Lies Christians Tell

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Honesty may be the best policy, but deception and dishonesty are part of being human. That sentence is a direct quote from a recent article I read in a National Geographic article (June 2017) titled Why We Lie. The article even stated that Learning to Lie is a natural stage in child development. I’m not one who is overly prepared to discuss human development, but I do know that it’s not hard to see that dishonesty is prevalent in our society today. It is also rampant in our churches as well, especially in corporate worship.

Let me explain.

Charles Spurgeon once said, A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. He makes a good point, and Christians should be the first ones to understand the importance of truth, especially since we worship the One who is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. (John 14:6) However, instead of heralding truthfulness, we often champion deceit, inaccuracy, and falsehood, especially when we’re with other Christians in corporate worship.

To quote A.W. Tozer, Christians don’t tell lies, they just go to church and sing them.

I know we look like pillars of integrity when we stand to sing, sometimes with our hands raised high, but the question remains, do we honestly, wholeheartedly, sincerely, mean the words that are coming out of our mouths?

When I was a child, one of my favorite hymns was My Jesus, I Love Thee written by William R. Featherstone. The first stanza contains the lyrics, “For Thee, all the follies of sin I resign…” Even when I have the opportunity to sing that song now, I belt it out with all my heart, but when I reflect on the words, I must ask myself, “Have I really resigned from all follies of sin?” Sadly, the answer is most often, “No, I haven’t.”

One of my favorite worship songs now is When You Walk Into The Room by Bryan and Katie Torwalt. However, there are lyrics within the song that cause me to doubt my level of honesty with the Lord. For example, one line says “We can’t live without You, Jesus…” I’m lying if I say I always keep Jesus at the center of my life. Being a selfish person, I constantly try to live my life without Jesus’ influence. So, often, when I sing those words, I feel more conviction than rejoicing.

So, is the answer to stop singing and participating in corporate worship? Absolutely not. These internal struggles are part of the process of worship. In worship, we come to terms with the holiness of God and therefore, reflect on our own sinfulness. In Isaiah 6, which I learned in college is a textbook example of an ultimate worship service, Isaiah sees the Lord. He’s awed by the power that is before him. He hears the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s armies! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). As Isaiah is taking all of this in, he is completely overwhelmed by the Lord’s holiness, and then he comes to grips with his own sinfulness. He cries out, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” (Isaiah 6:5a)

Isaiah knew that if he were to join the seraphim in singing “the whole earth is filled with His glory” that his own life would need to reflect the glory of God. The same is true for us with the songs we sing in worship. If we’re going to sing, “The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning, it’s time to sing Your song again…” (10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman), then we should be willing to rise in the morning, remembering who He is, and being willing to lift up His name in song, and willing to submit our day to His will.

So, let’s determine to sing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to the Lord with hearts that are pure and ready to confess. As we enter into worship, let’s encounter his holiness and repent of our own sinfulness. Let us be filled with integrity in our worship, lifting Him up in Spirit and in TRUTH.

Do You Ever Feel Worthless?

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Do you ever feel worthless? Good for nothing? Without purpose? Inconsequential? Expendable? Unlovable? Ordinary?

If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. I’ve struggled with these feelings myself at times.

Millions of people, just like us, wake up each day, go through the motions of their lives, all the while feeling totally insignificant and utterly useless. Often, when these thoughts of unworthiness exist, we naturally equate them to the way that God must feel about us.

In the musical, Little Shop of Horrors, flower shop worker Seymour sings these words: “Poor, all my life I’ve always been poor. I keep I asking God what I’m for, and He tells me ‘Gee, I’m not sure. Sweep that floor kid.”

I’m not saying it’s right, but those of us who sometimes feel they live in a pointless existence often feel as if God made a mistake when He created us. Like Seymour, we feel like we must live our lives day to day fulfilling mundane tasks. For the record, I’m not saying that sweeping the floor is insignificant. Floors get dirty and must be swept. Some people who sweep floors live very fulfilling and purposeful lives. Others of us though, like Seymour, are sometimes overwhelmed with a sense of worthlessness, and therefore any task, no matter how common or grandiose, can feel routine and commonplace, leaving us feeling dry and unimportant.

These feelings may sometimes come upon us because we forget that God created us in His image. In Genesis 1:27, we see that God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.

We were formed in the image of God. That means something. Our lives are not accidents. God made us on purpose. We have worth. We have value. God formed us after Himself. He loves us and has great purposes for our lives. Every single day was planned out for us before we were even born.

The Psalmist wrote:  I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made…Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. (Psalm 139:14a, 16)

God didn’t create the planets, earth, sun, moon, stars, rocks, rivers, canyons, mountains, trees, birds, or animals to be like Him, though they do reflect His glory. Instead, He formed us after Himself, in His image. He made each one of us special.

Whenever I felt this struggle within me, I pray something like this: Lord, thank You for creating me in Your image. In that alone, I have great value. Help me to remember that today and everyday. Amen. 

Do you ever feel worthless? If so, trying praying that short prayer above. Try remembering that God created you in His image with great purposes in mind. In that itself, you have great value.

 

*Photo by Evan Kirby, courtesy of Unsplash

 

My Personal Battle with Truth and Fiction

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I’ve heard it said that truth is stranger than fiction, but I was never certain as to whether or not I could really believe it. Truth and Fiction are so similar that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between them. Many times, in either classification, people are simply telling stories.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love stories. I always have. There’s something about the ebb and flow of the introduction of characters, the unfolding of the setting, the emergence of conflict, the buildup of relational tension, and the joy of resolution that grips me down deep.

Stories teach. Stories heal. Stories whisk us away to other lands and somehow through the mental break and moral lessons they provide, we emerge from them as better people, much of the time at least. Stories impact our lives and change us.

When I was eight years old, a preacher came to my house and shared with me, what I was told, was the greatest story ever told. Knowing it was only a story, I repeated his prayer and two weeks later I was baptized on a Sunday night.

Suddenly, my story changed, at least in theory. For you see, to the world I was a Christian, living a life dedicated to my Lord Jesus and striving to be free and separated from sin.  The truth however, is that even though I was a card-carrying member of a church, that I was living a lie. I was telling a story. I thought that the Bible stories that I heard at church and at home were simply stories, no different than the stories of Curious George, Spiderman, Santa Claus, and the Engine That Could. I loved all of these stories, but understood that honestly, they were simply moral lessons designed to teach me to be a good boy.

But then, as a teenager, a conflict arose within me. Suddenly, I became both protagonist and antagonist making major plot decisions in how my life’s story was going to play out.  I realized I was standing at a major crossroads. The decisions I was about to make would not only determine the next chapter of my life, but it would be instrumental in defining my journey’s end.

Honestly, I thought about abandoning stories altogether. It didn’t matter if it was Truth or Fiction. Both seemed to be getting stranger by the day. A whirlwind of stress and confusion caused the tension within me to swell to the point of explosion, when I realized I was wrestling with an unseen character.

This new character was dynamic and powerful yet peaceful and controlled. This character had the power to transform my story forever. This character was the Author Himself. He stepped into my story and helped me realize that it was His story all along.

That’s when I realized that the stories I had learned as a child about the Lord weren’t stories at all. They were real.

It was then that I joined His story as a willing participant, honored to be included as a character in His book forever.

I’ve heard it said that Truth is stranger than Fiction. That may be true, but at least it’s real.

How To Simplify Any Problem

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It was the early 1970’s. 8-tracks, pet rocks, and waterbeds were all the rage. The Jackson 5, Led Zeppelin, and Bread were playing on the radio. And Irish Spring from Colgate-Palmolive, with its green stripe of freshness, was top of the soap charts. Meanwhile, the marketers at Procter and Gamble were working hard trying to create a copycat product with it’s own green stripe of freshness.

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After several failed attempts, creative manager Min Basadur suggested that his team at Procter and Gamble weren’t asking the right questions. Instead of asking, “How can we make a better green stripe bar than Irish Spring?” he asked the question, “How might we create a more refreshing soap of our own?”

 

This led the team to explore other themes of freshness including that which comes at the seacoast. From this came the coastal blue and white striped soap named “Coast.”

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Min Basadur went on to become a consultant who has taught the concept of How Might We to companies over the past four decades. The question is key in what has become known as Design thinking, which is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions.

Here are some steps we can use to help us better understand the question of How Might We?

Step 1: Define the area you want to explore, whether it is a current problem or an anticipated problem.

Example: This meeting is going to be boring.

Step 2: Reword the statement into a “How Might We?” question.

 

  • How suggests that we do not yet have the answer. It helps us explore a variety of possibilities instead of acting on what we suppose the solution should be. It pulls us out of inactivity and helps us begin thinking.
  • Might emphasizes that our responses are only possible solutions, not the only solution. It also allows for exploration of multiple possible solutions instead of merely settling on the first that comes to mind. It allows for any idea to be brought to the table, no matter how outlandish.
  • We immediately brings in the element of a collaborative effort. It suggests that the solution lies within our collective teamwork instead of within one person’s influence and creativity. 

 

Example: This meeting is going to be boring…How might we make this meeting interesting?

Using How Might We questions helps us take a negative statement and turn it into a positive question which helps us find a solution. 

Step 3: Use brainstorming techniques to come up with as many solutions that you and your team can imagine to your How Might We question.

Examples:

  • We might make the meeting more interesting by involving the attendees in discussion?
  • We might make the meeting more interesting by utilizing visuals in the presentations?
  • We might make the meeting more interesting by limiting the length to one hour?

Step 4: Prioritize the best ideas, build on them, and work them into next steps, sometimes involving their own How Might We questions.

Example: How might we actively involve the attendees in our meeting in interesting and lively discussion?

How Might We? is a question which can help simplify and bring clarity to almost any problem. Granted, it might simply bring more questions to the table, but most often, those questions are relevant questions.

So, next time you encounter what seems to be an unsolvable problem, try developing it into several How Might We questions. If you do, you’ll suddenly be thinking from a positive viewpoint, pointing yourself towards solutions instead of dwelling on the negative problem.

* For further study on How Might We, including the full story of Coast, see The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use article by Warren Berger from Harvard Business Review.

 

Why I Choose To Be Thin-Skinned

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King David was a king, a warrior, and a man after God’s own heart.  He was also an artist, a musician and a writer. Who else but a sensitive person with an artistic heart could have written so many heart felt psalms? Who else but a talented artist could have played so skillfully that demons fled from Saul as he listened? The church needs artists today. We need people who cry when listening to beautiful pieces of music. We need people who stop running so frantically and see the beauty, hurt, and awe around us. We need people who pay more attention to God’s creation than business plans. We need people who feel deeply and have the ability to communicate those feelings to the rest of us.

Rory Noland, in The Heart of the Artist, writes that “Everyone with an artistic temperament has been told at some point in his or her life to develop a thicker skin. That’s nonsense! The world doesn’t need more thick-skinned people. It needs more people who are sensitive and tender.” I agree with Rory’s sentiment for the most part. I suggest that artists, in the church, need to be thin-skinned people when experiencing beauty and hearing from God but then be willing to put on spiritual full-body armor when experiencing evaluation, criticism, and spiritual warfare.

I am a firm believer that God determines what He wants someone to do by who He made them to be. I also believe that everyday, as we grow closer to Him, experience life’s victories and defeats, learn new skills, and tolerate pain and resistance, that we are in a constant state of becoming.  So, the two questions are, “Who did God create you to be?” and “How has God being creating you recently?” 

Did He create you to be an artist of some kind?  Then keep reading.

The world pushes artists of all kinds down from the time they are young.  Think about it.  Adults ignore or laugh at children’s artwork when presented to them, kids taking artistic lessons are often downplayed by those in sports leagues, Jr. High students are merciless in their teasing of classmates trying to express themselves in any creative way, high school and college standards weed out those who simply want to create art for enjoyment, and then adulthood comes along and presents us with the immediate priorities of financial obligations, thank you very much. I know, I know. Life happens and people have to grow up and find real jobs in order to stay alive. That’s true, but what fun is life if there isn’t some kind of beauty we can experience along the way? What good is the money we make if we are numb to art and beauty?

I want to encourage artists, especially those in the church, to not be afraid of your own sensitivity. Feel what’s going on around you. Experience it. Live it. Make it a part of you.  Then communicate it to the world around you in beautiful, unique ways. Write, sing, sculpt, paint, draw, play, act, compose, speak, direct, form, whatever…

Just don’t stop. 

If you do, it’s not just you who loses. 

It’s all of us.  

 

My Last Drink of Alcohol

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My last drink of alcohol was New Years Eve, 2002. I was on a mission trip in Indonesia standing between a seminary professor and an international missionary in a worship service. Since I didn’t speak the language, I had no idea the church was actually using real wine for communion that evening. I was given a small piece of bread and a small glass of what I assumed was grape juice.
It wasn’t.
I realized as it was halfway down my throat.
Ironically, my last drink was also my first. That’s difficult for most people to believe, especially since I live in New Orleans. Let me explain.
As a child, I was never really around alcohol. My parents didn’t drink, so it was really a non issue for me. When I was in Middle School, we moved to a dry county in Arkansas where the closest alcohol for sale (legally) was across the Texas or Oklahoma line at, what my grandfather affectionately called, the beer joint. Even though it was popular, I never really had the desire to put forth the effort to get to one of these establishments. They were far away, I never had the money, and quite frankly, I would have rather had a Coke.
It was about that time that I began hearing about others I knew who had problems with alcohol. I even heard one of my relatives tell my dad, “I just can’t stop. It’s got a hold on me.” As a young teen, I vowed that I would never let alcohol or drugs control my life.
Then, at 16, I gave my life to Jesus and started reading the Bible seriously. I learned that the Bible actually doesn’t condemn drinking. Paul writes the following in Ephesians 5:18: Do not get drunk with wine. That leads to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. That floored me. Had I been wrong? Should I have joined the drinking crowd? I wasn’t sure.
 
This actually created a mental and moral crisis for me as a teenager. The Bible actually seemed to condone drinking in this scripture. As long as someone didn’t get drunk, what was the problem with drinking alcoholic beverages? Then, to make matters worse, Jesus changed water in wine at a party where scripture seems to share that a few of the people attending (not Jesus) might actually be a little hammered.
I wondered at the time, should my situation determine my convictions? I wasn’t sure if the right decision was found in a cultural thing or a context thing or something else completely.
Then, a friend showed me Colossians 2:16-17, where Paul writes: So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ Himself is that reality.
I told him that I understood his point, and that I would try not to condemn or criticize him if he chose to drink alcohol. However, I also to him that I didn’t think he was really concerned with this because of his relationship with Christ, but was trying to justify his life choices.
To my surprise, he agreed.
Later, I came across 1 Corinthians 10:23. In that scripture, Paul writes: You say, “I am allowed to do anything” but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial.
 
I decided once again, as an older teenager, that for me, drinking alcohol was not beneficial. I’ve held that conviction now for 30 plus years. I understand that many others, probably most people, don’t share my personal conviction. That’s fine. I still want to be friends and won’t let this issue stop us.
However, since I’ve taken my last (and first) drink of alcohol, it’s time to move on to other dilemmas which can be spoken to from 1 Corinthians 10:23. Most of them have to do with what I put into my body (junk food, soda, cake) and what I put into my mind (certain movies, books, videos). As I wrote earlier, alcohol has really always been a non-issue for me. However, I don’t have quite the same tenacity when it comes to donuts, Coca-cola, and sit-coms.
Praise the Lord for His grace and mercy.

What God Thinks About You

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When I was in college, I attended a large student conference in North Carolina. One day, as I was waiting for my friends, an older woman struck up a conversation with me. She asked me if I was enjoying the conference. For some reason, I told her I was really disappointed because I hadn’t been selected to sing the solo with the choir for that evening’s worship service.

She replied, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of that it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this it still belongs to the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15-16) Do you know why I stopped to talk with you?”

“No,” I replied.

“I wanted to tell you that each night when the choir sings, I watch you worship and it encourages me. You are unique and loved by God.  He doesn’t want you comparing yourself to others. He wants you to rejoice in what He’s given you.”

I walked away encouraged.

That evening, I was surprised to see that very woman introduced as the keynote speaker.  She walked to the podium, looked out at 1500 college students and said, “You are unique and loved by God.”

I noticed a girl on the front row wiping her eyes.  She needed that message as much as I did.

We all spend so much time comparing ourselves with others that we forget that God loves us just as we are and made us that way on purpose.

So, before I go, let me remind you – You are unique and loved by God.

 

*Warren Wong Photo courtesy of Unsplash 

Lesson Learned from Thurgood Marshall

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Thurgood Marshall became a Supreme Court Justice in 1967. As the first African-American justice, he was attributed with the following quote: The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in time of crisis. 

Today, as I ponder his words, I have to wonder, “Do I retain my compassion in times of crisis?” No, I don’t. Instead, I often freak out and become completely self-centered?”

However, as Christians, we are called to live differently.

The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

We all struggle with selfishness. If we say we aren’t, we’re not being truthful. The truth is, we could all spend the rest of our lives learning how to clothe ourselves with compassion, not to mention kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Let’s get started.

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Most days, it’s go, go, go. It’s moving on, pushing forward, forgetting what is behind, and pressing on to what is ahead. I get it. If you don’t look ahead, you live in the past.  

But today, at this marker in my life, I look back, and realize how long the path has actually been. I see the wild, unusual trajectory of my life’s journey so far and think, “How did I end up here? It feels like I just got started.”

But I didn’t. I’ve actually been at this whole life thing for quite awhile.

A student once asked Billy Graham, “What’s the greatest surprise you have found about life?”

He answered, “The brevity of it.”

I agree with him. It has been short and it seems to be getting shorter by the year. When I look back, I see that I’ve come a long way, but all I can really think about is all the duties I still need to fulfill, all the people I still want to meet, and all of the journeys I still want to take.

But time is short.

Very short.

If that’s the case, then I want to do what’s most important with the rest of my life.

Jesus once said, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”

So now, as I look back, it looks pretty good. But it sure is nice to know there’s more assignments and adventures ahead of me.

*Photo courtesy of Unsplash Mike Rawlings

Loss

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I woke up this morning feeling a great sense of loss. This is something that happens at some point to everyone, I suppose. I tried to shake it off with prayer, activity, and even with strong wishing, but it’s still there.

So, I did some research on it.

Google describes loss as a noun and defines it as the fact or process of losing something or someone. That’s a pretty simple explanation. Unfortunately, dealing with loss is not quite so simple. It’s definition implies that loss ends once the object or person is gone. In my mind, that’s only the beginning of loss.

John Steinbeck, in The Winter of Our Discontent, wrote the following: It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.

I found that to be true after my wife and I lost our baby to miscarriage after ten years of marriage. A few people, while trying to comfort us, said, “This is a big blow. It must hurt so much to not have a child.”

I would often reply quietly, while screaming my lungs out inside my head, “We’re not sad because we don’t have a child. We’re sad because we once had a child and no longer do.”

So, what do I do this morning with my sense of loss? Do I squelch it? Do I try to think about something else? Or do I take the time to experience it?

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, shared the following words: Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?

Something within in me fights against that kind of logic though. Something says, “Suck it up and be happy. You shouldn’t feel this way if you’re have Jesus as your Savior and Lord.”

But there’s a flaw in that type of thinking as well. Jesus experienced terrible loss, much greater than I will ever know. Isaiah 53:3 says He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

I think C.S. Lewis is right in what he is saying. There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it. We can attempt to delay it or deny it, but we cannot destroy it. It’s going to find us in the end.

So, here’s my resolution for today. If I’m going to feel loss and grief today, I’m going to do it while holding the hand of the One who was acquainted with the deepest grief. He’s also the God who wants me to live life more abundantly and wants my joy to be full. He knows the way, not around, but through loss and I will follow Him.