Never Let Him Get to Three

Yesterday on a coaching call an observation was made about a parenting technique. Well, it was more than a observation-more like a self-aware acknowledgement of what not to do.

He noted that several years back he caught himself using the “I’m going to count to three” approach to foster obedience. And for his parenting, he decided this wasn’t working. It was sending a message he didn’t want to send.

This observation wasn’t the topic of the conversation, but it generated a question in connection to the conversation that wouldn’t have been made otherwise. Using the imagery of a parent/child relationship, imagine the Holy Spirit is the parent and the believer is the child. The question is, would the Holy Spirit count to three? If so, what does that say about the relationship? If not, what does that teach us about obedience or about quenching the Holy Spirit?

One could say freewill is a form of counting to three. “Go ahead. Make any choice you want. If it’s not the best one, I’ll be right here when you get back.” One could also say that the longsuffering, mercy, and grace of God is his way of counting to three. I’m not going to argue against either of those views…or others that align with God’s character.

My reflection has led me to a more personal response to this unusual question. While I’m grateful God doesn’t bonk me on the head every time I allow the counting to begin-and maybe go on and on and on-my life experiences have taught me to pursue a quicker response to spirit-led directions and promptings that reflect alignment and obedience. I’d rather not hear the tone of the counting voice, especially not from my grieving Father. But when I do, my aim would be to shorten my response time so that he doesn’t get to three…ever.

Instead Of

I’m finding the best part of Bevere’s book is the 30-day devotional guide at the back. He directs you to read a portion of a chapter, then leads you through a short, relatable devotional, very practical and forward moving in dealing with offense.

Day 11 entitled Hiding from Reality has this quote:

Offense blocks spiritual growth, but suffering and obedience take us to a deeper relationship with the Lord and with others.

This quote aligns well with the one I posted about on August 4: “If you stay free from offense, you will stay in the will of God.” Staying clear of offense isn’t only freeing; it also allows growth to continue. The truth is we grow from suffering (Joseph, Esther, Daniel, Peter, Elijah). What the enemy baits us to do is run from the suffering, or at least be distracted from the growth by focusing on the hurt or the ones guilty of causing it.

It’s quite possible that God has allowed the enemy to shower us with suffering. Think Job. Satan thought he could break him. Satan was wrong. The end result was Job’s deeper trust in God.

So how does our obedience play out in these moments? It could be that we…

  • …stay instead of run
  • …face instead of ignore
  • …wait instead of hurry
  • …listen instead of ramble
  • …submit instead of control
  • …rest instead of worry

If you’ve been feeling stunted or blocked in your spiritual growth, maybe it’s time to check your obedience, time to give up the bait.

The Gift of Balance: Ministry and Service (Part 1)

(This is part one of the final topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. This entry will be the first half of the conversation continuing tomorrow with the second half.)

Tonya: All of us as Christians are called to some kind of service, in some capacity. The service may not be within the church, but it doesn’t mean you’re not serving. The right mindset is determining what God has for me and my family to do. Like when I’ve talked about hockey, those were moments when we are able to share with other families and coaches through what God had for us. It is seasonal, so we could also ask, “What does God have for me in this season, in what capacity am I supposed to serve?” This should take into account our gifts both individually and as a family.

Mark: Kingdom work is not constrained to church work. Often there is this imbalance or perception that our service is contained within a church activity. As Jesus’ followers, we are challenged to be doing kingdom work all the time, regardless of where we are. That is a key mindset for this topic.

John: When you mention seasons, Tonya, it reminds me of teaching on spiritual gifts in church membership classes and helping people find places of ministry.  One thing that is very clear is giving them the freedom to think seasonally. Maybe right now they don’t have the time to do the ministry they would like to do for multiple reasons. It’s also possible they’ve outgrown their current ministry of involvement.  They may be ready to move into a different type of ministry or into a different level of leadership. As believers grow, ministry is probably going to look different.

To answer this question, I was drawn to Matthew 22 where Jesus answered the question about the greatest commandment by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and the second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” With that mindset, ministry is not confined to a location or an organization. My ministry mindset is to love God with all of my being. Out of that flows how I am to love others. I mess that up all the time. When I realize I’m off track, this is my marker to come back to. “Where am I off track on these two things?”

TonyaI’m a strong believer that if we really do take that first commandment seriously the rest of it all falls into place. We will truly be trying to hear the Lord, to do His will. We are going to make mistakes because we are human, but we are going to know it right away because of conviction. Everything we’ve talked about is about keeping God first and truly loving Him with our whole being. We’ll better love our spouse, our children, even the person in line at the store.

John: This has been a particular step of obedience for me this year. In thinking about what to do during my sabbatical, I had to work through what I wanted to do versus what God wanted me to do. If I had done what I wanted, it would have looked differently out of my own selfishness. When I put myself back in the space of answering who am I living for when I’m given an opportunity to do something, who am I to say no? If I do the Jonah thing and run in the opposite direction, my balance is wrong because it’s all about me.

Mark: That makes me think of a book I read earlier this year, Love Does by Bob Goff. His personality is so different than mine, so I lived vicariously through him. What he says in the book is, “God presents me with opportunities all the time, and I want to just keep saying yes. I don’t want to miss out on the adventure that he has for me.” When we say no to something God is inviting us into, we miss the adventure he wants to take us on and how he wants to love and bless us others through what he’s asked us to do.

John: So that brings up a big question. Why do some of us tend to be the “no replier” and some tend to be the “yes replier”? I tend to be the no replier. Now, once I’m in I’m all in, you know, get out of my way. Getting me all in may take a little while. Whereas other people, like what you’re describing, are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Tonya: There’s so much that goes into that-personality, past history, so many pieces that go into that. That’s a hard one to answer.

John: Maybe we can come back to that next year after we’ve had time to think about it.

Tonya: Yeah, that’s a book, a title to a book.

Mark: Actually it is a title to a book. It’s called Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly. His assertion is beyond just responding to God, but certainly set in that content. We often tend toward resisting happiness; and in the context of following God, it’s being the person and doing the things He’s created us to be and to do. There’s a tendency for some of us to resist the change or the difference or the invitation or the unknown. When we lean into that is where we can find happiness. Some people may have that figured out or are wired that way, and other people, like myself, tend to struggle. My tendency is to resist at first; and then when it’s really important, God makes it very clear and then I make the decision to be all in also.

John: To be honest, I don’t look at these things as my avenue to happiness. I’d have to sit in that and marry the two together. My brain doesn’t naturally marry them together.

Mark: To play the other side, there are people who say yes all the time for the wrong reasons. They say yes looking for some validation, to earn something that can’t be earned through doing, or other emotional or psychological reasons. You can say yes out of an unhealthy place and contribute to some unhealthiness.

John: That makes me think of something that, Tonya, you’ve probably also witnessed. I have seen multiple guys really feel convinced that they were called into church/pastoral work and within a short amount of time they realized they were wrong and crashed and burned.

Tonya: Yeah, going in for the wrong reasons. Maybe they were a PK and felt expected to follow in dad’s footsteps, or the idea that they can only have impact for the Lord in ministry through church work. I had a pastor say to me not long ago that he has no passion for his people and he really despises being a shepherd. He was totally a square being pushed into a circle. He’s a professor; that’s what his passion is, not being a pastor.

John: To make that broader, you don’t have to be a church staff member to fall into that trap. Anybody can feel like they’ve been drawn into doing something and not fully aware of why they are saying yes. And once they get in, it doesn’t work, because of your analogy, Tonya, square and a circle.

Mark: My experience in this context is watching new believers say yes to everything and quickly get burned out. They were overbooked in this ministry space, and it wasn’t a good scenario for them.

Tonya: My husband was talking about this last night, how that pastors are doing so much of the work and people aren’t seeing themselves as helpers or servants. Some pastors also have a hard time giving up control in certain areas. Helping people find their gift and plugging into that one ministry, not ten, but the one ministry where they are gifted, the church that is plugged in like that, the labor is not overwhelming. People can get caught up in pleasing people instead of understanding what God has for them.

The Myth of Equality (Book Review)

I just finished reading a book that I didn’t know I needed to read.

I wasn’t looking for it. Had it not been given to me, I most likely wouldn’t even know about it.

Why did I need to read it? 

  • Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The first part informed me about the story of race.

Racism in the United States is worse than we thought, its lasting consequences are more significant than we think, and our responsibility is greater than we’ve been taught…There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.

  • Because I needed to see this subject through the lens of God’s kingdom. The second part took me deeper into the truth of equality.

If every person is made in the image of God, then stereotypes lead us down a dangerous path…Racial equality and fairness is not just a good thing but an ideal that we must work toward if we are to fully realize Christian obedience, national justice, and individual flourishing.

  • Because I needed to know about my privilege. The final part challenged me to listen and learn, lament, confess, and lay down.

White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard. It means if you are a person of color, simply by virtue of that, your life might be harder…If any part of justice matters then all of justice should matter.

Most likely, you didn’t know about this book before reading this post. You need to look for it. You need to read this book.