Flag on the Play – Church Goers, Polling, and Football

According to Lifeway Research, “most of the faithful [83%] balk at skipping church for football.” When I read this statistic I just chuckled and thought, “I call BS.” Here are just a few reasons this was my response to the research:

  1. The survey itself means nothing to me if I don’t know how many of the people polled actually even like football. If you’re not interested in sports, it’s easy to say you “put divine revelation ahead of division rivalries” and sound quite pious when you say it. (This was an actual quote from the article – yet another reason for me to keep chuckling). But what if it was something you are interested in? Would you put divine revelation above shopping? Or a bar-b-cue? Or just the need for more sleep?
  2. Most church goers, even the faithful, have skipped church for far less than a football game – many not requiring any excuse at all. The methodology of the study said, “Responders were screened to only include those … who attend a religious service on religious holidays or more often.” Well, that’s a pretty large range. It certainly did not provide me with much clarity on who was answering the question, let alone how to apply these “startling” findings (as one article called them).
  3. This just smacked of Christians responding in the way they think they’re supposed to instead of truthfully. This is often referred to as the “halo effect.” According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, while more than 40 percent of people say they go to church every week, statistics simply do not show this to be true, with the actual figure being lower than 20 percent. And this is where I stop laughing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those who believe you must be at church every time the doors are open. My beef is not with those who do not attend regularly (although, as a pastor who spends a lot of time preparing food for the table each week, it sure is nice when people show up for the meal). My real concern here is that Christians so often feel the need to pretend they are doing better spiritually than they really are. We should be concerned about a church culture where this is the pervading mentality.

And to broaden the discussion, why are churches hoisting up the banner of this “research” in an effort to say, “See, Jesus IS better than football”? Or, worse yet, as if to say, “See, if you skip church for football, 83 percent of us faithful think you’re a heathen and consider ourselves more spiritual than you.”

 

 

 

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Wrap-up

As we finish out the January theme of The Encourager’s Devotional Series – Hearing the Plea from Those Who Need Encouragement, I’d like to wrap-up with 1) further thoughts regarding a section in the Bible Study Answer Guide, 2) a few suggestions for easy ways to encourage, and 3) a couple fun videos that show the power of encouragement. Continue reading

Scapegoat – an excerpt from my book

As promised in my previous post, On Writing the Grisly Scenes of My Friend’s Former Life, here’s an excerpt from the book.

The narrator of this scene is the book’s main character, Newman. He’s landed himself in prison, along with the men rumored to have a hit out on him. Newman’s best friend, Benz, has already been murdered. Denying they ordered the hit and trying to convince Newman they’re all on the same team, they’ve pledged to help him find Benz’s killer.

We went back to J-Mack’s cell and devised a plan to interrogate Lester. We’d press him about who killed Benz. I knew what pressing him meant; this dude was in some serious trouble. I also knew motherfuckin’ well he didn’t have anything to do with Benz’s death. But this was my out. Lester was a fallen lamb who got caught in the middle of the situation and was being used by both sides.

It didn’t bother me much. The guy was being a thug with DJ, so I figure he had something coming. I was okay with the fact that, at least for today, he was the dead man walking and not me. Continue reading

On Writing the Grisly Scenes of My Friend’s Former Life

It would be easier to write the scenes of murder, torture, drug-trafficking and all the other evils that come with the life of organized crime if they weren’t true stories, or at least if they weren’t true about the friend I’m calling Newman.

It is hard for me to imagine the man I know doing these things. And it’s an agonizing process to interview him for details, forcing him relive the things he’s tried so hard to leave behind. Seeing the pain in his expression, watching him unknowingly clutch his chest as if to stop the pain, and hearing him swallow down tears makes me want to stop pressing.

I hate when I’m in the throes of writing and I need to message him to get clarity on something. He’s commented on how this will sometimes interrupt an otherwise normal day and take him back to a place he’d rather not be. I’ve offered to send my questions via email so he can open them at his discretion, or save them up and let him initiate a time to go over them. He’s understanding, though, of my need to get the information quickly so the writing process is not stalled. So, we’ve continued in this manner – though, I do try not to do this unless absolutely necessary.

We’re both determined to push on with this book project, but I sure will be glad when it’s done. Sometime today or tomorrow, I’ll post an excerpt from the scene that prompted this entry. For now, though, I just wanted to take a break from it and bawl out into the blogosphere this is stinking hard.

Update 1/31/15 – I have published the promised excerpt from the book. At first I made it a password protected post so the “grisly details” and language would not pop up on the feed for followers who may not wish to see them. I have since decided to go ahead and post it without requiring the password. I will explain why I changed my mind in a follow-up entry.

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Bible Study Answer Guide

Click here to view accompanying materials (original devotional, study guide and general introduction).

If you would like a leader’s guide to facilitate this study with a group of friends, feel free to email me at pullupachairwithlisa@gmail.com. The leader’s guide contains suggestions for ice-breakers, activities you can lead with a group, as well as additional teaching material.

ENCOURAGER’S DEVOTIONAL SERIES – JANUARY BIBLE STUDY ANSWER GUIDE

Information

Why was Paul in prison? 2 Timothy 1:11-12; 2:9

Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel.

How do Galatians 6:8-10 and Matthew 5:10-12 advise us to respond when we are persecuted for doing good?

They encourage us to keep on doing good and not lose heart.

How do these Scriptures bring encouragement?

They help us remember:

  • You will reap a harvest if you do not grow weary.
  • The kingdom of heaven is yours and your reward in heaven is great.
  • You are in good company (with the prophets before you).

In 2 Timothy 4:14,15 Paul has two responses to those who hurt him. What are his responses and how are they different? Continue reading

I’m Going to Eat a Live Frog – Things You Do on a Writing Retreat

This is the third year I’ve participated in a writing retreat with a group of friends. Our plan is simple:

  1. Rent a vacation home far enough away from our daily lives that we can’t be sucked back into our normal routines. The place must have enough space that each of us has a private area to do our work.
  2. Meet at the beginning of our time together to establish our goals. We each write them out on a giant sticky note and hang them in the public area for all to see and monitor each other’s progress.
  3. Have an evening meal together (we each take one night to prepare the meal). When we gather at the table, we update one another on how we’re doing with our goals. There are also lots of laughs, a good amount of encouragement, and sharing of tips for those who may be facing obstacles to creativity.
  4. Other than our one daily mealtime, we honor each other’s need for solitude. It would take an extreme emergency to knock on someone’s door. We communicate through a Facebook page so each of us is free to check the announcements whenever we desire and not feel pressure to respond immediately.

At last night’s meal, I shared that I’m having trouble getting started on my main writing goal – completing the full rough draft for my book. Since I can’t seem to get into that “zone” I need to get into for productive writing, I’m trying to knock some of the smaller goals off my list – things like working ahead on my Encourager’s Devotional Series for this blog.

That’s when one of my friends mentioned the video below by Byran Tracy and the concept of “eating that frog.” The logic is the reverse of what I’ve been doing. Tracy advises to tackle the big thing first – the thing you’re likely to procrastinate about doing. In other words, don’t let the smaller tasks distract you from the more important one. Continue reading

Encourager’s Devotional Series – January Bible Study

If you haven’t already read the January Encourager’s Devotional, you might want to check that out before proceeding to the Bible study below. And if you need to get caught up on the details of how this series works, see the introductory post.

Note, the Bible study format will always have four sections:

  • Information – This section may include additional reading, further thoughts on the month’s texts, background information and Bible study questions.
  • Meditation – Here you’ll find things to prompt personal reflection and thoughts on how the devotion may be speaking to you.
  • Application – This is where we’ll brainstorm together to stimulate ideas for possible follow-up responses to this month’s devotion. We’ll consider activities you may want to do, jot down the names of people who come to mind as you’re reading, and note personal promptings you may want to act on after contemplation and prayer. Many options should be considered even though you may not act on all of them.
  • Dedication – In this section you’ll be challenged to write down (either in the comments section following the blog, or in your own notes) things you want to commit to doing for this month or in months ahead. The list may contain both individual and group project ideas. I hope you choose to share your commitments here or with a friend or two to increase accountability for follow-through. If you choose to note them here, I’ll personally check in on you later and try to “spur you on toward the love and good deeds” you’re hoping to undertake.


ENCOURAGER’S DEVOTIONAL SERIES –
JANUARY BIBLE STUDY

Information

Why was Paul in prison? 2 Timothy 1:11-12; 2:9 (Note: I’m providing one link here to the book of 2 Timothy so you can scroll through the book for other references. For all other Scripture references, I’ll link to those specific texts).

How do Galatians 6:8-10 and Matthew 5:10-12 advise us to respond when we are persecuted for doing good? How do these Scriptures bring encouragement?

In 2 Timothy 4:14,15 Paul has two responses to those who hurt him. What are his responses and how are they different? Continue reading

When Hearts are Revealed through Social Media

 

Lord, heal our hearts.

Lord, heal our hearts.

Today my heart is grieved by those who spew hatred. I’m especially troubled by those who claim to be Christ followers yet don’t seem to realize that what they post and share on social media is saying so much about their true feelings towards others. As the St. Louis area still reels from recent events in Ferguson, the last thing we need is more people stirring up animosity.

So, I was tempted today to challenge some of the posts I’ve seen. But then I thought of the Scripture in which God says He can change people’s hardened hearts from stone to flesh. Healing for our region and beyond will require dialogue, debate, debunking and determination on the part of those trying to foster peace. In this moment, though, I am not suited for the battle because my own heart is agitated.

I’m choosing instead to make the irritating posts I see my promptings for prayer:

Holy Spirit, convict hearts as only you can. Lord, please chisel away the callouses and turn these stony hearts into hearts of flesh.

Hearing the Plea from Those Who Need Encouragement – January Encourager’s Devotion

 

Paul to Timothy

Paul to Timothy (NKJV)

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 Welcome to The Encourager’s Devotional Series. I’m so glad you took the time to see what it’s all about. Before we dive into the devotion, here are a few notes about this devotional series:

Since this is the first post in a series that will continue throughout 2015, you may want to take a look at the introduction to the series (if you haven’t already) for information regarding the schedule for posting and what you can expect in the weeks to come.

Throughout the devotions, I will present many ideas on how you may apply what you’re learning to minister encouragement to others. I pray you will see the suggestions not as a list of “to do’s” (who needs any more of those?!), but as “prompts.” Let the Spirit stimulate your thinking, but don’t let it stop with just thinking. As you read, make note of anyone who comes to mind. Then, “be diligent” and “make every effort” to minister to someone with encouraging words and deeds.

For this first devotion, it may help to get out your Bible and turn to 2 Timothy. All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise noted. You might want to read the whole book (it’s a short one) before you read the devotion. Or, you may just choose to have it open for reference during your devotional time. Either way, I hope you enjoy the devotion!

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The Apostle Paul’s writings are so uplifting I don’t often think of him as someone who needed encouragement himself. Although, it does make sense. After all, he was often beaten, imprisoned, and bad-mouthed – both by unbelievers and by those who claimed to be of the faith. So, let’s look at Paul first as the encourager in order to gain insight as to how we might also be effective at this ministry even when we are experiencing hard times ourselves. Then we’ll look at Paul as the one in need of encouragement to help us recognize different ways others may need help.

The Encourager’s Perspective

In 2 Timothy, we find that Paul is near the end of his life. He is in prison, still facing opposition, and many of his friends have deserted him. After all he has done for the church, he seems to be concerned that some people are ashamed of him.

Yet, in the midst of all these trying things, Paul declared that the Lord was his sustainer and his deliverer. That Paul could stay so positive and focused on ministry during his own difficulties is something to consider as we seek to become encouragers. Paul did several things to maintain his ministry focus even when he himself was discouraged.

  • First, he reminded himself of the truth of the Gospel and the end result of the Christian life (2:9,11,12; 4:8; see also Rom. 8:18-39).
  • He also reminded himself of how God had helped him in the past (3:11).
  • He reviewed and showed thankfulness (1:16-18) for how others had blessed him in the past (reminding me of his words in Philippians 4:8).
  • And finally, he kept the needs of others in mind, even being willing to sacrifice himself for their sake (2:10).

Following these practices of Paul, we can keep ourselves encouraged, so we can then be uplifting to others. As Paul said, we should bring the Word to others and encourage them both “in season, and out of season” (4:2). In other words, we should do it even when our own conditions are less than favorable. Once we’ve geared ourselves up to become encouragers, we then need to become observant of those around us, intentionally looking to find people who need this ministry. As with Paul, someone people might not come to mind right away because they seem to have things in their lives under control. So we have to ask God to show us the real needs people have, sometimes despite their outward appearances.

Another Perspective: Paul’s Pleas for Help

Using Paul’s list of needs can prompt our thinking as to how we may help others this month.

  • Paul had an obvious physical need – he wanted a coat because it was soon to be cold (4:13,21). Can you help relieve someone’s winter worries by giving clothing, paying a heating bill, or running an errand for a shut-in? Is there a ministry in your area you might partner with to meet such needs?
  • Paul also had a spiritual need – to be reminded of the Christian’s ultimate victory as he struggled. Through cards, conversation or messaging, can you share the Word of God with someone to encourage them to persevere?
  • Then there are his emotional needs – Paul repeatedly expressed the desire for understanding and companionship (1:4; 4:9; 4:21). Notice how he appreciated that one friend actually went out of his way to be with him (1:16-18). Paul needed to know that he still had supporters, that not everyone was ashamed of him. Can you go out of your way to spend time with someone who’s lonely? Do you know someone who might feel a sense of shame for what they’re going through? Your companionship can help them feel accepted and loved.
  • And finally, Paul required help with his ministry (4:11). Can you come alongside someone to help in their ministry, even for one day or one task?

Remember, you don’t have to do everything that comes to mind as you contemplate the suggestions for ways to lift the spirits of others. But it is important to be diligent in seeking such opportunities. The world needs more encouragers.

Let’s do our utmost to go to those who need to be encouraged.

And, let’s hurry, before the cold becomes unbearable!

Next Wednesday, I’ll post the follow-up Bible study guide for this devotion. I hope you’ll continue to participate and let me know how you are finding ways to reach out to others who need to be refreshed.

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