Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Inside-Out


My youngest son often puts his shirts on inside-out. Not a big deal. I’ve done it when I was in a rush to get somewhere. But even when I tell him he is inside-out, he doesn’t care. He’s content to go around all day with his shirt tag announcing that he can’t dress himself.

I was thinking about my son as I read Matthew 23 this morning, because Jesus also liked to turn things inside-out. In the passage, He is dealing out the “seven woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and He criticizes them for “cleaning the outside of the cup or dish” while the inside is full of nastiness. To drive home His point, He compares them to freshly painted tombs filled with dead men’s bones. They look good on the outside, but they reek of death inside.

He challenges them to clean up their insides first, because when the inside is clean, the outside will become clean, too. Jesus is saying that if they will change their character, their behavior will follow. If they change their WHO, their DO will soon match.

I’m guilty of making the same mistakes as the Pharisees sometimes. I clean up my behaviors, because I want to be seen as a godly Christian. I want people to think highly of me for the way I follow God. But the problem is that it’s difficult to keep the act going when I’m not on stage. Behind the curtains with my family and even more in private moments or times of stress, I step out of character, and I find myself leading two lives. A “hypocrite” (the Greek word for “actor” that Jesus used to label false spiritual leaders) like the Pharisees.

I’ve tried outside-in for years, and it doesn’t work. Who I am has to change first, and this means changing my heart. It’s got to happen from the inside-out.

I find this clean-up project to be exhausting, but the great news is that I don’t have to do it alone. Jesus is ready to roll-up His sleeves if I invite Him to join me. And honestly, I can’t do it without Him. Jesus is the Project Manager. He plans the work and works the plan. I’m just the assistant, and I have two main roles: invite Him onto the worksite each day and follow His directions.

Inside-out work is exceedingly slow and exceedingly difficult. It never goes as fast as I want it to, and it always requires lots of challenging situations that Jesus uses as a tool to shape my character and a test to reveal the quality of my heart. It’s a project that won’t be done until I join the Project Manager in heaven, but I’m encouraged by this Scripture:

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe my son is the one who has got it right. Pay less attention to how you look on the outside and more attention to being the right person on the inside. Wear your shirt inside-out every once in awhile, and you will find that life is a lot more fun when you don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Attitude, Authenticity, Change, character, Christ, christianity, comfort zone, comparison, deception, discipleship, discipline, growth, heart, Jesus, modeling, obedience, performance, Religion, righteousness, rules, sanctification, spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Growth

Keeping Up with the Joneses


Roberto Goizueta, the former Chairman of Coca-Cola, asked a question of his senior managers:

“What is our market share?”

“45%,” came the confident reply.

“How many ounces of liquid does a human being need to drink a day?”  Goizueta asked.

“64 ounces a day,” someone offered.

“On average, how many ounces of all our products does a person drink per day?” Goizueta asked.

“2 ounces,” said one of the executives.

“What’s our market share?” came his final question.

While I don’t think we should allow Coca-Cola to convince us to replace water in our diet with their products, I do think Goizueta’s question was visionary!  He saw that his leaders were operating under a limiting belief – that we only have to be better than our biggest competitor (in Coca-Cola’s case, it was PepsiCo).  He gave the executives a larger playing field.  In effect, he said, Pepsi is irrelevant.  Stop measuring our success by how we compare to our competition.  Start measuring our success by how we compare to our potential.

What a paradigm shift!  The problem with comparing yourself with others is that you only have to stay one step ahead to feel good about yourself.  If the one to whom you are comparing yourself starts to slide, you can slide, too, and still feel good about where you are in relation to your competition.  (See graphic below.)

You might say, “At least we’re not as bad as them!”  Or, “Yes, we’re slipping, but so is everyone else.”  That may numb the pain, but the truth is, you’ve lost your edge.  The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can get back into the game.

On a personal level, comparing yourself to your friends, coworkers or neighbors can become an excuse for not living according to God’s standard and calling on your life.  While you’ve got your eyes fixed on everyone around you, you will almost invariably start to drift away from where God wants you to be.  Where they are is irrelevant to your walk with the Lord.

It’s true that if you focus on those that are ahead of you in the areas you want to grow, it can motivate you to higher levels of performance, but be careful even about these types of comparisons.  They are dangerous for a few reasons:

  • If your competition slips or lets up for any reason, you might be tempted to, as well.
  • If a change takes them out of your life, you might lose your motivation for growth.
  • If they get too far ahead of you, you might get discouraged and give up.
  • And even if they motivate you to higher levels, ask yourself if you are really doing it for the right reasons.  Is it to look good to others, to feel like you are better than others, to “win”….or is it to live by a high standard or to please God?

Keeping up with the Joneses is a losing battle and only serves to distract you from the fulfillment of your greatness.  Let the Smiths or the Petersons take on the Joneses.  Compete with yourself until you reach your full potential.

Leave a comment

Filed under blame, Change, comparison, competition, Compromise, Daily walk, growth, Incentives, leadership, management, paradigm, paradigm shift, performance, Relationships, self-image, self-worth, Spiritual Growth, success, team, teambuilding

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks


Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”


“More than the dog.”

 

Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

Leave a comment

Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

Full of Riches But No Life In It


In Israel, there are two major bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (though both are really lakes).  Although they are in the same country and connected by a common river (the Jordan), the two couldn’t be more different.  The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and teaming with life.  It contains 27 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world.  Its sweet waters serve as the heart of the water supply system for Israel.  It’s shores are lush with vegetation.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, didn’t get its name for nothing.  There are no fish, no fishermen, no vegetation on its shores…  It’s twice as wide and almost four times as long as the Sea of Galilee, but the Dead Sea is toxic and bitter.  So much so that there is no life in it or around it.

Why?  The Sea of Galilee receives nutrients and water from the Jordan River.  It then empties into the Jordan River, which begins again at the lake’s south end.  The Jordan then takes the nutrients throughout the Jordan River Basin, snaking 200 miles before it reaches the Dead Sea.  But that’s where it all ends.  Nutrients from the Dead Sea stay in the Dead Sea.  It doesn’t share any of its wealth with the valley below it.  Seven million gallons of water evaporate from the lake daily in the hot desert environment, and the water that’s left is so mineral-rich that it can’t support life.  Scientists estimate that it has a mineral concentration between 26% and 35%.

The two bodies of water serve as a good metaphor for a spiritual principle.  When you share your gifts and resources freely, you receive much more in return.  Whatever you jealously clutch and keep for yourself stagnates and eventually chokes the life out of you.

“Sea of Galilee people” have an abundance mentality.  They know that if they give freely, there will always be more coming their way.  They never worry that the supply of blessings will dry up.  “Dead Sea people” have a scarcity mentality.  They fear that sharing their riches will make them poorer.  What they don’t understand is that the only reason they were given the gifts and resources in the first place was so that they would pass them along.

If you want to keep it, share it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Abundance, delegation, generosity, growth, helping, ownership, sacrifice, Scarcity, Service, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth

Prime Your Pump


There’s an old story about a thirsty traveler who came across a pump in the desert. An attached note explained that there was a jar of water buried nearby to prime the pump.

“You’ve got to give before you get,” the note said.

The traveler was faced with a dilemma.  If he poured the water into the pump, he couldn’t get it back.  Worse, he was going to have to work hard to pump out the water from the well with no guarantee of success.  However, if he drank the stale water in the jar, he would never get to taste the sweet, cool water from the well.  He would also ruin any chance for other travelers to get any water from the well, since there would be no way to prime it.

So, with a sigh, the traveler poured the water into the pump to prime it.  Then he began pumping the lever as fast as he could.  He pumped, and he pumped, but no water came out.  There wasn’t even the sound of water coming up the pipes.  But he pumped and pumped some more….and then some more….and then some more.  Even though he was becoming increasingly frustrated, he knew he couldn’t stop.  As soon as he stopped pumping, the water would go back down into the well.

Just when he didn’t think he could pump even one more time, he heard a gurgle of water….then another….and then, to his joy and amazement, out poured a flood of cool, clear water!!  Everything changed at that point. He no longer had to pump and pump to get the water out.  The slightest pressure sent water gushing from the spout. Slow, easy strokes were all he needed to keep the water flowing.

So it is with success in just about any worthwhile endeavor you undertake.  You’ve got to give before you get.   You’ve got to work hard, and you’ll have no guarantee of success.  If you stop working hard, your success will slip away from you, but if you persist even beyond what you think you can do, your reward will often come.

Don’t drink the stale waters of instant gratification; put in the work to prime your pump!

3 Comments

Filed under Challenges, Change, Convenience, delayed gratification, determination, discipline, faith, growth, habits, Inconvenience, Instant Gratification, Preparation, sacrifice, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth, stewardship, temptation, waiting on the Lord

Take Your Cross


Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

(Mark 8:34)

“We all have our cross to bear,” says the popular proverb, but most who say so have no idea of the meaning of Jesus’ words.  He spoke them right after rebuking Peter, who thought that he knew better than Jesus how to accomplish God’s purposes.

Jesus had been explaining that He must suffer many things and even die before He would rise again, but Peter thought there must be a shortcut.  Jesus replied (if I may summarize Mark 8:33-38), “Get behind me, Satan!  There are no shortcuts!  The cross must do its work.”

The work of a cross was to shame, to make the offender suffer, to kill him and to give warning to others about the consequences of crossing the authorities.  But these aren’t the purposes Jesus has in mind.  God’s perspective on the cross is very different from Satan’s.

Both have death in mind, but Satan used the cross to kill the person; God uses it to kill the self.  When Jesus says to “take up (your) cross,” He means that we should willingly carry the tool that God will use to kill our sinful nature and make us more like Christ.

What the “cross” looks like is different for every person.  For some, it’s a challenging circumstance that brings them to the end of their own resources or abilities. For some, it’s something difficult and painful from their past.  For others, it’s a disability, a limitation, a weakness, a failure…  It could even be a persistent struggle with sin.  It’s whatever God uses to bring us into complete dependence upon Him.

Too often, we give Satan power to use these things to shame us, to make us suffer and to destroy us.  Instead, we should turn them over to God, who makes ALL things work together for the good of those who love Him.  God is not the author or creator of the cross, but He will use it to put to death anything that is not like His Son.

Where Satan intends shame, God develops humility.  Where Satan intends suffering, God develops dependence.  Where Satan intends death, God gives life.  Where Satan intends a warning, God provides a testimony.

Leave a comment

Filed under Change, character, christianity, comfort zone, Daily walk, failure, Hardship, sacrifice, sanctification, Spiritual Growth, spiritual warfare, temptation

Three-Legged Race


Marriage is a three-legged race.  When we pledge ourselves to our partners for life, God sees us in many ways as one person.  We are bound to each other.

This can cause a number of problems.  It’s awkward to try to run with someone tied to us.  We have to re-learn how to move so that we don’t throw our spouse off-balance.  If our spouse runs at a different pace or with a different rhythm (which they almost always do), we have to make adjustments to find a happy medium.

Should our spouse fall, it doesn’t do us much good to try to drag them along.  We have to reach out and lift them up.  This can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially for those of us who are goal-oriented and competitive.  We can see all the other couples passing us by, and the further behind we get, the more irritated we become.

We might feel tempted to scold and blame our spouse.  At best, these might shame our spouse into getting back up, but they won’t ever help the relationship.  Nagging doesn’t help.  Making jokes at our spouse’s expense does not help.  The only thing that will get us back into the race with a committed and enthusiastic partner is to stop and go at his or her pace.

I didn’t come to know Christ until five years into my marriage.  My wife had been a Christian since she was a young girl, and my sudden enthusiasm for following the Lord was a welcome change but somewhat shocking for her.  I quickly committed to all kinds of Christian activities that we weren’t accustomed to.  Church, Bible studies, volunteering, tithing, teaching, conferences, service projects…you name it.

Before long, I realized that I had left my wife far behind me.  Her walk with the Lord had been moving at a much slower pace for many years.  Now, I was trying to force her to go from that walk to a sprint in just a few, short months.  I was disappointed that she wasn’t growing as quickly as I was, and I tried to push her along to catch up with me.  All this accomplished was getting her to dig in her heels and start resenting me for trying to make her go faster than she was ready to go.

Over time, I’ve learned to slow down.  God won’t allow me to cross the finish line without my wife.  We are a team, and the rules of the three-legged race are that you finish together.  When I relaxed and allowed my wife to find her own pace with the Lord, she began to grow faster and faster.

I’ve also learned that fast isn’t necessarily good.  Much of my early speed was about doing, doing, doing for the Lord, but not all of my doing was God’s will. I have a list of things I volunteered for that turned out to be disasters.  If I had slowed down and gone at the Lord’s pace for me, I might have grown more quickly.  Now, instead of doing, doing, doing for the Lord, I’m trying to learn about being, being, being with Him.

It doesn’t matter how super-spiritual you are or how much the world needs you, if you are married, you can’t go faster than your spouse and please God.  Your first ministry is to the one you’ve committed your life to.  Stop, go back to where you left him or her, and help your spouse get back on his or her feet.  Then, run (or walk) the race together at the pace of the slowest person.  You might find that there was much you were missing by going so fast – the first of which will be the joy of running the race together.

Leave a comment

Filed under agape love, christianity, commitment, Compromise, Daily walk, family, growth, love, marriage, Relationships, sacrifice, Serving Others, Spiritual Growth, submission