The Three Things Challenge

Several years ago, I started a simple practice when taking our daughters to school. As we drive, everyone in the car has to say three things they are thankful for.

There is only one rule, you can’t say something that someone else has already said. You are forced to come up with your own unique list of three things. Our girls are so used to doing this that I never have to prod or offer suggestions, they can usually shoot off their three in a matter of seconds. When we first started this, the lists contained the usual. They mentioned items such as “food,” “a house,” “family.” But now, they expand their list to include anything or everything. Examples being “socks,” “hair ties,” and “brownies.”

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I have to do it too and some days I have already determined my list before I really even get in the car and some days I struggle to come up with even two. Those days that I struggle with my list are dark days and a good measurement on where my soul is. I ask myself tough questions on those days. What has so clouded my spiritual life that I can’t come up with three things to be thankful for? What am I not noticing that is right in front of me, blessing me? Am I choosing self absorption and self pity over gratitude and faith?

As a person who writes a blog on spiritual formation, I am often thinking about how I can encourage others to practice spiritual disciplines. This practice of three things is a spiritual discipline that anyone can do with no special training or explanation why. So many mornings, this practice has reset my day, established my priorities, and reminded me of God’s goodness on even the darkest of days.

Don’t make gratitude just a November thing. Do it daily by coming up with your own three things. This has been an invaluable gift to me and I think to our daughters. Try it for yourself.

Why I Need Jesus And You Do Too

Why do we feel the need to prove the existence of God and of Jesus as his son? At this point in modern thought, what real effectiveness am I making by trying to make a factual and historical case for Christ? I don’t know what good this can actually bring. 

What I can do though is show that only Jesus provides the answer to this question: What is most needed in my life?

What is most needed in my life is a way to live that cultivates faith, hope, and love. What is needed in my life is a way to overcome my deepest faults and my propensity to screw things up. What is most needed in my life is a way to Grow Up so that wisdom shapes my existence and not selfish and limited thinking. What is most needed in my life is a way to care and love those around me that changes their world for the good and helps them Grow Up in wisdom too. What is most needed in my life is a way to persevere and overcome the absolute worst things that life can throw at you.

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Jesus has provided these things for me. Jesus has not been proven right in a court of law but has been proven right because through his indwelling in me and the help of the Holy Spirit, I now possess hope and am able to love more freely. His sacrifice of his own life means I don’t have to be buried in my mistakes and doomed to shame because of my poor choices. His teachings have given me words to live by and expressions of life and hope that others need to hear. His example and transformation of my heart has empowered moments in my life where I sacrificed strictly for the benefit of others. Jesus has shared in my suffering and has been present in my lowest moments and that has given me strength to move through and beyond struggles and heartache.

I am not perfected and still have the capacity for great harm to myself and to others but I have let go of patterns that no longer serve me and have begun to surrender to Christ’s way of life and the results have transformed me in more ways that I can count.

That is what is most needed in my life and what is most needed in your life. Try Jesus, see what he can do for you. Prove me wrong.

Kanye West, Church Signs, and the Shallowness of Faith

Last week, I saw a church sign that simply said, “Jesus is King.”

Yes, I said to myself. Here is a church that is proclaiming the truth of Christ and forgoing the need to be clever; that tells it like it is; and is using its sign to proclaim truth in its simplest form. I thought, “That’s refreshing. I would like to attend a church that has as its mission statement, Jesus is King.”

Those thoughts came in a about two seconds before it registered that this church was posting the title of Kanye West’s latest album. Then, my heart sank. I quickly remembered that this church’s usual sign messaging is worthy of its own Pinterest board for Bad Church Signs. Their signs usually amount to something like this: Tweet Others as You Would Like to Be Tweeted or There Are Some Questions That Can’t Be Answered By Google. The church had gone from spouting off lame pop culture meets religion slogans to a great spiritual truth simply because some celebrity had a religious experience.

I think what bothered me the most is that this church and many Christians seem to need a celebrity to give them permission to proclaim the good news of Jesus. As if validation for our beliefs and life can only come from a person with millions of followers on Instagram and influencer next to their name in a sentence or holding a position of power in politics.

I have no doubt that God is working in some way in the the conversion of Kanye West and the platform that he does possess. But the last time I checked, God’s kingdom doesn’t advance on hype and quick media fixes. Jesus is not Lord because Kanye West has proclaimed him such or because a certain person was elected to office. Jesus has already been inaugurated and has already taken office at the right hand of the Father.

So before you champion the next celebrity that makes a big religious splash remember who your Lord is, what he did for you, where your allegiance lies, who you are committed to follow and the great promises that are being fulfilled for you. Live out those promises, announce those beliefs, proclaim Christ is King for what he has done for you and is doing for you. Don’t be a copy cat or a ride the back of trends but be rooted to the name that is above all names, Christ our King.

Why Bother?

I recently came across this definition of sin by Jim Keenan: “Sin is a failure to bother to love.”

This surprised me because the word sin usually just conjures up images of a list of don’ts that begs the question, often yelled, “WHY NOT?” In Keenan’s way of thinking, sin is more a poor posture towards living than just something we do against society’s moral standards.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Levite and the priest were probably within their society’s moral boundaries by not bothering to serve the bleeding man on the side of the road but sinned because they failed to bother to love the man. Love was not a priority in their way of life and that became a problem.

But what is love? Dallas Willard says:

Love is not a feeling, or a special way of feeling, but the divine way of relating to others and oneself that moves through every dimension of our being and restructures our world for good.

One of Jesus’ disciples, many years after Jesus’ public ministry, said “He who does not love abides in death.”

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One thing that has helped me love better (for there are many times when I haven’t bothered to love) is asking myself, “What is the most important thing about this other person?” So often, my answer is not all the things they have done for me or against me or how loving they have been towards me but simply this: “They are a child of God, made in his image, one that God is especially fond of, a brother or sister in Christ.” This fact demands that I bother to love that person the best way I know how. To bring them consolation, a life giving connection with God, is the way of Christ and essential for any hope. But oh so much easier said than done.

May we all be bothered to love today. That may mean that we have to Grow Up in certain areas and put away old patterns of behavior but that simple act of love is life giving and is restructuring our world for good.