Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Surprising Source of Dignity And Value

I occasionally talk with people who seek a sense of human value; approval as a person; and even personal dignity from certain people in their lives on whom they depend. In other words, they are seeking these very meaningful and profound assurances of significance from other people.

Ironically the people who seek these assurances of significance from other persons are often not respected by the very people from whom they seek this affirmation.

This happens because the people from whom they seek this type of affirmation inherently understand—even if they do not articulate it this way—they cannot be the source of something as significant as human value; approval as a person; and personal dignity. These things must come from a larger and more profound source; a transcendent source.

Of course, there is only one Source that qualifies.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:27

We are image-bearers of God. This is the primary source of our value and dignity.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is It Possible That God Does Not Want To Ruin Our Fun?

God does not intend to ruin all our fun and make life into something we endure with rolling eyes, deep sighs and great misery… like a teenager with a brand new driver’s license and a curfew. However, God does set moral boundaries for us.

When the concept of moral boundaries arises some people will point out, “Aha! See? That’s what I mean. Despite what you say, Dan, these boundaries are evidence of the fact that God wants to ruin our fun and make life miserable!”

This understanding of the boundaries is not correct.

God’s boundaries are for our protection. They are for our benefit. I have crossed God’s boundaries on numerous occasions—I hate to admit that but it is true—and found that ultimately I was the one who got hurt.

God does not have boundaries because He is mean and oppressive. God has boundaries for us because He knows us and He loves us.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Four Quick Thoughts About Handling Media Fear Tactics

There are people and organizations who have significant communication platforms. For example, large news organization or well-known media personalities. It is helpful to keep in mind that sometimes the people and organizations who reach vast numbers of people maintain their large audience—at least in part—by sensationalism and capitalizing on our fears.

Here are a few simple thoughts…

1. Headlines and other promotional teases are frequently exaggerated and in many cases they are tested and designed to draw us in even if the truth has to be stretched. Really stretched.

2. We are going to read, watch, listen and click, of course, but be discerning. Virtually every information source has a bias of some kind. (If you’re thinking, “Oh yeah, well you’re biased too Dan.” You’re right. I am biased. But at least I’m admitting it.)

3. Be skeptical of fear tactics based on predictions about the future. Most aspects of the future are notoriously difficult to know in advance. (I hope you notice a bit of playful tongue-in-cheek attitude involved in that last sentence.)

4. It is not God’s intention for us to live in fear. He desires that we trust Him.

Here are some good, helpful and encouraging truths…

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today.” [ Jesus ] Matthew 6:34

Sunday, April 24, 2016

God Uses All Kinds of People

All over the world today people will stand and preach messages proclaiming the truth of God’s word. Occasionally I still feel surprised and puzzled that I would be one of the people serving God in this way.

Every now and then I sort of expect someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Okay, you can sit down. That was hilarious but the joke is over now.”

In the Bible God expresses this thought, “…my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

God uses all kinds of people… even weak people, even people no one would expect.

God has a terrific sense of humor.

Friday, April 22, 2016

God's Approval Is Its Own Reward

There may be times when the person who is being obedient to God will feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Obedience to God may not be popular, it may go against the prevailing norms of a particular culture. Obedience to God may, by some measures, be costly.

It’s alright, though, because obedience to God is right.

I’ve observed Christian leaders who seemed to be seeking pity from others for their willingness to be obedient to God during times when it was difficult to be obedient to God. In fact, I hate to admit it but I’ve probably done that myself on a few occasions.

There is no need to take pity on the person who is being obedient to God, even if the person faces significant obstacles or difficulty. God’s approval is what matters. God’s love will sustain. God’s grace is sufficient. God is good!

The joy of pleasing the One whose opinion matters most is its own reward.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 1 Cor. 12:9

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Our Facial Expressions Influence Our Feelings

Research has been done which suggests our facial expressions will influence how we actually feel.

This is somewhat counter intuitive because we tend to think feelings come first and then our facial expressions reflect our feelings. For example, if I feel sad then those feelings will result in a sad expression on my face.

This is not totally incorrect but the surprising finding is that it can work the other way, as well. In other words, if I intentionally put a sad expression on my face it will tend to result in sad feelings. Again, what can occur is the facial expression has an influence on the feelings rather than the feelings being reflected in the facial expressions.

“This experiment, and others like it, show that our facial expressions have as much effect on our feelings as our feelings have on our facial expressions.” From the book “Lift” by Prof. Ryan Quinn and Prof. Robert Quinn.

The findings of some of the research which has been done tells us that if we will intentionally put a smile on our faces we will tend to feel happier.

You might say, “Well la dee da, Cheerful Charlie! Guess what? I don’t want to smile and feel happy! Okay, Mr. Ray-Of-Sunshine?!?”

I understand. I’ve had some days like that, too. But keep in mind: much… not ALL... but much of what we experience will be greatly influenced by the choices we make.

Today, I’m going to try to think about smiling a little more often, on purpose. Seriously. I realize I do not have total control over these matters, however, as far as it depends on me—with God’s help—I want to choose to be positive, encouraging, happy and joyful.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Constructive Thinking Rather Than Victimhood Thinking

Occasionally, I will be in a mood in which I catch myself thinking about circumstances in life which are unfavorable to me. It is not my nature to do this often but I will admit I do this once in a while.

If I do not notice this type of thinking quickly I can wind up doing a “woe is me” session in which I gradually attempt to convince myself…

“I’ve got it rough.”
“The odds are stacked against me.”
“I must not have what it takes.”
“I did not get the proper direction when I was younger.”

Or some other version of “poor me, I’m a victim of these hostile and unhelpful circumstances of life.”

As a pastor, I have counseled many hurting people and this experience has revealed to me that everyone has difficulties; rough moments of life; and some sense in which they have been victimized.

However, I honestly do not believe it is helpful for us to think of ourselves as victims. Again I understand that people are sometimes victimized by circumstances of life—some people, certainly, more than others—and some people have been victimized in such a way that they genuinely deserve significant help.

But to dwell on hardships, difficulties and obstacles and to convince ourselves that our victimization creates insurmountable limitations and prevents forward progress in life is simply not helpful. To define ourselves—in our own minds—as victims will not result in hopeful thinking; helpful thinking; helpful action; or real solutions. In fact, it seems more likely to lead to a passive, resigned sense of hopelessness.

As I wrote earlier, I have fallen into victimhood thinking on occasion and it has never resulted in any positive help. It is not constructive or beneficial.

I will admit this is a generalization, however, in most cases it will tend to be true: If we think we are a victim with no chance of moving forward, it is very likely we will be a victim with no chance of moving forward.

It will be better and healthier to think of ourselves as persons of hope, possibility and dignity, created in the image of God for a purpose. It will be helpful to think of ourselves as resourceful agents who are able to exercise free will and, with God’s help, able to make good, consequential, positive, helpful, constructive, imaginative, potent and meaningful choices.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Remember: Things Once Considered Impossible Are Now Possible

It’s interesting to remember that things which were considered impossible in the not too distant past have been found to be possible, after all.

In a book I was looking through this morning I came across an anecdote regarding Robert H. Goddard who was “the driving force behind America’s early space programs.”

Apparently, Goddard was mocked many years ago in the New York Times for believing a rocket could travel through outer space. In the Times it was pointed out that Goddard did not even possess “the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” Not a very nice thing to write about a respected scientist, huh? But that did not cause Goddard to quit.

The thinking against Goddard’s ridiculous idea of space travel went like this: “With no atmosphere in outer space and therefore nothing for an engine to thrust against… a rocket couldn’t move an inch. That was in 1920.”

Of course, we now know the experts regarding what-is-possible and what-is-impossible at the New York Times, in 1920, were wrong.

In the late 1960s—following the Apollo 11 mission which reached the moon—the Times made a reference to their earlier editorial, writing “the Times regrets the error.” When that happened I doubt if Goddard pointed, made faces and laughed at them. Eminent scientists don’t typically behave that way…I think.

Hey, it’s easy to be tough on the New York Times for their shortsightedness but this is a great example of the point I’m getting at: A mission which seemed literally impossible according to the laws of science (as many educated people understood them at the time) turned out to be possible, after all.

I like the idea that we still don’t know everything and that there are all kinds of possibilities we have not yet exhausted. It helps me feel optimistic and hopeful. And it reminds me of someone I know.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’"  Matthew 19:26

[ I read the anecdote about Robert Goddard in a book titled, “Get Out Of Your Own Way” by Robert K. Cooper ]

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Taking Responsibility Reminds Us That Real Leadership Is Challenging

When we encounter a leader who makes it known in the organization he or she leads that his people need to take the fall so he [the leader] will not have to be responsible for his own actions/mistakes, what we are observing is a terrible leader. As a matter of fact, this is actually the opposite of true leadership.

Not surprisingly this method of operating is probably somewhat normal in the world of political leadership. I’m not taking sides here. This tactic of having low-level staffers or other underlings take the fall on behalf of the person at the high level occurs with both republican and democrat politicians.

A number of these people—on both sides of the aisle—are ego-driven, seekers of power who have very little interest in serving others. Their primary motivation for seeking office is an almost pure form of selfishness. They are not leaders, in the true sense of the word, they are professionally postured and polished narcissists.

I know this is just one, sad, lonely post that will make no difference in the big scheme of things but I felt like expressing this thought, anyhow. The reality I describe above is a reminder that authentic leadership is tremendously challenging.

P.S. By the way, I wrote this thought a couple of years ago regarding something I had seen on a political TV show and chose not to post it for a while. So, this is not specifically directed at any current political person or event. Although I am sure it applies to plenty of current political figures.

P.P.S.  Some of the people who read this might be thinking, “Oh yeah Dan, what you’re describing about people in the world of politics happens in the realm of religious leadership, too. So there, Buster!!!” My response to that is: Sadly, you are correct. It does. But that still doesn’t make it right. It just reveals to us that some of these people have no business being in leadership positions, as well.

I repeat: Authentic leadership is tremendously challenging.

“Pray…for kings and all who are in authority…” 1 Timothy 2:2

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Becoming Aware of How We Talk To Ourselves

Some literature I’ve been reading lately has prompted me to take more careful notice of the way I speak to myself. Unfortunately, some of what I have noticed has not been very good.

I’m referring to the talk that happens in my mind. It is not out loud. It is only “heard” by me. And I am specifically referring to how I speak to myself, not how I think or talk about others—that’s another matter for another post.

I have noticed I am rude, overly negative and even downright mean in the way I speak to myself. This is a very strange thing to really become aware of. I know, you might be thinking, “It sounds like Dan needs to find a good counselor.” But the truth is we all talk to ourselves. This is part of our thought life. I have simply begun to pay more attention to how I am engaging in this self-talk.

Because of how I grew up and where I come from I suspect it’s possible I have developed this way of speaking to myself believing that I am being very direct and honest. Since it’s just me, I’m cutting the nonsense, getting right to the point and saying what needs to be said forcefully. Since I’m just talking to myself and no one else can hear what is being communicated there is no need for pussyfooting around, right?

But I am understanding this negative, mean self-talk is unhealthy and unhelpful. It might even be fair to say it can have damaging effects. I would never speak to another person the way I speak to myself. Seriously. (Frankly, I would stand a good chance of getting punched in the face if I did.)

Obviously, I do not believe it will be helpful to lie to myself or attempt to convince myself I am something which I am not. Positive self-talk does not mean self-deception. But I am realizing it will be alright, in fact, I think it will be helpful to be kind, patient, encouraging, gracious, considerate, loving and honest in the way I speak to myself. In much the same way it would be helpful to be kind, patient, encouraging, gracious, considerate, loving and honest in the way I speak to others.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Praying That People Will See the Truth of Jesus In Me

A very encouraging exchange happened to me several years ago. A person who was somewhat skeptical about Christianity posed this question to me regarding my faith in Christ, “You really believe this stuff, don’t you?”

I’m not even sure the person meant it in a complimentary way, but I was encouraged and received it as a compliment.

PRAYER:  Lord Jesus, I pray that you would be alive in me in such an unmistakably authentic way that the people I encounter would say, “Hmm, this Jesus stuff must be real and life in Him must be true because I believe I genuinely see it in this person.”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Choosing To See The Activity of God

Very recently God has prompted me to see something helpful—something I needed to see. It has to do with a personal issue I have been struggling with a bit lately.

The way God helped me to grasp what He wanted me to see involved another person.

As I have thought about this activity of God in my life it occurs to me that I could see what happened as a simple coincidence. I could view the interaction in this way: “Hey, it’s one of those crazy arbitrary things that happen. Now lay down and take a nap.” I could understand the timing of the situation to be lucky and interesting but entirely the result of random chance.

But I believe God is real and active and I believe He loves me [and you, too] enough to arrange the affairs of our lives in this way.

I guess what I’m trying to communicate is: We can decide not to see the work of God in our lives if that’s what we choose. Or, we can be willing to see, to recognize and to appreciate.

It is my desire to see.