10Jan

6 Things to Remember When Planning a Wedding

Planning a wedding is a precarious mixture of excitement and stress. Remembering these six things will help your planning season go smoothly.

 

1. It’s only one day but it’s also only one day.

You wedding day is just that, a day. One day.

  • Don’t blow so much money that you can’t afford to live the married life your wedding day celebrates. Your wedding should a be a wonderful party…that you can afford.
  • However, it’s also just a day. One day. So make it count! Try and be fully present in every moment, remembering all the small details you’ll forget if you don’t. Hire a great photographer because the pictures from this one day will be some of your most prized possessions.

2. Your wedding day is not all about you.

Your wedding day is a great chance to remember and show gratitude to the people who helped get you here, to the happiest day of your life. This is the only regret I have about my own wedding.

Your bridesmaids or groomsmen have sacrificed time away from their families, jobs, etc. They have purchased whatever shirt/tie or dress combo you required that they will never wear again but they’re wearing for you because they care about you. Make sure they know how thankful you are.

Your parents will have mixed emotions today. On one hand, they could not be happier for you. On the other hand, part of them feels like you’re leaving them for good because after your wedding day, everything changes. Find a special way to honor your parents on your wedding day. Write them a letter. Steal them away for a private toast. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting where you came from because it’s shaped where you are on your special day.

Most importantly, if you’re a Christian your wedding party is a shadow of the party that’s awaiting us in heaven, previewed in Revelation 19:6-9,

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

 

3. Have a date night every week…with no wedding planning talk allowed.

This doesn’t even need to be explained. Try not doing this for a few weeks. Then try it for a few weeks and see what’s better.

4. You’re also planning to start a life together.

Along with the wedding you’re also planning life together. Part of how you handle the adversity of this stressful season will preview how you’ll handle more stressful times to come. You’re not just planning a party; you’re starting a book together and the wedding is just the first chapter.

  • One practical area in which newlyweds must be on the same page about is finances. I cannot suggest Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class enough. Every engaged couple on the planet should take this class.

 

5. Two becoming one can be painful.

The Bible repeatedly refers to marriage as “two becoming one” (Genesis 2:23, Mark 10:8). As two become one, both people are forced to change.

They certainly change for the better but its because two people are learning to live out the Gospel in each other lives, “looking not only to [their] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

 

6. Don’t play the comparison game.

One of the things I’m most thankful for in life is that my wedding happened before Pinterest existed. The only weddings we could compare ours too were ones we had seen in person. Here’s the reality: not many people will remember much about your wedding. They will remember being thrilled for you but they won’t care about how many Mason jars you included in your centerpieces.

Plan well. Work hard. But plan your wedding, not someone else’s.

 

What other tips would you give to people planning wedding?

7Jan

Jump Start: Day 5 (James 1:12-18)

Day 5 of Jump Start picks up with James 1:12-18.

Check up on past days by clicking below:

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. – James 1:12-18

In today’s passage, James returns to a similar discussion we read in v. 2-4 on trials and steadfastness. The second half of chapter 1 mirrors the 1st half.

  • Trials are discussed in 1:2-4 and 1:12-18.
  • Wisdom is discussed in 1:5-8 and 1:19-26.
  • Wealth is discussed in 1:9-11 and 1:27.

#blessed (v.12)

So far James has taught us that Christians can experience joy in the middle of trials (v.2) and now in verse 12 he connects enduring trials with what it means to be blessed.

This concept of being #blessed is massively misunderstood in our culture today. Watch any postgame interview with any athlete in any sport and what’s the very first thing out of their mouths? Answer: some version of “I’m just so #blessed to be able to win this game.” Does that mean the losing team is not blessed by God? Does God love them less?

Search any social media platform for #blessed and you’lll come up with millions of entries. If you search on Instagram, you’ll find pictures of new cars, shoes, jewelry and even food…all the with caption, #blessed.

Now most of that nonsense comes from non-Christians, people who James would say are not yet living the #blessed life of real, active faith. But is the Church any better? Does the average, well-to-do American Christian really have a better understanding of what it means to be blessed than the average well-to-do American non-Christian?

If you were asked to list off ways to obtain the #blessed life, would resisting temptation make the list? Persevering in trials? That is precisely the pathway James is guiding us toward.

 

God Can’t Do That (v.13-15)

Did you know there are some things God can’t do? It’s not that God is not powerful enough. Instead, since we know God is love and God has faithfully revealed his character and heart toward us in Christ Jesus, there are certain things that are simply outside of God’s character. For example, God cannot sin. God also cannot tempt us.

So when you find yourself torn between what God wants for you and what you want for you, James is clear; we don’t get to blame God for the tension.

So who can we blame for temptation? Ourselves! Notice the progression James lays out. Our own desire (what we want, not what God wants) leads to sin and sin leads to death. Our fault all the way.

I was talking with some young men in our church about lust a few weeks ago. It’s the single most relevant topic I find across all different types of guys. The struggle can seem impossible to overcome, especially in the teenage years. One of these young men was fairly exasperated as we were looking at Jesus’ teaching on lust in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30). He told me how his father sat him down one day to talk about sex, girls, etc.

His dad told him, “It’s okay to look and fantasize but it’s not okay to touch.”

James doesn’t leave much room for that application in the life of a Christian seeking to live out a real, active faith. Desire is dangerous because desire misapplied leads to sin and death.

 

God is good and never changes. (v. 16-18)

Do you sit around the Thanksgiving table and take turns with your family sharing what you’re thankful for? I love that. James doesn’t want you to be deceived (v.16) into thinking God could somehow be the source of temptation in your life. He further reveals the wonderful character and nature of God in verse 17 when he directs our hearts to see that every good gift is from God who never changes.

How many good things in your life go unrecognized? Unappreciated? If you connected those good things (friends, peace, good food, a sense of stability, family, support system, etc.) as gifts from God, how much more aware would we be to just how blessed we really are?

  • We would resist temptation more than we do now.
  • We would endure struggles better than we do now.
  • We would be more patient than we are now.
  • We would worry less than we do now.
  • We would comfort others in their suffering better than we do now.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. What does it mean to be blessed? How do you see our culture getting this wrong? Do you see yourself getting this wrong? Ask God to show you more and more what it means to live the blessed life.

2. Think of a time when you survived a struggle and/or resisted a temptation. Remember what it felt like to win? To make the better choice? Ask God to help you remember how good that felt and to remind you how much better his ways are than our ways.

3. Have you experienced a big change in your life? Specifically a negative change? Most of the time, when the dust settles you realize you can handle the changes, no matter how drastic they are. But it’s the unexpected way they came about that is hard to deal with. Nobody likes being blindsided. You know what I love about God? He never does anything out of character, never blindsides you. Your whole world might be upside down right now but God is with you and God never changes. Close with a simple prayer of thanks.

 

There are 5 new Jump Start posts coming next week that are only available to email subscribers. Click here to have posts sent directly to your e-mail.

6Jan

Jump Start: Day 4 (James 1:9-11)

Day 4 of Jump Start picks up with James 1:9-11.

Check up on past days by clicking below:

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. – James 1:9-11

Jesus > Money or Status (v.9-10)

James uses two different words to describe the poor. In verse 9 he uses “tapeinos” translated as lowly. It does not refer primarily refer to economic status. Instead, it best describes social status. The “lowly brother” is not just a poor person; he’s an outcast, socially awkward.

The lowly brother should boast in his exaltation because he’s a brother. The New Testament frequently uses familial language to describe the Church, the family of God. Notice the rich man in verse 10 is simply “rich” and not a “rich brother.” Even though the lowly brother in verse 9 is a social outcast, he has infinitely more reason to rejoice than the rich man in verse 10.

The lowly brother knows he can boast in Jesus and an eternal life that will not pass away, like the rich man’s will (v.10). James reminds the rich man that no matter how much he may acquire, it’s all fleeting and temporary.

It’s Not Always a Slow Fade (v.11)

In 2009, Casting Crowns released a song called, “Slow Fade.” Read the chorus below.

“It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade.” – Casting Crowns

There’s definitely some truth to the song. Most people drift from God slowly, over a long period of time. Few people have a Jonah-like moment of dramatic rebellion and running away from God.

But that’s not the picture James paints.

I grew up in Central Texas where summer temperatures regularly stay above 100 degrees with heat indexes creeping up over 110. Grass definitely withers. Flowers fall and their beauty perishes…fast.

James paints a bleak reality for those who put their identity and self-worth in the material aspects (wealth and status) of this world. They, their net worth, and their chance to live a life of real, active faith can fade fast.

 

Questions for Application and Prayer

1. Think about all the various aspects of your life. In what area do you take the most pride? Work success? Family status? Spend some time asking God to help you develop a “lowly” spirit that drives you to boast in Jesus above all else.

2. Who do you think of when you read about the rich man in verse 10? Only one of the 7.1 billion people on the planet does not have someone else’s wealth/status to be jealous of. When we read the New Testament’s warnings to the rich, we need to first and foremost read them as directed to us, because we are the global rich. One of the greatest temptations when reading the Bible is thinking about how so many other people need to be reading what we are only to find the text is piercing our own hearts and we don’t even realize it. How does verse 10 shake up your world?

3 In verse 11, James talks about how people can fade away from faith quickly. Spend a few moments in prayer, asking God to bring to mind some people in your life that might be nearing that fast fade. Send them a message now. Ask them about what’s new in their world or what their kids have been up to lately. Ask them how you can be praying for them and then actually pray for them. Create an opportunity to invite them to church or a small group with you. The fade isn’t always slow – you might not have time to wait.

If Jump Start has been meaningful for you, don’t miss a post! Click here to have posts sent directly to your e-mail.

5Jan

Jump Start: Day 3 (James 1:5-8)

Today’s text is James 1:5-8.  You can catch up on earlier day(s) of Jump Start below.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

You Will Need Wisdom

Even though James writes “if any of you lack wisdom” he obviously knows we all need wisdom to progress into real, active faith. As a major theme of James, wisdom is much more than knowing facts about God and the life he desires us to live. Instead, wisdom is the maturity that a Christian acquires and develops as they deepen their relationship with God and the knowledge and courage to then live out that real, active faith.

James is wonderfully simple: if you don’t have wisdom you need to live out a real, active faith…ASK.

What Kind of God is God?

That’s a huge question. Ask several Christians that question and you’ll no doubt get varying answers but can you imagine what kind of answers you’d get if you asked several atheists? Or several agnostics (people who simply don’t care if God exists because even if he does then that God clearly doesn’t care about them?)

James helps us understand what kind of God we serve. We ask for wisdom from “the God who gives.” In Greek, James uses the present participle, “the giving God,” which means giving wisdom is not something God does just once or something God did in the past but doesn’t do anymore. It is a continuous action meaning that God is (and always will be) gladly giving wisdom to those who ask.

We can trust this giving God because we have nothing to be afraid of when we ask since he gives “without reproach.” No hesitation. No mocking. God doesn’t even think once about making fun of your request. There’s no chance you’ll get shut down so why not ask?

How Do We Ask God for Wisdom?

Verse 6 teaches us to ask in faith. This is not the initial faith (justification) in Jesus that transforms us from death to life in Christ. This faith is the every day work of believing God is who he says he is and he’ll do what he says he’ll do. Much easier said than done.

James claims that the one who can’t ask for wisdom in this way, “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown by the wind and tossed about.” This might be one of the most misinterpreted verses in the entire Bible.

Doubt is not an enemy of faith. Silence is. If you have hard questions about faith, ask them! Find a friend or a pastor…better yet, talk to God about them!

James does not tell believers to never doubt God or have questions about his nature or activity in the world. Instead, James wants to warn a believer that if they lack wisdom, they should not spend their lifetime doubting the character of the loving God who is ready to generously give that very wisdom they seek without hesitation.

Doubt can help our faith grow but endless doubting squashes faith.

What does a life of endless doubting provide?

  • The endless doubter lives a life of chaos. (v.6)

Don’t miss this: the endless doubter isn’t tossed by the sea. The endless doubter is the sea.

Have you ever been to the beach and just watched the waves? They are nothing like the coloring book pages where the waves are all the same size and perfectly aligned in a row. Even when the ocean is not in a storm, the waves are unstable and irregular. It’s partly why surfing is so hard because even on a calm day, some waves are bigger than others. Some are small, seemingly unassuming, but others are big, crashing with tremendous force. The endless doubter lives a life of perpetual chaos.

  • The endless doubter gets nothing from God. (v. 7)

A person unwilling to deal with sin is even more unwilling to trust the God who could grant them the wisdom they need to develop real, active faith. They doesn’t add up to much of a relationship with God.

  • The endless doubter is consistently inconsistent. (v.8)

He is “double-minded” – incredibly unsure. Remember, James is all about active faith. So a double-minded person isn’t just conflicted in their thoughts but their actions are inconsistent as well. In fact, that inconsistency is the only constant in their life.

Double-minded people try and live two separate lives instead of committing their whole life to Jesus Christ. This echoes back to Jesus teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, “No one can serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other.” – Matthew 6:24

 

Questions for Prayer/Application

1. In what areas of your life are you currently lacking wisdom? If you can’t think of anything, what decisions are you making that keep failing or bringing about negative results? Ask God to grant you the wisdom you need to live out a real, active faith in those areas.

2. Do you trust our giving God? The Bible makes it clear that God is waiting and ready to give you wisdom. He doesn’t make fun of you for needing it or laugh at the way you ask him for it. Pray a simple prayer today, “God I trust you today. I’m all yours. Give me the wisdom I need to live out a real, active faith.”

3. What doubts do you have about God? Are those small things you’re just confused about (Noah’s Ark, really?) or big things (Why do bad things seem to happen to good people?) keeping you away from a committed relationship with Jesus? Ask God to help you surrender to the reality that we don’t get all the answers we want. Thank him for the gift of faith.

If Jump Start has been meaningful for you, don’t miss a post! Click here to have posts sent directly to your e-mail.

4Jan

Jump Start Day 2 (James 1:2-4)

If you missed the first day of Jump Start (James 1:1), catch up by clicking here.

Today’s text is James 1:2-4,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Yesterday we looked at the themes of James and we saw that if you could boil the book of James down to one theme you could easily argue that theme is suffering. James cares deeply about how Christians respond to the real struggles of life.

Joy is a decision

As a young boy growing up in church I never understood how we should count life’s struggles and trials as joy. At the time, I simply did not have a concept of God that was big enough to handle something that paradoxical. The reality of the Gospel is that we do have a reason to meet the struggles of life head on and it has nothing to do with our feelings.

Joy is a decision, and a hard fought one. This joy is strong and real. It’s not the put-on-a-fake-smile-and-pretend-like everything’s-great counterfeit joy. James claims that if we can choose that strong joy in spite of our circumstances, God will eventually produce something even stronger in our lives: steadfastness.

 

I love the word “steadfast.” I have it highlighted in my Bible every time I find it. See: My Favorite Word in the Old Testament. It reinforces the idea that joy requires and produces strength.

 

What counts as a trial?

James writes that we should count “trials of various kinds” as joy. I used to only think this verse applied to martyrs who were brave enough to die for their faith in hostile parts of the world.

But that’s not what the text says.

Trials of various kinds include all the struggles of life, even the ones we’re tempted to think don’t matter to God.

Trials come when…

  • Your car engine is fried and the cost to repair is more than the car is worth. Choose joy.
  • You have to get a root canal. Choose joy.
  • You make bad decisions and have to live with the consequences. Choose joy.
  • You get sick at the worst possible time. Choose joy.
  • Someone betrays your trust. Choose joy.

We all know it’s hard to choose joy and it doesn’t take a life-changing diagnosis or tragic accident for us to experience “trials of various kinds.” In big trials and small, choose joy and the Bible says you will become steadfast over time. Eventually the big trials seem smaller and smaller because you know God is with you.

Fight or Flight?

Few things show what we’re really made of like adversity. When the trials come, how will you respond?

Even if you don’t always know how you would respond, I bet you know people in your life who respond well to trials – who fight to choose joy instead of fleeing in fear.

This picture below went viral after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

boston-police-bombing

Can you imagine the chaos? It is estimated that this picture was taken just one second after the bombs went off and look at how these officers are responding! As many ran away in fear, few ran toward the danger, toward the trial.

James is not saying all Christians should become police officers. However, that same attitude is what we should have in the midst of our own trials, no matter how big or small they may be.

These officers responded the way they did because they were experienced and ready, steadfast.

Are you ready to choose joy in the midst of whatever trials come your way today?

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. What is the greatest struggle you’ve ever experienced? Were you able to choose joy? If so, how did that strengthen your faith? If not, what would you do differently? Ask God to help prepare you for your current trials or whatever may be coming your way soon.

2. When you just feel like giving up, what do you do? How do you cope? Are those activities the right choices or do you feel like God might be calling you to a higher level of trust in him?

3. Think of someone who consistently chooses joy in the midst of life’s struggles. How has their strong faith impacted yours? Thank God for them. Send them a message today letting them know that you’re stronger in your faith because of the way they are strong in theirs.

If Jump Start is helping you grow in your faith, would you consider sharing with a friend, family member, or co-worker?

3Jan

Jump Start: Day 1 (James 1:1)

Welcome to Jump Start, a place for you to connect with God through Scripture.

We’ll be walking through the book of James, verse-by-verse. I’ll be providing some background but I would strongly encourage you to grab a study Bible and read through the introduction information for the book of James.

Who was James?

James was the brother of Jesus and a very important leader in the early Church. He was the chief elder of the church in Jerusalem. If you ever struggle to believe that Jesus really was God – remember his brother was convinced he was actually God. Do you have a brother? I do. He has never once mistaken me for God!

Themes in James

We’ll return to these throughout the book so we won’t go over them in great detail here but be on the lookout for these things in James’ letter.

  1. Wisdom – James is often grouped with the other wisdom books of the Bible like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes and rightfully so. James is deeply concerned with Christians becoming mature, wise believers whose faith has a real impact in the world.
  2. Suffering – If you could boil James down to one subject, suffering might be it. James led the church in Jerusalem during one of the worst periods of persecution in Christianity and his message is simple: endure and count your blessings.
  3. Jesus – A professor in college once asked my class where to find Jesus in the New Testament. The nerds in the front row quickly spouted off the Gospels. Unimpressed, he asked where else. The class was mostly silent. After a few miserable guesses, someone got it right. James! There are more echoes of Jesus’ teaching (especially the Sermon on the Mount) found in James’ book than any other outside the Gospels.
  4. Faith in Action – hence the title, Jump Start. James wants to be clear – following Jesus is not about intellectual ascent to a set of beliefs about who Jesus was and why he came. Faith in Jesus should be active and noticed by non-Christians.
  5. The Poor – James has a deep concern for the poor. His concern is not purely a personal one, however. James concludes that Christians should be deeply concerned for the poor because that’s what Christians do.
  6. Sin – Right belief should lead to right behavior. James tackles a few practical examples of sin in his day – ones that we would do well to apply in ours.

James 1:1

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”

James is a servant.

Actually, James is claiming to be a slave for Christ. The Greek word “doulos” literally means slave.

In the Roman Empire, at the time of James’ writing, there were various levels of servanthood. The best allowed a slave to hold positions of political power and the worst had slaves condemned to a short, hard, risky life spent working in the mines.

Early Christians actually had a reputation for serving these mine slaves, the lowest of the low. The historian Eusebius records a letter thanking the church in Rome for repeatedly giving money to other churches so they can continue to care for the slaves in the mine.

There are also several records of early Christians selling themselves into slavery to free other people. What a beautiful picture of what Jesus accomplishes on the cross for us!

But it’s surprising that when given a chance to describe himself James chooses the word SERVANT.

James was the brother of Jesus (if ever there was someone who should name drop!) and a massively important leader in the earliest age of the Church but he is not exercising false humility. In spite of all of his accomplishments and connections, James chooses to focus on being a slave for the one who freed him from the slavery of sin.

 

Jesus is the one true God.

At first glance, this phrase sounds weird, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James is making a clear claim to two separate parties.

To the Jews waiting for the promised Messiah, James wants them to see that Messiah has come in Jesus. He really is who He said he was. The Greek word for Lord, “kurios” also enforces James position as a slave with its primary meaning of “master” or “boss.”

To the Romans, James is making the claim that there is only one true God. It’s not the Emperor or the local expression of the temple cult religions. The Roman Emperor Domitian ruled from AD 81-96 and had a particularly strong hatred for Christians. He officially referred to himself in Latin as dominus et deus, or “Lord and God.”

James is drawing a line in the sand. Even as Roman citizens were legally bound to recite the creed, “Caesar is Lord” many of the early Christians died with a better expression on their lips, “Jesus is Lord.”

“to the Twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings”

James’ original readers must have immediately thought of the Twelve tribes of Israel scattered across the Roman empire, largely living without identity or hope.

However, another layer is present. James is busting the door open to all people, not just the Jews. That’s the message of Jesus; the Gospel is for everyone! The twelve tribes now take on a more symbolic meaning as all of God’s people in the new covenant.

The Gospel breaks down every dividing line we normally encounter: race, social status, economic background, interests, allegiances, etc.

 

Questions for Application and Prayer

1. James gets the chance to describe himself and uses the word “servant.” How would you describe yourself in one word? Would a close friend or family member use the same word to describe you? Pray and ask God to help you live the life of a servant today.

2. Who are you serving right now? Who might need you to start serving? Spend some time thanking God for the people who have served you or your family. Send them a message today and thank them for the role they’ve played in your life.

3. The opposite of humbly serving is selfishly seeking power and influence. How are you doing this in your life? Pray a prayer of repentance and ask God to help you move away from seeking power and influence and toward lovingly serve others.

 

27Dec

4 Reasons to See a Counselor This Year

This is the year…or is it?

I think it can be if you go see a counselor.

A new year is dawning and goals are being made, life changes being imagined.

I’d like to suggest that the key to seeing those goals accomplished might be you seeing a counselor.

Last year I sought out a counselor for a few reasons. My wife and I needed an outside source to help us see some things a bit more clearly. We both had some changes at work that we wanted to process through with a qualified professional and we were both in a season of life where we just needed some encouragement.

I am so grateful for the Church – the body of Christ. Some reasons are obvious but one subtle reason for my gratitude has been a shift I’ve noticed over the last decade or so – Christians are speaking out loudly about the need and help that professional counseling provides. In doing so, pastors and other notably visible leaders are helping to shatter the negative stigma counseling has carried for far too long.

Seeing a counselor doesn’t make you weak. It proves you’re strong.

A few notes:

Pastors are not counselors.

I’m a pastor and am trained for a lot of situations – but serving as a professional counselor is not one of those areas. I am not qualified or capable. If you find a pastor who claims to be without the required credentials and education/experience, run. As a pastor, I can provide spiritual direction and some sense of general wisdom – but most of my job relationally is simply to be with them and remind/help them to see that God is with them.

See: 7 Questions to Ask on Date Night: From a Pastor and a Therapist

See: 7 Questions to NEVER Ask on Date Night: From a Pastor and a Therapist

Counseling is affordable

We had to adjust our budget to accommodate for the expense but we didn’t have to make a drastic change to afford counseling. We just stopped wasting some money. When people complain about not being able to afford counseling my first response is usually, “How can you afford not to get help?” Then, I ask if they have cable or satellite TV service. One of those two responses usually solves the problem.

However, if the financial burden sincerely is great, there are options. Churches may be able to help defer the cost and in my town there are fantastic counseling options with income-based payment options. Basically, there is simply no good excuse.

 

4 Reasons to See a Counselor This Year

1.) To help you see blind spots.

Sometimes all you need is an outside perspective with the skills to see into your situation. It is easy for us to get tunnel vision in certain areas of life and fail to see a simple solution because it might not be as obvious to us and it is to a counselor. A lot of answers to our problems lie just outside of our sight. Counselors can help you see the blind spots.

2.) To be encouraged for what you’re doing right.

As long as you’re making a sincere, full effort, counseling should never feel like a beat-down. It can feel emotionally draining but that part if often necessary. Think about whatever issue you’re struggling with right now. Maybe your marriage is strained or you’re struggling with feeling inadequate as a parent – maybe you are still dealing with some hurt in your past. Whatever it is, imagine how good it would feel if you could share that part of your life with someone and be encouraged that it might not be as bad as you have made it out to be.

Maybe you’re doing more right than you realize.

Some of my favorite moments of counseling have been receiving encouragement for what I didn’t realize I was already doing well. That give you motivation to work on whatever you’re currently not doing well.

3.) To achieve better work/life balance.

Everyone says they want this but nobody really wants to make it happen.

Too many lazy people talk about work/life balance but they’ve never really learned how to work too hard in the first place. Too many workaholics talk about work/life balance but have no real intentions to stop making work an idol in their life.

Seeing a counselor this year can help you actually achieve work/life balance because they can help you achieve what matters most.

Counselors tell you the truth about you.

If you’re lazy, they’ll tell you. If you need to stop and rest, they’ll tell you.

4.) Strengthen the most important relationships in your life.

This is the best reason to go to counseling. Whether it’s your spouse, kids, or your parents – these are the most important people in your life. Or at least they can be. Maybe counseling is just what you need to repair or renew those relationships.

See: 13 Questions to Gauge if You Need Marriage Counseling

27Dec

Do More Better

Most people are looking for ways to do more work that matters.

Disclaimer: I’m not talking about working more hours. I’m talking about becoming more efficient, learning what projects to say yes or no to, and doing stuff that matters.

If you fall into this category of people, allow me to recommend Do More Better: a Practical Guide to Productivity – a mercifully short book written by pastor/author Tim Challies. Challies is an active blogger at www.challies.com.

challies

Overall Pros:

  • Gospel Focus – One of my biggest pet peeves in current church culture is our obsession with labelling everything Gospel-cenetered ______. However when discussing productivity, it is easy to begin boasting in our own efficiency or criticizing others who are not as effective as we are, at least as we judge effectiveness. Challies does not allow the reader to stray from the Gospel truth that God saves the most efficient and most lazy of people – and our productivity does nothing to impress God or earn his love.
  • Brevity – this makes sense for a book about productivity, right? Challies gets right what most productivity writers get wrong. At 119 pages, Do More Better teaches you what you need to get to work and you can knock it out in one sitting.
  • Practical Action Steps – Challies does not waste pages overly discussing productivity theories or quoting other productivity authors, like many do. Within each short chapter he gives practical action steps to implement right away.

On why we work

You are already very good at doing things that benefit you. We all are. From your infancy you have become adept at expending effort toward your own comfort and survival. But when God saved you, he gave you a heart that longs to do good for others. Suddenly you long to do good to other people, even at great cost to yourself. After all, that is exactly what Christ did on the cross…and he calls on you to imitate him. – 13

One of the best sentences in the book is Challies’ definition of productivity.

Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.– 16

In Chapter two, Challies identifies three productivity thieves:

  1. laziness
  2. busyness
  3. the mean combination of thorns and thistles (as a result of the Fall, sin has complicated work, making it harder to produce than God originally intended. Notice: work is not a consequence of sin. Work being difficult is).

The bulk of Do More Better is focused on specific, practical tools. Challies outlines his own productivity system without insisting the reader adopt his own. He does clarify that this system has worked well for him and others.

Challies lays out main areas of responsibility and then clarifies roles and responsibilities with those areas. He then gives each main area a loosely binding mission statement so he has a parameter in which to remain focused on what matters most.

The question I had, which Challies quickly answered was, “What about tasks that don’t fit into those five or six main categories?”

Challies provides three possible solutions:

1. Drop them – so much of our productivity potential is wasted on things that don’t matter. I am a pastor so people matter most in my world. But, to spend the most time with people there are times I have to say no to other people. For example, I know I work best at the very beginning of each day. So I usually start with the door shut to my co-workers, some of whom work differently than I do. As the day progresses, I generally meet with people more after lunch as my productivity levels start to drain but my relational capacity is still high. I have to drop some things so I can do the things that matter most.

2. Delegate them to someone who can do them better – this is absolutely not dumping something you simply don’t wish to do on someone else. In my world, we recently upgraded our worship team equipment, which I know nothing about. Instead of me wasting hours and hours trying to learn and eventually making a bad decision, I asked a few of my friends who are much more knowledgeable than I am to help me make the best decision. They saved me time, money, and helped me focus more on my own strengths as they served me with theirs.

3. Do them – this is where Challies’ gospel focus is heard loudly. As a Christian trying to pattern my life after Jesus, there should be no task that is beneath me. The founding pastor of my church, one of the largest in town, can regularly be found with a broom or mop in his hand cleaning up and serving in ways no one else sees. He does what needs to be done and serves just as honestly and joyfully without an audience as he does when he is preaching on stage to a packed house.

Challies spends a chapter each on three productivity tools: tasks, calendar, and information. I found his chapter on systems to be particularly insightful, especially the system he uses to create to-do lists and beginning the day strong.

He also discusses systems to evaluate yourself and your work in review. The two bonus chapters in the back are especially helpful (6 tips for email and 20 general productivity tips).

If you are looking to increase productivity and do more that matters, this book is for you.

Disclaimer: I received a free, discounted, or advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

22Dec

Gift Guide for the Average Dude

First off, I totally stole this idea from an excellent writer, Seth Haines. You can check out his guide here. Seth is right; most gift guides aren’t really created for normal guys. The items are usually too trendy, expensive or impractical.

(I own/use/have read all these items and don’t receive any type of compensation or discount for recommending them…no super PAC money was given to me to recommend these things).

It’s a little late but here’s my first annual Average Dude Gift Guide.

Pilot G2 Retractable Premium Gel Ink Roller Ball Pens, Fine Point, 5-Pack, Black Ink (31078) – $6

Everyone needs a pen and most pens stink. Help your dude be the gentleman who always has a pen ready, and never buy a pen with a lid. That is what’s wrong with America.

G2

 

Zebra F-402 Ballpoint Pen, Retractable, 0.7mm, Black, 2 Pack (29212) – $5

I am thankful for the man who introduced me to this pen for many reasons. He helped me figure out I wanted to marry my wife. He gave me a place to live…twice. He gave me a job that never felt like a job. His wife cooked me hundreds of homemade meals. However, I am most thankful he introduced me to this pen. It’s my #1. Get it.

zebrapen

Bluetooth Headphones QY8 COULAX V4.1 Wireless Sports Earbuds Sweatproof – $25

These are amazing. They’re ranked #1 on Amazon for a reason. I use mine everyday. If you find yourself spending $5 or $100 on headphones, you’re doing it wrong.

headphones

Dollar Shave Club Membership – $6/month

I pay $6/month for razors that come straight to my door. They’re high quality and quite the bargain.

dsc

 

Andar Mens Leather Minimalist RFID Blocking Wallet – $30

I finally traded in my George Costanza wallet for this beauty. I currently have 5 cards in mine and 7 bills and can’t even feel it in my pocket. It’s much thinner than the 2″x4″ of a wallet I used to sit on every day and wonder why my back hurt.

andar

Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag – $68

I have used this every day for five years. It’s still in great condition and if anyone makes fun of your dude for carrying a messenger bag, he can smack them with this one and be confident it won’t break.

bag

Fossil Men’s FS4885 Grant Stainless Steel Watch with Brown Leather Band – $135

I bought this watch last year and wear it every day. It holds up to everyday life well and looks much better than my series of $10 watches I bought every few weeks after one broke.

watch

Stance Socks – $12/pair

I wear these everyday. They’re great quality and Stance makes everything from Star Wars to sports teams and really fun colors/designs. The average dude doesn’t wear average socks.

stance

Stanley Classic 16 oz Green Vacuum Travel French Press – $22

This.Is.Awesome. – I got mine from my local Wal-Mart on clearance but it’s a steal even at $22. You can’t find a decent portable one for under $30 and most are closer to $50. Great coffee is a must for the average dude.

press

John Varvatos Vintage Cologne, 4.2 oz. – $66

I’m not a huge cologne guy – dudes that wear too much cologne are the human version of the trucker hat. But this stuff is the real deal.

   

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (book) – $9

A great story of an older man and a younger man that explores themes of morality, family and altruism.

 bury

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines (book) – $12

Since I stole his idea; I recommend his book. Seriously – it’s great. The narrative weaves in and out of Seth’s personal journey through his first 90 days of sobriety but focuses on a much larger scale on how we are all addicted to something. It’s encouraging, vulnerable, and a great addition to the tapestry of manhood.

clean

20Dec

What the North Pond Hermit Knows about Community

When he was just 20 years old, Chris walked off into the woods and never looked back.

For the next 27 years Christoper Knight, the North Pond Hermit, had only one interaction with another human, a brief “hi” as he passed a hiker in the woods.

He lived within short walking distance of several neighborhoods but went undetected for 27 years. In that time, he only ever slept in a tent and never lit a single fire, even as the harsh Maine winter temperatures plunged to 20 below.

For almost three decades, he uttered only one syllable and never saw a doctor or took any medication.

But the only reason you and I know the story of the North Pond Hermit is because he got caught on one of his 40 robberies a year.

The man who thought he didn’t need anyone quickly learned just the opposite.

Knight routinely broke into cabins during the offseason and homes only when he was sure its residents were gone. Until his capture, he never encountered another person during any of his roughly 1,080 burglaries.

He took food, supplies, and hundreds of propane tanks to cook his food and remain warm.

As you can imagine, residents began to grow aware of the hermit’s presence among them even though his exact location was unknown. One local claimed that his cabin was burglarized 40 times !

As ridiculous as the hermit lifestyle might seem, many of us live life in a similar way – isolating ourselves from others all the while failing to see how much we need one another.

We want isolation. We need each other.

We may not need propane tanks and tarps from one another but we do need encouragement and concern.

We need a timely text message and we need to pray with one another, not just tell each other we will.

We need a dinner invite and a handwritten card.

We need people who will listen and understand instead of people who merely want to fix others.

We need each other and we’re better together.

We’re better together because it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

We’re better together because unity is surprising and pleasant in a world ripe with division (Psalm 133:1).

We’re better together because other people are better at some things than us (Romans 12:4-5).

We’re better together because we would love less and stray from God on our own (Hebrews 10:24-25).

We’re better together because we’re not too good to help each other when life falls apart (Galatians 6:2).

We’re better together because we can comfort one another with the words of Jesus when they ring hollow in isolation (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Are you ever tempted to live life in isolation?

How have you benefited from community?

How have you been community for someone else?

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” – John 1:14, The Message

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