The Secret to Contentment

Have you ever had a big event where you expected a lot of people to show up? You planned for a Bible study and had 25 people tell you that they would come. Then, only 5 showed up. You planned an anniversary party for 100, and only 50 showed up. Disappointment.

Getting involved with people can be disappointing. The Apostle Paul was involved with a lot of people. He was dependent on people to give him money to fund his work.

We might expect that when people didn’t give what they had promised, he might be frustrated. But he wasn’t. He had learned the secret to contentment: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:11-12).

Most of us walk around thinking that we would be happy if other people would change. If my kids would act differently, if my spouse would show me respect, if my employer was more understanding, if I had more money, if I had a better car, if I lived somewhere else, I’d be happy.

The trouble with this approach is that things outside of us will rarely match up to our expectations inside us. So, we’ll always be unhappy.

There’s another option. We can adjust to our circumstances. That’s the secret to contentment that the Apostle Paul had learned. Continue reading “The Secret to Contentment”

Hardwiring Happiness

Our brains present an interesting paradox. When it comes to bad things, we worry about them and go over them again and again.

When it comes to good things, we don’t even hold them in our mind for ten seconds.

Rick Hanson, in his helpful book Hardwiring Happiness deals at length with this paradox from the perspective of brain science.

Hanson notes that our brain “has a hair-trigger readiness to go negative to help you survive” (20). He describes the way our brain works this way, “when the least little thing goes wrong or could be trouble, the brain zooms in on it with a kind of tunnel vision that downplays everything else” (21).

In contrast, Hanson notes, our brains hardly give any attention to good experiences. “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones” (27). Continue reading “Hardwiring Happiness”

The Anxiety Cure

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6–7

Sometimes the things I need to learn are the most basic things.

This week, I attended a conference in Mississippi. I tried to go with an open heart to what the Lord would teach me.

What the Lord showed me was that there are many places in my life where I let frustrations or anxieties just sit there. In virtually every area of my life, there are low-grade frustrations. I don’t think I’m particularly weird because of that. Most of us have these types of frustrations.

But what had I been doing with those frustrations? Nothing. In some cases, they would build up with unpleasant results.

God reminded me this week that there is a cure to my anxieties and frustrations: prayer. God was inviting me to let go of my frustrations and seek Him in prayer through passages like Phil. 4:6–7.

So, I resolved by God’s grace that instead of letting frustrations sit there, I would bring them before the Lord. All throughout the week, I used frustration and anxiety as a signal to send me to prayer.

The results were remarkable, not in the people or circumstances I was praying about, but in myself. I felt more peace than I had felt in a long time. But that’s what God promised: “the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Lord, help me to remember to use my frustrations and anxieties as signals that point me to You.

How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Few issues are more difficult or controversial than the idea that a loving God would send people to hell.

In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller takes up the challenge and seeks to explain and defend the Christian doctrine of hell to a modern, secular audience.

Keller suggests that people have several hidden assumptions that lead them to reject hell and a God who would send people there.

Issue 1: A God of judgment simply can’t exist
Reply: Most people assume this, but their reason for believing it is emotional and cultural rather than logical. It is people from Western culture that our most likely to ask this question, and it subtly assumes that our particular culture is the ultimate standard of truth. Keller describes a conversation he had with a woman in one of his after-service question and answer sessions:

. . . a woman told me that the very idea of a judging God was offensive. I said, “Why aren’t you offended by a forgiving God?” She looked puzzled. I continued, “I respectfully urge you to consider your cultural location when you find the Christian teaching about hell offensive.” I went on to point out that the secular Westerners get upset by the Christian doctrines of hell, but they find Biblical teaching about turning the other cheek and forgiving enemies appealing. I then asked her to consider how someone from a very different culture sees Christianity. In traditional societies the teaching about “turning the other cheek” makes absolutely no sense. It offends people’s deepest instincts about what is right. . . . I asked the woman gently whether she thought her culture superior to non-Western ones. She immediately answered “no.” “Well then,” I asked, “why should your culture’s objections to Christianity trump theirs?” (74–75).

Keller then situates this point in a broader context: “If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment” (75). Continue reading “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?”

How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

If you or someone you love has questions on this issue (as most of us do!), I would encourage you to read Pastor Tim Keller’s New York Times Bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.

In this post, I’d like to summarize what Keller says about this important question: how could a good God allow suffering?

Whether you are a believer or unbeliever, it’s likely a question you’ve asked at some point in your life, maybe often.

Keller says that there are two ways we can ask this question. The first is intellectual. How can we logically say that a good God could allow evil? The second is emotional. We get angry at a God who would allow such evil.

Let’s consider what Keller says about each in turn.

The Intellectual Issue
In regard to the intellectual question, Keller begins with the objection of a philosopher who states essentially: “because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist” (23). Continue reading “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?”

Why Your Church Needs Small Group Ministry & Two Ways to Make It Better

Simply put: small groups allow interaction and building of relationships that cannot exist in the large group setting of worship.

Small groups are simply smaller groups of people (typically 12 or less) that gather together to accomplish some specific purpose. In the church, these purposes generally include worship, prayer, ministry, outreach, study, or fellowship.

Many people put their own definition of small groups into the word “small group.” They may think it is a home Bible study, a time of fellowship, a group that doesn’t meet on Sunday, or a group that is like a little church. None of these things are necessary to the concept of small groups.

When you realize that a small group is a just a small group of people gathering together for a specific purpose, then you realize that every church has small groups. Sometimes they call them Sunday schools. Sometimes they call them boards. Sometimes they call them committees. Sometimes they call them Bible studies. But all of them are small groups.

The universality of small groups in churches demonstrates that virtually all Christians believe that small groups are necessary for the health of the local church. There is a level of discipleship that requires a more intimate group, and ministry is best organized by a small group of people.

So, the question is not really whether or not you will have small groups. The question is whether you are using your small groups to their full potential. Continue reading “Why Your Church Needs Small Group Ministry & Two Ways to Make It Better”

Your Best Days Are Ahead of You

How much can you grow? How much could you improve if you really worked at it?

Many of us think that our days of growth are behind us. We think we’ve mastered most of the things we can master. We think we’ve learned most of what we need to learn.

True, we might not say it, but that’s our operating assumption. We don’t think of ourselves as people who have a lot of growing to do.

I’m going to recount an embarrassing story that illustrates these points. Around 2012, I spent some time studying leadership principles. I enjoyed that study, and I learned a lot.

By 2014, I felt (this is the embarrassing part) that I had learned most of what I needed to learn from the leadership gurus. My learning was over in that area.

Earlier that year, I had reserved my spot at a satellite campus presentation of the Global Leadership Summit. By July, I was not excited about it because I felt that I wouldn’t learn that much from it.

Well, I was wrong. That year, I listened to Susan Cain talk about introverts and leadership and Joseph Grenny talk about how to have crucial conversations. Both of these talks (and later the books) introduced me to extremely important concepts that I’ve continued to incorporate into my life and ministry. Continue reading “Your Best Days Are Ahead of You”

4 Weights from Our Past that Keep Us from Running in the Present

God has so much more ahead of us than we could possibly believe.

That’s why the Apostle Paul said that he resolved to keep moving forward: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).

But forgetting the past is easier said than done. The past continues to haunt our present, weigh us down, and keep us from running.

We need to resolve to leave the past in the past so we can run in the present, but we also need help with how.

Below are four weights that keep us from running the present and how we can “forget” them and leave them in the past.

  1. Losses

    Losses include more than people. We can experience loss when our dreams collapse, when we lose a job, or when plans or relationships fail. These losses weigh us down and make us feel like there is no hope.

    How to leave it in the past: grieve. God has given us a way to deal with losses: eyes that cry. That’s why we have funerals. We gather friends and relatives and grieve together. Sometimes we need to have a funeral for a lost dream, vision, or relationship.

  2. Continue reading “4 Weights from Our Past that Keep Us from Running in the Present”

Every Christian Should Memorize This Chapter

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 53. I think it is probably a favorite for most Christians. This is the passage where we read: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Vv. 5 & 6).

I have enjoyed reading what some famous Christians have said about this passage. I hope that you will find them edifying as well:

“This in many respects may be regarded as the most important in all the writings of the Old Testament, and which is better adapted than any other to lead us to a right understanding of the whole. The partial obscurity which usually accompanies the representations of the prophets seem here to have entirely vanished.” — E.W. Hengestenberg

“Though some things need explanation, this alone is enough, which is so plain, that even our enemies, in spite of their disinclination, are compelled to understand it.” — Augustine
Continue reading “Every Christian Should Memorize This Chapter”