Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Four Rules of Communication

One of the most fruitful ministries at our church over the last few years has been the biblical counseling ministry.  We have seen lives that were previously overloaded with sin and hurt turn into committed lives of loving service to Jesus.  By the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, individuals with no hope and marriages that would surely end in divorce saw radical change as they repented and started believing God’s promises.  Part of this ministry is our emphasis on giving homework to the people we counsel.  One of the assignments we give to married couples is practicing The Four Rules of Communication (acquired through the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors), which has benefited my marriage significantly as well. I have listed the four rules below, but if you’re interested I can send you the full pdf with explanations and references, just leave me a comment with your email address.

The rules are based on Ephesians 4:25-32.

I. Be Honest (v. 25) – Involves what you say and what you don’t say.

II. Keep Current  (Eph. 4:26-27) – Even righteous anger can become sinful anger when it’s not dealt with quickly.  Solve your problems today!

III. Attack the Problem Not the Person (v. 29-30) – Put off words that tear the person down and put on words that build him/her up.

IV. Act, Don’t React  (Eph. 4:31-32) – Reaction is usually impulsive, fleshly and unplanned.  Taking action involves thinking things through and bringing God into the equation.

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“Harsh” is the New “Normal”

I love the book of First John, don’t you?  There is something so refreshing about how John just cuts it straight and tells it like it is.  There’s a big part of me that wishes Christians would talk to each other like John writes.  When a brother or sister is holding on to some pet sins without signs of repentance, we would say, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8).  Or when we discover a long-lasting grudge between two people in the church, we’d say, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (3:15).

I certainly understand that Christians must confront each other with a gentle spirit (Galatians 6:1), but there is also a time for sharp words that will help shake sinning Christians out of their apathy and reveal the treachery of their actions.  First John is full of blunt statements like the ones above.  But why?  Is John writing to a group of Christians like the Corinthians or Galatians who are obviously in some deep trouble spiritually speaking so that he feels the need to pull out his index finger and do some serious shaking?  There isn’t any evidence of that, but he does give a simple statement that reveals one of the reasons he is writing this letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).  John’s letter is filled with blunt statements because he is revealing the characteristics of true saving faith so that his audience will know whether or not their lives match up.  John knows that these characteristics will not be perfect in the Christians he is writing to, but he does expect them to be familiar realities.

While there is part of me that loves the force of John’s words, there is also a part of me (the fleshly part) which thinks, “That’s pretty harsh!” when I read some of John’s statements.  Maybe this is true of you as well.  I think this is because we think our sin is not quite as bad as God thinks it is and the holiness he call us to is not quite as deep as he thinks it is.  In short, we don’t always agree with God about who we are and who we should be.  The reality is that “harsh” is the new “normal”.  Well, maybe not “new” (John wrote this letter almost 2000 years ago), but what I mean is that while John’s statements may rub us the wrong way, they are simply describing normal Christianity.  In his letter, he is not listing the requirements for the Church’s version of the Navy Seals or Magna Cum Laude graduating status, he is simply saying, “This is what a Christian looks like”.  God is much more awesome than we think, and therefore, his standard for Christian living is as well.

Things We Forget To Thank God For

As believers, we live in grace.  Our faith in Jesus has united us with Him so that God richly pours out His grace on us every second of every day.  With this exceeding amount of favor, naturally, there are buckets and buckets of blessings that we forget to thank God for.  Today, I want to list a few of these blessings that escape our remembrance in the hopes that our hearts will be lifted toward greater adoration and praise of God.

Remember to thank God for…

1)      Taste buds and food that tastes good – God could have made it so that we eat tasteless, gray porridge for every meal just so our bodies could function, but instead we get food like quesadillas and drinks like sweet tea!

2)      Laughter – God made us with a sense of humor and good, wholesome things to laugh at, like old pictures of ourselves from the 80’s.

3)      A good parking space – My pregnant wife realizes the sweetness of this blessing every time she has to lumber in from the back of the parking lot with our two boys in the summer heat.

4)      Daily showers – I didn’t start thanking God for this until I went on a mission trip where I had to bathe out of a bucket for a week.

5)      Traffic – Have you ever thought about what God could be saving you from by keeping you in traffic?

6)      Color – Have you ever been to Home Depot to see all their paint color samples?  I didn’t know you could have so many shades of one color.  Praise God that He exposed us to the creative beauty of color instead of making us see everything in black and white.

7)      Melody – We listen to music every day, but we rarely think about how all the elements of a song fit together.  Contrary to what some people may think, Mozart didn’t invent music, God did, and I think He’s saving the best music for heaven.

8)      Weakness – We spend so much time trying to fix our weaknesses or escape them that we don’t stop and thank God that, in our weaknesses, He has given us reminders of how much we need Him, and promised that “[His] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

9)      The ability to sit down – This may sound strange until you’ve been on your feet working all day and then finally get the opportunity to plop down in a cushy armchair.  God wisely constructed our bodies so that we could enjoy relief from the strain of bodily work with a good sit.

10)   Habit – When used for good, habit is a wonderful blessing.  As we set a pattern for doing good things, God designed habit to kick in and make those things easier to continue.  Praise God that doing right doesn’t remain as hard as getting started.

How to Shine Your Light in a Restaurant

“In the same way, let your light shine before others , so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Today I want offer some applications for applying this familiar verse in the context of a restaurant, whether that be McDonald’s or the fine dining experience that is Chili’s.  The truth is that sometimes praying before a meal at a restaurant is the only thing we do or say to shine our light while eating out.  Here are some other suggestions.

1) Ask your waiter/waitress how you can pray for him/her – I picked this up from a friend of mine in college.  You’re going to be praying for your food, so purpose to pray for your waiter at the same time using a prayer request he has personalized for you.  It communicates care and concern, and asking this question may open up the door for deeper, gospel-focused conversation.

2) Try to keep the noise level down – I know for some families like mine this will be like asking howler monkeys to play the quiet game, but let’s remember that we don’t own the restaurant and there will be other people around us trying to eat and have conversations.

3) Parents, teach Philippians 2:3 – I certainly don’t expect your children to have the discipline of an army regiment whenever you go to a restaurant, but as parents we should be quick to address their lack of consideration for others while eating.  A restaurant is good environment to teach Philippians 2:3, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves”.  Our children need to know that this means more than not biting the other kids in Sunday school.   Also remember that people recognize good parenting even if your kids are misbehaving.

4) Don’t be demanding – I have met Christians who expect their dining experience to be exemplary wherever they go, and if it isn’t they start getting snippy with the people who work there.  Remember, you don’t know all the details of why a waiter hasn’t refilled your drink as frequently as you’d like.  My father taught me how to be patient and considerate with waiters by using the simple phrase “Whenever you get time”, as in “Can I get some more Dr. Pepper…  whenever you get time”.

5) Clean up your mess – After you get done with your meal, if you’re family is like mine, then your eating area looks like multiple people dropped their food on the ground and then Riverdanced all over it.  Get down on the floor and clean up your mess.  I have received some astounded reactions from restaurant workers when I do this.  If you’re at a restaurant where you don’t throw away your own trash, then stack up all the plates and collect the trash into one area to make it easier on the people bussing the tables.

6) Leave a good tip – If you’re going to shine your light at a restaurant then don’t break out the tip calculator to see how little you can leave without seeming cheap.  View this as an opportunity to bless your waiter with more than he earned, and remember there’s a good chance he saw you praying before your meal.

If You Know God, You Don’t Need to Know the Details

Our four year-old is a little obsessive compulsive.  Each night before he can go to sleep, it is imperative that my wife sing him the Doxology and then tell him “the plan”.  The plan is essentially what the family is planning to do the next day.  For him, it doesn’t really matter what the plan is as long as he knows it.  I don’t know what we’re going to do if he ever goes to camp for a week, but this nightly occurence led Keri and I to have a helpful discussion about God’s plan for us.

See, when Keri tells our son the plan she doesn’t give him all the details in the plan, she simply gives him a general overview of the plan so that he knows just enough to have something to look forward to.  She gives him this overview not because she doesn’t know the details, but because it would take a little too much time and energy at the end of the day when her knees are about to buckle.  In reality, however, our son doesn’t need to to know the details of the plan, all he needs to know are the characteristics of the one making the plan.  He needs to know that his mommy loves him, that she’s trustworthy, and that her plans for him are made for his best.  If he knows these things, then he can still sleep soundly at night, even if he doesn’t know everything he wants to know about the plan.

The same is true of our relationship to God.  He gives us the general overview of the plan for our future: 1) If you are a Christian, God will progressively make you more like Jesus.  2) Either you will die and go to heaven first or Jesus will return to to collect you.  3) He will give you a new body and create a new world where you will worship Him in perfect faithfulness.  This overview leaves a ton of details unknown, and sometimes that lack of information drives us to worry, fear, and anger.  But in those times we must remind ourselves who has made this plan. It is the God loves us as He loves Jesus, who is in absolute control, who is completely trustworthy,who plans everything for our good, and who will never let anything separate us from His love.  This knowledge does not need the details of the plan to bring us rest and peace.

Sermons on a Real Hell

Today is our last day of vacation, so I thought I’d post something quick in order to get back to the family.  Tomorrow, normalcy will ensue once again.  Below are three links to what I consider to be some of the best messages on the subject of hell.  With all this Rob Bell hoobalah recently, I thought it would be good to get back to an accurate interpretation of hell from the Scriptures.  Our senior pastor, Dan Kirk, preached these messages back in 2005.  If you are a member of Calvary Bible Church, these messages are not on the church website, so be sure and partake of the goodness!

Blazing Fire – Eternal Joy Part 1

Blazing Fire – Eternal Joy Part 2

Blazing Fire – Eternal Joy Part 3

Questions to Ask of a Christian Biography

I am a lover of open-ended questions.  Perhaps this has made me annoyingly inquisitive, like a four year-old who repeatedly asks “Why?” while his parents are trying to get un-lost on vacation.  But, I truly believe that if we are going to be more dedicated servants and more passionate worshipers of Christ, then we should learn to ask open-ended questions while talking to other Christians, reading the Bible, and reading things like…  Christian biographies.  Christian biographies are usually on my summer reading list, and in case they’re on yours as well, below is a list of open-ended questions that I hope will help you get the most out of the lives of faithful saints who have gone before us.  First, here are a few bios that you should add to your list: Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore, George Whitfield by Arnold Dallimore, John and Betty Stam by Vance Christie, and just out last month, John MacArthur by Ian Murray.

1)      How did God use this person’s upbringing to shape the person he/she would later become?

2)      Describe how God brought this person to faith in Jesus Christ.  What events and people did God use to humble this person and bring him/her to the Savior?

3)      In what ways did the Gospel continue to affect this person’s life after his/her conversion?

4)      Describe this person’s relationship to Christ.  What quotations or activities reflect his/her heart for God?

5)      What role did the Bible play in this person’s life?

6)      What forms of discipline did this person use to help bring himself/herself closer to Christ?

7)      What was this person’s primary ministry?  How did his/her love for God show itself in how he/she served other people?

8)      What encounters did this person have with suffering and what was his/her response?

9)      How did this person respond to the presence of sin in his/her life?

10)    How did this person approach death?

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