I've decided to give up on resolutions.
Monday, January 11, 2021
Monday, December 28, 2020
Like some folks are Scrooges about Christmas, I tend to be a Scrooge about those "year in review" stories or shows. I just don't enjoy looking backward; I am future focused.
But as Churchill famously said, those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So it's time to look back at 2020.
Here are eight things I'd encourage you to ask yourself...
a) How did I do as a family member? What did I learn about my role as husband, wife, mother, father, son, or daughter? Don't beat yourself up, but don't ignore reality either. God's first call on our lives is to our families--a call I have too often relegated to 2nd or 3rd place in my journey--so how did you do with your place in your family?
b) How did I do as an employee (or student)? Did I work faithfully? If I were my boss, would I be happy with my performance? If not, where can I grow?
c) How did I do with my goals from last year? Of course, COVID-19 probably made some thing less possible, but it made others newly possible. How did I do at making course corrections?
d) How did I do with my friendships? Was I the one to take initiative to check on people? Did I listen before speaking? Did I entrust myself to my friends?
e) How did I do with my finances? Was I faithful to give the first fruits to God? (The minimum standard, according to the Bible, is 10%.) Was I generous in both spirit and in deed?
f) How did I do as a member of my neighborhood, my community? Was I more of a contributor than a consumer? Did I treat my neighbors with respect and grace? Our church just started using www.blesseveryhome.com to pray for our neighbors. I have only been at it a week, but I'm loving it!
Let's get a bit more personal...
g) How did I do with my spiritual disciplines? Better than the year before? Not as well? Did the pandemic drive me toward God or farther away? For more about spiritual disciplines, you can check out these brief previous posts.)
h) How did I do with my time? Was I a good steward of my most valuable resource? What would those closest to me say about this? If I'm married, I really need to ask my spouse about this. Is there one change I can make that will make 2021 be an improvement? (My favorite post about time management is here.)
I'll say it again: don't be too hard on yourself. Still, don't let yourself get away with being a poor steward of who God made you to be and what God gave you to do. (see Ephesians 2:10)
So now? Make small course corrections. Find one thing you'd like to do differently in each of these categories. If you try to go big, you'll probably flame out. So make small adjustments and be consistent with them. (I've learned this the hard way... and it took a long time!)
If I can help, please reach out. I'd be delighted to pray for you, to have a conversation, suggest more resources, or even function as an official coach or mentor. You can text or call me at 502.229.0114.
HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Monday, December 21, 2020
It's probably because I'm getting old, but I know more people than ever for whom this Christmas won't be particularly merry. Or maybe... won't be merry at all.
Indeed, this has been a difficult year for our family too. Jackie and I both buried our dads. COVID-19 hasn't affected us too much directly, but like all of you the whole year has felt fogged-in. There are other complicating factors that I won't bore you with, but like many of you, this Christmas just doesn't feel as happy as most.
So what do we do?
I'd like to humbly, graciously, and gently suggest five things you can do to make the most of a difficult Christmas.
First, get active. Start doing something physical. Walk. Jog. Swim. Go to the gym. Even 10-15 minutes a day will be a good start at changing your disposition. A word of caution from a guy who has been there, don't try for an hour. 10 minutes every day will do far more good than 60 minutes every 5-10 days.
Second, check your nutrition. Again, unless the Holy Spirit is telling you otherwise, don't go crazy here. You'll get discouraged and give up. Been there. Done that. Dozens of times. Just in general eat less processed food and more natural food.
Third, especially if you're already doing the first two things, get to a doctor and ask them to do a blood panel. There are health considerations that can dramatically affect your merriment.
Fourth, do something for someone else. The bigger the gesture the better! Be outrageously generous with your time, your words, and if you can... your money. Then do it again. And again. Very few things will help you release happiness in your own soul as much as change the happenings of someone else.
Fifth, and I saved the most powerful for last, pray. The promise of James 4:18 is profound, "Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world." My temptation is to leave out the second half of that verse, but honestly, the cliché 'Confession is good for the soul' has its' roots in scripture. So talk to Jesus. As my friend and mentor Chip Stam once told me, "Vent to Jesus." As you draw nearer and nearer to Him, He will feel nearer and nearer to you. His joy will become your strength. (Neh 8:10)
So if Christmas isn't merry, don't despair. The God of Hope, who took on skin and bone for us, stands ready to give you a new dose of hope. He might do it through exercise, eating, vitamins/medication, generosity, or prayer. And it may not come in a hurry. But it will come.
One more note: if none of that helps, reach out to me or to your pastor. We want to help.
So with all of the depth I can muster in these frail words, have a Merry Christmas.
Monday, December 14, 2020
I can't either.
But take a moment, use your holy imagination, and try…
No-one is crying.
No-one is sick.
No-one is dying.
No-one is sad.
No-one is hurting.
No-one is waiting.
No-one is poor.
Injustice is gone.
Crime is gone.
Everyone is fully alive.
That’s what Jesus left... to come here.
Perhaps even more staggering? That’s what Jesus brought when He came here.
A new kind of Kingdom. A new reality. Only a shadow of the real thing, of course. But before Jesus brought heavenly joy to earthly sorrow, there was less of God’s Kingdom here. Now that we know that the Savior reigns— not Ancient Rome, not earthly kings, presidents, or dictators—our joy can echo across the land.
Speaking of the land, what was once cursed because of our sin, can now be blessed. Jesus brought blessings enough to cover every inch. You can’t find a place cursed in Eden that the blessing of Jesus isn’t available. Joy! To the world!
This year, when we sing “Joy to the world,” perhaps we could be compelled to partner with Jesus to dispel worry, oppression, and sin. Seek first His Kingdom and His justice. Pray the words He taught us: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth like it is in heaven.”
And then let’s do His joyful will to bring joy to His world.
Someday, we’ll leave the shadow and enter the light. And we won’t need our imagination any more.
Joy To The World (click on the title to hear a fresh setting of these lyrics)
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King.
Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room,
And heav'n and nature sing,
And heav'n and nature sing,
And heav'n and heav'n and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods,
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.
George Frideric Handel | Isaac Watts | © Words: Public Domain | Music: Public Domain
Monday, December 7, 2020
Ever been on the other side of that? Someone asks you a simple question but you receive it as an accusation. Nope. Not me.
Okay, seriously. These happen to me a lot. Both of them. I'll ask someone a question with no agenda, but because--it seems--they feel accused, the conversation goes wonky.
Or someone will ask me a question out of curiosity, but my defenses flair up and I am ready to go to battle over my answer... which is usually not worth fighting about! I'm not sure about you, but I come up against this in family life more than anywhere. All parts of family--nuclear, extended, step--in all kinds of situations.
So... more than a decade ago I was leading a worship ministry in a small church near a large university. A student was playing guitar in our band and asked me a question about why we were doing the classic worship song "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" in a variety of musical styles--as in original, reggae, funky, then slow and sweet. I immediately felt attacked. My face flushed. My voice went up in pitch. And after I answered--thankfully--he just said, "Wow, that's cool. I knew you'd have a good reason; I was just curious." I'd felt accused, but he was just curious.
It is not an overstatement to say that I hate this dynamic.
For a long time now I've been pondering where this comes from. Why do I feel attacked when I'm simply being questioned? And why do others respond that way to me at times?
It's simple, really.
Jesus vs. Satan.
Seriously. It's in their very names!
Jesus means "the Savior" or "the deliverer."
Satan means "the accuser."
When we encounter others as "Christ in us" (Col 1:27 | Gal 2:20), we experience safety and hope. But when we perceive others as "wolf in sheep's clothing" (Mt 7:15), we experience threat and fear.
Perfect love casts out fear. (1 Jn 4:18)
And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)
What if we told ourselves and one another these truths often? How would our relationships change? How could our questions take on new life and possibilities?
Of course--and I don't want to be a Donny-downer here--this means when we ask questions we need to check our attitudes first. Let's not ask with an agenda but with a curiosity. And if we need to have a conversation where someone may be on a path of destruction, let's not hide confrontation is "hidden agenda" questions. Jesus doesn't have hidden agendas; Satan does.
One brings death. The other brings life.
Join me in life-giving questions!
Monday, November 30, 2020
Over the last few years I have wondered how I can know if I (and those I serve with) am having "success" in discipleship. We have--as a church staff--created and conducted surveys with that in mind. We have tried to maximize the ways we "deepen disciples" and "develop leaders." Sometimes, I'm sure, I've made it more complicated than it needs to be. Other times, I'm also sure, I have abdicated the responsibility we all have to be a disciple maker. (See Mt 28:19)
Recently, as I was doing my regular morning "Jesus Time" (as it appears on my Google calendar), I came across 2 Peter 3:18. I asked myself, first, am I growing in grace? And second, am I growing in the knowledge of Jesus?
Two quick notes about those questions--first, they are about growing, not achieving. And second, the prepositions matter. Growing in grace. Knowledge of Jesus.
So then I started to filter those self-examination questions around those I have responsibility to disciple--my family, my worship leading community at church, and to a lesser extent, those worshiping through my-leadership.
Of course I can't know what is going on in the minds, hearts, and souls of any of those folks. (Nor can you, remember.) But I can see fruit--or a lack thereof. So maybe it would be helpful to ask ourselves and one another a few questions on occasion. I've landed on starting here:
1) How's your soul?
2) Do you feel more saturated in grace than ever before?
3) Do you feel better at saturating others in grace than ever before?
4) Are you learning about Jesus... not just information but intimacy?
5) Is your knowledge of Jesus shaping the way you think and act toward those around you? Closest to you?
Seems to me that if we have more conversations--maybe once every week or two--about things like this, we could see more transformation in ourselves, those we love, and those we lead.
If you'd like to have a conversation like this with someone, I'd be delighted to hear from you. Whether you're a part of the Woodburn Baptist church family, a friend, or a stranger, I'd be honored to have a conversation. You can reach me at RodEEllis@gmail.com or 502.229.0114.
Let's grow in grace together!
You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18
Monday, November 23, 2020
Thanksgiving is just days away. There seems to be an annual emphasis in this old world of being thankful, and then committing to stay thankful. We say things like, "Make gratitude your attitude."
In our worship gatherings just yesterday we had a husband and wife take turns reading scripture. They chose to share a brief word about being thankful in the midst of this, the hardest year most of us have faced in our lifetime. Between racial strife and a global pandemic that keeps coming in waves, it has been easier to lament than to be thankful.
But seldom is the way of the cross easy.
Yet gratitude is. The way of the cross, that is.
Jesus gave thanks, even at the Last Supper. Knowing the suffering was coming, He gave thanks.
And so in our suffering, we do too.
But why? Doesn't the cynic inside of you wonder?
The longer I live, read, study, listen, and watch, the more I am convinced of this: thankfulness is a powerful repellent. Like "Off!" insect repellent but for things like entitlement, jealousy, sadness, even struggling marriages and wayward children.
As Erwin McManus wrote, "Gratitude is the healing ointment for brokenness. It is central to the entire experience and journey of the Christian faith. Gratitude and grace share the same root meaning. When we properly connect to God, our lives become and endless expression of thanks and praise."
I'm so glad he linked "thanks and praise." Because I'm also convinced that thankfulness is a primary motivation for worship.
Consider the number of times "Give thanks" appears in the Psalter, the hymnal of Jesus.
And so let's give thanksgiving it's proper place in our private and gathered (in-person or virtual) worship this week. And the next. And every week. We may just see a gradual fading of the emotional enemies our culture faces like fear, worry, anxiety and depression. We may also see more--much more--of the joy of Jesus.
"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Don't stifle the Spirit." - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19