no one else had ever seen throughout history.

Paul wasn’t a Pollyanna as he wrote these words; he was tortured, beaten, and eventually killed for his life of loving others through Christ. He was rooted in reality as he served people who were far from Christ. His faith and life were built on living in the presence of an ever-present God. This faith was not dependent on what happened or how others treated him.  Despite what took place or how he was treated, he simply did what his master modeled. He was convinced that Jesus’ life and teachings compelled him to love everyone, and likewise, so should we. 

Jesus is quite emphatic when he says,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13.34-35

Ask people who don’t attend a church to describe a Christian, and I guarantee that most of them will not describe disciples of Christ as those who love others regardless of how they are treated. I doubt they would say that most disciples of Christ even love life. So many Christians today are known for what they are against or what they believe rather than the quality of love they demonstrate. It bothers me how few followers of Christ exhibit these attributes, fruit, or byproducts of the presence of the Spirit within us. These loving qualities simply result from being in a thriving relationship with God.

Many people who are far from the church surely wouldn’t describe what Christians believe as “Good News.”  Yet, we call it good news because it is good news! The gospel (which means good news) is that we are no longer bound by the events and happenings of this world but are literally citizens of another world. Our lives should express the fact that we can love God, others, our lives, and ourselves because our love is not based upon merit, ours, or others. No matter what anyone can do to us, we can still love them. No matter how distorted our culture becomes, we can still be people of grace, joy, peace, and contentment. 

Life isn’t all there is; we don’t have to have our way or have all our needs met now. We have all eternity to do so. Until then, let’s be people of good news that looks like the good news.  Let our lives be lived in such a manner that people will wonder what we know that they don’t. That is the good news…a life free to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control through life on earth.

Who do you need to love today, whether they deserve it or not?

What Are Your Dreams?

When I was in my twenties, I used to get so frustrated by older men and women who gave up trying new things. They would just settle. As I would dream about what could be, some would tell me it would never work while others would listen patiently, and yet I could tell in their minds few, very few, would engage with the idea or entertain how to make it a reality with me.

In my first board meeting in the first church where I was the lead pastor, I literally had an elder tell me, ”But Greg, we have never done it that way…” and so discounted the new approach I was suggesting for how we did “church.”  I was shocked because I thought it was obvious that the issue was the very reason the church was not reaching new people or seeing lives transformed.

As I have aged, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Most old men and women don’t dream dreams any longer because they simply are worn down, lost their energy, and become “grumpy old men (and women).” This is such a generally accepted fact of life that books and movies have been produced around this theme. It is just the way it is! Or so it seems.

In Acts 2, Peter gives his first sermon on Pentecost. Peter quotes from Joel when he describes what happens to people who are indwelt with the Spirit of God. One of the marks will be that “…old men will dream dreams…”. Why does he say that? I think it is because as people age, they generally give up walking by faith and settle for walking by sight. And we know their sight it is getting pretty bad!

I wrote last week about how often people who define their call by a role can become grumpy old people when they are no longer in that role. However, the problem is more pervasive than just ex-pastors.

As men and women age, they have seen it all. They were passionate young people who had fire in their veins. They tackled injustices and tried to make a difference in the world through their zeal. However, as life happened and relationships failed, their edges got a lot softer.  In some ways, this was a good thing. But there is another parallel process that is also taking place; they became more cynical. “They have tried that, and it didn’t work.” 

The result of this wearing-down process for most people is that they lose their creative energy. They have no mojo. They give up and simply let life happen. They are carried along by events rather than attempting to engage in a transformative way.

That is what I love about Peter’s description of old men who experience the transforming power of God’s Spirit at work in their lives. They dream dreams again.

This last week I listened to twenty presentations of mostly young Christian entrepreneurs who are launching out on creative ways of serving the world and church in bringing the transformative power of Christ to bear in our culture. There were some pretty “out of the box” kinds of ministries that are being launched. Most were seeking financial, prayer, or participative support.*

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my head, I could hear myself wanting to say, “It won’t work. You will be disappointed, broke, and frustrated because of the struggle…”. But just as quickly as I heard that, I felt the Spirit nudge me to help network with those that I could be of benefit. I needed to encourage them and help them. I needed to dream dreams with them.

I have personally experienced the disappointment and brokenness in life that comes from failed relationships and failed opportunities of impact. I have heard the thoughts that a certain young person has no clue of what is going to happen to them when they launch out into their grand venture. But I also know the power of the Spirit at work in me to keep an expectation to dream dreams. I know the hope that things will work out differently for others than they may have for me. I know the faith that leads me to take steps beyond what I can reasonably accomplish in and through my own efforts. I launched this blog, Thursday Thoughts, as a 68-year-old.

I don’t judge those who no longer dream dreams. I actually pity them. I feel sorry for the fact that their life is lived on a plane of drifting along, blown by the tides of culture. I also know they don’t have access or at least don’t know how to access the transformative power of the Spirit of God working in them. Because once they do, they will walk by faith and not by sight, and then they will dream dreams.

I have worked hard at not growing old before I die. That is not easy. I know of quite a few older men and women who stopped dreaming in their late 30s and died in their 80s. I also know a bunch of cool people who died physically before they stopped dreaming.

One was Mac Rigel. He and I had just had a conversation about some new church he wanted to start the day before he died, well into his 80s. He was driving from an appointment and pulled off the road, and died of a heart attack. He died in the saddle! He is one of my heroes. Sure he dreamed a lot of dreams that never became reality, but he lived by faith and transformed a lot of lives.

That is my prayer for my life.

What are your dreams?

*Missional labs

What is Your Calling?

What is your calling? Why are you living on Earth? 

Let me put on the table that we are all called. I am bothered by professional pastors who identify their call as something more special than others of different vocations. 

We are all called. Period.

One’s call is no better than another’s. It is interesting to me to see how as churches grew in size and organization over the 300 years after following Christ’s death, this sense of pastoral call became elevated over the call of others in the body of Christ.

So regardless of who signs your check, what is your calling?

I have had about six completely different careers thus far in my lifetime, but only one calling. It surely has looked different in the different roles I have filled in churches, organizations, and ministries. However, my call has been consistent.

If your calling is defined as a role, eventually, you will be disappointed. 

I work with a number of young pastoral candidates who define their call as identified in a role. In other words, they feel called to be a Lead Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s pastor, or however they label their idealized role. I believe this kind of thinking is why Covid was so difficult on many pastors. And it explains why there are so many bitter pastors post-covid.  They no longer find fulfillment in their role because the rules have changed. If they had defined their call more broadly, when their role changed, they would still be able to fulfill their call. As we will see later, your call informs your role, but it isn’t the same.

I have seen another danger of defining your call as I have worked with congregations. Some of the most cantankerous people in the congregation were those who had defined their call to be a pastor, but for one reason or another, they were not able to fulfill that role. These ex or wannabe pastors are bitter because they have an inner angst that results from them not fulfilling their desired role in a church. 

I also see the danger in defining your call as a role with those who retire from that role.  They basically check out of Kingdom work. They think retirement means moving on from their call to play golf. I have no problem with playing golf. Well, actually, I do have a problem playing golf, but that is because of my inability, not because of the sport itself. The reason I struggle with this is because, in scripture, death is retirement. 

Paul says in the last chapter of the last letter he wrote before he was killed, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4.6-7). Paul saw he had finished the race as he was dying, not when his support checks from the church at Philippi ended.

Paul’s call never changed despite being a pastor, planter, apostle, author, prisoner, evangelist, or tentmaker.  His call remained the same through all of these roles.

If we are all called, how do we define our call? 

Let me suggest our call is informed by how we are uniquely wired and the principles we find in scripture that guide the way we live. We will unpack that in the second week of January 2023. Until then, take time to search the scriptures for the principles that guide your life and identify how your unique wiring helps you fulfill those principles, given who you are.

Principles and Practices

Practices are many,
Principles are few,
Practices often change,
Principles never do.

These words have shaped my life for a long time…

I wrote in my last blog about how people may not live the things they believe. Or at least the things they espouse to believe. In other words, they may give verbal or cognitive ascent to certain truths or principles but then fail to live consistently with these principles. The scriptures are a combination of principles and practices.   

Principles are enduring truths that transcend cultures and time, whereas practices are how those principles are applied to specific times and cultures. Much of the New Testament was written to specific people in specific times and therefore has some practices for those audiences. 

For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul deals with a cultural understanding of worship as it relates to the length of hair of men and women in the church in the city of Corinth. A great deal of division has arisen over this passage throughout the centuries because Paul is dealing with a specific practice of worship in this first-century church. One can’t take that practice out of the context of everything Paul had to say to that specific church about worship. In fact, most of the sixteen chapters of this letter center around various practices in worship.

I grew up in a culture that emphasized practices over principles. We couldn’t dance, play games with face cards, or marry anyone who wasn’t a part of the Church of God, Anderson. Wow, how easy is it for these practices to become primary and yet so small. It is so much easier to tell who is in and who is out by setting up practices that are easy to measure. In other words, if you keep these practices and you will be safe…or so we were told.

I rejected them while a young kid. I saw through them quite easily. I ran for 8th-grade student council president specifically so I would have to go to the dances to oversee the event…it worked! My parents let me go. There were people in my church who were critical of those who smoked because of the damage it did to their lungs, yet they were obesely overweight. I challenged them that they were putting as much strain on their physical anatomy as were the smokers. It just didn’t make sense to me to pick on one behavior, vice, or addiction when others were just as damaging but maybe not as identifiable.

I rejected these practices quickly, and it wasn’t until I was at college did I hear the principle from scriptures on how I could experience life in relationship with God full of intention, purpose, and meaning. It was this principle, the principle of grace, that transformed my life.  It is a principle that is portrayed throughout the NT. From that point forward, an inner transformative process has been at work. Surely, it has produced changes in my practices, that is, the way I live my life. But it is principles that transform and then govern the way we live.

So how does one separate practices from principles in the New Testament?

Dallas Willard states in Hearing God:

Principles of Scripture are to be identified most of all from the actions, spirit, and explicit statements of Jesus himself.

Dallas Willard

We read about Jesus in the Gospels, and Philippians 2.6 tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God. So we see God’s principles through his life and teachings. And the rest of the NT is the story of how the Holy Spirit worked in the church(es) after Jesus’ ascending to heaven and the Spirit came to finish the work he started.

As one reads the Bible, the principles become evident from Genesis to Revelation. Our doctrine comes out of the new covenant, which is why it is called the New Testament (or covenant), and from the principles that result from the covenant of grace.  In the New Testament, we read about the principles that Jesus taught and modeled and then how the first-century Christians practiced these principles and literally changed the world.

I find it interesting that as I have read the scriptures through somewhere around fifteen times so far in my lifetime, the principles become obvious. I think age has something to do with it as well. I have seen how so many people have capitalized on practices to their own and others’ detriment. 

Principles are those concepts that articulate God and our relationship to him. They describe who we are in relationship to others. They describe the world and our relationship to it. It seems that people get in trouble when they don’t read the word in total enough to gain insight into the principles therein. It seems that people get into trouble when they focus on the practices rather than the principles. And it also seems people get into trouble when they search the scriptures for practices to justify something they want to do. Surely, they can find it somewhere in the Bible by twisting a verse. 

I have always been drawn to Principle Living over Practice Living. This is because principles tend to work down deep in my soul.  Surely, practices eventually emerge which reflect these principles. But for me, it always starts with principles. The challenge with principles is that each of us may apply them differently. In other words, we both may agree on the principle, but the practice that emerges in each of our lives may look very different.  Therefore, denominations/churches in the past identified specific practices by which they could monitor behavior.  It was called sin management. 

It is impossible to monitor principles the same way you monitor practices.

As I have met with followers of Christ around the world, it has been fun for me to see how various cultures practice very similar principles in very different ways. This may be hard to understand for those who have not been exposed to sincere believers from many different cultures. But those with greater cultural exposure have had to develop greater Cultural Intelligence (CQ). 

I spent a few hours identifying the principles that I find in scriptures that govern how I live my life. I have listed those which came to mind below but let me assure you they are neither complete nor definitive. There are many better thinkers than I who have given much thought to this. Here is my shot at it:

  1. I am created for intimacy with God, and therefore I must love God with every part of me and before everything else in my life (mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, financially, etc.)
    • God has graciously provided wholeness in my relationship with him by providing for my own selfishness in Christ’s death on the cross
    • I experience a new and transformed life as I appropriate Christ’s forgiveness and participate in that redemptive gift
    • I need to mature myself well over my entire lifetime to love God more by seeking things which draw me toward him and avoid those things which draw me away from him
    • God’s Spirit literally transforms me inwardly as I cooperate with him
  2. I am created for intimacy with others; therefore I am to love others
    • I need to manage myself well to love others more
    • In my marriage I must honor, love, and serve my spouse.
    • In my parenting I must steward the kids God has given me through loving, setting boundaries, and serving them
  3. My love for God and others is demonstrated by submitting my own desires for their benefit
  4. I am on earth to fulfill my calling of seeing others grow in their relationship with Christ through my own unique, natural, and gifted way
  5. I sacrifice in the short term for impact in the long term

I live by these primary principles, and I experience a lot of freedom because I am not bound by practices.  Rather I am committed to living by these principles, which can grow and adjust as the situation changes.  By the way, my practices have changed throughout my life thus far, but the principles have remained firm.

Who Defines Your Faith?

It seems to me that a factor for the division among Christians today results from followers of Christ defining their faith as simply holding a set of intellectual beliefs*. If that is allowed or accepted, then we can hold these beliefs and still act like those around us. The determining factor in how we live depends on “who” we identify with (church, political party, geographic, ethnicity, gender, etc.) rather than as scripture portrays. Jesus taught and modeled a way of living, not a set of intellectual beliefs. For Jesus, living in the Kingdom of God is demonstrating that Jesus IS the LORD of our lives. Our living should be a demonstration that we are part of a kingdom that is different from what we see lived around us.

According to the New Testament, we are literally aliens in this world and, therefore, should stand out as different. Don’t read stupid; read differently from those who do not have Jesus as their Lord. This is how Christianity grew, and the world was changed during the first three centuries in a way that has not been replicated since. I find it especially interesting that this all happened BEFORE the Bible was even written.

Once the scriptures were written, people began developing belief statements to codify faith. Obviously, this was the intent of the Councils and Creeds, which resulted. You can pick your creed: The Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian, or Chalcedonian**. Each further clarified what was written in the New Testament documents. Each of these Creeds not only allowed us to clarify our faith but also resulted in others being excluded. The Creeds further clarified who was in and who was out. This is what clarifying does.

The New Testament scriptures gave a clear description of how Jesus lived and what he taught, as well as how his disciples in the early church lived out his teachings. But individuals have used the scripture to establish a code of beliefs and behaviors. The New Testament wasn’t as “cleanly” packaged as the creeds because the New Testament books were written by various authors from various cultures over 70 years. For this reason, the scriptures do allow for disagreement between followers of Christ on similar passages. That is why the Creeds were written, to clear up the things not as clearly identified as some wanted from the scriptures.

There is an upside and downside to this process of consensus creedal development in this way. The upside was the Creeds clarified doctrines. But the downside was that they clearly allow for individuals to intellectually ascent to a set of beliefs without having a transforming relationship with the creator of the world and becoming a citizen of His Kingdom. They could simply ascribe to a set of beliefs and then live their lives as a King, advisor, leader, follower, servant, or slave with little regard to what a transformed life would look like from their position. There was a major disconnect between what the Creeds pointed to and how this divine would interact in their lives.

This allowed Kings to believe in Creeds and yet be cruel and merciless. It allowed men to ascribe to doctrines and abuse women and children. It allows for many today to seek to get the most out of living their life in the short term at the expense of the long term for the earth we live in.

Ironically, the scriptures are used in the same way as creeds today. Ironically, the scriptures have even more room to justify one’s beliefs. Individuals can pick and choose passages to justify their own self-serving actions. These are most often quite contrary to what living as a submitted follower of Jesus and a citizen of his Kingdom should look like. Too many people today give mental ascent to some set of beliefs from the New Testament scriptures and then they think and act like those around them.  Obviously, it depends on the those they identify with that determines their behavior rather than being a person in Christ’s Kingdom.  Their “those” could be their church, political party, ethnic group, family or culture of origin, gender, generation of birth, business, friends, or whomever they identify with.

Again, I am not suggesting the Creeds are bad, nor are the Scriptures irrelevant. I am suggesting that people often find some way to ignore the central and primary teaching of becoming a follower of Christ. They have developed a minimally viable belief system or statement which involves only a cognitive ascent rather than a life-orienting construal. It is no wonder those thinking people and often younger people are rejecting this facsimile of the faith portrayed in the New Testament which reorients everything in one’s life all the way down to who they serve and with whom they connect. This is what is taught in the New Testament, not credal faith but Kingdom of God citizenship.

*Andy Stanley…Not in to win it

**For a list of Creeds…

Perfect Prayers

I have always admired people who have the verbal skills to offer prayers in public contexts that seem to move heaven and hell. Their words are well chosen and pregnant with meaning and emotions. Though I admire them, I have never been able to replicate them. It just isn’t me. So what was the problem? I have considered several reasons for my inadequacy in this area, lack of spiritual depth, being too self-conscious, or just not enough practice.

My struggle with public praying doesn’t keep me from doing it. I offer prayers at all kinds of events like weddings, funerals, family functions, small groups, and at our dinner table, to name a few. Being a pastor requires you to pray in front of others. It doesn’t bother me to pray in front of others, I do it all the time. It is just my prayers never sound like those I mention above. My struggles aren’t because I don’t pray; I pray all the time. Recently reading a book by Dallas Willard (Hearing God) has caused me to reflect deeply about both my personal and public prayers.

As I have done this, I think I have figured out why my prayers are not as polished or well-worded. I think it is related to the way I pray. My prayers are a lot like my conversations…they are a stream of consciousness. In other words, in my private praying, I just say what is in my head without processing it through cognitive structures, which would cause the words to come out right. I have a running dialogue with God which ends up being a lot of random thoughts, desires, and emotions (both positive and negative).

I don’t separate talking with God from my normal thought process. I know this sounds strange, but God knows everything about me. So, I am convinced that I am best to be continuously open before God. It isn’t unusual for me to have a tempting thought to do something I know I shouldn’t, and I will laugh in my head, telling God, isn’t that a bad thing. I think that is confession. This isn’t something I have had to develop; it has developed naturally through my walk with Christ and attempting to be totally honest with him.

Even when I sin in some way, I don’t have to “come before God” and confess it to him; rather, I just acknowledge it was wrong, and we move on. Most people don’t think I am a praying person because I don’t spend huge amounts of time dedicated to praying specific prayers for specific people. This is a good thing, but when I am told about a situation or every time I think of that situation, it is like God is there in my thoughts, and I acknowledge that God must work in this situation.

I know this sound a little mystic, but it really isn’t. It is the way I have learned to communicate with God. I remember, as a twenty-year-old, just after committing my life to Christ, I was asked to pray in the church I grew up in on Sunday morning. I opened the prayer with “Good morning, God…”.  I wasn’t asked to pray again. It didn’t fit their expectation of Pastoral Prayer. That was fine with me, I thought it was their problem rather than mine. I now think it was a problem on both sides.

So my recent insight is this: could it be that because I pray like a stream of consciousness in front of others, it doesn’t come out right? Perhaps this seems awkward because this is not how we normally talk with others. 

Public prayer means I must suddenly enter into dialogue with God in front of others.  However, I have been in dialogue with God all along, so am I now supposed to talk differently than I would otherwise? In other words, to be most effective, I have to reorganize my thoughts into normal sentence structures. This process isn’t a bad idea, but now I know why my prayers seem disjointed and stunted: I have to verbally express what has been an ongoing stream-of-consciousness thought process with others listening.

Therefore my public prayers are a little stilted. People might ask me why? If you pray all the time, it should be natural to pray before and with others. This is true, but my ongoing dialogue with God is of a different nature, where I am very honest, open, and transparent. Those kinds of prayers before others aren’t always appropriate. If you read most printed prayers and public prayers, you will find them eloquent, well-worded, theologically sound, and grammatically correct.

My prayers simply aren’t like that. I don’t even talk to others like that. Many of you know in conversation that I have a rapid rate of speech and often say inappropriate things. My prayers reflect this entirely, they are much more free-flowing with fragments of sentences, questions, thoughts, and run-on sentences.

I will probably continue to struggle in phrasing my public prayers as I have in the past.  However, now I know why and don’t feel inadequate in so doing.

Math or English?

I went into high school loving math and struggling with language arts. Why? 

I am an analytical, verbal and social person.  Knowing what I know now, I am equally competent in both. So why was I turned on to one and turned off to the other?

Let me suggest my relationships and perceptions of my 8th grade teachers dramatically impacted me.  It is sad to realize how the decisions we make are based upon emotional attachments that can skew our lives and preferences for decades.

In 7th and 8th grade, I had a Math teacher who was 22 and fresh out of college. Do the math. She was about 10 years older than me and an intentional, energetic, gifted, cute, and engaging teacher. She knew how to challenge me, and she did. She offered to take anyone from our class who got A’s in every marking period to a Michigan State Football game the following fall. She was a tutor for the team while in school and had connections. With this incentive, I literally devoured math that year, and it dramatically shaped the course of my life, thinking, and career. I am forever in debt to Ms. Smith/Mrs. Brown. Yes, it was a bummer for me, but she did marry a few years after arriving to teach. Ironically, we still communicate today via email. She continues to learn and engage with her “students.”

Contrast that with my English teacher, who was at least 105 years old and went to college before they had desks! Okay, maybe not, but she seemed ancient and cranky. She looked down through her glasses at me, which sat on the end of her nose with a chain hooked to them and hung around her neck. It would seem we didn’t click for whatever reason. As I looked at my 8th grade report card, my grades ranged from C’s to an A-, quite an assortment. This teacher commented several times that I need to work on “being able to accept constructive criticism.” I don’t doubt the veracity of this comment, but I find it interesting that it stands in stark contrast to several other teachers who wrote the very opposite about me in the same semester!

Unfortunately, I allowed my distaste for the language arts to haunt me for the next 25 years! I missed out on so much reading and developing in this area simply because I “felt” as if I didn’t like it. 

Only after I graduated from my undergrad (without reading a single book) did I fall in love with reading, when out of desire and necessity, I began to read and learn from books on how to appropriately relate to others, especially a future wife.  Then, a decade later, as I learned Greek in my master’s program, I realized that I loved languages as well.

This isn’t about good or bad teachers, though I would like to write about that someday. I give this illustration to explain how I chose to respond to diverse teachers so differently to my own detriment. In other words, I allowed two different teachers to dramatically influence my subject choices for the next 25 years, even if it wasn’t good for me.

Let me be the first to admit that, in the moment, I had no clue that I was doing this. Now, only after a lifetime of learning, teaching, thinking, and coaching others do I see how this happened for me. But I see it happening so often in the lives of people around me. 

  • They have a terrible relationship that causes them to react in unhealthy ways.
  • They allow the dysfunctions of their parents’ lives to script their choices for decades, to their own demise.
  • Because of whom they were compared to in their lives, they choose to be the very opposite kind of person, despite it not being who they really are.
  • They allow the critical words or actions of another to develop a critical spirit in themselves, toward themselves and/or others.

My life was forever changed by Mrs. Brown. But it was also changed by the English teacher, just in different ways. I am desperately making up for those lost years when I ignored reading and language art disciplines. 

There are two challenges for me here:

  1. I must be aware of how I am reacting negatively and positively to those around me because my reactions may not be healthy or best for my long-term growth.
  2. How can I work at being a “Mrs. Brown” to others by through my intentional, energetic, encouraging, and engaging efforts in the lives of those around me?

Little Things Said

The little things that shape our lives…

Have you ever thought of how people have shaped your life in unintended ways by the little things they have said? I am amazed at how I can identify certain statements which have significantly impacted me, and yet the person who made the comment had no idea how it impacted me. In most situations, we have little awareness of how our words can impact those around us.

Take a moment and think of the millions of words that have been spoken to you during your lifetime. Why did certain words stick with you?

Most of us can think of those hurtful words we have experienced, like when my first boss out of college told me after I resigned from the company that he hadn’t seen anything in my work that I didn’t owe to my parents. I know he was trying to convince me to stay with the company, but it didn’t work. For most of us, we easily recall hurtful words individuals have spoken to us. It is important to be aware of how these words have scripted our current beliefs or behaviors. 

However, for this blog, I want you to think of words that individuals may have said to you that have positively shaped you.  

They don’t have to be grand statements but can often be said almost off the cuff.  Little things people say can shape our lives. For instance, here are a few that come to mind off the top of my head:

  • I had a trainer at the YMCA over a decade ago tell me that as people age, they lose their balance.  So she challenged me to “bounce” on one leg, which I have done for the last 10 years, and as a result, maintain great balance.
  • Thirty-five years ago, I had a mentor who was great at giving me pithy statements which continue to haunt me in a good way…for instance:
    • A leader is one step ahead of others, and a martyr is seven steps ahead.  Greg, you are more often a martyr than a leader…
    • Don’t fret too much about life; make peace with reality and move on
    • Find out where you have an unfair advantage over others and do it
  • A friend told me that when he needs to hear the truth, he asks me because he knows I will “call it like I see it.”
  • A more recent coach/mentor told me that God gives me passport into the lives of others, so I seek to use it for Him.
  • A respected author told me that if I lose my passion for discipleship, I never had it.

None of these individuals had any idea they were shaping my life significantly. Each knew I had something to learn and offered honest wisdom, but these few comments have substantively changed my life and how I behave.

I believe God can use you to shape someone’s life today.  It doesn’t have to be a major speech or heroic act. It may be just sharing something positive you see in another person.  Let me suggest you ask God for insight to speak truth, wisdom, affirmation, and challenge into someone’s life today.

You may change eternity for them and others.

Being or Doing?

I have always been intrigued with how people cultivate their spiritual life.  One of my first roles as a pastor forty years ago was to create a path for individuals to become disciples of Christ in a large church that was growing dramatically through evangelism.  I felt like a kid in a candy store!  We had hundreds of young followers of Christ who wanted to grow in their faith.  The lead pastor offered to send me on a two-week trip to any church in the United States to study how other large, growing churches were developing disciples. 

As I visited four or five of the churches (primarily on the west coast), I learned so much and developed a long list of questions about the process.  Most of these questions still haunt me today.  It bothered me that people develop in different ways and at different rates. Some don’t grow at all. It isn’t like growing corn, where the stalks grow consistently. I was perplexed why the first young man I poured my life into while in that role, after a couple of years, got married and left most of what we had been working through. For the last forty years, I have continued to wrestle with this process.  The Christian spiritual journey is founded on the grace of God, which none of us deserve.  In other words, God went to an extreme length to liberate us from our isolation from Him.  He did this by graciously welcoming us into his companionship.  It is based upon Christ dying, and there is nothing we can do to deserve it.  It was simply a gift he offered us.  So it is by simply accepting this gracious offer that we learn the meaning of “being” rather than “doing.”  It isn’t what we do to earn God’s approval, but purely by graciously accepting what he has done and remaining in relationship that we experience intimacy with God.

This truth is foundational to all our future growth. 

However quickly, we learned that we must read our Bibles, pray, attend church, and…the list goes in different directions depending on the tribe in which you came to faith in Christ.  There is clearly a lot of “doing” that we must accomplish if we are going to develop in our faith.  As we developed various disciplines in our lives, we found our spiritual life began to mature.  We noticed the inward transformation of our heart began to produce outward changes in our behavior.  Our desires changed as well as our actions.  There was a healthy and natural developmental process taking place.

Today, I hear people challenge followers of Christ that “being” is more important than “doing”. However, I think this is an inappropriate comparison.  It would be like asking any college football fan from the south if they are an Ohio State Buckeye fan or a University of Michigan Wolverine fan.  The reality is most fans in the south are fans of neither of these teams. There are other options besides only those two schools. I know it is hard for me to imagine, but nonetheless true.

Let me suggest that our walk with Christ is much more complicated than just being or doing. 

After watching many people grow, get stuck, un-grow, or go sideways over the last half-century has led me to see the best word for describing the Christian spiritual journey as one of “becoming.”  It is a journey of becoming.

Our spiritual journey with Christ is a process of maturing which continues throughout our entire lifetimes.  I can honestly say that I have grown more in my spiritual development over the last several years than probably any other period in my life.  I am changing and developing a lot at 68!  That is almost fifty years after I began this journey.

It isn’t either being or doing but becoming that describes the spiritual life of a Christian.  The Oxford Dictionary defines becoming as the process of coming to be something.  This seems to bring being and doing into a healthy balance.  It implies we are “to be” while progressing on a path toward a destination. The destination is to become like Christ.  Obviously, we all have a long way to go. I don’t think the best question is where you are on this path, as much as what direction are you heading?

I find it interesting that Dallas Willard believed (along with C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards & others) that this process of development will continue, even after death*.  I know it will take me that long.

*Preparing for Heaven by Gary Black

Living With the Unknown

How comfortable are you living with the unknown?

I think there is an element in all of us that simply wants to understand our world to the exclusion of mystery. It would seem few people have pursued this kind of knowledge more than I. Obviously, my degrees in engineering, business, theology, statistics, and psychology reveal my attempts to do so. Yet, the more I have learned, the more I realize I don’t know.

This is not just a colloquial phrase, but it is something that I have come to grasp deeply in my soul. There is so much in this world that we simply will never know. In fact, some would say that an object can never fully understand itself because it is limited to viewing itself seen from within itself. Whether you agree or not with that phrase, how much wonder do you possess?

The sad thing for me is that so few people live in awe of their world. This awe comes from fully appreciating that we do not fully understand ourselves, others, or the world around us. Unfortunately, too many people live their lives in such a small sphere because they think they know all the answers to life. By the way, I think Christians (and other religious fanatics) are the worst at this.

They have put God into our own little box. They believe they understand God completely and know what he is thinking and always doing. They won’t admit it, but they act like it in the way they take sides, judge others, or make predictions of the future. My perspective is that my God is so much bigger than I can imagine. He is infinite. My little brain is so finite. When my finite brain completely understands the God of the universe, my god is too small. Surely, a god I can fully comprehend and understand is not one worth worshiping.

My God is so much greater than I will ever be able to understand. This positions me to be humble in my understanding. I hold them lightly and with a sense of curiosity. I fully acknowledge that I know what I know, but it is not all there is to know. I can live with knowing there are things I don’t know and will never know, at least as long as I am on this earth and a part of my current faculties.

This perspective keeps me open to learning from others I don’t understand or agree with. One of my mentors expressed my superpower, that is, my unique ability, as I have a passport with others.  In other words, they give me permission to enter their lives in such a way that I can hear from and share deeply with them. This would seem to set me up to be a person who is able to understand others through assessment instruments and then speak the truth in love in ways they not only understand but appreciate, as the video showed last week.

I think this has been fostered by the perspective of living with a sense of God’s greatness, which is so far beyond me. There is so much I don’t know, so I live to learn from others and learn from the little things of this world every day. 

However, I have noticed that this perspective wanes in my life when I become so busy and maintain a frenetic pace in life. The things that keep me preoccupied are often good things, very good things. So it isn’t the quality of what I am doing, but it is the pace at which I am doing them that causes me to lose touch with this wonder and awe in others. When I am in this mode, others become appointments to make, people to meet, talk with, solve problems, check them off, and move on.

At these times, I miss the created wonder of these individuals, as well as the intrigue in the world around me. I miss the unexpected shades in the color of a leaf, the shape of a bug, the crack in the sidewalk beneath my feet, or even my own consciousness to apprehend the grandeur of these.

It would appear to me that certain personality types may struggle with this more than others. As well as, certain insecurities can push us to justify our significance through what we do rather than being on a journey of becoming. However, our culture saturates everything around us with the perspective that we can know and do it all.

With all the information at our disposal through technology, it becomes too easy to live moment by moment in what we know. Whether through texts, social media, email, phone calls, google, or whatever information channel du jour you prefer, we are bombarded with things to know and understand. It leaves too little room for the quiet reflection of awe in what is around us.  I pray that I will always take time to slow down and lean into knowing I don’t know all there is to know and never will. And more importantly, my life will be lived as an expression of that perspective.

Thanks to:

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