3 Ways Comparing Kills Focus

“Keeping up with the Jones’s.”

Everyone knows the old saying – it’s about seeing your neighbor driving something new, or living somewhere new, or wearing something new, and then feeling a compulsion to match them at worst, or go one better at best. But now, the “Jones’s” are no longer just the people who live down the street or that you see occasionally at the meeting at school. The “Jones’s” are much more widely expanded.

Thanks to social media, our “Jones’s” are anyone, anywhere, at any time. We have at our fingertips the means of comparing our lifestyles, our children, or the lighting of our framed photos with millions, the vast majority of whom we’ve never met. So while we have always had the compulsion inside us to compare ourselves to others, the difference is that we now have the ability to compare ourselves to a far greater extent than we ever have before. Not only that, but comparison is something that just sort of creeps into our consciousness; we don’t necessarily intend to gauge our self-worth or identity based on how we measure up with others – but because we are constantly surrounded with the images of the best lives of others, it’s nearly inevitable that it happens.

But what’s the big deal? I mean, you don’t read any of the laundry lists of sins in the New Testament and find the word “comparison” in them. You might even argue that comparison is a good thing – that in a true capitalistic sense, comparing ourselves to others fosters a greater degree of competition and makes us demand the absolute best out of ourselves.

It is a big deal, though. And we can really only see the bigness of the deal it is when we look at it from the outside in – that is, when we examine some of the destructive effects of comparison to our lives. In order to do that, consider with me the brief account of Jesus’ disciples that is summarized in a single verse:

An argument started among them about who was the greatest of them (Luke 9:46).

This wasn’t the only time when arguments based on comparison were raised up among the disciples. Whether it’s James and John asking for esteemed positions in Jesus’ kingdom or all the disciples squabbling over their own greatness the night of Jesus’ arrest, it was evidently a relatively common topic of conversation. And those are only the comparative thoughts that saw the light of day. Surely there were more with them, just as there are with us, that we treasure and grow in the privacy of our own hearts and minds.

Here, then, are three destructive effects that come from thoughts of comparison, whether they are expressed or unexpressed:

1. Comparison makes us lose sight of the mission.

In the case of the disciples, Jesus was tooling them up to say and do the same things He was saying and doing once He ascended into heaven. They didn’t necessarily know it all the time, but Jesus was not just teaching the disciples – He was training the disciples to be sent out on mission for the sake of the kingdom. And though we might not recognize it either, we are being trained, even as we are to be going.

It’s God’s will for all of us that we are actively engaged in His mission in the world. Our day to day lives are filled with opportunities to extend the kingdom of God both in word and in deed. When we are engaged in the practice of comparison, though, we quickly lose sight of the greater goal that overshadows our personal privilege and placement, just as the disciples did.

2. Comparison makes us lose sight of grace.

It seems that, for most of us, the longer we walk with Jesus, the greater the tendency we have to forget the depth of our own sin. We can easily start to trick ourselves into thinking that sure, we were sinners and all, but let’s be honest – it wasn’t that bad. And that kind of thinking finds a helpful and able ally in comparison.

Our sin certainly doesn’t seem “that bad” if we can find someone who has done worse. So we find that person and compare ourselves to him or her, over and over again, as a means of boosting our own egos. Comparison pushes us further and further away from a conscious realization of how in need of God’s grace we are. And part and parcel with that is the development of a greater and greater self-reliance, which is the enemy of faith itself.

3. Comparison makes us lose sight of the worth of others.

When we live in a state of comparison, it’s impossible to truly love others – that’s because we are too busy using them to actually love them. Instead of selflessly loving our neighbors, they become rungs in our ladder of self, the means by which we climb higher and higher in our own minds. This can’t be so if we are to truly and freely treat others as image-bearers worthy of respect and dignity.

Or another example – when we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, we lose sight of a person’s contribution and necessity for the body of Christ. Instead of valuing what unique set of gifts a person can bring to the body, we are too busy comparing what the “foot” can do as opposed to the “eye.”

In all these cases, comparison just makes us lose sight. We lose sight of the mission; lose sight of grace; and, maybe most ironically, lose sight of other people. In order, then, to not lose sight, we must repurpose our sight – the solution here, as with most things, is not just resolving not to compare ourselves with other people, but instead to fix our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith. And when our gaze is firmly fixed there, there’s not a lot of room for comparison at all.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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The Great Commission is NOT these 4 Things

The closing of Matthew’s gospel is not just a tidy end to his book; these last few verses are the marching orders for the church:

The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:16-20).

Here is one of those passages that, if we ever wonder what God’s will is for our lives, we can come back to again and again, for here is the answer. What does God want me to do? He wants me to go and make disciples. Just like He said. So I wonder today, in this post, you would think with me not just about what these parting words of Jesus say, but also what they do NOT say. In that spirit, here are four things the Great Commission is NOT:

1. Negotiable.

The lasting command Jesus gave to the church is couched in His authority. Before He said to go, before He said to make disciples, Jesus wanted everyone to know the position from which He was speaking. This is not a life hack; it’s not some good advice; it’s not a request. This is a command, one rooted in the authority of Jesus.

Here we see the Son of God, the King of the Universe, the One through whom and in whom all things hang together. He has died and risen from the grave as the Conqueror of sin and death. And is taking His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. From that position of authority, indeed all authority in heaven and on earth, He issues this command. Because of His authority, Jesus’ commission is not negotiable for any of us.

We should beware, then, of all the ways we tend to try and negotiate with Jesus. We hold up our circumstances, our supposed limitations, our special instances, but they are of no consequence. That doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t care about them; it does mean, though, that they do not excuse us from this command.

2. Restrictive.

This is a very inclusive command. Jesus began His command with a non-restrictive description of His authority with the word “all.” With His “all” authority, we are to go to “all” nations. And when we go to “all” nations, we are to teach people to obey “everything.” There is nothing left out here; nothing pushed to the side. And here, too, we should be careful that we don’t either intentionally or unintentionally restrict that which is meant to be loosed.

We should be careful that we don’t restrict the “who” of the Great Commission. Like Jonah, there are certain groups of people that are uncomfortable for us to speak to. There are all kinds of reasons for that – maybe it’s our past experience, perhaps it’s our upbringing, or maybe it’s the state of current events. But if we are Christians, then the Great Commission calls us to confront our political, racial, and socio-economic biases. It’s an inclusive command for us to cross the lines we’ve drawn in our hearts.

But we should also be careful that we don’t restrict the “what” of the Great Commission. It’s not lost on Jesus that some of His teaching is hard to stomach. He saw it happen when He taught Himself – every time He stepped up to a crowd it was always thinner when He got done as people were confronted with the full implications of following Him. Ironically, we might talk ourselves into restricting some of the teachings of Jesus to try and make Jesus more palatable to those around us. But Jesus doesn’t need our help with that; He’s not asking for our help – in fact, He’s not asking at all. He’s commanding our faithfulness.

3. Complicated.

The Great Commission is not negotiable; it’s not restrictive; it’s also just not that complicated. We are to go. We are to share. And we are to bring others along the road of following Jesus. That’s it. And when you look at it like that, it’s really not that complicated. One might wonder, then, why we tend to make it so.

If we think about other parts of life that we tend to overcomplicate we might come up with a reason or two. For me, I know one of the reasons I tend to overcomplicate something is out of sheer procrastination. I know something needs to be done and I feel either unprepared or unexcited about doing it. So complicating an issue like that is a neat way around actually getting busy – it’s because the more I talk around something, the longer I don’t have to actually do it. And as an added bonus, it actually looks like I’m doing the very thing I’m subconsciously avoiding.

4. Easy.

But it’s at this point that we should recognize the difference between simple, and easy. Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take effort. And cost. And pain of one sort or another. That’s true in obeying Jesus’ instructions. More times than not, they’re actually pretty simple. But there is difficulty in their simplicity.

It will cost us to obey Jesus’ commission. We will have to go, and if we have to go, then we will have to leave. And we will have to make disciples, and if we are making disciples, it will mean we have to give up some other things in our lives we are spending time and resources on. Make no mistake – living out Jesus’ Great Commission requires a drastic reordering of our lives. That’s not easy, but Jesus’ promises us it’s worth it.

These words of Jesus? They’re not negotiable, restrictive, complicated or easy – but they are the words of the One with all authority. So we must ask ourselves when confronted again by this familiar passage – are we following Jesus, or aren’t we?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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3 Foundations of Biblical Decision Making

The Bible is not primarily about you. Neither is it primarily about me. When we recognize this, it not only changes the way we read the Bible; it changes the way we approach the Bible entirely. While God’s Word does tell us the truth about ourselves, and who we are meant to be, it primarily tells us about God – who He is, what He desires, and what His plan is for the universe.

That truth is fundamental to understanding how the Bible helps us make decisions. Because the Bible is primarily about God, we see ourselves in light of God. We view our lives as a part of His ongoing plan. We make decisions based on who God is and what He desires, and we find both of these things in the Bible.

Now that’s not the easiest way. There have been lots of times in my life when I’ve faced a big decision that I’ve thought it would be easier to turn to a page in the Bible and see the specific answer to my question about my life magically appear on that page. But it doesn’t work like that. You won’t find in Scripture the specific answer to who you should marry, what job you should take, or what city you should live in. But that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t help us make decisions. It certainly does, and here are three ways how:

1. The Bible is a mirror for our motives.

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself. And when we read God’s Word, we find a God who is holy in all He does, and in all He is. When we encounter this kind of God, we are like Isaiah in Isaiah 6 – we suddenly see ourselves in light of His holy perfection. The Bible, then, exposes us. It cuts us deeply and shows us the true thoughts and intentions of our hearts.

This is what we really need if we are trying to make decisions that honor the Lord. We need that from God’s Word because we can’t be trusted to know our own hearts. We can so easily trick ourselves into thinking and believing that our motives are pure and right when in actuality they are tainted with all kinds of selfish ambition, greed, and self-protection. The Bible exposes all these things in more, and in so doing, leads us to an attitude of repentance and humility so that we can make a decision with our eyes fully open to exactly why – or why we are not – choosing one thing over another.

2. The Bible broadens our perspective.

When we have a big decision set before us, it’s so easy to get tunnel vision. That decision consumes our thoughts, our feelings, our prayers, and everything else. It becomes the one thing that concerns us both day and night, and when it does, we forget that redemptive history does not rest on whether we move to Omaha or to Pensacola. The Bible helps us with this.

When we read the Bible, we are reminded of our God whose plans cannot be thwarted. Of the One who has both the wisdom and the power to carry out all He desires. It’s not that our single decision doesn’t matter; it really does. But it does remind us that this one decision fits inside of a much larger plan, one that has been going on and will keep going on long after we finish unpacking that U-Haul. A good dose of perspective is never a bad thing because it frees us up to move forward in confidence, not in our decision-making ability, but in a God who will continue on with His unchanging plans.

3. The Bible reveals the will of God.

Finally, the Bible helps us make decisions because the Bible reveals the will of God. True enough, the Bible isn’t going to tell you the name of the person you’re supposed to marry. But the Bible will tell you the kind of person you are supposed to marry. And the Bible won’t tell you what job to take, but the Bible will tell you the purpose and value of work in general. In fact, the Bible will tell us about 95% of God’s will for our lives.

As we weigh the options before us, we should do so with this 95% in mind. We should make this decision knowing that God has already told us a tremendous amount about what we should do in life – that we should be faithful and generous and contributing church members. That we should be about sharing the gospel. That we should utilize both our talents and gifts for the sake of the kingdom. Any decision we make ought to fulfill these aspects of God’s will, and if one of the options before us hinders any of God’s revealed will, then we ought to look in another direction.

In other words, God will not tell us to do something that violates what He’s already told us to do.

Look to God’s Word, friends. Look to it when you need to make a decision. But don’t expect to find some magic formula there. Instead, expect to find His book that shapes the way we think, and therefore shapes the way we make decisions. In the end, that’s a better way because God’s end for us is not just about positioning us somewhere, but making us into a certain kind of person.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Out of The Heart… How Giving Reflects Belief

“You evil, lazy slave!”

These are the words the master had for the third servant in Jesus’ story recorded in Matthew 25. Each had been given a substantial sum of money; each had made choices about what to do with it. The first two servants, with varying success, had taken what had been entrusted to them and put it to work. When the master came back, these two were lauded for their good investment and faithful stewardship.

But not the third.

The third took his talent, dug a hole, and put it in the ground. And the master had that harsh rebuke for him.

He was wicked. And he was lazy. And here is the end result:

“So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:28-30).

Jesus told this story, along with a few others, during His last days in Jerusalem. All of the stories in Matthew 25 are centered around the theme of readiness. Jesus wanted His followers to live with the end in mind; convinced that He would return at a moment’s notice, and to be ready at a moment’s notice for that inevitable coming.

We look at this story and take many applications from it. We see the need to make the most of what we’ve been given. We see that there is an active stance we must take while waiting for Jesus to return. We see that we must make wise choices for the sake of the kingdom.

But there is an issue at the bottom of this kind of kingdom investment. The issues, as is always the case, is what we believe about God.

Look back at the way the third servant responded when the master returned and asked what had been done with the gifts He had given:

“Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25).

See it? I know you.

But he did not.

Nowhere in this story do we have the slightest indication that the master was a hard man. Nowhere do we see him being unfair. Nowhere do we find him being stingy or overbearing. Instead, we see him being generous, and overly so at that. Even though the master distributed the talents unevenly, the smallest portion was a gigantic sum.

I know you says the third servant.

But he did not.

This is the root of the issue. This is the bottom of it all. The real question, then, is not what you are going to do with what God has given you. The real question is, “Do you really know Him?”

Do you really know His generosity? Do you really know His kindness? Do you really know His love? Do you really know Him?

What you do is a reflection of what you believe.

Today, then, as we either hold tightly to what we’ve been given, bent on our own self-preservation, refusing to relinquish our grip out of fear or anxiety or greed, then we would do well to ask ourselves that question:

Do we really know Him?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Why Talking Starts with Listening

You would think listening would be easy. After all, we spend a good chunk of our lives doing it. We listened to our parents when we were children. We listened to our teachers in school. We listen to the radio in the car, and we listen to the tv while we are watching it.

To go a step further, the Bible tells us that we ought to listen – that we ought to be “quick to listen”, in fact (James 1:19). Listening, then, is not just a skill – it’s a matter of obedience for the Christian.

But even though we have done it for so long, and even though we do it now, and even though the Bible tells us it ought to be our practice, many of us don’t. At least not really. Oh, we hear sounds, but there is a difference between hearing things that happen to be around us at a given moment and actively, intentionally listening. The first happens without effort; the second comes through discipline and practice, and this is where we often fail. We find ourselves, especially when we are hearing something or someone we don’t agree with, not really listening but instead tolerating sound, just waiting for our own chance to talk.

So what are some of the barriers that keep us from really listening to another person? Allow me to suggest three:

1. Our own insecurity.

We are all, at some level, still living middle school. We all have our own particular insecurities that are constantly in the background. We are concerned about our appearance, our intelligence, our ingenuity, or something else, and those long held insecurities affect us more than we think we do. One of the ways they do is they make us assume a posture of defensiveness. We feel attacked even if we’re not. So when we find ourselves in a conversation with someone who doesn’t think, believe, or behave as we do, we take it personally and are quick to move on that perceived attack.

When we are moving to defend ourselves, we stop listening because we feel compelled to respond, respond, respond. The deeper answer, then, to our inability to listen is not just skill development; it’s confronting our lingering insecurities through the power of the gospel. For in the gospel, we know that we are fully accepted in Christ. We are the chosen sons and daughters of God. And the confidence that comes from that knowledge, among other things, bolsters our ability to listen.

2. Our view of another person.

CS Lewis once wrote: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” It’s easy to forget that, isn’t it?

When we are engaged in a conversation with someone we don’t agree with, we can quickly make the shift to thinking of that person as an enemy. Or a target. Or a potential opinion to change. When we do that, we stop listening because we stop focusing on that person. They have become a shell of a human – just another talking head to be responded to – rather than remembering that at the core, this person is a human being created in the image of God. When we revert back to this mindset, we are compelled to listen because really listening is a simple way we recognize the dignity that every person is rightfully due.

3. Our confidence in God’s work.

One final barrier to listening is our lack of confidence in God’s work. One of the reasons we are slow to listen and quick to speak is because we feel compelled to defend God to someone else. I want to be careful here to not imply that we should not defend God, or the Bible, or doctrine. We can, and we should. But there is a great difference in defending what we believe from the posture of confidence and defending what we believe from a posture of insecurity.

In our hearts, we might not fully believe the Bible is true. Or that God can really change hearts. Or that He is actually all powerful and all loving at the same time. We aren’t secure in His work, and so we argue, and as the saying goes, we doth protest too much and in so doing reveal we aren’t quite as secure in what we believe as we claim.

In the end, we don’t change someone’s heart. And in the end, God doesn’t need us to defend Him. In such moments, we have the opportunity to demonstrate patience, grace, and charity, and actually win a hearing for the truth of the gospel.

Listening is important. It’s more than just a skill. In fact, it might well be worth considering, if we have trouble listening, the real reason why it’s so difficult. And as we do, we will mercifully be led back to the God who never fails to listen to us. In Him, we will find the security and confidence it takes to truly listen to another.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Communicate Bible Truth with Life Changing Clarity

Christians are communicators. And while some Christians may be more or less gifted at the skill of communication, all Christians are “witnesses.” That is, we are, by the very fact that we have been born again into Christ and therefore witness personally the power of the gospel, to bear witness of what we have seen and heard:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

It is inevitable. Jesus did not say “you might be” or “from time to time you could be,” but instead “you will.” We have been issued a divine summons, and our appearance to testify is not optional. So all of us, whether we be plumber or preacher, poet or pastor, are communicators of the gospel. We communicate about God, His Word, and the gospel in our homes, in our jobs, with our friends, and in our churches, so the question of how we communicate should be very important to us.

It hasn’t always been to me. Once upon a time, a lot of years ago, I was pretty impressed with my own rhetorical skill, and I put together a sermon I was super proud of. I started with a lengthy and elaborate illustration using Gilligan’s Island as the premise. I wrote out the sermon which detailed how all of us, from time to time, get stuck on a spiritual island. And we might use all kinds of things to get off that island – we might use our intelligence, our money, our talent, our charm. See what I did there with each of the characters on the TV show?

Yep. I did that. And then, after it was written out, I remember thinking to myself, I should find some Bible verses to stick into this talk.

By God’s grace, I’ve gotten older. And as I continue to get older, there are some things, I think, that are becoming more important to me about communicating God’s Word. Hopefully these will be helpful to you, too:

1. Clarity over cleverness.

It’s so easy to get enamored with our own cleverness. And in so doing, we can come up with all kinds of clever ways to try and explain things in the Bible through use of illustration. But the danger of doing so is that we might end up obscuring what the Bible says with our own cleverness. In the end, as we think through illustrations, it’s a wise thing to ask whether we are trusting, through the use of our clever rhetoric, if we are trusting in our own ability to communicate more than the power of God’s Word.

2. Faithful over funny.

Humor is a powerful thing. I think Jesus used humor from time to time in His own teaching. I mean, it’s funny to think about a person walking around with a plank sticking out of his head all the while he’s looking for splinters in someone else’s. So humor is a gift, and a tool that we can use to help communicate. But we should also be careful here, because we can easily keep a bag of our “go to” stories that we know will solicit a laugh, and then look for a way to bend the true content of the message in order to work them in.

3. Adoration over admiration.

Everyone likes to be liked. I certainly do. But the danger when we communicate and communicate effectively is that people might leave a conversation or a class or a church service with us dazzled at our rhetoric and yet never brought humbly to the God we represent. If that happens, then we have garnered admiration from another, but we haven’t led that other to adoration of Jesus Christ.

Christian, you are a witness. I am too. The call for us in that witness is faithfulness and clarity that points people to Jesus. Let’s make sure together that in our cleverness and humor we aren’t leading others to admire us but miss the Son of God.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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Ann Stokman — 12/20/18 7:57 am

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Why Your Lows Can be Highs When It Comes to Making Disciples

When you grow up in Texas, as I did, you were schooled up in the stories of the Alamo. It’s legendary – a small group of freedom fighters that took their stand against incredible odds in the small mission in San Antonio (of course, I only later found out that these “heroes” were not quite the upstanding patriots I thought they were as a kid, but I digress…)

Stories of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Barrett Travis were the stuff of legend. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who petitioned his or her parents to, at some point, jump in the car and make our way down to San Antonio to see the real Alamo. And one year, we did.

I was… disappointed. I don’t know what I expected, but it was certainly a little more than what was there. Just a few crumbling walls. Right in the middle of the city. In fact, the only real part of the tour I remember was that they had Davy Crockett’s actual razor.

That’s sort of picture of life in some ways, isn’t it? You get yourself worked up over something – some vacation, some promotion, some relationship, some next stage of life, and then that “thing” happens. The vast majority of the time, it in no way lives up to the expectations you had for it in your mind. Or even worse, it doesn’t happen at all, and you are crushed under the weight of what might have been. What should have been. At least in your mind. But in the end, the result is the same:

Disappointment.

And yet here again we see the truth that the best school of discipleship is life. Real life is where our faith is honed, grown, and proven. And moments of disappointment are moments ripe for discipleship. If you’re experiencing some measure of disappointment today, then consider for a moment that this disappointment is actually a chance for spiritual growth for at least these four reasons:

1. Disappointment reminds of the only lasting satisfaction.

Ecclesiastes is a book all about disappointment. Solomon tried everything, and he tried everything to the extreme. But no matter what he devoted himself to, no matter what it was that he soaked the marrow from, he came up empty. His constant refrain through all his attempts at satisfaction was “Vanity! Meaningless!” There was nothing under the sun for him that offered true and lasting satisfaction.

It’s still true. All these things on which we hang our greatest expectations will in some way come up short. The disappointment we feel is a cue to remind us again and again that true satisfaction can only be found out from under the sun. Take heed not only from Ecclesiastes, but from the prophet Isaiah in this:

“Come, everyone who is thirsty,
come to the water;
and you without silver,
come, buy, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without silver and without cost!
Why do you spend silver on what is not food,
and your wages on what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and you will enjoy the choicest of foods.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, so that you will live” (Isaiah 55:1-3).

2. Disappointment exposes the truth in our hearts.

We have an incredible knack for self-deception. Often times, we don’t actually know the depths of our own hearts. We don’t know just how much of our hope, how much of our joy, how much of our self-worth and value we have invested in a particular thing until that thing goes away. The level of disappointment we feel is more than just painful; it’s revelatory. It shows us the truth about our own hearts. And the truth is always a good thing.

It’s a good thing for us because we have an incredible capacity for self-deception. We can talk ourselves into thinking that we are loving Jesus, treasuring Jesus, valuing Jesus above all things. In fact, the only way we might know that it’s not true is through our level of disappointment. So when we are disappointed, it’s a great chance for us to have a window of clarity in our own hearts so that we might repent and then continue forward with Jesus. So says the prophet Jeremiah:

For my people have committed a double evil:
They have abandoned me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug cisterns for themselves—
cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

3. Disappointment is a chance to grow in perseverance.

It’s really not a question of whether or not you will be disappointed; it’s only a question of when, and to what level. So if it’s a certainty that we will experience disappointment, then we ought to be asking ourselves what will happen next. Disappointment can either crush us, paralyzing us into inactivity, or we can carry on. Keep moving. Keep showing up.

If we choose the latter, then we find ourselves in a posture ready for discipleship, for that willingness to doggedly move forward, despite disappointment, is about perseverance. And perseverance is an essential component to growing in Christ:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4).

4. Disappointment reaffirms our faith in God as Father.

Finally, disappointment is an opportunity for discipleship because it’s a chance for us to remind ourselves of God’s goodness as our Father. Jesus taught His followers about the good Fatherhood of God in Luke 11:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13).

Jesus’ point is pretty simple here: God is a good Father. And a good Father knows how to give good gifts to His children. That doesn’t mean He gives His children everything they ask for; this would, in fact, make Him a weak, insecure Father. He’s better than that. He only gives fish. He only gives eggs.

Sometimes from our perspective, it might look as if God has given us a snake or a scorpion because we did not receive what we wanted from Him, and we feel disappointment. But in that moment, it’s a chance for us to remind ourselves that despite what His answer looks like, He has given us a good gift. We can move forward in confidence, even if we are disappointed, because by faith we trust our Father.

Friends, you will be disappointed soon. Remember, disappointment might be painful, but it’s also an opportunity. Don’t waste it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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3 Ways to Take the Temperature of the Environment You Lead

My family will tell you that I’m a thermostat control freak. I have a day marked on my calendar when I have arbitrarily determined it’s acceptable to flip on the air conditioning or the heater, depending on the season. And even when those systems come on, they’re never set quite how my family would prefer.

They’d sure like the AC to flip on before it gets to be 76 degrees, and they’d probably enjoy the heater coming on before it gets to 65. Thing is, though, I like it just fine. I actually get quite a bit of satisfaction when I’m sweating in our living room, or when I’m bundled up at the kitchen table. It makes me feel tough; it makes me feel frugal (Notice I said frugal. Not cheap. Can I get an amen from the dads out there?)

But even as I write this, I’m realizing that those under my care don’t have the same sensibilities I do. I have created an environment in the home that I like, appreciate, and enjoy, but those within the environment I’ve created might not be having the same reaction. Sure, I can simply dismiss their feelings and keep the thermostat the way I like it, but as a leader in the home I would do well to “take the temperature” of my family to see how they’re responding to the temperature of our home.

It’s a bit of a silly illustration, but the principle is strong I believe. When you find yourself in a leadership role, whether in an organization, a small group, or a home, there is a certain temperature you have created in that environment. As godly leaders, we are not only responsible for setting the temperature; we are responsible for knowing how the temperature we have set is affecting those who have to live inside of it.

When you take the temperature, you are making sure that you have not done something detrimental to the people living in it. You are humbly acknowledging that the culture you have intentionally created is having its desired effect, which is moving people closer and closer to Jesus. And you are also acknowledging that you are not the ultimate authority, and that like any other human, you might have made a mistake and created an environment that is having unintended consequences.

So how can you take the temperature inside of the environment you lead? I would suggest at least three ways:

1. Listen.

Most of the time, people who sit in your environment are talking. Many times it’s the easiest thing in the world to become so convinced that you’re right, your decisions are valid, that you purposely choose not to listen to those who are speaking. But if you really want to know the temperature of the environment you’ve created, you’ve got to make sure your ears are open.

Of course, when you’re listening to others, you must also be listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. That’s because not every voice you hear will be right or even helpful. So through the wisdom that only God will provide, you and I must learn who and what to listen to, and when is the right moment to take heed.

2. Observe.

Let me go back to the illustration of our home. It’s possible that my sweet wife knows by now that I like the thermostat set at a certain temperature. And though she might not like it that way, she has decided in her godly heart to not press the issue; instead, she has decided to wear a scarf and gloves to the dinner table.

Many times observation is an even more helpful method of taking the temperature than listening. That’s because people always communicate even when they’re not speaking. They communicate through their body language, their gestures, and even the indirect questions they ask. Watch; observe; take note; people will tell you what the temperature is even when they don’t tell you what the temperature is.

3. Ask.

Of these three, this is the most obvious, but it’s also the one I think we do the least. We can actually, verbally, ask the question. Why don’t we do this more?

I would posit it’s because we already know what the answer is, and we don’t want to really hear it. That’s because when we do, we have to react to what we suspect but are unwilling to admit to ourselves. This is a humbling thing; it means we may have to adjust the “perfect plan” we had in place, and it means we have to admit that we, too, make mistakes.

But in those moments, we would do well to ask ourselves whether we would rather live with an illusion or pursue a better future? We can actually find someone we trust, someone we know will tell us the truth, and actually ask the question.

If you find yourself in a leadership role, friends, be it of an organization, church, group, or something else, don’t be afraid to take the temperature of the environment you are stewarding. Don’t be so married to your good intentions that you fail to embrace reality.

> Read more from Michael.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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What to Do When Your Faith Goes Stale

We never had the problem of stale chips and crackers when I was a kid. But that’s because I grew up in a part of the country where there was humidity about 3 days out of the year. But here in middle Tennessee, it’s a different story.

These days of summer are not just hot – they are thick. It can feel sometimes like walking around in a bowl of soup with a wool sweater wrapped around your face. And the chips and crackers in the house are one of the casualties.

You know that feeling? Of biting into something that’s supposed to satisfyingly crunch, and instead coming away with a mouthful of gummy mush? Here’s another question – does faith ever feel like that? It certainly does to me.

In an ideal world, our faith should have some edge to it. Some emotion. Some excitement. Some vital tingling that comes from knowing we have been rescued from the gravest danger imaginable with the best news possible. And to know that we live in perpetual safety because the grip of the Savior who holds us is mighty, mighty strong.

But there are days… even seasons… when what should be so joy-producing just seems stale. Soft. Punchy.

You bite into God’s Word, or prayer, or fellowship with the saints, and you feel… not very much. And you know deep inside of you that this is wrong, and you want it to be different. So what do you say to yourself during those times when your faith feels stale? Here are three things:

1. God’s affection for me has not grown stale.

One of my favorite gospel images comes in Jesus’ story of two prodigal sons. While the older son stayed at home under the guise of faithful service to the father, the younger son sought adventure and satisfaction elsewhere. Taking his inheritance early, the younger son abandoned the family and went to life his best life now in the far country. Eventually he came to awakening of everything he had sacrificed and began the long journey home. And when he finally gets within eyesight of his childhood home, his father meets him on the road, and that’s when we get the image.

The Bible says the Father, literally, “fell upon the neck” of the son. Despite his arrogance, despite his abandonment, despite his stale heart, the father’s affection had not grown cold. He still burned with love for his boy. What an image. And here we find ourselves. True enough, perhaps we haven’t exactly spent time in the far country. We may have actually been more like the older son, going through the motions of service all the while feeling less and less joy and more and more bitterness. But the affection of the father for both his sons is near palpable.

What an amazing thing to know – not just feel, but know – that God’s affection for you is rooted in the sure foundation of the gospel, not how much emotion you can gin up for Him. So when you feel your faith growing stale, stoke the fire a bit with the confidence that God is still ready to fall upon your neck.

2. Beware the lure of substitute joy.

The human heart is made to seek joy. We are crafted for enjoyment. But in our sin, we have sought that joy and fulfillment in false sources. As the prophet said, “For my people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves—cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13). When we feel our faith growing stale, we often wish it was different. We long for the seasons when the feelings were stronger and the joy seemed greater. But we should also be aware – these days of staleness are precisely the moments when the lure of sin will be great.

Thirsty for joy, we will look to broken cisterns instead of to the fountain of living water. Speak it to your soul, Christian, and urge yourself to be on your guard because sin will find a foothold.

3. It will not always be this way.

And then there’s this. This wonderful news. When our faith seems to grow stale, we can remind ourselves that it will not always be this way.

Here’s a portion of John’s glorious revelation about the day when everything bad and wrong will be undone:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God” (Rev. 21:1-3).

This is the new day. When all things are made new. And “all things” include our elusive emotional lives. In the present day, we are fickle and rebellious. We know the right we should do, and we know the right we should feel. But we don’t. Far too often, we don’t feel as we should. But our glorification in Christ will include the setting in proper order of our emotions. We will value what is truly valuable. We will be satisfied by what is truly satisfying. We will feel what we ought to have been feeling all along. And this is good news.

A stale faith, if you recognize the error in it, is an opportunity to long for heaven when it’s not going to be this way any more.

So don’t give up, friend. Don’t give up if it feels a bit stale. Trust in what you know to be true – and in whom you know to be the source of truth, and keep going.

> Read more from Michael.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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How to Align What You Desire with What You Believe

Living things grow. It’s true for every organic life form, but it’s also true of us spiritually. When we are born again in Christ, we are set on a trajectory of spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit is in us in order to empower this transformational process by which God grows us up into the likeness of His Son, and that growth fleshes itself in all different kinds of ways.

It means that we continually grow in the fruit of the Spirit as our character is developed. It means we continually pursue purity and godliness in our lifestyle. It means we share the gospel more and more freely with others. It means our priorities shift from safety and comfort to the priorities of the kingdom of God. It means we hold more and more loosely to the material things of the world as we pursue the imperishable things of heaven.

But here is one other way we grow up in Christ over the course of time. Perhaps this is one way we don’t often think about, and yet one that might in the end bring us tremendous joy:

Growing up in Christ means an ever-increasing alignment between what we desire, and what we know.

Let’s use a simple example to flesh this out – that of reading our Bibles every day.

We know this is a good thing for us. We know that this is the inspired Word of God. We know that if we want to grow spiritually then the best thing in the world for us is to every day crack open God’s Word and prayerfully read it, believe it, and obey it. We know these things. And yet at some point this very week – maybe tomorrow – you won’t feel like opening God’s Word. And neither will I.

We will feel like sleeping. Or we will feel like scrolling through Twitter. Or we will feel like watching TV. We know we should read our Bibles, but we don’t want to. In fact, we might even know it so deeply that we want to want to do it. And that’s the state in which we live much of the time:

We want to want.

And it’s not just about Bible reading. We want to want to pray. We want to want to be holy. We want to want to be generous. We want to want, but there is still this war inside of us by which our flesh battles with the Spirit. We are torn on a daily basis between what we know and what we desire.

But, friend, consider the hope of gospel if you feel this acutely today. Consider the wonderful promise that God, who began His good work in you will indeed carry it onto completion (Phil. 1:6). Consider that it will not always be this way. For there will come a day when we will no longer want to want, and instead, there will be a glorious unity between what we know and what we feel. This is the work the Holy Spirit is doing, slowly, patiently, over the course of time in us – He is bringing unity to our whole selves.

As we embrace His work now, often times through the practice of self-discipline, it is entirely appropriate for us to long for the day when that work will be done. For that will be the day when faith is sight, and at long last we will not only know the truth of the gospel, but we will feel it as well.

> Read more from Michael.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> It is a good idea to to know how christians should be good leaders. Thanks
 
— Okello.moses
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I ask: “How long have you been coming here?” It’s works in every situation.
 
— Russell C
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Excellent information, thank You
 
— Thomas TC Gotcher
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.