Thursday, February 26

The Appreciation File

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29

In the lower left hand drawer of my desk there is a file labeled "Appreciation." It contains an interesting assortment of notes, cards, and drawings that I have kept over the years. The thing they have in common is that they are items others have given me that express thanks and appreciation.

I know that, to some, keeping such a file sounds like an attempt to stroke one's ego. But the truth is we all need to be appreciated and that we live in a culture that doesn't express it often enough. So much of our lives are built on competition with one another - grades, scholarships, sports, jobs, promotions, and even relationships. Many people feel that their contributions aren't noticed or appreciated. So it is refreshing when someone steps out of this tide of competition or self-absorption and lets someone know how they have encouraged them and added to their life.

I flipped through my appreciation file today. Some of you might be surprised to know that you are in there. I have items from almost thirty years ago. But each of the items, and the person who gave it, are special to me and have been used by God to encourage me and build me up. And there are times when I'm discouraged or tired when that file is one of the things that keeps me going.

In the passage above, Paul calls us to say only those things that encourage others and build them up. Does that describe your speech? When was the last time you made a point to encourage someone? When was the last time you expressed appreciation to someone who influenced your life?

Be like the Biblical character Barnabas, who was known as the "Son of Encouragement." Or like my friend T.Ray, who has the gift of encouragement. You are encouraged any time you are in his presence.

Make a point this week to say "thank you" to someone who has touched your life. Look for a chance to encourage someone.

And start an appreciation file of your own.

Sunday, February 22

Out of the Overflow of the Heart

"For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Matthew 12:34

I spoke this morning from James 3 - a passage on the power of the tongue. I referred to the passage above during the talk. The words that come out of our mouths are a barometer of what is in our heart. They reflect our character and our spiritual condition. The implications of the verse are sobering.

When I complain, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are sarcastic, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are sharp and angry, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words "modify" the truth, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are negative or pessimistic, what does that reveal about my heart?

When my words are such that I couldn't imagine Jesus saying them, what does that reveal about my heart?

What do your words reveal about your heart?


If you haven't seen this picture, you need to spend some time checking it out. I need to get me one of these cameras! Adrian, can you find you and Shallon in here anywhere?


I'm always a sucker for these kinds of stories. It is so encouraging to read about kids who understand the things that are really important in life. This young man's parents and coaches have done a great job in raising him.

Friday, February 20

Video Games and College Students

A couple of news items regarding college students, thanks to the Ivy Jungle Network's Campus Ministry Update:

Video Games and Behavior: A new study has shown a correlation between college students who play video games and several undesirable behaviors such as drinking and drug use. The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, showed that most men played video games at least weekly. Women did not play much. Of all who did play, regardless of gender, the study showed a correspondence to higher use of alcohol, drugs, and to poor quality relationships with family and friends. Men who played violent video games showed a greater tendency to violent acts as well. The author of the study would not state the relationship as causal, but sees warrant for listing video games as a risk factor for young adult development. (LA Times January 27, 2009)

Dropping Out for Video Games? FCC Commissioner, Deborah Tate has drawn attention after stating, "One of the top reasons for college drop-outs in the US is online gaming addiction." Tate made the statement in a speech in December, citing the 11 million people who now play World of Witchcraft. Video game makers have objected to her statement and continue to push for a source to back up her claim. (Wired December 11, 2008)


Our Enemy never ceases to find new ways to add to the dysfunction of people's lives and to drive wedges between people. His has the ability to take things created by God or by man and pervert them into things that separate us from one another and from God. He has done it with sex. He has done it with religion. And he is doing it with technology.

Some of the most powerful images of the Church in Scripture are those of the Family of God and the Body of Christ. Some of the most significant factors is spiritual transformation are the relationships that we build with others who are following Christ and who can sharpen us, teach us, protect us, and hold us accountable. Spiritual maturity doesn't come just through the accumulation or knowledge, but also through those with whom we connect personally.

No wonder our Enemy is finding new and creative ways to isolate people. More and more we deal with students who are more comfortable living behind their avatar than dealing with other face to face. Because of this, they often lack significant relationships that can help them grow and develop and learn how to interact with the world.

I'm not a gamer, but I do enjoy technology. I text and check email on my phone. I talk to my daughter in Nebraska via Skype. I use Facebook. I Twitter. I am connected. But none of that takes the place of personal interaction, of face to face conversations, of personal accountability. We who are in leadership need to be finding ways to help people interact with one another face to face and not just through technology. We need to encourage relationships that are real and open.

One of the cutting edge developments in church life are "internet campuses" - church services that are broadcast online and can be observed at home. I've not had a chance to "take part" in one of these, but I want to. The idea is interesting to me, especially when it come to reaching out to those who are distant or far from a church. But part of me wonders if it might also feed the isolation of our technological world. Or maybe it will draw those folks in. I guess we will see.

Monday, February 9

The Distortion of Passive Christianity

Somewhere, somehow, someone distorted what it means to follow Jesus. Today I was reading I Peter 1:13, "Prepare your minds for action," and I was struck by how little that verse reflects most of the Christianity I see today.

According to Peter, the expected "posture" of following Jesus is one of action. It is to be an active way of life, that has noticeable, observable affects on our relationships, our budgets, our conversations, our use of time, where we invest our lives. But somewhere along the way, following Jesus has taken a passive posture in our lives and is certainly seen as a passive religion in the eyes of the world. Following Jesus isn't synonymous with action, but with going to meetings, reading and reflecting, listening to someone else talk, praying quietly to yourself, and singing songs to the back of someone's head. Of course, all of these things can be important part of our faith. And the reading and reflection on Scripture and prayer are essential disciplines. But their purpose should be to draw us to God who can then propel us into action. They are not to be walls that we can hide behind so that we don't have to take action or engage the world. The ending question of any time of reading, reflection, prayer, or worship should always be: "Thank you, Father. What do I do now?"

Real faith that God's Word is true and that Jesus is who he claimed to be should always propel us to action. A lack of action reveals a great deal about our faith.

When we start to live out our faith with an active posture, then preparing our minds for action because more essential. As an athlete prepares his mind for competition or a soldier prepares his mind for battle, we prepare our mind for active obedience to God and for the steps of faith that will require. If my conviction is that I am going to act on my faith today, then I will be more motivated to prepare myself for the challenges that will bring.

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is about Elaine's reaction when she finds out that her boyfriend believes she is going to hell, doesn't seem to care and doesn't take any action.

Contrast that with this clip that has been circulating around. In it Penn Jillett, a professed atheist, talks about his reaction when a Christian gives him a Gideon's Bible after one of his shows.

The take-away: Even a non-Christian world will look with respect at a faith that results in compassionate, sincere action.

Tuesday, February 3

Busy Doing Church = Too Busy for God

One of my "four words" for 2009 (see one of last month's posts) is Reflect. This speaks to my need to slow down and build time for reflection and extended prayer into my life. It sounds great, but it's easier said than done. The responsibilities of life and ministry, and the resulting "to-do lists", never leave room in life for reflection and extended prayer. If they are going to happen, they will happen because I make them happen - because I make time in my schedule and guard it jealously. Most who are in ministry and leadership can relate to the struggle.

Most ministries and churches suffer from the same issue on a corporate scale. We have let ourselves become convinced (duped) that the most important part of the Christian life is knowledge and content. We need another sermon, another lesson, another seminar, another conference, another book. We schedule one more meeting and listen to one another talk. Rarely do we make time to corporately come before God in prayer - to be still and seek Him and listen to Him and know Him. I'm convinced that we have done the Church a disservice in this.

This school year we have set aside a Tuesday each month to do that - to spend an hour with no singing, no teaching, just praying. We set up prayer stations and provide prayer guides to those who want them and then turn our students loose to just pray: for themselves, each other, our campus, our world, and more. Some are a little skeptical at first. But once they have experienced it, they love it and look forward to those weeks.

Last week was to be our prayer night, but the ice storm canceled all activities. So tonight we faced a decision that tested what we valued. Do we go ahead with our scheduled apologetics series (which is an important area for any Christian, but especially college students) or do we cancel the teaching and make up the prayer night?

As the one teaching, part of me wanted to get to the subject matter. It's important stuff on the nature and character of God. But the truth is that our students need time with God more than another lesson from me. So we postponed the regularly scheduled programming and spent the night praying together.

It was the right choice. It is always exciting and humbling to be in a room full of college students who spend an hour praying for their campus and world.

Too often I let our ministry get too busy to do that. I think my words are more important than their personal interaction with God. My guess is that your church probably does that, too.

Build time in your life to reflect and pray.
Build time in the life of your church or ministry to reflect and pray.
Jesus did it on a regular basis.
In fact, he didn't start his ministry until he had spent 40 days doing it.
Maybe he was on to something ...