What To Wear

What To Wear

Recently one of our family members came out of their room frustrated saying, “I don’t have anything to wear!” For many of us we have pretty strong opinions about what we wear. We have our favorite outfits. We feel frustrated if the clothes we want to wear aren’t available And worse yet, we get upset if someone like our spouse tells us we can’t wear that!
I’m part of a very diverse church that includes men who wear suits, women who wear hats, men who wear shorts and crocs, and women who wear jeans. Occasionally I will hear conversations and opinions about “What is appropriate for church?”
Recently I was reading about a missionary to China named Hudson Taylor. He struggled in obscurity and isolation for many years. “One day a man asked Taylor to explain why he had buttons on the back of his coat? Taylor realized then that his western-style dress was distracting his listeners from his message. He then decided to dress like a Mandarin, a Chinese teacher. He was amazed at how dressing Chinese allowed him to travel more freely and be accepted more readily by the people. Taylor’s goal was not to have the Chinese become like English Christians, but to have them become Chinese Christians.”1
This presents many questions for me as an American pastor. The first set of questions may include…Do I expect people who come to our church to dress like me? Do I show respect for God when I dress up for Him, or do I show respect for the gospel when I dress down for someone who doesn’t know Christ? Do I show respect for God when I judge what someone else is wearing as legalistic or disrespectful? And are dressed up Christians more reverent than casually dressed Christians? Or are casually dressed Christians more relevant than dressed up Christians? And should we come to a conclusion on those questions and pick one or the other and expect everyone at church to dress that way? Or are we all missing the point?
In reflecting on Hudson Taylor’s ministry I think the second set of questions may be, “Am I willing to change the way I dress so someone could come to Christ? “Who are the lost people God is calling me to bring to church and how do they dress?” And what do they hear by the way I dress?
I confess for me honestly, I get so distracted debating the first set of questions, I don’t think I know the answers to the second set of questions. And maybe that is what is really disrespectful to God and His Gospel?
In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel saw who he thought he was supposed to anoint as the next leader, God intervened and said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7
This is what I know, I hear a lot more about what man looks at than I do about what God looks at…

For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chinas-millions-11630493.html

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On the Road Again

On The Road Again

As we’re planning a family vacation my kids asked, “Are we going to sleep in the car?” I’m sure most of you would hope the answer is no.  But I asked them if they wanted to, and they went crazy saying, YES!!!  When I consider driving straight through the night I feel like groaning, but my kids feel like celebrating.
In his book, Ministry Mantras, J. R. Briggs shares a story about when his son was three years old and he helped plant vegetables one morning.  When his son woke up from his afternoon nap later that day his first questions was, “Are the vegetables ready yet, Daddy?”  He responded to his young son, “No buddy, that’s not how vegetables work.  It takes a long time.”  Briggs is challenging and encouraging the many of us who get impatient with God’s seemingly long and slow plan.  He says, “Much of ministry is learning to plod along faithfully, even when we aren’t seeing results.  As Eugene Peterson writes –quoting German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –a life committed to ministry is a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’”1
Over the many years of staff devotions, there are two I will never forget.  One was a challenge from my dear friend Tom Zillman, who after reading Isaiah 6 asked this question, “If God calls you to an unfruitful ministry, will you be faithful to it?”   Well God would never do that right?  And how could it be ministry if it’s unfruitful?  And then Pastor Tom pointed out God told Isaiah to preach to those who would not listen, perceive, understand, or respond.  And when Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God said until the cities are empty and the homes are desolate.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, is a great example of perseverance: a long obedience in the same direction.  He wrote in his early years in China, “At home, you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion, or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
As Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of Hudson Taylor’s story is.. “Taylor’s daughter died from water on the brain; the family was almost killed in the Yang Chow Riot of 1868; Maria, Taylor’s first wife, died in childbirth; his second wife died of cancer; and sickness and ill health were frequent. Yet, the China Inland Mission continued its work of reaching China’s millions for Christ. By 1895 the Mission had 641 missionaries plus 462 Chinese helpers at 260 stations. Under Hudson Taylor’s leadership, C.I.M. had supplied over half of the Protestant missionary force in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 56 of these missionaries were martyred, and hundreds of Chinese Christians were killed. The missionary work did not slack, however, and the number of missionaries quadrupled in the coming decades.  Chinese Christians proved remarkably resilient under Communism. They did not die out but multiplied many-fold in one of the greatest expansions in church history.”2  Praise the Lord for Hudson Taylor’s persistence!
I’m sure on our long road trip at some point I will groan and my kids will whine and ask “are we there yet?!”  But I’m learning to “apply the love of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit.”  Maybe even with a beef jerky and Diet Dew at a gas station in the middle of the night.  Then it’s on the road again!
For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 Ministry Mantras, JR Briggs and Bob Hyatt, pp 84
2 http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chinas-millions-11630493.html

The Rest of God

rest area
While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

What is Love?

Water
“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

for more articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

Renewal from Decision Fatigue

Time To Renew

My colleagues invited me to lunch on my birthday and wanted me to choose the restaurant.  As I drove and they laughed about my passion for southern gospel quartet music, I realized I could not make a decision about where to eat.  This started a discussion about “decision fatigue.”  They told me I should take a cue from Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who each intentionally reduced their daily decisions by wearing the same thing every day!

“Decision fatigue” is the reduced mental function due to the strain from many decisions and/or exerting extreme self-control, creating high emotional stress.  “People find that making many choices can be [psychologically] aversive.”[1] While reading about decision fatigue, I learned when we are tired, we generally are tempted to either become impulsive and reckless, or to avoid decisions altogether.   The “process of choosing may itself drain some of the self’s precious resources, thereby leaving the executive function less capable of carrying out its other activities. Decision fatigue can therefore impair self-regulation”.[2]

This is called the theory of ego depletion, which suggests that self-control, or willpower, draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up.  In other words, when we have used up our willpower resources, we begin to have boundary problems.  We may become quick tempered, impulsive, apathetic, etc.  I read that those who are struggling financially have higher stress and “decision fatigue” even when making simple purchases, and are therefore in greater danger of impulse buying than those who can shop or make purchases without financial stress.  George Loewenstein has suggested that the disastrous failure of men/women in high office to control impulses in their private lives may at times be caused by decision fatigue, which stems from the burden of day-to-day decision making.[3]  When this happens such a person may become unable to hear his/her conscience.  “Ego depletion has been shown to hinder the ability to engage in such reflection, thereby making it difficult to experience guilt.”[4]

I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by older, wiser men than me, who consistently challenge me to slow down, have quiet time, “Be still, and know that He is God.”  While the internet, the Starbucks-culture consumerism, and the pace of life are certainly increasing my decision-making opportunities, I think God’s solution to decision fatigue and ego depletion is the same as it’s always been.  Paul calls us not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Ro 12:2).  To be transformed, or transfigured, is to “be changed after being with” Jesus.  The renewing is to be refreshed by God’s power.  The Bible promises us an unlimited measure of the Holy Spirit’s self-control (Gal. 5:23) if we will take the time to receive it.

I also read “In a recent experiment, it was shown that inducing a positive mood can buffer the impairing effects of ego depletion on subsequent performance.”[5] This sounds like the Bible to me!  “It is God’s will that we give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18)!”

When you sense the decline of decision fatigue setting in, you can decrease decisions by wearing the same shirt every day as some high-level executives do, or you can spend time in solitude and thanksgiving as Jesus invites us to.  In the words of my dear friend Bill, “Jason, remember Psalm 42:10 – BE STILL.”

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 Danzigera, Shai; Levav, Jonathan; Avnaim-Pesso, Liora (2011), “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (17): 6889–6892, doi:10.1073/pnas.1018033108, PMC 3084045, PMID 21482790

2 Vohs, Kathleen; Baumeister, Roy; Twenge, Jean; Schmeichel, Brandon; Tice, Dianne; Crocker, Jennifer (2005). “Decision Fatigue Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources — But So Does Accommodating to Unchosen Alternatives” (PDF).

3 Loewenstein, George (2003), Time and decision: economic and psychological perspectives on intertemporal choice, p. 208, ISBN 0-87154-549-7.

4 Xu, H.; Bègue, L.; Bushman, B. J. (2012). “Too fatigued to care: Ego depletion, guilt, and prosocial behavior”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 43 (5): 379–384. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.007.

5 CUTRIGHT, K. M.; SAMPER, A. (2014). “Doing It the Hard Way: How Low Control Drives Preferences for High-Effort Products and Services”. Journal of Consumer Research. 41 (3): 730–745. doi:10.1086/677314.

Are We Too Sympathetic?

balance is the key

Have you ever felt exhausted caring for others?  Ed Stetzer reports that “90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.”  Many would say they feel called to carry out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The word agapao (love) focuses on preference, “choosing God’s choices and obeying them through His power, a discriminating affection which involves choice and selection.”  We can choose to love ourselves the way the Lord prefers and love others in the same way!

All too often, being sympathetic to others involves feeling stressed, stimulating the “sympathetic” half of our nervous system.  Our sympathetic involvement in the frustrations, conflicts, griefs, and difficulties of our neighbors, often causes our sympathetic nervous system to be in fight or flight, standing at attention, awaiting the next phone call to action.  During seasons of “sympathetic” dominance, we may experience increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased blood clotting (which causes strokes), increased blood sugar (prediabetes), increased muscle tightness, high adrenaline (which can be addicting), decreased digestion, decreased saliva production, dilated pupils (light sensitivities), decreased lacrimation (dry eyes), and cold hands.

The autonomic (automatic) nervous system, which consists of both the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) controls most of the body’s internal organs.  When the system is out of balance, in “fight or flight” too often, it causes a multitude of stress-related illnesses.  Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992).

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love.” The word fear is phobos, meaning the alarm of dread, or the need to flee or withdraw (flight), feeling inadequate without sufficient resources for the situation.  “But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
This is a good reminder and litmus test for each of us.  Love drives out fear, anxiety, and the fight or flight stress response.  Love can help us drive out sympathetic dominance, and stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, or help us to “rest and digest.”  Here we experience increased saliva, increased lacrimation (tears), digestive enzymes are released, heart rate drops, muscles relax, pupils constrict.  When I am in the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, I feel at rest, able to love everyone.  When I am in sympathetic dominance, I am over-concerned about situations, and feel the need to fix things.   I am more confrontational and controlling because I usually feel “right.”  I’m afraid if I don’t fix this, we will be in danger.

I’m learning that when I find my hormonal system in sympathetic dominance, I’m not loving myself well, which means I can’t love others very well either.  All too often, however, I can’t get my nervous system back into balance.  The following strategies help to stimulate your parasympathetic “rest and digest” system: sleep or rest, exercise, solitude, massage, and hobbies or things you enjoy.  Specifically, I’ve been reading that Acetylcholine is the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic response, so you may want to take a choline supplement.

If most of your time serving the Lord is spent in fight or flight, it’s time to find the love.  Don’t be TOO sympathetic!

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

Does Your Anger Show What You Value?

Wont start.jpg

I think these past two weekends we have received more snow than all last winter.  Unfortunately I’m also responsible for two driveways as we’re in between houses.  I have a snow blower at one and was shoveling the other when a dear friend offered me a second snowblower.  When the high was -2 degrees I had trouble starting both.  I pulled and pulled on the start cord until a bad word formed in the back of my head.  You know you’re having a hard time when you break a sweat trying to start in -15 wind chill.  I was tempted to take a few swings with a shovel to the snowblower but used better judgement.  Why?  Because that snowblower is worth alot to me so I don’t have to shovel! The showblower’s value to me determined how I would treat it.

When I get together with an accountability friend we both agree we get angry with closest to us the most.  It would be easy for us to blame and think it’s just because they’re annoying, but is that really what’s going on?  But why are the people we’re closest too that ones that make us the most angry?

One explanation may be because they are so close to us they hurt us the most.  Another may be because they know us so well we can’t hide how we really feel from them.  Another may be because we have so much history we get irritated quicker.  I have thought all these.  But then the snowblower pushed me too far and I was aware of how much I value it.

When was the last time I valued my wife and kids?  How about my coworkers?  Those I serve with at church?  The Bible says we should, “Honor one another above ourselves.”  -Ro 12:10. I realize I treat people at restaurants well because I don’t want them to spit in my food!  How much more should I value my family, my coworkers, and those I worship with?  Jesus death and resurrection places great value on every person, whether a believer or not.  I guess the stuff I get mad about shows me I have my values a little mixed up from time to time.  Hopefully you’re not like me!  http://www.choosemercy.org