Pride and Discouragement

I’m a good public speaker. I say that without reserve. I have few strengths, but I know that’s one of them. I’ve given talks on technology, on autism, on arts integration, and I’ve delivered more than a few sermons in my time. My style is fast-paced, witty, sometimes appropriately sarcastic, and I enjoy ending on an inspiring note. In a sermon, I’ll seldom keep you sitting for longer than twenty minutes (thank you, Mark Twain), and I slave over having some of the best sermon slides you’ll see in a church of Christ. I take pride in my speaking ability. As I said, it’s one of my few real strengths.

I sometimes find it disheartening, then, how seldom I get to speak. Right now, we do not have an employed pulpit preacher at our congregation, and a group of men are distributing the preaching among a few guys in the congregation. I look at some upcoming topics, and I immediately think of the research I’ve done on that subject or how my line of work positions me perfectly to address that issue, and then someone else gets picked to talk. Sometimes months go by between my being able to exercise my one strong talent.

And it rankles when I feel passed over. I have to check my attitude when I see individuals who are not very good public speakers get placed in the pulpit again and again while I merely sit and take notes for the congregational blog, at times desperately trying to reword parts of their lessons to better communicate the points they are making. Then the speaking list for the next couple of months appears, and I see myself not on it again. I feel I’ve been punched in the stomach.

What sours my attitude all the more is that, in my own head, I think I know who is discouraging my inclusion as a speaker, and I think I know why – which leads to battling feelings of bitterness and resentment. I have to stop and check my attitude during Bible class, during meetings, even during social events. I’ve also had to quell a certain amount of internal participation discouragement in general, a feeling that makes me want to withdraw from participating altogether, so maybe I’ll stop accidentally reinforcing those negative stereotypes I think others have of me. I think, “If they’re just going to assume this of me anyway, why bother?”

But the truth is, I have to remind myself it comes down to pride. Yes, I’m a pretty good speaker – certainly better than average. But that should not afford me special treatment. I John 2:16 reminds us that pride is of the world; it has nothing to do with spiritual service. Mark 7:22 says that pride defiles a man, and Proverbs 29:23 says pride will ultimately bring you low. That’s what pride is doing to me when I let these things discourage me, when I let pride tell me that I don’t want to lead worship, or lead Bible class, or participate in other ways because that pride has been hurt.

What ways do you find pride getting in the way of your own godly service? In what ways do you catch yourself putting self before Christ? There are many ways our pride can misguide us, but we just have to be reflective, knowing that God lifts up the humbled heart, that he exalts the prostrate spirit. I think I know where I have to overcome pride in my own life. Where do you face similar challenges?

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The Habit of Business

My goodness do I have a lot on my plate at any given time! I have a backlog of lessons to post and comments to moderate on my congregation’s blog. I have tons of videos to post to my school’s new YouTube account. I have web coding to clean up, lesson plans to prep, an iPod touch review that’s been sitting here unfinished for weeks, and other stuff I can’t even remember at the moment. Chances are, however, I’m no busier than you are.

We live in a culture that is always moving, that is always busy. If we have any real free time, we feel we are doing something wrong. Even our vacations are itinerary-laden and fast-paced. We can’t just stop. We have to be occupied. But being so busy often comes at the expense of our spiritual well-being and work.

Acts 18 opens with Paul coming to Corinth, and we can see his balance between secular work and spiritual work:

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.

Yes, Paul engages in gainful employment with some fellow Christians in Corinth, but that’s not the point of his trip. Nor does he fill his days with seeing every conceivable sight. His main work was with the word of Christ, and it says he is occupied with the word when Timothy arrives. Making tents keeps food on the table, but his real occupation is teaching others about Christ.

How much time does Christ’s word occupy in your life? Perhaps it’s time you and I sat back and de-cluttered the business from our lives, making more time for Him. Perhaps we are too busy because it’s a habit we’ve allowed ourselves to develop. What can I drop to break that habit? What can you?

The Habit of Doing Nothing

The problem with going so long without making any posts is that it’s easy to just keep doing nothing. Every day I went without writing for this blog, the harder it was to jump back in. I’d look at the site stats and think, “Traffic is okay; I can go another day without posting.” And then it became another, and another, and another, and another. Then checking site stats even slipped out of my daily routine. The work I do on our congregational site suffered too. It’s not like the site is going anywhere. It’s solid; it’s just that no new content was going up for a while. The habit of doing nothing easily spills over into other things.

I imagine this is one of the reasons Barnabas insisted John Mark stay active in ministry in Acts 15:37. Remember John Mark had abandoned a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas back in Acts 13:13, and, based on Acts 15:38, it seems the departure was not for the right reasons or with the others’ consent. It would have been easy for Barnabas to stay with such a strong worker like Paul while letting John Mark fall to the side. But he didn’t. For John Mark to grow spiritually, he had to stay involved. Barnabas was the one to keep him involved, and the results are clear. By II Timothy 4:11, Paul refers to Mark as one who is useful or helpful.

Hebrews 10:24-25 builds on this theme:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We shouldn’t be letting each other fall into the habit of doing nothing. We should be spending time with each other regularly rather than living in isolation. We should be stirring each other up. pushing each other forward. We have to be aware if a brother or sister has become complacent.

We are creatures of habit, of routines. A routine of neglect, a habit of doing nothing, is every bit as powerful as an active routine. We have to watch out for signs of complacency in our own lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters. We have to encourage each other to stay active. We should set goals, have reading/study plans, be actively engaged with each other – whatever it takes. We cannot let the habit of doing nothing take hold of our lives.

Renewal

I didn’t feel any different when I woke up yesterday morning, but it was on the dawn of a new year. The outside looked the same as always, if not a little bit windier than usual. My home and family all looked the same. My congregation was still in the same place with worship times the same as always and the same members, though we were a bit slim in numbers thanks to holiday travel. Still, it was a new year. The calendar had moved up one incremental unit; our world had completed another orbit on its timeless circuit around our sun. I’d have to remind myself to change the year I put on the only check I still write – our contribution. It was 2012.

I’ve heard too many sermons filled with a certain degree of cynicism directed toward our tradition of New Year’s resolutions. Many remarks are made about the arbitrary nature of the New Year. But I can’t help but look at the turning of the calendar as yet another opportunity to seek refreshment and renewal in my life. It’s seems that as I get older (and there’s another arbitrary number for you), I see more opportunities for growth and for good in the secular holidays we observe, and I find myself feeling more and more distant from the attitudes I had toward them in the past. Sure, most resolutions are left unkept, but does that mean we shouldn’t try?

In the midst of one of his most sorrowful pieces, David writes in Psalm 51:7-13:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

David is confessing sin and pleading for forgiveness in these verses, recognizing how far he has fallen from God’s presence and begging for mercy. He calls for his spirit to be renewed, and he resolves to rededicate himself to following after and teaching God’s word. With renewal comes resolve. The two are inseparable. It only makes sense, then, as we reflect on the coming of a new year that we would want to resolve to better ourselves in some way. The question is one of meaningfulness. Can we resolve ourselves to be better in more than superficial ways? Can we have that same resolve David expresses in Psalm 51?

Romans 12:1-2 sees Paul also addressing renewal:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul says our minds are to be renewed, and that such a renewal will completely transform us as individuals. He also states that this renewal will be tested; it is not something that happens once and is finished. Our transformation and our resolve as followers of Christ will be continually strained, but we can remain perfect and acceptable in God’s eyes. There will be times that our resolve falters, and like David, we may fall away from God for a time, but the separation does not have to last. We can always pick ourselves up. We can always reach out to God for forgiveness. We can always seek renewal and refreshment from Him.

Whether or not you view New Year’s resolutions as a worthwhile activity, you can make every day a day where you resolve to be closer to Christ. Walking in His footsteps is an unending effort, but He is always there to help us. Our fellow Christians are always there to help us. So as we turn the page on another year, let’s all resolve to renew our spirits and to renew our efforts in His work. Drawing closer to Christ and reflecting His light in all you say and do is the best resolution you can make, and it’s a challenge you’ll spend every day of your life trying to keep. The world may look the same one year to the next, but my outlook on this life can change when I renew my spirit and resolve to draw closer to God.

Our Spiritual Goals

What impression do you make upon others? Much of it is based on what you believe of yourself. Are you encouraging or discouraging? Friendly or unfriendly? This is critical not only to who we are, but to our identity as a family in Christ. I Peter 3:15 tells us to, “regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” Who do we want to be? What kind of person do we want others to see?

In building our spiritual character, Ephesians 4:14 calls us to abandon childish frivolity and uncertainty, so we can be certain of our place with God. Salvation is not random. We have to work toward it as certainly as we must work toward any other goal we have. Have we made planning for our next home a mission in our lives?

Goals in God’s Word

Joshua 24:15 records Joshua firmly stating, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua’s mission was to lead his family and his people in the ways of our Lord, and verse 31 shows how influential that decision was – both his generation and the next followed his example in staying faithful to God. Joshua’s goals and his character centered around one focus, and his impact on the world around him was significant.

Psalm 16:7-8 records David praising God, saying, “bless the LORD who gives me council; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Chapter 18:22-23 then records David speaking of God’s word as always before him, determined to stay innocent in God’s eyes. Even when he failed to do so, we see the humility and eagerness he returned to God.

II Kings 22:1-2 describe king Josiah as one who walked in the ways of his forefather David, never turning to the left or the right. This was possible both because of Josiah’s resolute goal and because of the example he had to build upon because of David. Our character influences our own spiritual lives as well as others.

Our Own Goals

Jeremiah 6:16 calls on us to seek God’s paths and God’s ways, and II Peter 1:3-4 tells us we have all we need for our souls in His word and that we should strive to partake of His divine nature. We need specific goals in following Him. We need to be relying on Him and helping others grow closer to Him. We should be reviewing our goals and our mission daily so we never lose sight of that for which we are working.

Remember Jesus praying in the garden, declaring that it not be His own will that is done, but the will of the Father. Our goal should be the same. II Corinthians 13:5-6 challenges us to test ourselves, to examine ourselves, to see if we are truly living by faith and to assure ourselves that Christ lives in us. Our mission statements should be focused on and centered around God. We must determine to be the person we know we should be, knowing our own challenges and obstacles so we can face them in the confidence of God’s word. Through this confidence, we can resolutely press after God, keeping that Heavenly home forever in our sight.

lesson by Mike Mahoney

Enough Time

How many times do you catch yourself saying, “I don’t have enough time?”

When I first started teaching, I think those words stumbled from my lips daily. Lack of time was a perpetual excuse, but then I read a 37signals blog post containing this nugget:

There’s always enough time, you’re just not spending it right.

Now, I’m sure you could poke a thousand holes into that statement, so let me marginally rephrase it: There’s always enough time to do the important things; you’re just not spending it right.

Think about how much time a day you waste, and compare that time to the amount of time it would take to do those things you complain you haven’t enough time to do. If you’re like me, you’ll see that you did indeed have time for the important things. One way or another, however, that time was squandered. It’s tough to admit, and it’s tough love to point out, but we have to be willing to face that salient fact.

When it comes to our time, Paul writes, in Ephesians 5:15-16:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Time has a habit of slipping away unnoticed. It sneaks up on us. It flies by. But there is always enough of it if we use it wisely, for time is the great equalizer. It is the one thing we are all given equally. Yes, the actual number of years you or I are given may differ in the end, but we all have the same number of days making up those years. We all have the same number of hours making up a day. We all have the same number of minutes that make an hour. Time is equitably distributed to all, but, because it is so freely available, we may find ourselves wasteful with it.

Consider this: People like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great, George Washington, Bill Gates, Susan B. Anthony – none of these historical figures had one second longer in the day than we have, and quite a few of them had far fewer years than we enjoy. Spiritual forefathers like Moses had the same amount of time to do God’s work that we have on a daily basis. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and all of the other prophets worked within those same recurring twenty-four-hour periods. Jesus, Peter, Paul – again, they had the same amount of time during the day and perhaps fewer days in which to complete that work. It’s not the amount of time these great individuals had, it’s how they used it.

We don’t have enough time? If I had the time today to read the obituaries and the rant column in the newspaper, I had the time to do God’s work. If I had the time to check Facebook, to tweet, to blog, or to forward cute emails, I had time to do God’s work. If I had time to stare mindlessly at a TV set while the likes of Glenn Beck and Ed Schultz filled my mind with feelings of fear and anger, I had time to do God’s work. If I had time to fling some angry birds through the air on my iPhone or hunt down zombies on my XBox 360, I had time to do God’s work. If I had time to sit down and have a break room conversation with a friend, I had time and opportunity to do God’s work.

There is time to study. There is time to teach. There is time to help the needy. There is time to lift another’s load. There is time to show mercy, kindness, and charity to our fellows. There is time to lead others to Christ. There is time to spread hope, peace, and love. There is time to do good to all, as well as to those of the household of faith. There is time to do God’s work. We just have to start spending that time wisely.

We always have enough time to do God’s work. Let’s start using it correctly.