Showing posts from 2015

The brain science behind why small groups are important

It's September, and small discipleship groups all over America are firing up afresh for the fall. Here's how being in a small group can contribute to your long term spiritual growth. It's about brain science.

Authors Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee begin their book Primal Leadership with the science of how people affect one another. Among the three main centers of the brain, the limbic brain is our emotional center. If you take a moment to survey how you feel right now about different things, you are accessing your limbic brain. The thing is, Goleman et al point out that the limbic brain is an open-loop system. That means our limbic brains are directly affected by the limbic brains of others around us. It's what allows a mother to soothe her crying infant. It's what makes it so fun to watch a football game with other fans of your favorite team. It can make you love or dread the thought of going to work on a Monday morning.

When we get together, ou…

Hearing and responding to the Still Small Voice

This morning when I least expected it, I experienced a sudden, spur-of-the-moment prompt to go out of my way and do something good for someone. This happens pretty regularly, especially when I have been enjoying prayerful communion with God. I call it the Kind Little Thought.

For me, Kind Little Thoughts have been prompts like telling my boys I love them before they go off to school (rather than just grunt at them), reconciling a conflict more quickly than I want to (when I feel I'm in the right, it's easy to be slow to reconcile), or expressing something I appreciate about someone (instead of just thinking it and not saying it).

Now, here are three convictions I have about the phenomenon of the Kind Little Thought:

The Kind Little Thought is more often than not the Still Small Voice (of God within me).The Kind Little Thought is an invitation to open a valve and release God's love by doing the corresponding Kind Little Action.Kind Little Actions, done with no strings attach…

How to tell what's really important: use the "down the road" test

One axiom that has risen to the top for me is, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Being able to separate what's really important from what's simply bugging me or clamoring for attention is a critical skill for negotiating life when there is so much coming at us on a daily basis. 
Take your phone for example. Which platform should you work with? iPhone? Droid? Something else? And once you get your phone, which apps are the best ones to use? How useful will this phone be in keeping you abreast of what's happening in your personal world and in the world at large?
So many choices. So little time.

How do you weed out the truly important from the unimportant? Here's a took I recently found in Real Simple magazine's September 2015 issue: use the "down the road" test. This means asking, How important will this be a few years down the road? Real Simple asked five thinkers to identify something we stress over that won't be a big deal down the road. All…

Why Jimmy Carter may be more influential in his 90s than when he was president

Jimmy Carter's cancer has brought him into the public eye in a new way. With his mortality so close at hand, many Americans are reflecting on Jimmy Carter, the man. And I, for one, like what I see. It is good for my soul -- and for the American soul -- to have a political leader to look up to. As I remember him, Jimmy Carter was a marginally effective President. But I have a feeling his imprint on America may be greater in his 90s than it was when he was the most powerful man in the world.

Carter has attempted to live quietly and steadily as a public servant. There is a constancy about him that the rest of us would do well to observe and take in. Here's one way it has showed itself: Carter goes to church.

When Jimmy Carter was president, the news on a weekend would go something like this: "The president went to church this morning. And in other news..." The president quietly went to church, and that wasn't the real news. There is a lesson in this for us.


How does one follow Jesus? In a zig-zag pattern.

Living out Jesus' teachings is almost never a matter of going forward in a straight line. But God already knows that about us, and he cares much more about the "forward" part than the "straight line" part.

Here's how one of my friends is going forward, albeit it with some zig-zagging. A couple weeks ago at Sanctuary, I preached on Jesus' command in Matthew 5 about how it's better for his people not to make oaths. Why? Because our word should be as good as gold whether or not we attach "I really mean it this time" phrases like "I promise" or "I swear." Here's what my friend told me today:
Since the sermon a couple of weeks ago about being people of our word, I have been very aware of commitments that I make and honoring them even when (especially when?) I don't feel like doing so.  This is how I used to live my life, unfailingly, thanks to my wonderful parents.  Somewhere along the line, my word became a maybe d…

Which is your trump card -- performance or tenderness? A very short story.

What do you tend to do when people aren't pulling their weight or showing proper respect or getting with the program?

Many centuries ago elders of a monastery came to a wise monk named Abba Poemen to air a frustration and ask for advice. Too many monks were falling asleep during worship services. The elders asked, "When we see the brothers fall asleep in services, should we wake them up so they will be more attentive?”

As a hard working Jesus-follower and pastor, I am right there with the elders. I would want people to participate in worship all together so the worship service would "work" and God would be glorified. I wouldn't want the sleeping brothers to irritate the brothers who are making the effort to remain focused. My compassion would be stirred toward those who are putting in the effort. What does this say about me -- and all of us who feel the reasonableness of the elders' suggestion? Perhaps that we are too in love with effort and results. That ou…

Why being an effective leader means curbing anxiety

If you're a leader, your decisions affect other people. If you're a leader who is anxious, look out. Anxiety puts us in an impaired state, and the results can be disastrous.

I know. I was born into a family of worriers. It's easy for me to bring anxiety into my roles as a pastor, leader and father -- and every time I let that happen, the effects are harmful. If you sometimes struggle with anxiety and are in any kind of leadership role, I hope you find today's post helpful.

In his book Healthy Congregations, Peter Steinke writes about the three main systems of the brain.
The neo-cortex is the center of rational thought. The limbic system is the center of emotions. The reptilian system is the center of raw, fight-or-flight responses. This is the least reflective and most compulsive of the three systems.
All three systems are important, but leaders must have the emotional maturity and the self-control to operate out of the neocortex. This is the system that gives us the ab…

Jesus, salvation, and The Walking Dead

I'm a big fan of the TV series The Walking Dead. Actually I am a charter watcher, having followed the show from its first episode. This morning as I am meditating on a story Jesus tells in Luke 13, it stirs up my end-of-the-world imagination. That's right, I'm about to connect Jesus with The Walking Dead.

Imagine the zombie apocalypse is just breaking out, and the realization is settling over people that the world they have known is falling apart. Grocery stores have been looted. Gas stations are shut down. Law enforcement is failing. Large cities declare martial law, but the epidemic sweeps through the armed forces. With growing desperation, citizens begin seeking safe places. (So far I think I'm on roughly the same plot line as the series that begins this coming Sunday, Fear the Walking Dead. It chronicles the outbreak of the virus in Los Angeles.)

There is a very rich man in this city who lives on a sprawling, walled-in estate. In his benevolence, he issues an open …

How many people will be saved?

"How many people will be saved?" It's one of the million-dollar questions. Well, what if you could ask Jesus straight up? Good news -- Scripture records just such a conversation. Let's see how Jesus answers it.

In Luke 13:23, someone came up to Jesus in one of the Jewish towns he was working his way through and asked, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" Bingo.

Here's Jesus' bone-jarring answer: not many.

This morning as I let that sink in, I trembled at the thought. Not many. And maybe the not in the not many includes people I care deeply about. Some of them are undoubtedly church friends.

I have more to say (and I will post again about this), but I think I'll stop there for now. Shall we let "not many" sink in? What happens if we do?

Why I have no hope of going to heaven

I have little hope of going to heaven. In fact, I don't even want to go to heaven.

Why? Because if we mean by "heaven" the final destination for God's people, then heaven isn't somewhere we go at all. Heaven isn't up in the sky. Heaven is here.

When we say "heaven," most people think it's the place you go when you die. You are with God and his people, and you live forever in eternal bliss. The trouble is, that's a half-truth. It's not the biblical hope.

Imagine it like this. Say you are living in a house that has been your beloved home for a long time, but it has fallen into disrepair. The plumbing is bad, the roof leaks and the house is infested with termites. You have painted the walls, and you even bought new kitchen appliances. You love the house, but it needs extensive work.

Now through the generosity of a rich relative, you suddenly come into an inheritance huge enough that you can have your beloved house completely remodeled. You …

The urgency and patience of Jesus' love

"Repent or die" -- would Jesus really talk like that?

Well, it depends on who you ask. Let's ask two of the most liked Jesuses of our pop culture: Bro-Jesus and Yogi-Jesus.

Us: "Bro-Jesus, would you ever say 'repent or die' to us?"
Bro-Jesus: "Bro, of course not! I'm on your side. I got your back. I would never threaten you. Come on, bro. Relax."

Us: "Yogi-Jesus, would you ever say 'repent or die' to us?"
Yogi-Jesus: "My child, I came to bring you love and peace. How could a chainsaw nurture a butterfly? Let us return to thoughts of compassion."

And then there's the Jesus of the New Testament, or Real-Jesus. He's a lot less popular in our pop culture than the counterfeit Jesuses. In the first paragraph of Luke 13, Real-Jesus tells people that although some Jews in the land had died tragic deaths, that didn't make them worse sinners than the Jews living in Jerusalem where those things hadn't happe…

Six ways to create community when you don't live near each other

On July 20, I posted about how commuting to church isn't a bad thing. Commuting to many activities, church included, is increasingly the norm in our cities. But what can you do to create and strengthen community with people when you don't live near each other? Here are some thoughts based partly on personal experience and partly on what I see other innovative church leaders doing.

(Disclaimer: I'm not saying I'm a ninja at all these things. Some of them are aspirations I have for me and/or Sanctuary, our little church of commuters.)

1. Burst the bubble. When we are distributed around the city, we don't shop at the same neighborhood grocery store as our church friends. But we do shop at the same grocery store as other people -- namely the people in our neighborhood. Being distributed around town helps us stay out of the "Christian bubble" that would find us talking to each other but to no one else. Why not allow God to use that to his missional advantage?


Does Jesus prohibit Christians from being put under oath?

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus commands his followers not to take oaths. So what happens if we have to be sworn in at court or when becoming a citizen or when enlisting in the armed forces? Should we refuse?

Some Christians have thought so. For almost three hundred years it was common for Christians to refuse to take state oaths. This is one of the reasons they were often despised and persecuted by the Romans. But when Constantine became a Christian and decriminalized Christianity in 313, that changed. There was a budding new relationship between church and state, and Christians saw prudence in making exceptions in the prohibition against oaths. The more refined position has been known as the make/take distinction:

Don't make oaths on your own.But it's okay to take oaths when required by the state. Most Christians have lived by this code since the 300s, although there are exceptions including the Mennonites and Quakers. 
Oath taking seems like an odd thing for Jesus to get worked up…

Vision and division in leadership and the church

This morning I spent unhurried time meditating on some controversial words of Jesus:
Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. (Luke 12:51-52) In Jesus' time, it was expected that the Messiah would bring peace, and that hasn't changed. People today expect that if they go to a Christian church, they should expect an environment where people get along with one another. But the let's-all-get-along church may be the furthest from Jesus' actual presence. It's one thing to like the idea of Jesus and another to live under his table-overturning reign.

Jesus is saying something about the nature of his leadership and about leadership in general. A leader with a strong picture of where to go will not attempt to make everyone happy. In fact, we could say:
Vision brings division. Vision is "where we can go if we really want to.&…

What makes a great pastor? The answer may surprise you.

What makes a great pastor? We might think of things like strong preaching, courageous leadership, compassionate presence, community involvement, and so on. But what if those measures are completely off base? What if the measure of a great pastor isn't even something the pastor does?

A comment by pastor Larry Osborne recently caught my attention:
... when I stand before God, the ultimate measure of my ministry and stewardship will not be found in how many people we jammed into our campuses on a weekend. It will be measured by what those people did once they left the building. (Foreword to Gaining by Losing by J. D. Greear) Osborne is making that point that God will evaluate him not by the size of weekly attendance at his Sunday services but by how the people of the church act between Sundays. It's a key insight. But there's another point to be made here too:
A pastor is measured by what other people do. There are two surprising implications. First, your pastor is measured b…

A simple but spiritual question you can ask anyone

"So is it true you're into black powder shooting?" I asked Brian. He is a big man with a long goatee and a shaved head -- an intimidating presence to say the least. On top of that, he doesn't offer up a lot of information about himself. We have recently been joined as extended family, and I faced a choice -- try to get to know him or just let it go and move on.

I decided for the former, not because it was the easiest thing to do but because taking Jesus seriously means following him in entering other people's worlds. Theologians call that being "incarnational." So I had heard Brian is into black powder shooting and historical mountain man reenactments, and that's what I inquired about.
Brian's demeanor immediately changed. For the next half hour we talked about flintlock rifles, primitive camping, berry moonshine, outdoor toilets, canvas tents, tomahawk throwing, and a host of other things. By the time we parted ways, I was taking notes on where…

Recognizing God when he shows up

"Where have you seen God lately?" That's the question my pastor friend Greg asks his congregation on a regular basis. The idea is that God is likely to show up in your day, often in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.

Last night I saw God show up in a wedding I performed for two non-Christian extended family members. They honored me by asking me to officiate for them, and as we prepared the ceremony, I went over with them the things I normally say in a wedding. I usually talk about how God prepared the day for the couple, how marriage is God making two people one, how marriage isn't just about people but points back to God, how a Christ-centered marriage has all the best qualities, and so on. My relatives aren't overtly religious, and by the time we finished with the ceremony, there was no direct mention of God.

I must admit, I struggled with this for a couple days. I felt like I needed to be able talk overtly about God, especially in a wedding. Yet the more…

The most important six seconds of the day

It might only take six seconds to change the day for you and someone else.

Here in Starbucks, I was quietly doing some reading when a woman walked near my table to ask the barista for more sugar. She had a couple of coffees she needed to doctor up. The barista helped her, and she got to work on her coffees. A minute later she returned, this time with an empty half-and-half container. (One might wonder about this particular Starbucks.) The woman laughed apologetically and held up the container. The barista thanked her and walked a full container over to the condiment station. He said something about how this was milk, and it would take him a few seconds to bring a new half-and-half container out. The woman getting the coffees said, "Oh it's okay. These are just for some painters. They'll take anything."

The comment caught my attention. "These are just for some painters. They'll take anything."

She could have said, "I'll wait. These are for some …

"I have no intention of stepping foot in a church. Ever. For any reason."

"I have no intention of stepping foot in a church. Ever. For any reason." That's the conviction of an increasing number of people in Western culture. Europe is a little ahead of America in secularization, and in many ways we can look at Europe to see what America is on its way to becoming. With that in mind, what J. D. Greear writes in his new book Gaining by Losing is arresting (p. 30):
A British friend of mine, Steve Timmis cites a recent study in Great Britain in which 70 percent of Brits declare that they have no intention of ever attending a church service for any reason. Not at Easter. Not for marriages. Not for funerals or Christmas Eve services. For more than two-thirds of the people in Great Britain, nothing will carry them naturally into a church. In light of this, Steve comments:  That means new styles of worship will not reach them. Fresh expressions of church will not reach them. Alpha and Christianity Explored courses will not reach them. Great first impres…

The most important biblical key for thinking about heaven

Jesus once said that the love of money is the root of all evil. Can I be so bold as to wonder whether evil might have more than one such root? I keep bumping up against a recurring thought pattern that I think is as much of a root of evil as the love of money. It is:
Thinking we human beings are the center of everything, and that everything revolves around us. I mean, what is our favorite subject to talk about? Us. What do we think God is most concerned about? Us. What do we most want to talk about when praying? Us. What do we demand other people care about more than anything? Us. All I have to do is step back and look at the conversation I have had with God so far this morning, and I am confronted with plenty of evidence that I have been concerned with me/us more than anything else.

Obsession with "us" has plagued humanity since the fall, but we need to keep in mind that never has the love of "us" been so pronounced as it is in today's exceedingly narcissistic …

N. T. Wright on taking Jesus seriously

Two days ago I referenced a Patheos post by Drew Dyck (@DrewDyck) of Leadership Journal in which Drew argues that the church of tomorrow will be "stronger, smaller, and stranger" and will be populated by "upstream swimmers." Yesterday I commented further that upstream swimmers are people who take Jesus seriously as King not merely the Great Suggestion Maker.

Among influential voices urging us to take Jesus seriously is theologian N. T. Wright:
What would happen if we were to take seriously our stated belief that Jesus Christ is already the Lord of the world and that at his name, one day, every knee would bow? (Surprised by Hope, 144) If Jesus is Lord/King now, he will be Lord/King in the future -- and "then" means him appearing as judge over all the world. Jesus is to be taken seriously.

What difference does it make? A lot. When I was a kid and was home from school for summer vacation, knowing that dad was coming home from work around 5:00 affected everyt…

What would happen if we took Jesus seriously? Creating a church of upstream swimmers.

Yesterday I commented on a post written by Drew Dyck (@drewdyck) on Patheos that as American culture drifts further from Christianity, the church will get "stronger, smaller, and stranger." It will necessarily be populated by "upstream swimmers" who aren't afraid to think and act differently.

But differently how? What will be the drift-or-swim-upstream difference maker for the church of the future?

The more I preach and teach about Jesus, the more I become convinced of one thing:
The church in America simply doesn't take Jesus seriously If the church in America has a potentially fatal flaw, that's it.

I first noticed that we tend to take Jesus with a rather large grain of salt when I read over the Great Commission for about the thousandth time. But this time I heard a key word: Jesus said "everything."
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obe…

A "stronger, smaller, and stranger" church is in your future

The number of self-professing Christians in America is continuing to decline. The number of "nones" (people who are affiliated with no particular religion) is on the rise. Should Christians be alarmed?

In a post on Patheos that's worth your time, Drew Dyck (@drewdyck), managing editor of Leadership Journal, says no. In fact, the trends in American Christianity are actually encouraging. It's counterintuitive, but I agree with Drew. let me explain with some personal experience.

In 1992, Susan and I moved from Southern California to Dallas, Texas so I could begin my doctoral studies at SMU. We found life in the Bible Belt to be drastically different from what we had known before. In SoCal, it is not to one's social advantage to profess being a committed Christian. There are fewer "nominal" Christians (people who are Christian in name but not lifestyle). Contrast that with Dallas, where being a professing Christian was the social norm (I assume it still is)…

Most of what there is to know about God in two sentences

Are you ready for most of what the Bible says about God to be summed up in two statements?
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard;
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving
. (vv 11-12a)You, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving. This lyric is compact but loaded with meaning.
When the ancient Hebrews spoke of God as "God," they were often thinking of him as God over all creation. When they used the word "Lord," they were talking about how God had chosen to adopt them and walk with them specifically. "Lord" is a highly relational term, a title made possible because God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. "Lord" tells a story. Psalm 95 says that the Lord is not just God but "our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."
You, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving. If God is strong, he can do anything. If God is loving, he is for us. He wants us to th…

What would you most and least want Jesus to say to his friends about you?

Jesus said to his friends, "Beware the yeast of the Pharisees" (Mark 8, Matthew 16, Luke 12). For years I have puzzled over what he meant. Until today.

I think Jesus was essentially saying two things. One comes from the word "yeast," and the other from the word "beware."

"Yeast"... When Jesus said that the Pharisees had a certain kind of yeast, he was essentially saying that the Pharisees made a difference in that society. They were influential. Other people looked to them for answers. The ethos of the Pharisees permeated the rest of society the way a little yeast permeates a whole batch of dough. The Pharisees had a shared worldview, and it shaped the worldview of many people.

You have a certain yeast too. You make a difference in the lives of others. Your ethos permeates the world around you. Your worldview influences the worldview of others.

The same goes for your family. It has a certain yeast.

And your church. It has a certain yeast too. Its…

The American church is seeking the wrong people

Barking up the wrong tree. That's what most American churches are doing (and ours has been no exception). We try to fill our church communities with the wrong sorts of people.

In Matthew 19, a rich and upstanding young man approaches Jesus to see what he should do to inherit eternal life. By the end of their short conversation, Jesus tells the young man to sell what he has, give it away to the poor, and join the band of traveling disciples. The young man declines and goes away sorrowful that Jesus would ask such a thing of him. In essence, he chooses wealth and success over following closely after Jesus.

The Rich Young Ruler is just the kind of person you would want around. He is successful, well connected, and upstanding. He is followed by a track record of good deeds. But his love of his own lifestyle is his fatal flaw. And the thing is, most American churches are out to fill their rolls with just this sort. In fact, many churches are run by Rich Young Rulers who grow older and …

How to tell a loving insult from a sinful insult

Is it Christian to insult people? That was the question I raised in yesterday's post. I want to comment on it a little further.

We get a lot of help from Merriam-Webster, where 'insult' is defined as:

to do or say something that is offensive to someoneto do or say something that shows a lack of respect for someone Jesus openly insulted people on almost a daily basis, but he did so in sense #1. To call the Pharisees "white washed tombs full of dead men's bones" was one of seven ways Jesus offended them in Matthew 23. Speaking to the general public, Jesus offended their sense of righteousness all through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Jesus told it like it was, and some of what he had to say was offensive.
To insult someone in sense #1 is not a sin. It is sometimes necessary.
By the same token, just because you are offended doesn't mean someone is sinning against you. It may be what you need to hear.
On the other hand, I can't think of any circu…

Is it Christian to insult people?

What would you do if you got to enjoy a few minutes with a famous celebrity, and he/she took to insulting you without provocation?

When I was in college, my summer job was working in the pro shop of a local country club. Free golf all summer -- I was in hog heaven. At this club, we hosted an annual weekend tournament in which famous senior golfers played along with club members. For the members, this was a great thrill. However, it didn't always turn out so well. I remember standing alongside one of the tee boxes one morning when Sam Snead's foursome was about to tee off. One of the members, a respected man at the club, had worn pink slacks and a pink shirt that day. No doubt he had picked the outfit especially for his big day with Snead, one of the greatest golfers the world has ever known. On the tee box, Snead mocked the man's outfit and said, "Go ahead and hit, Pinkie." Those of us within earshot of this exchange cringed and felt sorry for the member, who had…

A case for commuting to church on Sunday mornings

I pastor a church of commuters. In fact, I'm a commuter myself, and it's something I've been thinking about recently. Here's a partial case for commuting to church on Sunday mornings.

By the way, I'm bucking the most prevalent counsel in today's church world -- that you should go to church close to your house. There's certainly a lot of wisdom in weaving together your church community with your school, neighborhood, social, and recreational community. However, Jesus never subscribed to that recipe.

In Luke 11, Jesus lauds the "Queen of the South"  (i.e., the Queen of Sheba according to 1 Kings 10:1) because she came from "the ends of the earth" to hear the wisdom of Solomon. That is, the Queen traveled from present-day Yemen some 1400 miles to hear Solomon's legendary wisdom. That's being intentional!

We might ask, what would have been the most convenient, comfortable, and face-saving thing for the Queen of Sheba to do? Stay home…

They were happy when Jesus left

How someone leaves makes a lasting impression on others. Picture spending the evening with a group of friends and at some point, everyone looks around and says, "Hey, where did Josh go?" Exiting unannounced leaves everyone wondering whether Josh was angry or hurt or something.

How we exit communicates a lot to our friends. Disappearing destabilizes the group. The slam of a door and loud cuss words creates conflict. Hugs and fond farewells bestow peace and love.

Let's think, then, about how Jesus exited and what it communicates.

In Luke 24 and Acts 1, Luke describes the ascension of Jesus. Between the two accounts, here are the facts:

A few weeks after his resurrection, Jesus was with a gathering of friends outside Jerusalem.He told them what their divine mission was. They would be his representatives there in the city and elsewhere even to the ends of the earth. And he told them how they would be equipped for their mission: the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they w…

Two stories about how much money Jesus is worth

During this morning's devotions (it's a habit you can't really live without, BTW), I came across two stories in Matthew 26, each of which puts a price on Jesus' head. In being set side-by-side in Matthew's Gospel, these two stories make quite a point.

Story 1: It is a couple of days before Jesus' death, and he is reclining at table with his disciples as usual. On this particular evening, a woman comes in carrying an alabaster vial of extremely expensive perfume. Today's top-dollar perfume is Clive Christian No. 1, valued at $12,721 per ounce. Picture a 3-4 ounce bottle of that.

Her gift is worth perhaps $40,000 in today's money, and the disciples smile with approval. In Jesus' circles, people often bring gifts, and Jesus' disciples convert them into disbursable resources and give the money to the poor. This is apparently what they assume will happen when they see the treasure the woman is carrying.

What the woman does next -- and what Jesus allow…

Without the starter, your prayer life isn't going anywhere

Have you ever had the starter go out on your car? It might go like this. You force yourself out of bed early, shower, dress, and get ready to go to work. You get behind the wheel of your car, turn the key, and the engine doesn't start.

Without a starter, you aren't going anywhere.

If we could ask one of history's greatest experts on prayer what is the starter in the life of communing with God, what would he say? Brother Lawrence (17th-century monk), famous for his practice of continual prayer, said that for him, everything started with thinking great thoughts of God. In other words, theology is the starter. He wasn't an educated man, but he knew enough about God to get the motor going. One's theology could be as simple as "God is great, God is good." In fact, most biblical theology is summed up in those two sentences that many of us learned as kids.

If you want to go through the hours aware of God rather than forgetful of him... if you want to have a goo…

Two questions that give life meaning

What is true? How can I know it? 
What is good? How can I become it?
Those are two of the most fundamental questions human beings can ask. People who ask those questions persistently and pursue the answers no matter where the search leads are called 'philosophers.' 
Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, was famous for saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living." What he meant was, "Why go about living a life that is ultimately pointless because you are just taking everyone else's word for what is true and good? Why follow along like a lemming? Seek out truth and goodness. The search itself gives meaning to life."
As Neil Postman observed, our society has taken a path of "amusing ourselves to death." The constant availability of entertainment has fueled a culture of superficiality rather than a search for truth and goodness. 
Here's a starting point. Take Matthew, chapter 5. Do you think what Jesus taught is true and/or good? Wh…

The wisdom of inefficiency

Let's say you and your spouse are preparing to adopt a baby from Asia. You have worked for months to navigate the twists and turns of the adoption process. When you were matched with a little boy, you prayerfully accepted. That kicked into gear all the final preparations -- buying baby clothes, packing baby supplies, packing your own things, updating your passports, getting shots, preparing your complex itinerary, studying maps, and wondering -- endlessly wondering -- what this experience will bring, both good and bad. This has been an extraordinary few months. You are revved up but running on fumes.

You are scheduled to leave for your flight out of the USA on 6:00 AM on Friday morning. What do you do on Thursday night? Double check all your preparations? Rest up, anticipating the aches and pains of being stuck for more than 20 hours in coach seats the next day?

Either of these choices would make complete sense, but our friends Nate and Lindsey elected "none of the above.&quo…