Monday, October 10, 2016

Notes from a Recovering People-Pleaser: 1 Thessalonians Bible Study (Chapter 2)

Notes from a Recovering People-Pleaser
(1 Thessalonians, Chapter 2 Bible Study)

I’m a recovering people pleaser.

I always wanted people to be happy, no matter the cost to me.  Everyone was my friend.  I had no acquaintances.  If I knew you I was willing to do whatever you needed to be happy, have fun, be comfortable in a group, whatever.  Some was a natural knack for inclusion, but most of it was hustle on my part.  Any negative feedback felt like a shot through the heart, and I was to blame because I was giving myself a bad name.  If someone said something bad about me, I assumed it was true and tried my best to be a different person.  

People pleasing takes a lot of hustle, and it’s not worth it.  

When Paul went to Thessalonica, It’s apparent that some of his opposition tried to disparage his missionary efforts by making claims of deceitfulness.  Paul defends himself against a litany of accusations: that he wanted to trick them (2:3), flattery, greed (2:5).  

Two times in his defense, Paul says that he and his companions were in no way trying to please people. They were instead trying to please God (2:4, 6).  

I need to hear that often. 

I’m trying to please God, not people. 
My goal isn’t making others happy, but honoring my Savior.  
Obeying Jesus is paramount, all else comes after.  

Pleasing people cannot be my goal, because, honestly, I’ll never achieve it.  There are too many opinions from too many people to make everyone happy. It’s just not possible.  I’ve got to keep my eyes on the prize of pleasing God. 

Paul and his cadre were willing to be beaten, run out of town, and experience some pretty rough times in order for more people to hear the gospel of Jesus.  More people needed to know that Jesus Christ offers forgiveness from sins in a way that the Old Testament Law never could.  Jesus made it possible for all people, no matter their past or heritage, could live in right relationship with God.  It’s amazing that we can have a friendship, a familial closeness to the Creator of the universe.  

Nearsightedly, we will often swap divine companionship for the immediate shot of “people pleasing.”  Pleasing God sometimes means making others mad, and we aren’t willing to do it.  While we should make every effort to live at peace with everyone, we must draw in bold the uncrossable “honor God” line.  It’s easy for us to lie, cheat, steal and destroy when it makes the people around us happy.  The exchange of closeness with God isn’t worth happiness of others, but it’s a trade we often make quickly.  

Paul lived with so much God-pleasing hustle because (one) he knew the importance of the Gospel of Jesus and (two), many scholars believe, Paul expected Jesus’ second coming to happen during his first century lifetime.  He expected Jesus to be coming back before many people who heard him preach died.  

If you knew that the last days before Judgment day were right now,  everyone you knew would give account for their actions in a couple of years, wouldn’t you scramble to tell as many of your loved ones and neighbors about it?  

Paul threw convention to the wind in order to change as many lives for Christ as possible.

But Jesus didn’t come a second time during Paul’s life.  Two centuries later, we’re still waiting for that day.  But in the meantime, we can take some life altering tips from Paul.  If we are living to please God rather than people, there’s a chance we’ll ruffle some feathers.  In the United States today, we most likely won’t get beaten for our beliefs.  We won’t be run out of town.  But we may be chastised verbally. Guess what, much worse has happened (and is still happening) to many believers across the globe.  We ought to be grateful for the culture in which we live.  It is ready to be impacted by the love of Jesus.  

While we attempt to live in peace with everyone, let’s not sacrifice pleasing God for pleasing people.  For some, pleasing God is the opposite of what pleases them.  

Those people will just have to be disappointed. 

God is more important than any earthly relationship, whether it be with family, with friends, with coworkers, or to our country.   Even if we don’t believe Christ’s return is within our lifetime, let’s live so that he’d be pleased with us every single day.  

This is part 2 of a series on 1 Thessalonians.  


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Faith, Hope and Love: 1 Thessalonians Bible Study Chapter 1

I’ve never been in physical danger because of what I've taught about Jesus.  Sure, I’m in danger of internet trolling tweeters spouting ugly half-truths about my beliefs, trying to prop up the “god” they find in themselves, complete with out of context verses from Scripture.  Other than a mean-spirited 140 characters, no danger is near me because of my preaching (or writing). 

Paul lived in a different world.  The apostle had to flee Thessalonica because after Paul had taught in their synagogue on three occasions, an angry Jewish crowd began rioting and arresting people who came to agree with Paul’s teaching about Jesus (see Acts 17). Paul and his companions run from Thessalonica to a place called Berea, but the Thessalonian mob pursues them still.  Finally, they are able to go to Athens without being pursued, but they find new troubles in that city.

Paul grew concerned for the new converts to Jesus.  I would be concerned too considering the dangerous climate where they live.  So Paul sent Timothy to check on them.  Timothy returned with good news of steadfast faith among the new Christ-followers.  To these persevering believers, Paul penned one of the first letters of the New Testament. 

In his introduction, Paul wrote, “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.  We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2-3, NIV)

Paul’s sentence structure sticks out to me, using a sort of parallel theme when in his list of memorable things about the Thessalonian believers.  He remembers

your work produced by faith,
your labor prompted by love, and
your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Faith, Hope and Love are common bells for Paul to ring.  You may recall the Pauline verse that was probably read at your wedding, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love…” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Those same three concepts appear as Thessalonian high points.  We could go into this more, but I’d rather look at the words “work, labor, and endurance.”  Those three are the responses to faith, hope, and love.  Where faith, hope, and love are planted grows work, labor, and endurance.  

Greek time: The phrase Paul uses for “your work produced by faith” is “tou ergon tes pistos” literally translated “your work of faith.”  Ergon (work) isn’t a fascinating word.  Paul uses it regularly to mean an action or deed.  My guess is that the “work of faith” refers to the day to day activities of the Thessalonian believers that are a result of them having faith.  

The next phrase, “your labor prompted by love” is “tou kopou tes agapes” or “your labor of love.”  We can go into the study of “agape” (uh-GAH-pay rather than uh-gape) love but instead let’s look at the word “kopou.”  This isn’t just a regular work or deed like ergon, kopos is used for something strenuous.  A hard work.  Paul uses it for people working up a sweat out in the field sowing seeds and tending a crop (1 Corinthians 3:8).  It translates as “hard work” beside “sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor. 6:5).  Kopos is bearing a hardship, no small task.  Paul praises the perseverance and endurance of the Thessalonians.  

The last phrase is “tes hypomones tes elpidos” or “your steadfastness of hope.” Steadfastness is patience, constancy, and endurance.  The Thessalonians could endure all hardships because of a constant hope.  They patiently waited, expecting their faith in Jesus would not be in vain. 

My Takeaway: I’ve never been pressed by outward forces like the Thessalonians had.  Their labor, their hard work, their endurance meant being able to withstand arrest, physical harm, and social pressure.  While I may have a small scale social pressure kinship with them, I don’t face the same turmoil.  Instead, I hope that my “labor” can be the diligent, consistent, hard work of doing my very best to spread the gospel.  My acts of faith can be a simple life defined by obedience in everyday, mundane todays.  I endure temptations, but do not waver from my faith.  I persevere through trials making me want to engage the world in a way that does not honor my God, and I resist.  

Consistent, enduring, hard work

prompted by faith, hope, and love   

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Blindspots: When We Can't Seem to Notice our own Missteps

Blindspots by John Miller

Blindspots: When we can't seem to notice our own missteps by John Miller

If you’ve ever interacted with me, whether it be in person or on Twitter, you know that I love food.  

Yesterday I had dinner with some friends who said they’ve decided that “5 Love Languages” isn’t enough.  Food is the 6th and it’s a language everyone speaks.  It’s my native tongue.  I revel in trying new restaurants.  My wife, who is an amazing gift giver, this year bought me birthday gift cards for three restaurants on my “must eat here” list.  Heather knows my heart and speaks my language.

But when it comes to my financial health, food can be a blindspot.  Meaning, no matter how much money we have in the bank account, I have little self-control when it comes to going out to eat.  Now, I’m not getting us into debt by having extravagant dinners.  What it looks like is this: On Sunday evening, Heather and I decide that for the next week we’re not doing any unplanned spending—we’ll pay bills, buy groceries—but come Monday I, without realizing what I’m doing, head to Taco Bell because I forgot to bring my lunch to work.  

I will fight adamantly against spending money on:
  • clothes (“We have closets full of clothes”), 
  • toys for our kids (“They don’t even play with everything they have now”) 
  • or home improvement items (“That’s a project that can wait a week”)
  • but not bat an eye when I’m breaking our spending freeze over a pizza.  

For me, wasting money on food is a blindspot.  It’s a weakness.  It’s a common pitfall that I have stopped noticing in myself.  

We all have blindspots in our lives. 

Next time you listen to a sermon, notice that every pastor has their unique brand of “filler words.”  These are words that they repeat out of habit, not knowing that they’re doing it.  Things like “Um,”  “All right,”  and “So.”  Oh, or the ever important “Just” that permeates prayers.  

“God, I just thank you for just the way you work in our lives.  Just bless us… “
Get it? We don’t realize we’re saying these things, but other people sure do.  We’re just blind to it. 

Jesus has this amazing teaching where he tells people not to look at the speck of sawdust in their brother’s eye when they’ve got a plank in their own.  I’m guessing that many of us unintentionally become speck inspectors without noticing our planks.  We truly don’t see this giant board sticking out of our eye sockets.  There’s something blocking our vision that, after a while, we’ve just learned to ignore.  

That’s why it’s easy to be shocked at other people’s sin and bad behavior, because we forget we act badly, too.  

That’s why it’s easy for me to get frustrated when my wife spends $10 on a new outfit for my son when earlier I ordered a number 10 combo with a Pepsi, no lettuce on those two soft tacos.   

This is yet another reason why community is so important.   I am an introvert, but I have to keep close friends because left to ourselves for too long we all start to look like Gollum.  We can begin to let the worst parts of ourselves rise to the surface because there is no one around to check us.  We may not end up looking like the gangly, string haired creature from Lord of the Rings, but we will begin to look and act differently.  Without someone close who can tell us about our blindspots, we could begin to spiral without knowing it. 

We could rely too heavily on alcohol to relax.
We could write off larger and larger amounts of money as “business expenses.” 
We could fill every cranny of our homes with trinkets, making it difficult to move, and impossible to invite company over. 

Left untended, blindspots grow methodically and dangerously into destructive habits.
Keep close friends around you, ones who can help you see your blindspots.  And don’t expect them to simply tell you or have an intervention.  Ask for feedback.  

Say, “There has got to be an area or two that you see in my life, whether it’s a habit or personality, that I probably should change. Chances are, I don't see it because if so I would already have tried to fix it.  Is there anything that you see in me that needs to change?”

While asking is half the battle, receiving is hard part.  This exercise only works with close friends whose opinion you trust.   Don’t ask someone who you barely know, or someone you don’t like.  And don’t respond with unprompted critiques of the other person—just because you asked for help identifying your blindspots doesn’t mean you have the right to give your feedback.  Take their response, internalize it, and thank them for their honesty.  

I am aware of my food problem, so I have given myself a (small) cash allowance for eating out.  I can see “When the money is gone, you’re done.”  I use this trick to help my vision expand.  

We all need to become aware of our blind spots so that we can live deeply, focus on what’s important, and not get derailed by big failures which began as small specks.   

What are some blindspots in your life?  Tell me how you've revealed and healed from them in the comment section.  

Also from John Miller

Monday, September 19, 2016

How to Make People NOT Want to Talk to You (Colossians 4 Bible Study)

"How to Make People NOT Want to Talk to You  (Colossians 4 Bible Study)" by John Miller

Two sentences into meeting Ron, I knew he was having a bad week.  I didn’t come to this realization because of my astute deductive skills or people reading abilities.  I knew about Ron’s bad week because he told me.  “This has been a bad week” was the preamble to Ron’s lengthy and detailed second sentence.  He talked about his health, relationships, and energy levels.  If we had talked much more it would have sounded like a country music song, especially if he had a beat up truck and if his dog died.  

For each of us, the easiest topic of conversation is “Me.” Everyone’s favorite topic is themselves.  Everyone’s favorite word is their own name.  It’s really easy to dominate a conversation by slipping into a personal story spiral, never letting your convo-partner get a thought in.  Everything reminds us of something we’ve experienced.  It’s not difficult to see that the easiest thing for people to talk about is “Me.”

The second easiest thing to talk about: “Things I don’t like.”  I have a good friend, Kevin, who loves watching mixed martial arts, just like I do.  But recently, I’ve been avoiding the topic with him.  You see, whenever Kevin talks about the UFC, he inevitably goes down a “steroids is ruining the sport” road, complete with rants, tirades, and small fits.  

He lists the same people, 
uses the same arguments to support himself, 
and makes me feel the same way—ready to end this conversation.  

Ron was a master, though—he managed to talk about “Me” and “Things I don’t Like” within fifteen seconds of our meeting!  He must have been running a "How to make people not want to talk to me" clinic. 

Obviously, nobody wants to talk to a Ron.  Even though I tried to leave Ron with some encouragement, I left feeling worse about my day.  I hoped that I never bumped into Ron again!  

Interestingly, Paul writes to the Colossians about the way they have conversations with others.  Here’s what he writes, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (4:6).  

Two ways Paul says to talk:
1. Graciously
2.  “Seasoned with salt”

By letting our speech be gracious, we are ruining the habit of talking about “Things we don’t like.”  We are changing the content of our speech, shifting our focus from the negative to the positive.  As I was writing this post, I began to send a text that was critical and negative.  (Funny how what you’re learning in your head doesn’t always make it to your hands)  Luckily, before I hit “send” I thought, “John, this isn’t gracious at all!  This isn’t going to make the recipient of your text feel better, or even want to respond to you.  This is just you griping about how you didn’t like the way someone did something.”   I deleted my text.  I want to be known as someone who brings joy, kindness, and positivity to the table whenever I’m invited.  If I’m not gracious, I’ll be invited much less often.  

Secondly, we should season our conversation with salt, according to Paul.  Just like salt brings out flavors of the food on which it’s applied, salt in our conversations make them flavorful and enjoyable.  Paul was saying strive to be people to whom others enjoy talking.  Christ followers shouldn’t be seen as boring conversationalists.  If we believe Jesus gives us life to the full (John 10:10) then shouldn’t we seem like we are full of life?  Shouldn’t that be evident in the way we speak? Paul doesn't want his Colossians to be recluse, shunning others, unwilling to interact with the outside world. 

Instead, let’s talk in a way that makes people want to call us again.  Let’s be so kind that we make others act kindly, too.  Let’s build each other up, moving our focus from negative talk to positive.  Let’s affirm the good where we see it.  Let’s laugh together!  Let’s not be known for focusing on “Things I don’t like.”  

Let’s not be Rons.

This post is part 4 of a 4 part series on Colossians:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Why I Choose Mornings: Controllable Moments for Consistent Growth

why devotions in the morning

I like staying up late.  Now that I have kids, I’m not as durable as I used to be.  Ten years ago I’d stay up until three in the morning watching movies and playing video games.  Now if I’m not in bed by 11 I’m dozing off on my couch.  Now I understand why my parents didn’t stay up until midnight on New Years Eve.  My energies have shifted toward the mornings, and I’m in good company. 

The gospels record Jesus waking up early in the morning in order to go spend time with God. (Mark 1:35)

A mentor told me she abhorred mornings, but if she didn’t commit to it she rarely got the quiet time with God that she sought.  Mornings are controllable.  The rest of the day others are awake have the potential to distract and add to your plate.  

Stay at home parents are typically “on” once their kids wake up, and don’t get much reprieve until bed time.  Nap times are unpredictable and, for multi-child homes, aren’t always coordinated. Our two year old, Allie, naps two to three hours after she first wakes up in the morning.  Our four month, Eli, old doesn’t follow any schedule.  He rebels against the forces of sleep, struggling to keep his eyes as wide as possible for as long as possible.  Ne’re shall the two naps meet (or maybe more like “Rare shall the two naps meet”).  

Many 9-5ers understand the struggle of etching out God-time, too. I’m predictably upon my doorstep by 5:15.  This grants me a few hours to play with my little ones before they ship off to the land of dreams.  I invest time heavily in my family: eating dinner with them, playing with them, going on walks, reading together, because that’s a high priority for me.  I’m the only dad my kids get.  I’m going to make the most of my 3-4 hours I see them on weekdays.  These children are sprouting up so quickly, I cannot afford to miss a day. 

Once they go to bed, I invest relationally with my wife.  I’m the only husband she gets.  We need time to strengthen our relationship.  We play, we relax, we talk (oftentimes while we are picking up princesses from all over the living room floor).  It’s paramount that I have a thriving connection with my wife.  When Allie turns 18 she’ll be leaving the house.  Heather will still be here.  Our agreement is “together forever.”  If I don’t invest in this crucial relationship for the next 18 years, things will feel awkward when our nest is empty.  

So in that time, when can I spend time reading Scripture?  When can I devote myself to prayer? 

The only times that reliably work for me are those controllable mornings.

I firmly believe that great faith isn’t developed by a quick parting of the seas moment, but by slow, consistent quiet times built up over years of simply being faithful.  

Maybe mornings aren’t the best for you, your life doesn’t look like mine.  Maybe it’s your lunch break that is most controllable.  Perhaps you’re able to dictate your evenings more than I (and Jesus often prayed in the evenings!).  That’s wonderful. 

But my faith is strengthened by waking up, ushering in the new day with prayer, and allowing each morning to be primed with the word of God.  

If you want to read the Bible but don’t know where to start, here are some great daily reading guides for you: Bible Reading Plans

Or check out some of my devotions/Bible studies over these books:

Monday, September 12, 2016

Minds on Heaven, Feet on Earth: Colossians Bible Study

Colossians 3 Bible Study

Colossians 3 Bible Study by John Miller

I loved board games as a kid.  Our family had two versions of the classic mystery game “Clue.”  We had the regular version, and the kids version.  In the kids version, you could walk around to different rooms and read clues by putting on a pair of red-lensed glasses.  The clues themselves were illegible because they were covered in red squiggles, but when you put the glasses on, things changed.  The red faded away (really, it blended in) and the black writing underneath was clear.  

I immediately thought of that old game when diving into Colossians chapter 3.  Paul begins,

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (3:1-2)

Live with eternity in our minds

Paul is telling the church in Colosse to live with eternal vision.  Everyday life can be distracting, like red squiggles covering up what’s important.  But let’s be honest, not everything is important.  There are some things that are going to matter eternally, while others will be quickly forgotten.  What lasts in eternity is what we need to see clearly. 

It is dream of mine to be published, but in the scope of eternity, writing books doesn’t matter.  Through writing I may help point people toward what does matter, but the status of “published author” isn’t going to win me any heaven bucks (1).  

A knee jerk reaction to this challenge to set our minds on heavenly things is to start rejecting the world altogether.  But we’re not supposed to abandon this world.  We, the body of Christ, are a catalyst for heaven springing forth around us!  Pining over a heavenly dwelling is a good way to waste your life.  We cannot neglect God’s mission and hope to be good and faithful servants. 

Eternal lenses make ambition disappear, but highlight acts of service and Christlikeness. 

Live with our feet on the ground

William Barclay wrote how Paul makes it “quite clear that he expects the Christian to go on with the work of this world and to maintain all its normal relationships.  But there will be one difference—from now on the Christian will view everything against the background of eternity and no longer live as if this world was all that mattered.” (2)

We have to live with our mind on heaven while keeping our feet on the ground!

Here’s what Paul writes in 3:12-15, 17:
“…Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful…And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Do you notice these kingdom values popping out?

Above all—LOVE

If you ever wonder, “What does it really mean to be a Christian/Christ-follower?”  it’s loving God, loving others by living a life defined by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace.  Obeying God looks a lot like humbly laying our wants aside for something bigger, something more beautiful, something powerful.

Eternity in our minds
Eternity in our hearts
Eternity flowing out of our fingertips
Eternity moving our lips
Eternity changing our minds
Eternity restoring broken relationship
Eternity dissolving our ambition and pride
Eternity inviting us to participate in Christ’s love for the world.  

Eternity makes the distracting red squiggles fade away.  We don’t need distractions.  
Instead, let’s get eternal vision.   

(1) 10 points if you got the Jim Gaffigan reference
(2) Barclay, William (1975). The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. p147

This post is part 3 of a 4 part series on Colossians:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

You Were Created to be Emotional: Thoughts on Christian Emotional Health

Christian emotional Health

I don’t get mad often. 

I used to have a reputation of never getting angry about anything, a rumor spun off of my overall optimism.  Also influencing that idea was my ability to hide my emotions, cramming negativity into the nooks and crannies of my compartmentalized psyche. 

I’m an internal processor, so sharing these things with others wasn’t going to benefit me. I’d instead coax my negative emotions out of their hiding places and examine them while I had alone time.  Unfortunately, when I forgot where I had hidden these negative feelings, I’d let them go unresolved.  Bad things happened when I forgot them. 

It reminds me of something I saw on TV the other day.  My wife loves the show Gilmore Girls, set in the quaint, imaginary Connecticut town of “Stars Hollow.”  In one episode, the townspeople noticed that Stars Hollow had a lingering foul odor.  Every building around town square began to stink.  They discovered, after a confession from Kurt—the most annoying character in the show, that fifty-nine Easter eggs were never found during their annual town Easter egg hunt two weeks prior.  The eggs started to rot in their hiding places.  The smell of these stink bombs wafted around town, assaulting the noses of local business owners and patrons.  It wasn’t until everyone in town joined in to laboriously find Kurt’s missing eggs that the smell began to dissipate.      

The same thing happens to me, too.  When I deny myself time to resolve my negative emotions, other parts of my life start to stink:  

I become impatient.  
I become bitter.  
I lose my joy and optimism.  

Peter Scazzero wrote, “Ignoring any aspect of who we are as men and women made in God’s image always results in destructive consequences—in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.”  We are multifaceted.  We are emotional, physical, social, intellectual and spiritual beings!  Neglecting any of these aspect of ourselves can negatively affect the other parts of us.  Our whole selves begin to stink.  

Tim Keller preached a sermon recently where he discussed Elijah's emotional distress after hearing the threats of Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19).  Elijah was distraught, even to the point of asking God to take his life.  What God did instead was care for Elijah's physical needs.  God gave him food.  God gave him rest and sleep.   Keller posits that not every problem finds it’s solution in the mantra “pray harder.”  Yes, we should always bathe every situation in prayer, but sometimes we need a good meal, time with friends, and to immerse ourselves in a great book (fiction, even!). 

When we think of ourselves as just spiritual beings, we ignore God’s creative work in his design of humanity. 

Don’t think that sadness and anger themselves are the problem.  God created you to paint with a wide palette emotions. You were made to have feelings.  Just like we all want to be physically healthy, and how I always write about being spiritually healthy, we ought to fight for emotional health as well.  “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.”  
Don't feel defeated when you get angry. 
Don't let emotions to go unresolved because you just need to pray them away. 

Rest.  Journal.  Pray.  Read.   Invite God into the emotional parts of who you are.  

You were created to be emotional. 

Referenced works:

Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is a game changer!  Everyone should read it!

Gilmore Girls - Season 4, Episode 18 “Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom!”  Seriously, Kurt is the worst.