Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Part 1

Conflict is not fun. We all know this, because this is why we shy away from creating conflict. Sometimes creating conflict, however, is the best way to show love.

Christ and Conflict

Jesus intentionally created conflict.

  • The law of the Pharisees said healing was work and, therefore, should not be done on a Sunday. Jesus healed anyways right in front of them.
  • Any form of harvesting grain was forbidden on the Sabbath, yet Jesus allowed the disciples to pluck and eat grain as they walked.
  • The temple leaders allowed selling animals and other commerce in the temple courts. Jesus made a whip, flipped tables, and rebuked them.
  • At one point Jesus proclaimed that his followers would need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Why did the Prince of Peace create so much conflict?

Today we do not see creating conflict as Christ-like, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus created conflict often. He created a different kind of conflict, however, than we often create.

We are most familiar with un-Christ-like conflict. We argue and fight because our expectations are not met, we say unkind things because we are angry, we take what is not ours. We armchair quarterback life, proclaiming how we would do things differently and how much better life would be if everyone did things our way.

We are selfish, prideful people. Jesus was not.

Jesus never argued selfishly, snapped angrily at someone, or felt like he was entitled to anything. He never got upset because one of his expectations was not met, and he never said, “I told you so.”

Jesus used conflict as a tool to initiate healthy change in people’s lives and to open people’s eyes to truth.

  • Jesus healed on the Sabbath because the Pharisees had turned a day of rest into a burden.
  • Jesus allowed his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath because the Pharisees were more focused on outward obedience than on inward surrender.
  • Jesus drove the money changers and business people out of the temple because the leaders were more concerned about making money than they were on prayer and the health of people’s hearts.
  • Jesus told his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood because he knew that many of his followers were only there for the show.

Creating Conflict Correctly

Proverbs 27:6 (AMP) says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are lavish and deceitful.”

Sometimes the only way forward in life requires conflict. That conflict may be difficult, but it is the only way to resolve an issue. According to this proverb we prove ourselves to be true friends when we are not afraid to wound our friends. An enemy will try to cover over an issue and brush it under the rug in order to keep things pleasant and enjoyable.

I have to admit that many times I have been more of an enemy than a friend because I was too afraid to bring up a difficult issue. I valued my own comfort more than the health of a situation.

  • When we are offended and we are not able to resolve it internally within a short period of time, God calls us to speak up about how we were offended. The discussion may be hard and uncomfortable, but if the conflict is handled with grace and humility the result will be a healthier relationship.
  • When a co-worker does not follow through on an assignment, we love them best and we are better businesspeople when we go directly to them and speak about it.
  • When we are leading a rehearsal and someone messes up a part, everyone needs us to step up and kindly correct the mistake.

Conflict is necessary for growth, and when we avoid conflict we are impeding our growth and the growth of everyone involved.

Two notes are in order.

  1. Do not create conflict with a person who has proven to react in an abusive way physically, verbally, or emotionally. Get counsel and help in those situations before engaging the person at fault.
  2. Remember that a problem usually has two parts, which means that we must always remain humble and willing to own our part of the problem, no matter how small.

Where do you need to demonstrate love by being willing to create necessary conflict?

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Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Prologue

What are the key truths you live by?  Have you ever thought about what principles guide your life?

Image

We all have them.

We all have core beliefs that shape how we live.  Some of us have intentionally chosen those beliefs, and some of us are riding on the coattails of others.  We are trying to be like (insert name here), so our values mirror our idol.  We often do not think twice about the values of the person we are following.

In the next several weeks I want to share what I believe are two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life.  These two truths are only a drop in the bucket, but they are two of the principles I value.

In presenting these truths I run the risk of someone thinking I “have it all together.”  Well, let’s put that one to rest.  I do not.

My life is fulfilling in many ways, but there are many areas of my life that need work, just like yours.

I invite you to comment and join in the journey with me.  Part 1 coming next week.

Is God Enough for You?

When life hits us hard we question everything, including ourselves.

  • Why did you let this happen, God?
  • If you are good, why am I going through so much pain?
  • Why didn’t I get out when I could?
  • Why did I say that?

What we are really asking, though, is this:

God, are you enough for me?

When your marriage gets difficult, when your work situation takes an unexpected turn, or when your children disrespect you, is God enough for you?  When a friend speaks badly about you behind your back, or when someone takes advantage of you, is God enough for you?

Much of my life I unwittingly placed my value in what others thought of me.  When they spoke or thought poorly of me, I was devastated.  When they questioned my integrity, I was crushed.

I was feeling beat up because I was viewing myself through the eyes of others rather than through the eyes of God.

I still find myself slipping into that same trap from time to time, but when I am able to see myself as God sees me, I have strong, enduring peace.

God knows you and me more intimately than any one person will ever be able to know us. He made us.  Psalm 139:13 says God knits us together in our mother’s womb.

He knows why you are hurting better than you do, and he knows how to heal you better than any self-help book or counselor.  (Counselors are invaluable, by the way; I am not knocking them.  You need a counselor who is a believer, though, for you to really find healing.)

God is enough for me and for you, and he will always be enough.

Where in your life do you need to remember that God is enough for you?

The Benefit of Writing Psalms as a Devotional Practice

From time to time I have written on various devotional techniques, and today I want to share one that has become a favorite of mine: psalm writing.

notebook and pencil

Why Write Psalms

A psalm is simply a sacred song or hymn, particularly modeled after the psalms of David.  While many psalms are laments, and sometime I will write one of those, many psalms are pure adoration and praise.

I find my attitude and spiritual perspective improve greatly when I spend concentrated time praising God. Praising God means focusing completely on who God is and what he has done. During this time I do not confess my sins, thank God for personal blessings, or ask him to answer my requests. This time is devoted to recognizing God for who he is and what he has done.

I can begin writing a psalm of praise in a spiritual dull and ambivalent mood, and by the time I am done my spirit has been lifted, encouraged, and strengthened simply because I have been reminding myself who God is. This is why God told his people to always be talking about God and his works; we are encouraged through who he is.

How to Write a Psalm

Begin by choosing an attribute of God, and then start writing down the ways God shows himself in your life as that attribute.

That’s all.

This is not a time to be grammatically perfect, but to be perfect in spirit.

An Example

Here is a psalm of praise I wrote earlier this month. On this particular day I decided to focus on God as my Provider. Here is what I wrote, with only one name edited out for privacy.

God, you are my Provider
on my left hand and on my right;
in difficulty and ease
you fill my heart and life with good things.
I will meditate on all your wondrous deeds.

When I was depressed and overwhelmed
by my guilt and shame
you sent encouraging angels
and friends to comfort me.
When I was struggling under poisonous stares,
you were my shelter,
my umbrella in the rain of accusations.
When I needed nothing material
you were the satisfaction of my heart
and the source of all my good.
When I was desperate and without hope
you became my hope and assurance.
You showed me a way when I could not see
and gave me a hope I did not know.
I was rejected, and you welcomed me
and said, “I was rejected, too.”
I was distraught, and you encouraged me,
for you wrestled with God at Gethsemane.
I was poor and you made me rich;
your people brought me money out of their abundance
and paid my bills.
I was tired from weeping and despair,
and you revived my spirit.

All my life you have been my good;
and nothing good have you withheld.
Your grace and mercy are greater than I know
and more integral than I can express.
You are the blood in my veins and the breath in my mouth,
O God, my Strength and my Provider.

What attribute of God would be most beneficial for you to meditate on?

How to Evaluate Worship Songs, Part 2

Thousands of songs are being written every week, and choosing which ones to introduce to your congregation is like the cliché: searching for a needle in a haystack.

Choosing the right songs usually focuses on the merits of the song itself, as we discussed in a previous post. The individual merits of a song, however, are not enough to deem a song appropriate for your congregation.

After evaluating songs for Quality we must also evaluate them for Fit. 

What does Fit mean?

Think of this analogy. When we hire a new employee we not only look for their professional qualifications and recommendations but also their fit with the existing staff. Does the potential employee complement the skills of the existing staff? Is he aligned with the mission of the organization? Does he add to or detract from staff chemistry?

We must evaluate songs in the same way.

Here are 5 things to consider when evaluating a song for Fit:

  1. Alignment. Does this song promote the current purposes of the church? Just as every staff member and volunteer must be moving in the same direction, every song must support the same mission.
  2. Chemistry. Does this song meet a specific need or address a particular weakness in the current repertoire? Types of needs could be tempo, theme, style, instrumentation, and so forth.
  3. Style. Is this song within the stylistic spectrum of the church? Every church has a stylistic fingerprint, and each song should reinforce the fingerprint.
  4. Difficulty. Is this song at an appropriate difficulty level for the worship team? Is the melody learnable for the congregation? Many great quality worship songs are just beyond the ability of a worship team to handle. Israel Houghton’s band will be able to do more difficult music than most bands, for instance.
  5. Stretch. Is this song intended to stretch the congregation or worship team in some way? While numbers 1-4 focus on a song’s fit within the current musical repertoire of a church, some songs should stretch those normal boundaries in appropriate and thoughtful ways. NOTE: “Stretch” songs should be few and far between.

What other criteria do you use when evaluating a song for Fit?

Re-Post: Hope for the Sad Heart

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Every person experiences times of sadness and hopelessness, times universally felt by the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, men and women, grownups and children.

The beautiful truth is that there is hope for you and me.

Sad Woman

I often use the YouVersion bible app on my iPhone.  Two weeks ago they advertised that each person who began a three-week devotional plan and completed it on time would be entered in a drawing for one of five iPad minis.

I almost always read the bible in the mornings and pray, but my humanity got the best of me and I started a devotional just because I could have a remote chance of winning an iPad mini.  I chose the Lead Like Jesus plan put together by Ken Blanchard.

God had other plans, I am convinced.

Earlier this week the Scripture for the plan was 2 Corinthians 9:8 (ESV):

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

This verse blew my mind.

Just the first four words are enough for my times of doubt:

And God is able.

Paul goes on, however, to explain that all of God’s grace is available to each and every one of us who is a believer.  Grace is when you receive something you do not deserve.  Grace is what you need to get through a difficult situation or to forgive someone who has harmed you.

The rest of the verse drives home the fact that this grace is available everywhere all of the time in order for me to have “all sufficiency,” or contentment, allowing me to thrive in doing good work.

Wow.

I do not get angry; generally I am very cool headed.  A few days later, though, a minor incident had me seething.  I had to go on a long walk to cool off.

In the middle of that walk this Scripture came back to my mind and I began to ask God to do this for me, to make all of his grace abound for me in this situation at this time.  I had been trying to have peace on my own all morning and had failed miserably.

Five minutes later I was completely at peace.  God did what he said he would because he will always keep his promises and my desire was his desire.

Does God always answer the way we want him to?  No.  But 2 Corinthians 9:8 is a promise, and God cannot deny his promises.  He must fulfill them because Paul says elsewhere that in Jesus Christ every promise is “Yes.”

The next time I hit a hard situation I have a new plan:

  1. Admit to God I am unable to remedy the issue or bring about the desired result.
  2. Pray for him to fulfill his promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8.
  3. Ask for guidance on what to do next.

If you are a believer there are no impossible situations, no times or places where God cannot help and rescue you.

If you are still undecided about following God, let this verse remind you that no one and no place and no time is out of God’s reach.

Where do you need to apply 2 Corinthians 9:8 in your own life?

Devotions for the Artist

The word “devotions” has gotten a bad rap.  “Devotions” are often tied to boring rituals of Bible reading and long prayers, when the “boring” piece is usually the fault of the person doing the Bible reading or praying.

God is certainly not boring; he is anything but.  So how do we resurrect the practice of devotions, and how can artists make this essential discipline a unique expression of their gifts and calling?

Bible

I have had the blessing of growing up in a Christ-centered home with parents who value and pursue a relationship with God.  Since my childhood I have heard and seen them listen to and read the Bible, pray, and do ministry.

My own experience has followed theirs.  I have never second-guessed the need to read the Bible or pray, but I have often missed the opportunity devotions provide to me as an artist.

I remember many sessions of prayer and Bible reading where my mind would go wandering through a to-do list, through a movie landscape, or into a concert hall.  That is, if I had not fallen asleep already!

My dad speaks of the reality of joy in a discipline being on the other side of perseverance, but I often had difficulty finding that joy.  I seemed to get lost in the perseverance stage.

Recently, however, I have found a new joy and peace in my relationship with God, and that joy and peace has filled my devotions more and more.  Here are a few things to consider if you are looking to improve your time with God.

General Considerations

  • Find a quiet place by yourself and away from distraction.  I find it best for me to use an analog Bible (read: paper and cover book) but I do sometimes use my YouVersion app.  The less electronics the better, which will take some discipline at first.  Eventually your heart and mind will crave that silence and freedom from being “plugged in.”
  • Set your heart on knowing God.  I do not mean knowing as in going to the library, but knowing as in knowing his heart and knowing how he looks at and reaches out to you.
  • Ask him to reveal himself to you before you read the Bible or pray.  He usually doesn’t show up in a vision, but you may find your heart and mind drawn to particular words in the Bible passage you are reading.  The Bible promises that if you seek God with all your heart you will find him.

For the Artist

Here is where devotions become really fun.  The options are endless.

Just a note for the perfectionists among us: Don’t judge your devotional art harshly.  God is not looking for perfection in your relationship with him; he is looking for your heart.  

  • Write a song based on a trait of God you find in the Bible passage you are reading.
  • Paint a picture to represent your prayer to God.
  • Write your prayers in poetic form.
  • Build something out of Play-Doh or Legos to represent your response to God.
  • Rewrite a Bible passage in your own words.

Today

This morning I wrote a song based on God’s pursuing love.  That phrase set in my heart yesterday and showed up again in the Psalms I read this morning.  Since I said that God is not about perfection, I am going to post the lyrics here.  They are only an hour old.

Pursuing God

Verse 1
Love of God so great and strong,
triumphant over fear;
reigning over hope and faith
you sing salvation’s song.

Chorus
Pursuing us through sin and death
and climbing Calvary’s tree,
I will sing my whole life long
of how you rescued me.

Verse 2
Leaving heaven’s throne and crown
for swaddling clothes and hay,
laying down his kingly rights
redeeming love came down.

Verse 3
Love exchanged a golden rod
for rugged wood and nails,
set aside his purple robe
for clothes of dust and blood.

Verse 4
Love destroyed the chains of death,
escaped the tomb of stone.
Power of God and Son of Man,
your love has rescued us.

Do something artistic during your devotions and post the result below.  Remember, perfection is not the focus; responding to God is what matters.