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Testing Assumptions

It has been a long time since I have read a book in an afternoon, but today I did just that. Just the title of Kem Meyer’s book, Less Clutter. Less Noise. Beyond Bulletins, Brochures and Bake Sales, immediately caught my attention. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last six months or so thinking about communications with some of my colleagues at Southside Fellowship. Or maybe it’s because I’m into the whole less clutter, less noise idea. Either way, I’m not disappointed I picked up this book.

One of my favorite sections is called Testing Assumptions. We talk about this a lot among our staff and have frequently asked one another if we are “running up the ladder of inference.” Kem shares something she read in a magazine–

The human eye has a blind spot in its field of vision. The human mind has something similar. Sometimes you can’t “see” new information because you are bound by filters and lack the mental framework to make sense of what your eyes take in. People often see what they want to see and ignore information that doesn’t fit their preconceptions. We default to the shortcut of seeing things the same way. People seek stability and security, so seeing things in a way that confirms their beliefs gives them both.

She goes on to say–

It is our responsibility to acknowledge that nine times out of ten, there is more to the story. Before we leap to conclusions–about a person, a method, a decision, a program–we should learn about it. When we are deliberate about doing our homework, it is amazing the new wisdom, impact and connection that opens up to us.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of observation and evaluation…watching how people work, how they communicate and why some systems are not working as well as they once did. It’s really interesting when you ask questions and hear different viewpoints about the same subject. I’ve had to chuckle a few times. Things are rarely as they appear on the surface. Some things I’ve been reminded of…

  • Most people are really just trying to do the best they can with what they have.
  • There is always more than one way to look at things.
  • We all have a story and most of us are dealing with at least one major stress in our lives.

It’s so easy to believe my perception is reality. So easy to jump to conclusions. So easy to make assumptions. I’m reminding myself of something I’ve learned recently…make assumptions, just be sure they are charitable assumptions. Because, like Kem said, there is usually more to the story.

Information overload

Recently I have been thinking about how much information I take in on a regular basis. This really seems to come into play in my spiritual life. I read a lot of articles and books, review Bible studies, listen to podcasts and I am surrounded with people who love Jesus and who talk frequently about his Word. With that being said, you are probably thinking I have an amazing personal Bible study, when in reality I have felt very scattered recently. I know when I begin to feel that way that it is time to slow down and ask myself some questions…

  •  Am I allowing the Scriptures to shape my thinking and living?
  • Am I leaning on my own understanding or trusting God’s Word?
  • Am I reading the Bible as a story or as a list of rules? And most importantly,
  • am I slowing down long enough to hear from the Holy Spirit about what I am learning/hearing/reading?

Part of my challenge is simply the vast number of resources available to me. Honestly, it can be overwhelming and I believe I need to narrow my focus. So, for the next year, I will be reading, meditating on, studying and journaling about the book of Philippians. For the first six months of the year my plan is to use nothing but God’s Word and this wonderful ESV Study Bible I have. No other commentaries or books. After six months I’ll pray and evaluate and continue to ask the Holy Spirit where to lead me from there.

Having read several of Marcus Buckingham’s books in the past, I was especially excited when I saw that he had written one for women. I am married and have been a stay-at-home mom, a part-time working mom, a successful home-based business mom and a full-time working mom. Find Your Strongest Life is definitely a book for women, but to me it seems more directed to the working mom.

Marcus is an expert at helping people find their strengths and then put those strengths to work. His books typically start by sharing the results of surveys which are gathered from thousands (if not millions) of individuals. The results generally show that many of us feel unhappy and misplaced in our various roles—at work and in our personal lives. The author’s feeling is that we all do life better and are more content and productive when we find ourselves in roles that use our strengths. Since many people do not understand how they are wired, he provides an online assessment to help out. After the assessment, he coaches the reader to adjust their various roles by doing things that play to those strengths. I found Marcus’ book, Now Discover Your Strengths, to be a great help in giving me a better understanding of who I am and the roles I am best suited for.

Unfortunately, Find Your Strongest Life falls short. Not only did I find the online assessment lacking, I struggled through much of the terminology used and the philosophy that runs throughout the book. The whole “catch-and-cradle” terminology made me feel like a child. The “it’s all about me” philosophy permeates almost every chapter. A good example is—“So when you are trying to decide what to do with your career, cradle your strongest moments and let them guide you. When you are trying to make peace between competing responsibilities in your life, accept what these moments tell you and allow them to set your priorities.” Personally, I want a sovereign God to lovingly guide and direct my paths…not my strongest moments!

There is much to be gained on the journey of discovering your God-given strengths and abilities. And it is true that we do tend to function most effectively when we are playing to our strengths. I’m just not sure that Find Your Strongest Life is a book I would recommend to help one on this journey. There are many resources out there that do a much better job.

One positive note—I am glad that authors and publishers seem to be doing away with the code inside the book jacket that is needed to take online assessments. The Strongest Life assessment is readily available simply by going to the website mentioned in the book.

Bible Reading

Through the years I have tried various Bible reading plans. For the most part I didn’t care for any of them because they lacked flexibility. I like to do a variety of things during my quiet time and most plans are just too rigid for me. A few years ago I found a Bible reading plan that Ransom Fellowship publishes that works well for me. It is the Read through the Bible Program for Shirkers and Slackers. I don’t even use it the way it’s set up; I use it as a check sheet as I read through an entire book of the Bible.

My desire is that my time in the Word is spent in rich communion with my Heavenly Father, so I ask the Spirit to use His Word to speak to and teach me. Today I was looking at some things written by Tim Keller and found these five questions he suggests you ask as you read the Bible daily:

  1. How can I praise him?
  2. How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?
  3. If this is really true, what wrong behaviour, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems are you facing?
  4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?
  5. Why are you telling me this today?

I plan to write these in my journal and make a card that I can keep in my Bible. I have found that asking myself questions is such an important part of my growth.

Recently I purchased an ESV Study Bible. I find the articles and notes to be helpful and they add rich background to the text. Most of the time I enjoy doing my reading in the NLT and even The Message.

Some may find this funny, but another thing I have done is read through The Jesus Storybook Bible in my quiet time. This book, and my pastor’s book, What God Has Always Wanted, are my all-time favorite children’s book. In fact, The Jesus Storybook Bible is now available in an audio version. This book is so good that Jana’s Bible teacher reads it to them in class quite often…and they are high school students! Here is a taste from the first story–

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

Joelle enjoys this book so much that she asked her teachers if she could use it for her required reading. Jana wants a copy in Spanish. We recommend and use it at my church all the time…need I say more?

One of the core values at my church is understanding God’s Word. I want to seek to understand God’s Word by allowing the Scriptures to shape my thinking and living (Psalm 119:9-16 and Luke 24:25-49)…I want to know and enjoy God more…and I want to experience more of the presence and power of God in my life…I want to trust God’s Word versus leaning on my own understanding.

Andy Stanley Quotes

In my opinion, Andy Stanley is perhaps one of the best communicators that I have heard. Here are some of my favorite Andy Stanley quotes collected from various sources–

  • If regret can be avoided, it should be.
  • Simply put, you and I will win or lose in life by the paths we choose.
  • Christians start talking about forgiveness as if somehow forgiveness serves as an escape hatch from the outcome of bad decisions.
  • Today’s decisions create tomorrow’s experiences.
  • Divine direction begins with unconditional submission.
  • You don’t have problems to fix; you have directions that need to change.
  • You can’t aim for a target until you have identified it.
  • Striving for balance forces a leader to invest time and energy in aspects of leadership where he will never succeed. It is not realistic to strive for balance within the sphere of our personal leadership abilities.
  • Devoting a little of yourself to everything means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing.
  • The primary reason we do too much is that we have never taken the time to discover the portion of what we do that makes the biggest difference.
  • Misalignment is expensive.
  • Once you step outside your zone, don’t attempt to lead.
  • Where there’s no progress, there’s no growth. If there’s no growth, there’s no life. Environments void of change are eventually void of life.
  • The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees.
  • A leader is someone who has the courage to say publically what everyone else is whispering privately.
  • Leaders provide a mental picture of a preferred future and then ask people to follow them there.
  • Leaders are always careful. They are careful because they genuinely care for those who have chosen to follow.
  • The goal of leadership is not to eradicate uncertainty, but rather to navigate it.
  • As you gain clarity, you gain influence.
  • Evaluated experience is what enables you to improve your performance.
  • Learn everything you can from everybody you can.
  • What you don’t know about yourself can put a lid on your leadership.
  • Leaders are learners.
  • You are responsible for sharing what you do know with the leaders around you.
  • You can manage people without moral authority; but you cannot influence them.
  • If there is a perceived difference between what you expect from others and what you expect from yourself, it will eventually erode your influence.
  • If your require honesty from those you work with, then honesty must be a trait that characterizes you in all your roles.
  • Character is not made in crisis; it is only exhibited.
  • Those leaders who refuse to listen will soon find themselves surrounded by people with nothing to say.
  • The less I do…the more I accomplish!
  • You have no idea the numbers of people that God may want to influence through you.

Comfort

Through the years one of the areas that I have wrestled with is my love for comfort. I’m probably not much different from the next person…I never have liked trials and suffering. And when all is well I have a tendency to think that I have my world under control. Recently God has gone to work refining me in this area. In the process I am learning the difference between trusting God and trusting in my own strength and understanding. Being a recovering control freak, these lessons have rarely come easily.

And God certainly has gotten my attention during those difficult times when comfort seems like an elusive dream. It seems that he mainly uses this time to rescue me by showing me the idols of my heart. I ran across this verse in Job that says it well—

 …by means of their suffering, he rescues those who suffer. For he gets their attention through adversity. (Job 36:15 – NLT)

I’ve started to listen to myself and how I respond to trials and have found myself saying, “God…could you please give me a break?” Like I said, I love comfort. And there lies my problem. Anything that obsesses me, other than God, becomes my personal prison. There is nothing wrong with desiring comfort…until I raise that desire to a demand…until I find myself trying to find ways to wiggle out of the uncomfortable situation, or demanding that God make me comfortable. Thus, the thing I must confess is that at times I love comfort more than I love God.

Lydia Brownback, in her book called Trust, a Godly Woman’s Adornment, puts it this way—

Ongoing trials tempt us to turn away from God because at some level we have an expectation that God’s quota for testing us has been sufficiently filled for a season…The Bible never says that a bad patch inevitably will be followed by a good one, in this life anyway…God’s plan for our good is often radically different from our plans…The very thing we want God to fix may be the instrument to teach you to depend on him rather than on yourself or on peaceful circumstances.

So how do I keep my heart in check? Today I received an email from Peacemaker’s Ministry with some good questions to reveal the true condition of my heart. I’ve written them in my journal so that I can prayerfully consider what the Spirit is teaching me—

  • What am I preoccupied with? What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night?
  • How would I answer, “If only ___________, then I would be happy, fulfilled, and secure?
  • What do I want to preserve or to avoid at all costs?
  • Where do I put my trust?
  • What do I fear?
  • When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger or depression?
  • Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?

Putting anything, even comfort, in God’s place is serious business. I am so glad for his forgiveness. I am so thankful that he sees Jesus when he sees me. I deserve his wrath, yet he has had mercy on me. God is pleased with me because he is pleased with Jesus. I am so thankful for his grace!

And as difficult as this is to say, I’m thankful for those times that are uncomfortable. Whether daily inconveniences or major trials, these times are great indications of what is in my heart and can deepen my relationship with Christ.

I’m encouraged by Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Isaiah 43:2-3—

Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am your God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your savior.

This last week one of my colleagues told me about a new study that World Harvest Mission has published called, The Gospel Centered Life. As I shared in my last post, Applying The Gospel, I know that I need to be reminded of the gospel every day. I ordered one of the free review copies and received it via email the following day. I hope to review The Gospel Centered Life here in weeks to come. In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at pastor Tim Keller’s great explanation of the abiding importance of the Gospel–

It is very common in Christian circles to assume that “the gospel” is something just for non-Christians. We presume that the gospel is a set of basic “A-B-C” doctrines that Christians do not need to hear or study once they are converted. Rather, they should move beyond the gospel to more “advanced” doctrines. But the great declaration of the gospel of grace in Galatians was written to believers who did not see the implications of the gospel for life-issues confronting them. Paul solves the disunity and racial exclusivity not with a simple exhortation to “be better Christians.” but by calling them to live out the implications of the gospel. So Christians need the gospel as much as non-Christians do. Their problems come because they tend to lose and forget the gospel. They make progress only as they continually grasp and apply the gospel in deeper ways.

The gospel shows us that our spiritual problem lies not only in failing to obey God, but also in relying on our obedience to make us fully acceptable to God, ourselves and others. Every kind of character flaw comes from this natural impulse to be our own savior through our performance and achievement. On the one hand, proud and disdainful personalities come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are succeeding. But on the other hand, discouraged and self-loathing personalities also come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are failing.

Belief in the gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom of God; it is the way to address every obstacle and grow in every aspect. The gospel is not just the “ABCs” but the “A-to-Z” of the Christian life. The gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ — whether a heart, a relationship, a church, or a community. All our problems come from a lack of orientation to the gospel. Put positively, the gospel transforms our hearts, our thinking and our approach to absolutely everything. The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

This also creates a radical new dynamic for discipline and obedience. First, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Second, it makes the law of God a thing of beauty instead of a burden. We can use it to delight and imitate the one who has saved us rather than to get his attention or procure his favor. We now run the race “for the joy that is set before us” rather than “for the fear that comes behind us.”

–Tim Keller, The Galatians study

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