Climb Little Bear

I saw a video on Facebook recently where a mama bear and bear cub were trying to scale a steep snow-covered mountain slope.  The mama bear with her big claws seemed to reach the summit just fine, but the baby bear struggled.  Time and time again he would make progress only to slide right back down the mountain and once nearly off the slope face. Amazingly, the little bear became more resolute and energized instead of defeated with each attempt until he reached the top to join his mother. Like the little bear, the ultimate key to success in every area of life is developing guts and grit in the midst of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The video reminded me of the story in the Bible where a man came to his friend in the middle of the night seeking provision for a friend who stopped by on a journey. The man refused saying his children were already in bed and the door was locked.  The Scripture indicates that the man would eventually rise and help, not because of friendship, but because of the man’s “importunity” (Luke 11:5-8, KJV). This word, rarely used in today’s world, actually combines three concepts, including boldness (confidence to do and say what is right), shamelessness (not ashamed to ask and keep asking no matter how it looks to others), and persistence (steadfastness despite difficulty or delay) to show believers how to approach God in prayer.

The highest form of faith is to keep believing when everything tells you it will never happen. This type of perseverance qualifies us for the eventual breakthrough and victory. The Scripture clearly shows a connection between persistence and obtaining what is promised (Hebrews 10:35-36). Those who sow will also reap if they faint not (Galatians 6:7-9). It’s hard to miss the lessons of people like Job and Joseph who simply refused to quit and refused to turn on the Lord. Job received the double for his trouble and Joseph went from the pit via persecution and prison to the palace. There’s no telling where you can go if you will just choose to hang in there. All the really great triumphs in life are going to come through this type of endurance.

So how do you develop importunity or that bold and shameless persistence? First, Keep your eyes on the promise instead of the circumstance, the date on a calendar, the time on the clock, or the amount in your checking account. Second, keep your emotions under control because they will try to control the situation and you. Always remember that your emotions are given by God to experience life, not to run your life. Third, Keep your righteousness mentality remembering that he gave you the gift of righteousness and that consciousness of right standing with God will always make you bold and courageous. Finally, keep plugging away. Keep doing what you are doing. Be faithful, diligent, and consistent, and like the baby bear, you will find yourself standing on top of the summit.  Keep climbing little bear! Keep climbing!

No Más!

unknownPanamanian professional boxer Roberto Duran is considered to be one of the greatest fighters in history earning championship belts in four different weight classes.  The boxing world called him respectfully “Hands of Stone” because of his punching power.  Ironically, he is best known for losing his punch and quitting right in the middle of his championship fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, exclaiming, “no más” or no more.  Instead of going out a champion, the way he lived most of his life, Duran ended his boxing career and hung up his gloves perceived by the boxing world as a quitter.

The pressure is on believers all over the world to do the same thing.  The enemy knows that we are more than conquerors through Jesus, that we are always led in triumph in Christ, and that we have the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.  He cannot defeat us so he focuses instead on trying to provoke us into quitting because he knows that he cannot win without our willful surrender.  He could never defeat you, affect your right standing with God, or ever get God not to love you, but he can and does do everything he can to get you to quit on your right believing and right living.  So, all over the body of Christ too many Christians and Christian leaders are hanging up their gloves and quitting their spouses, cutting off friends, leaving their churches, vacating their ministries, and bankrupting their destinies.  Why?  Because they became weary in doing good instead of holding on to the promise that they would reap in due season if they did not quit (Galatians 6:9).  They started to focus on the limited negative at the expense of all the positive.

Every assignment, every attack, every confrontation, every disappointment, every setback, every loss, every inspired criticism, every agenda, and every perceived slight is designed to get you to quit, because quitting gets you off the path of God, and that was the devil’s goal all along.  Quitting indicates a believer has become demonized and is under the influence of the enemy and captive to do his will.  Regardless of whether we do it in the thralls of discouragement, the depths of depression, a fit of anger or offense, or with an arrogant smile on our face, quitting in violation of God’s word and will is a clear indicator that the enemy has pushed our buttons long enough that our troubled minds and roller coaster emotions are now driving our decisions rather than the voice of the Holy Spirit.

In these challenging times, the Lord would have us keep punching, to never give in, and to never give up.  That’s why he commanded (not just encouraged) Joshua to not be discouraged (Joshua 1).  Discouragement is a loss of spiritual courage, and the loss of that courage always precedes quitting.  I know as a believer and Christian leader that there are times you just want to hang it up, but the Lord needs you in your place, your family needs you to be steady, the Church needs you to be stable, and the world desperately needs you to model the hope you profess.

When you feel like quitting (1) on purpose put off that decision to quit, (2) take the time to flood your heart with the word of God and prayer, (3) get around people who are uplifting, challenging, and encouraging, (4) refuse to make decisions based on negative feelings or thoughts, (5) and remember God NEVER forgets a seed sown.  No matter how things look, you WILL reap in due season IF you do not quit!

The Selfishness of Skipping Church

Old Church 1The overwhelming consumerist mentality in our nation has spilled over and saturated the thinking of Christians throughout the Church in the United States.  More and more believers in America approach the concept of finding and remaining in a church the same way they would handle buying a car, shopping for the latest technological advancement, or choosing a movie to watch.  An institution whose founder came not to be served, but to serve, has been tainted by a ceaseless drum beat of “what can you do for me?”  The worship environment, the style of music, the dress code, the church programming, and the overall focus of the church, is no longer about the Lord and His agenda, but about the personal preferences of individual church shoppers.

The crisis of commitment and ownership in the American Church is reflected in the 2015 Pew Research Study that showed a serious decline in Americans self-identifying as Christians.  The problem is demonstrated any given month as families who used to attend church weekly and even several times a week now attend services one to two times a month (and I’m not referring to the shut-in, the sick, or those who must work). It is impossible to build anything of consequence in any sector of society with such inconsistency.  Imagine if a construction crew showed up to a building site only once or twice a month.  Think of what would happen if physicians and nurses manned the hospitals and ERs only a couple of times a month.  Consider the problems in education if our teachers worked only two days a month.  And yet, the welfare and future of our great nation hangs in the balance as rabid hedonists, religious fanatics, and ignorant young socialists and progressives march on fully committed to their causes.  We cannot build godly, committed, and society-changing future generations with a selfish hit and miss approach to church.

The key to the restoration of our culture and society is not the economy, our healthcare system, or even education, but the tone and temperature of our nation spiritually.  How can cold, lifeless, church skipping Christians possibly be the catalyst for fanning the flames of spiritual renewal and fire in the United States?  This coldness and lifelessness is reflected in the attitude of the Christian who says I don’t need to attend church all that much because I can get my spiritual food online or through broadcast media.  The attitude is reflected in the individual who says I don’t need to go to church because I can commune with God in nature on my own.  It’s reflected in the family that emphasizes every other kind of activity and pursuit other than spiritual education in the name of putting the family first.  It’s reflected by the one who points to their hurts, their disappointments, or their needs as an excuse to be absent from church.  It’s reflected in church workers who only show up to church when they are scheduled to serve, teach, or lead.  It’s reflected by parents who teach their children, by ungraciously and habitually leaving church after church, that the Church and its people are fatally flawed and not worthy of real commitment.  It’s reflected in the people who pursue amusement, recreation, and entertainment to the detriment of their spirituality and places of worship.

So, what’s the issue here?  The primary issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of why we gather as Christians.  True, we gather to worship God, learn the principles of God’s Word, and fellowship with one another.  But if you read the words of the writer of Hebrews, our priority is gathering so that we can encourage and help one another to progress spiritually in an increasingly secular, pessimistic, and antagonistic culture:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Luke tells us Jesus, the one we say we are following, left an example of faithful attendance explaining, “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16).  Think about that.  Jesus, the Son of God, had a habit of going to the house of God.  How much more do His followers need to develop that habit?

The culprits in the current spiritual malaise and indifference in our country are the selfish Christians who fail to consider how they can help, assist, and encourage someone else by coming faithfully to church instead of focusing on and serving their own wants, preferences, needs, and schedules.  That single mindset of coming to church not for what you can receive, but for what you can provide is the key to a true spiritual renewal in our land. When you are not in church the gifts and abilities in you are not made available to others.  That’s why skipping church is selfish and the complete opposite of the example of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, and the commands of Jesus.  If you are a consistent, constant, and faithful church goer, don’t let anything stop you from continuing in your dedication.  If you have become distant, cold, lifeless, and selfish in absenting yourself and your family from the Church, repent and return to a faithful lifestyle and relationship with your local church.  As the writer of Hebrews challenged us, we should become more diligent and dedicated to one another as we see the end coming, not more selfish.

Hamburger Meat

wifeI don’t often post the material of other writers or bloggers but this particular lady nails a concept I’ve counseled many couples about through the years…I think this applies to both men and women… – Pastor Art

Woman Realizes That She’s Been Accidentally Abusing Her Husband This Whole Time… Wow.

My “Aha Moment” happened because of a package of hamburger meat. I asked my husband to stop by the store to pick up a few things for dinner, and when he got home, he plopped the bag on the counter. I started pulling things out of the bag, and realized he’d gotten the 70/30 hamburger meat – which means it’s 70% lean and 30% fat.

I asked, “What’s this?”

“Hamburger meat,” he replied, slightly confused.

“You didn’t get the right kind,” I said.

“I didn’t?” He replied with his brow furrowed. ” Was there some other brand you wanted or something?”

“No. You’re missing the point, ” I said. “You got the 70/30. I always get at least the 80/20.”

He laughed. “Oh. That’s all? I thought I’d really messed up or something.”

That’s how it started. I launched into him. I berated him for not being smarter. Why would he not get the more healthy option? Did he even read the labels? Why can’t I trust him? Do I need to spell out every little thing for him in minute detail so he gets it right? Also, and the thing I was probably most offended by, why wasn’t he more observant? How could he not have noticed over the years what I always get? Does he not pay attention to anything I do?

As he sat there, bearing the brunt of my righteous indignation and muttering responses like, “I never noticed,” “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” and “I’ll get it right next time,” I saw his face gradually take on an expression that I’d seen on him a lot in recent years. It was a combination of resignation and demoralization. He looked eerily like our son does when he gets chastised. That’s when it hit me. “Why am I doing this? I’m not his mom.”

I suddenly felt terrible. And embarrassed for myself. He was right. It really wasn’t anything to get bent out of shape over. And there I was doing just that. Over a silly package of hamburger meat that he dutifully picked up from the grocery store just like I asked. If I had specific requirements, I should have been clearer. I didn’t know how to gracefully extract myself from the conversation without coming across like I have some kind of split personality, so I just mumbled something like, “Yeah. I guess we’ll make do with this. I’m going to start dinner.”

He seemed relieved it was over and he left the kitchen.

And then I sat there and thought long and hard about what I’d just done. And what I’d been doing to him for years, probably. The “hamburger meat moment,” as I’ve come to call it, certainly wasn’t the first time I scolded him for not doing something the way I thought it should be done. He was always putting something away in the wrong place. Or leaving something out. Or neglecting to do something altogether. And I was always right there to point it out to him.

Why do I do that? How does it benefit me to constantly belittle my husband? The man that I’ve taken as my partner in life. The father of my children. The guy I want to have by my side as I grow old. Why do I do what women are so often accused of, and try to change the way he does every little thing? Do I feel like I’m accomplishing something? Clearly not if I feel I have to keep doing it. Why do I think it’s reasonable to expect him to remember everything I want and do it just that way? The instances in which he does something differently, does it mean he’s wrong? When did “my way” become “the only way?” When did it become okay to constantly correct him and lecture him and point out every little thing I didn’t like as if he were making some kind of mistake?

And how does it benefit him? Does it make him think, “Wow! I’m sure glad she was there to set me straight?” I highly doubt it. He probably feels like I’m harping on him for no reason whatsoever. And it I’m pretty sure it makes him think his best approach in regards to me is to either stop doing things around the house, or avoid me altogether.

Two cases in point. #1. I recently found a shard of glass on the kitchen floor. I asked him what happened. He said he broke a glass the night before. When I asked why he didn’t tell me, he said, “I just cleaned it up and threw it away because I didn’t want you to have a conniption fit over it.” #2. I was taking out the trash and found a pair of blue tube socks in the bin outside. I asked him what happened and why he’d thrown them away. He said, “They accidentally got in the wash with my jeans. Every time I put in laundry, you feel the need to remind me not to mix colors and whites. I didn’t want you to see them and reinforce your obvious belief that I don’t know how to wash clothes after 35 years.”

So it got to the point where he felt it was a better idea — or just plain easier — to cover things up than admit he made a human error. What kind of environment have I created where he feels he’s not allowed to make mistakes?

And let’s look at these “offenses”: A broken glass. A pair of blue tube socks. Both common mistakes that anyone could have made. But he was right. Regarding the glass, I not only pointed out his clumsiness for breaking it, but also due to the shard I found, his sad attempt at cleaning it up. As for the socks, even though he’d clearly stated it was an accident, I gave him a verbal lesson about making sure he pays more attention when he’s sorting clothes. Whenever any issues like this arise, he’ll sit there and take it for a little bit, but always responds in the end with something like, “I guess it just doesn’t matter that much to me.”

I know now that what he means is, “this thing that has you so upset is a small detail, or a matter of opinion, or a preference, and I don’t see why you’re making it such a big deal.” But from my end I came to interpret it over time that he didn’t care about my happiness or trying to do things the way I think they should be done. I came to view it like “this guy just doesn’t get it.” I am clearly the brains of this operation.

I started thinking about what I’d observed with my friends’ relationships, and things my girlfriends would complain about regarding their husbands, and I realized that I wasn’t alone. Somehow, too many women have fallen into the belief that Wife Always Knows Best. There’s even a phrase to reinforce it: “Happy wife, happy life.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for his opinions, does it?

It’s an easy stereotype to buy into. Look at the media. Movies, TV, advertisements – they’re all filled with images of hapless husbands and clever wives. He can’t cook. He can’t take care of the kids. If you send him out to get three things, he’ll come back with two — and they’ll both be wrong. We see it again and again.

What this constant nagging and harping does is send a message to our husbands that says “we don’t respect you. We don’t think you’re smart enough to do things right. We expect you to mess up. And when you do, you’ll be called out on it swiftly and without reservation.” Given this kind of negative reinforcement over time, he feels like nothing he can do is right (in your eyes). If he’s confident with himself and who he is, he’ll come to resent you. If he’s at all unsure about himself, he’ll start to believe you, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither one is a desirable, beneficial outcome to you, him or the marriage.

Did my husband do the same to me? Just as I’m sure there are untold numbers of women who don’t ever do this kind of thing to their husbands, I’m sure there are men who do it to their wives too. But I don’t think of it as a typical male characteristic. As I sat and thought about it, I realized my husband didn’t display the same behavior toward me. I even thought about some of the times I really did make mistakes. The time I backed into the gate and scratched the car? He never said a word about it. The time I was making dinner, got distracted by a call from my mom, and burned it to cinders? He just said, “We can just order a pizza.” The time I tried to put the new patio furniture together and left his good tools out in the rain? “Accidents happen,” was his only response.

I shuddered to think what I would have said had the shoe been on the other foot and he’d made those mistakes.

So is he just a better person than me? Why doesn’t he bite my head off when I don’t do things the way he likes? I’d be a fool to think it doesn’t happen. And yet I don’t remember him ever calling me out on it. It doesn’t seem he’s as intent as changing the way I do things. But why?

Maybe I should take what’s he always said at face value. The fact that these little things “really don’t matter that much to him” is not a sign that he’s lazy, or that he’s incapable of learning, or that he just doesn’t give a d#%! about what I want. Maybe to him, the small details are not that important in his mind — and justifiably so. They’re not the kinds of things to start fights over. They’re not the kinds of things he needs to change about me. It certainly doesn’t make him dumb or inept. He’s just not as concerned with some of the minutia as I am. And it’s why he doesn’t freak out when he’s on the other side of the fence.

The bottom line in all this is that I chose this man as my partner. He’s not my servant. He’s not my employee. He’s not my child. I didn’t think he was stupid when I married him – otherwise I wouldn’t have. He doesn’t need to be reprimanded by me because I don’t like the way he does some things.

When I got to that point mentally, it then made me start thinking about all the good things about him. He’s intelligent. He’s a good person. He’s devoted. He’s awesome with the kids. And he does always help around the house. (Just not always to my liking!) Even more, not only does he refrain from giving me grief when I make mistakes or do things differently than him, he’s always been very agreeable to my way of doing things. And for the most part, if he notices I prefer to do something a certain way, he tries to remember it in the future. Instead of focusing on those wonderful things, I just harped on the negative. And again, I know I’m not alone in this.

If we keep attempting to make our husbands feel small, or foolish, or inept because they occasionally mess up (and I use that term to also mean “do things differently than us”), then eventually they’re going to stop trying to do things. Or worse yet, they’ll actually come to believe those labels are true.

In my case it’s my husband of 12+ years I’m talking about. The same man who thanklessly changed my car tire in the rain. The guy who taught our kids to ride bikes. The person who stayed with me at the hospital all night when my mom was sick. The man who has always worked hard to make a decent living and support his family.

He knows how to change the oil in the car. He can re-install my computer’s operating system. He lifts things for me that are too heavy and opens stuck jar lids. He shovels the sidewalk. He can put up a ceiling fan. He fixes the toilet when it won’t stop running. I can’t (or don’t) do any of those things. And yet I give him grief about a dish out of place. He’s a good man who does a lot for me, and doesn’t deserve to be harassed over little things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Since my revelation, I try to catch myself when I start to nag. I’m not always 100% consistent, but I know I’ve gotten a lot better. And I’ve seen that one little change make a big improvement in our relationship. Things seem more relaxed. We seem to be getting along better. It think we’re both starting to see each other more as trusted partners, not adversarial opponents at odds with each other in our day-to-day existence. I’ve even come to accept that sometimes his way of doing things may be better!

It takes two to make a partnership. No one is always right and no one is always wrong. And you’re not always going to see eye-to-eye on every little thing. It doesn’t make you smarter, or superior, or more right to point out every little thing he does that’s not to your liking. Ladies, remember, it’s just hamburger meat.

Oxygen for the Soul

oxygen-barA few years ago, my wife and I decided to head south to Florida for a few days of rest in the sun.  After dealing with some particularly difficult ministry issues (which is minister code for dealing with difficult people), a very long drive, and haggling over our reservations, I decided to hang out by a beach resort watering hole for a Coke (yes, a Coke, not a rum and coke).  As I sat there waiting for the drink, the bartender, apparently discerning my ragged demeanor, looked at me and said, “Are you doing alright?”  Like most people, and without candor, I replied, “Fine, I’m just fine.” I appreciated his inquiry, but I was dumbfounded.  I remember thinking to myself, “You had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles and sit at an oceanside bar and grill just to get someone to ask you how you are doing.”  Of all the people in the world, a total stranger (a bartender) had to ask me how I was doing.

Far from turning the episode into a pity party, I was, rather, challenged by the thought of the thousands and thousands of people we come across in our lives each year that are never asked that question as well.  How could something so simple matter so much? People all around us are going through difficult situations, challenges, setbacks, and disappointments.  George M. Adams famously said, “Encouragement is oxygen for the soul.”  This amazing truth explains, like oxygen, people need positive input from others because it is a vital (life-giving and life-sustaining) need.  The well-timed, sincere, and compassionate inquiry into the lives of others can have a powerful and positive impact on them during the darker seasons of life.  “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time” (Proverbs 15:23, NLT).

Perhaps we are all just too busy to stop and consider how others around us are doing. Perhaps we just assume that the people around us are doing just fine.  As the bartender had the presence of mind to ask, let me challenge you to be mindful of others and look for ways to send some oxygen their way.  Become a walking oxygen bar dispensing life-giving encouragement everywhere you go.  You never know who you will encourage and inspire by your kindness.