Preparation K

As in preparation Kelly. What did you think I meant?

Anywho, it seems God is teaching me about three different things right now in an effort to “prepare” me for something terrifying and difficult that is coming down the pike. I don’t know what that something is, per se, I just sense that it is coming.

So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

God is using the gym to school me in all three areas: stepping into fear, resisting equating my performance with my value as a human being, and disciplining myself to do the work when I don’t particularly feel like it.

These are some big lessons He is teaching me in this little safe, controlled environment called the gym. I feel like He is giving me a space to practice these behaviors because I’m going to need them to be second nature where He is taking me.

It has occurred to me many times in the past that my ministry role models have all gone through their own personal versions of growing in these three areas.

They have all struggled with fear in the past, learned how to handle it, and gone on to teach others how to deal with it in healthy ways. They’ve written books on the subject and shared their stories from the stage. Learning how to interact with fear is a common thread for the most successful people I know.

These people also clearly know who they are and why they are valuable and that their writing a best-selling book or speaking to 10,000 people in no way means they are any more valuable than the next person. Conversely, they know their ill-worded tweet that lands them on the social media crap list doesn’t mean their value has diminished either. They don’t tie their identities to their performances.

And they are all very self-disciplined people. It shows up in their ministries, their teaching, and the everydayness of their lives (for example, every single one exercises religiously). They run giant ministries while writing in-depth Bible studies and books simultaneously while speaking all over the world 40 times every year. Oh, and they are parents and spouses and children who strive to keep their families a priority over their ministries. None of this happens without incredible self-discipline.

So here I am, learning all these same lessons on a much smaller scale, trying not to get too caught up in what the future may hold, but curious nonetheless.

I graduate seminary, the reason for my total neglect of writing on this blog, in December. And I have no plan after that. As in, none.

Some find that nonsensical. Some find that stupid. Some find that odd. I find it to be just another day in the life of being one of God’s kids.

He doesn’t tell us the whole plan. He tells us what the current step is. And that’s usually about it. Seminary and gym lessons are my current steps. So I am focusing on being a diligent student in both classrooms so I don’t miss the spiritual and character development He is attempting to create in me.

And, by His grace, I’ll be prepared for what’s waiting for me in 2018…

Advertisements

How to Become Wise and Make Those Around You Wiser

I’m reading through Proverbs right now (not right now, but you know what I’m saying), in which Solomon writes ad nauseum about wisdom. I guess that makes sense since that was his forte, but still, he repeats himself over and over (which I realize is redundant, but I like redundancy…I also like to say things again and again… … … … …)

Anyway, one of the dead horses Solomon beats is that wise people listen to advice and accept discipline. In fact, Proverbs 19:20 reads, Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” So. There you go.

Likewise, Proverbs 12:15 says, “The wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 13:10 reads, “Wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life.” Proverbs 12:1 reads, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.” Proverbs 15:32 says, “The one who heeds correction gains understanding.”

Several thoughts occur to me.

First, if we want to be wise, the verse says we have to listen to advice and accept discipline. Which we cannot do if people aren’t giving us advice and disciplining us.

Now, don’t get scared. I’m not going to say we should walk around spanking adults for misbehavior or placing grown people in time out (although, I think I’d benefit greatly if someone would make me sit on a mat and think about what I’ve done from time to time). Discipline here has less to do with punishment and more to do with instruction and correction. Think disciple. Wise people listen to advice and accept instruction and correction.

Obviously, all advice and instruction are not created equally. Some people give really crappy advice. Others over-correct constantly because they like the sound of their own voices. So we have to be careful about who we consult. But we all need good advice-givers and discipliners/instructors/disciplers in our lives. 

On the other side of the coin, we all need to be good advice givers and discipliners.

I don’t know a lot of people who struggle with not giving advice. Most people like to give advice and find it easy to do so because it is a lot like giving an opinion. We all have a lot of opinions and most of us don’t mind sharing them.

But I don’t know a lot of discipliners and correctors. It takes more guts to correct someone than to give them some advice. Personally, when someone is saying or doing something stupid or wrong in my presence, I’d rather keep my mouth shut and silently wish the moment would pass than confront him on it.

I suspect most people are like me in that regard; we have an aversion to correcting people because we associate conflict and animosity with correcting. We anticipate it won’t go well. How many of us have been taught how to correct/confront others in a gentle, helpful way and feel comfortable doing so?

But what is the result of being a society–a Church–who does not correct people when they are wrong or foolish? We end up with a void of wisdom.

The verse says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” We cannot produce wise people unless we are willing to correct people. This has far reaching implications in every aspect of life. On a a big picture level, those of us who have an aversion to conflict have to get over ourselves if we want a society/government/culture/Church/family that is wise. 

On a small scale, when we withhold valuable instruction and correction from the person sitting across the table from us who is bragging about his latest sin or laying out the worst plan we’ve ever heard in our lives, we contribute to his downfall. We stunt his emotional and spiritual growth. Ultimately, we fail to love him well.

That puts a whole new perspective on things. Next time you feel compelled to not correct someone out of fear of the uncomfortable confrontation that may occur, think to yourself, “Self, if I love him, I will speak up.”

If you don’t love him, well, that’s a whole different problem.

 

No, God isn’t on Your Side (At Least not Unequivocally)

There are mostly two kinds of people in this world: the kind that think God is always for them and the kind that think God is always against them. I’ve met very few inbetweeners.

But the thing is it’s only the inbetweeners – those who don’t think God is for them or against them – who are holding a biblical belief.

Early on in Joshua’s tenure as Israel’s head honcho, the Lord/an angel/the pre-incarnate Christ appears to Joshua in the form of a man to give him instructions on how to conquer Jericho.

At first Joshua doesn’t seem to recognize this man is no ordinary man. Joshua approaches him and asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13). Joshua realizes this man is not an Israelite. But some foreigners supported Israel, living among them and fighting with them in all their battles. So Joshua wants to know: is this guy on Israel’s side or Jericho’s side?

The man replied, “Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come,” (Joshua 5:14).

This revelation clues Joshua into the fact that this man is supernatural, sent by God to speak to him. Immediately, “Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” (Joshua 5:15).

That word “neither” was most unexpected to me. How can God not be for Israel and against her enemies always? Israel is His chosen nation! He’s giving her leaders step by step directions on how to violently conquer and destroy every single breathing human being in every single nation in her path. What does He mean “neither”?!

There are two possibilities I can think of.

One is perhaps all God is trying to communicate here is that the man before Joshua is not human, like he had assumed. He’s not an Israelite or a sympathetic foreigner, and he’s not from Jericho. He’s neither. End of story.

The other possibility is God is communicating that and more, the “more” being that God doesn’t choose sides, at least not unequivocally. 

I know, I don’t like it anymore than you do. I want to believe God is cheering me on in every single thing I do, turning to the angels from time to time to say, “Do you see her?! That’s my daughter! Isn’t she wonderful?!”

Perhaps He does do that on occasion. But I guarantee you He doesn’t do that all the time.

In fact, there are times He must surely say to Himself what I often say to my daughters, “Oh, no, ma’am! That is not acceptable behavior.” And then He doles out some discipline to let His hard-headed daughter know He is not at all for her when she insists on sinning.

This is the case with Israel.

Yes, the Israelites are God’s chosen nation. Yes, He empowers them to win quite a few battles and to take possession of a choice expanse of land.

But when the Israelites choose to do wrong, God is quick to drop His support. He disciplines them and allows them to suffer all kinds of terrible consequences as a result of their disobedience, sometimes even causing the tragic results.

A couple of examples:

  • He is lightning quick to thoroughly punish the Israelites when they get impatient with how long Moses and God’s powwow takes on Mount Sinai. They decide 40 days is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, so they make a golden calf and worship a hunk of shiny metal instead. And God is anything but for them, instructing Moses to kill the idol worshippers, some 3,000 Israelites, and sending a plague on the rest of nation (Exodus 32).
  • God doesn’t hesitate to punish the Israelites with a 40 year death sentence in the wilderness because they don’t trust Him enough to enter the Promised Land when He tells them to. Because of their lack of faith, God tells them to go somewhere else instead. Upon hearing this consequence, the Israelites try to renege on their choice to disobey and agree to go to the Promised Land the next day. Moses tries to talk them out of it, but they erroneously believe disobeying God’s command to go somewhere else in an effort to obey His initial command to go to the Promised Land will be acceptable. On the contrary, He lets them know it isn’t by allowing the Amalekites to destroy many of them and sending a plague on many more (Numbers 14).

I could go on. In fact, most of the Old Testament attests to the fact that God doesn’t unequivocally endorse anyone, not even those who are supposedly especially tight with Him. God doesn’t jump on our team or another team. He does not proclaim unconditional loyalty to humans.

Why not? Especially this side of the cross, shouldn’t He always be in our corner if we are Christians?

Not only is that logically impossible (think of how many times you and another Christ-follower were on different sides of an issue – how could God be “for” both of you at the same time?), but God knows how fickle people are, even believers. He knows how we can worship Him with all our hearts one minute and be nose-deep in sin the next. Is it any wonder He won’t support us or anyone else unequivocally?

The reality is God doesn’t pick sides; we do. 

God has a team; Satan has a team. Humans decide which team to be on, sometimes jumping back and forth at a nauseating pace.

The Story is about God and His Kingdom, not us and ours. God is not for humans; God is for God. Are we?

How to Grow Spiritually

Most mornings I read Oswald Chambers‘ daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. If you’re not familiar with him, Oswald is like a Christian superhero, right under C.S. Lewis, but well above Larry Boy.

Somehow I started reading Chambers straight out of the gate when I became a Christian almost 15 years ago. I like him because he’s not a fluffy devotional writer. (You know the kind of crap I’m talking about. Don’t make me name names.) He typically gets to the deeper heart of the believer with no sugar-coating in a few short paragraphs. He challenges. He calls you out. And he never ends his daily lesson with a, “Now go have a great day eating ice cream and playing with puppies!” kind of feel.

That being said, he doesn’t convey a holier-than-thou attitude either. A guy can’t have the kinds of insight into the depravity of man Oswald has without having experienced the depths of his own depravity first…and often.

All that to say, Chambers knocked it out of the park today. You really need to go read it. I’ll wait. In fact, you don’t even have to come back here; my thoughts won’t hold a candle to what Chambers wrote. But in case you do come back, I’ll finish the article for you below.

 

It should be pretty apparent that I am a “words” person. I like everything about words – learning new words, plays on words (but not puns – God is not a fan of puns, sir), applying one word a lot of different ways, comparing words, researching words, and taking the time to choose the perfect words to convey what I mean.

So I suppose that’s why Chambers’ opening line today blew my mind. He wrote, “Perseverance means more than endurance — more than simply holding on until the end.”

Immediately, my mind set about comparing perseverance and endurance to evaluate the validity of this statement. In English the word perseverance has a more purposeful sense of action, while the word endurance has a more passive connotation.

To persevere we put forth effort and work a plan in the hopes that we will achieve a goal. Persevering requires time and energy and often sacrifice. To persevere may be to physically do something, but it could also be the action of mentally and emotionally focusing on something (or the discipline of NOT focusing on something, as the case may be). We are active participants in this process.

To endure we hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. We don’t do anything. We let the trials and problems happen to us and hope that, in time, we will come out on the other side when the rain is gone. We are passive observers in this process.

As Chambers pointed out, perseverance is more than endurance, insinuating that endurance is part of perseverance. You have to have endurance to persevere. But the reverse is not necessarily true (although I think it can be at times). You can endure something – tolerate it, wait it out – without persevering – taking any action steps to overcome it – and be successful (for example, waiting out a tornado). But in some cases, if all we do is endure, refusing to take persevering action, we’ll never overcome our hardship (for example, if we are starving, and there is food on a plate in front of us, but we refuse to put the food on our fork and into our mouths, we will remain hungry.)

I’d venture a guess, if my definitions are correct (and that’s a big if), that there are times we ought to persevere and times we ought to endure. (Another article published today speaks more to this.)

But, to ride the coattails of Mr. Chambers, I think there is at least one aspect of our lives in which we ought never choose to endure but insist we persevere – our own spiritual growth and development.

Lest we get off on a rabbit trail about whether or not we have the power to spiritually grow ourselves, let me share the initial thought I had this morning that sparked this whole post: just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. (I think that may have been where Oswald was going in this devotional, but I have yet to confirm with him since he’s busy being dead. In tomorrow’s devotional, however, Chambers definitely speaks to us doing our part being key to our spiritual growth.)

What I’m saying is if we are passive about our relationships with God, passive in the “growth opportunities” (otherwise known as trials) that come our way, passive in responding to the Spirit, passive in prayer, passive in being obedient (i.e., being disobedient), we aren’t going to grow spiritually. If we merely endure this life while we (im)patiently wait to get to the next life, we waste our lives and squander the opportunity to know Him intimately.

But if we persevere in our faith, actively reaching out to God through prayer and worship, actively studying the scriptures, actively responding to the Spirit’s promptings, actively focusing our emotions and thoughts on all that is lovely and true when so much around us is broken and false, we will grow closer to the One who made us to know Him and to make Him known. We will grow spiritually.

If we find ourselves spending most of our time enduring life as a Christian, all we’re doing is burying our heads in the sand. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s okay. Just holding on and riding things out is NOT spiritual growth. We must persevere in our personal relationships with Christ, doing whatever it takes to love Him a little bit more each day.

 

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time

On the heels of my last post, there are some things I feel like I can’t choose to do. I just can’t seem to will myself, to discipline myself, to do and/or not do various things.

And all you optimists are saying, “Well, that’s obviously a lie. We are in total control of our own choices.”

And you’re mostly right, but we realists don’t feel like you’re right, so it doesn’t matter.

The only time the statement, “I can’t make myself _____,” is true is when the statement is actually, “I can’t make myself feel ______.”

I can’t make myself feel like cooking.

I can’t make myself feel excited about cleaning.

I can’t make myself feel like not sinning in my favorite way.

And you know what I’m learning? That’s okay.

It’s okay to have the feelings we have. It’s okay to feel what we feel, and we can’t change our feelings.

Where the lie creeps in, though, is when we start to believe we must act a certain way in relation to our feelings. If I feel _____, I must do _____. If I don’t feel ____, I can’t do _____. As if we are powerless over our emotions and hopelessly enslaved to them.

Lies.

Lazy lies.

For years my out has been, if I do something I don’t feel like doing, I’ll be a fake. And, honestly, I don’t have the emotional energy to pretend like I enjoy something when I don’t. Nor do I respect people who are phony.

So I took those thoughts and came to two false conclusions: if I can’t get excited about something, I shouldn’t do it, and, if I am excited about something, I have a right to do it. 

Turns out that’s quite a problematic approach to “being an adult”.

But there is a solution for those of us that operate this way. And it’s not what you think.

The answer is not to learn to get more excited about things we dislike. Hell can freeze over, thaw, and refreeze again, and I will never get excited about cleaning my house. Or eating quinoa. Or not eating pizza daily. Or resisting the pull of my favorite sins.

The answer is not to develop an affection for things we just don’t have an affection for or to somehow rid ourselves of the affections we have for things that are bad for us. The answer has nothing to do with how we feel or don’t feel about the areas in which we lack self-discipline.

The answer lies in re-framing our situations.

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

For example, I can’t wait until I feel like exercising to exercise. That day will never come. But I also can’t force myself to exercise while cursing the whole time and expect myself to develop a lifelong routine of exercising. When I don’t exercise, I hate exercise. When I force myself to exercise, I hate exercise. And thinking about how much I hate exercise all the time isn’t productive.

But you know what I do like? Playing soccer. Well, that’s not true. I like playing soccer when I’m fit. If I’m not fit, I can’t physically do what I know I would be capable of if I were in shape, and then I hate playing soccer.

So I can take this idea that I want to be fit so I can enjoy playing soccer again, and I can attach it to exercise, which I still hate, mind you. And I can tell myself, it’s okay to hate exercise. But I’m going to exercise anyway so I will be in shape (and, therefore, enjoy) playing ball next month.

See what I did there? I re-framed exercise. It’s still an annoying piece of my daily routine I feel negative about, but I choose to do it anyway because it’s a necessary means to an end I do get really excited about. I’m not getting tripped up in my feelings anymore. I’m choosing to act independently of my feelings.

And we can do that – you and I, resident pessimists – we can learn to re-frame any number of situations in order to develop some much needed self-discipline. 

Ann Voskamp says, “You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see,” (The Greatest Gift).

It’s true.

What situation do you need to re-frame today? Ask Him to help you. And shoot me an email if you want to talk about it. Unless it’s about cooking. Then I can’t help you.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

How to Develop Self-Discipline (From the Valedictorian of I Don’t Want To)

Self-discipline has always been my forte.

(They say you should open with a joke.)

Actually, I am as self-disciplined as a newborn. And we all know how ridiculous they are… cute, but entirely self-centered.

How to develop self-discipline (from the valedictorian of I don't want to)
image via David Castillo Dominici @freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t know that you much care why I lack the ability to make myself do things I don’t want to do. So I won’t dwell on that much beyond the following guesses: I am the baby of my family, most things came easily to me as a kid (read: I never had to work hard), and selfishness is my spiritual gift.

(Ok, not really, but if selfishness were a spiritual gift, I’d ace that section on the test.)

Basically, if something doesn’t have an immediate pay off for me, I usually don’t do it. Similarly, if not doing something will have an immediate negative consequence, I can’t do it fast enough.

I’ve never put forth any real effort in training myself to learn how to do things I don’t want to do – i.e. – to develop self-discipline – because I’d have to be self-disciplined in order to discipline myself to become more self-disciplined.

(The words and the logic – I’m good at using them to my advantage, aren’t I?)

It is not lost on me that the words “disciple” and “discipline” seem to share a root. Without getting into a language lesson, I would not be surprised if the two words are related because being a disciple requires discipline.

Ah.

Fantastic.

The other day Oswald Chambers had a devotion on the idea of self-discipline that nailed me to the wall.

(Go read it. I’ll wait.)

The part that resonated most with me is this:

“We go wrong because we stubbornly refuse to discipline ourselves physically, morally, or mentally. We excuse ourselves by saying, “Well, I wasn’t taught to be disciplined when I was a child.” Then discipline yourself now! If you don’t, you will ruin your entire personal life for God.”

I really ought to stop following Oswald on the Twitter.

But I can’t.

Because he says things I need to hear.

Maybe you need to hear them too?

In regards to self-discipline, I think about another guy who will tell you like it is. Dave Ramsey says a budget is telling your money what to do.

I don’t struggle with finances because I am inherently cheap. (Seriously, I think it is a gene I inherited from my grandma on my dad’s side.) I struggle to be disciplined in a lot of other areas in my life, but the one I’d say that takes precedence is my feelings.

(And I have a hunch you can relate to me on this one, so allow me to start talking to us.)

I don’t need to rehash the Bible’s take on feelings, but I’ll summarize it with this: feelings ought not be trusted. 

That is so contrary to what we modern Americans have heard all our lives that it’s hard to swallow. But swallow we must if we’re going to become disciplined disciples.

Oswald basically tells us to grow up, and take responsibility. It doesn’t matter if we have never “learned” to discipline our feelings, we ought to just do it now. Taking a page out of Dave’s book (not literally, because haven’t we learned anything from Mark Driscoll this week?!), we must tell our feelings what to do. 

And when we’re being honest, that doesn’t actually take much learning. If we say we’re going to spend some time learning how to be self-disciplined in an area, we’re really just saying we’re going to see how long God will let us stall.

Yesterday my four year old was in her booster seat in the car. I told her to buckle her seat belt. She half-heartedly pulled it and whined, “It’s too haaaaaaard…” And I don’t even know how she got inside me, but Jillian Michaels came spilling out. As I looked at my child through my rear view mirror, I calmly but firmly said, “I don’t want you to tell me how hard it is; I just want you to do it.”

And right then and there in that parking lot, I felt the conviction. How long have I been telling God (and a whole host of people) how hard it is to discipline my heart? If I put half the energy into just doing it that I put into talking about how hard it is…

“I don’t want you to tell me how hard it is; I just want you to do it,” I imagine God saying, with a touch more compassion than Ms. Michaels and I usually exhibit…

In what area are you struggling most to discipline yourself? Can I gently challenge you to stop talking about it, and just do it? Our feelings need to be told what to do. Or they will be our ruin. 

Why Does God Discipline Us?

In my post The Longest Time Out Ever, I let Jeremiah show us how God exercised His right to severely discipline the Israelites.

Jeremiah makes a good case as to God being just in disciplining. He is holy. We are not. He tells us to obey. We don’t. Therefore, it is fair for Him to discipline us.

But that doesn’t explain why He disciplines us. Just because He can doesn’t mean He must. When He occasionally doesn’t discipline us even though we deserve it, we call that mercy. But if He never disciplines us when we deserve it, we call that terrible parenting. We will not grow. We’ll remain immature Christians, failing to impact the world with the love and truth of Jesus.

Surely, God disciplines us for the sake of His reputation – He can’t have no one take Him seriously because He never follows through with His punishments. And He can’t have people thinking He is okay with sin, undermining His holiness.

But the primary reason God disciplines us is for our benefit.

And our good buddy, Jeremiah, speaks to that as well.

God banishes the Israelites to Babylon for 70 years on account of their gross sin and unwillingness to repent. During that time, the Israelites begin to get it. They start to grasp the gravity of their idolatry. They weep. They repent. They seek forgiveness.

Discipline accomplishes its initial purpose. The Israelites feel the weight of their sin.

But that’s not the end all be all of repentance.

When their hearts turn from their sin and toward Him, God promises to, “…gather [the Israelites] from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to [Jerusalem] and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul,” (Jeremiah 32:37-41).

We see here the underlying purpose of discipline.

Yes, God wants us to stop doing sinful things. But much more so, He wants us to always live in close emotional proximity to Him. He wants our hearts! He wants our love. He wants us to trust Him. He wants relationship with us. He wants to be the single focus of our hearts.

No matter what He is disciplining you over, this is why He is disciplining you. He wants your heart. Give it to Him.