I lift my eyes up …

I made the decision early this week that I had to stop navel gazing and look up. I realized that my grumbling was doing no good and that I had to change something. So I chose to change my view, so that my attitude could change and then I changed my behavior. 

Looking up is not a novel thought in fact it is right out of scripture. Psalm 121:1-2 “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” 

Since making the choice to look up I have had several reminders that God is at work in me and in my churches. Whether it was a text, a Facebook message, an email, a phone call or a conversation, I have received clear reminders that feeling sorry for myself is of no value. These reminders were encouraging and humbling. I definitely got confirmation that God is really up to something good here.

I often pray with people in the hospital that God would give them some clear reminders that God is with them and loves them. Someone must have been praying that for me this week. Whoever you are thanks, I needed it. 

I suspect that I am not alone in needing to change my view. I encourage you to join me in looking up and recognizing where your help comes from. I further suspect that you know someone who needs to be reminded of this as well.

Let’s encourage one another to look up. Let’s pray for others to get some clear reminders that they are not alone that God is with them and that we are praying for them.

Here’s my formula “Look up (to the Lord). Look out (toward others instead of feeling sorry for myself). Move on (toward all that God has for me). 

Dennis

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The Approval Trap …

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Politicians seem to live and die by their approval ratings and in an election year we are inundated with reports of the various candidates and their approval ratings. It is easy to be critical of them for making decisions and adjustments based how they think others will react. But politicians are not the only ones caught in the approval trap, many pastors, and others are as well.

There is a great temptation as a pastor to judge things in our ministry by how much approval we receive for the things we do. This is not a fun thing to confess but it is huge temptation for pastors and many others.

Approval is a very enticing thing. Who doesn’t prefer approval over disapproval?  But this seeking approval can create problems such as …

  1. We may avoid difficult topics or conversations – If we are seeking approval we are looking for more “thanks, that was nice” than we are “I hadn’t thought about that” comments. As pastors we often seek the “nice sermon pastor” comments rather than “ouch, that one really hit me hard”. I told one of my congregations to not bother telling me “nice sermon” because I was more interested in my sermons making an impact than making them feel good. That was a bit of overkill on my part, but I knew that I could become addicted to “nice sermon” comments and preach in order to receive them. I am not proud of that truth, but it is the truth. I am confident that I am not alone in this area. Have you avoided some conversations recently because you were seeking approval?
  2. Seeking out those who give us approval rather than those we can help – We are here for a purpose and a major part of that purpose is to help others. We may be motivated to spend our time and energy doing things for the approval of those who will give it rather than seeking to help those who may not heap their gratitude upon us.
  3. We may become discouraged or depressed when approval is not received – When we seek approval we easily become discouraged when we do not perceive that we are receiving enough of it. When we continue to seek the approval of others and continue to believe that we are not getting it we can eventually become depressed. This is not an overnight event, but if we don’t recognize why we are discouraged we can spiral down this path.
  4. We can begin to make poor decisions while chasing the approval we crave – If we are chasing approval and not receiving it while doing what we believe to be right, we can start to make compromising choices hoping for approval. It starts out slowly and those first poor decisions can be easily rationalized in our minds. But unless this is recognized, confronted, confessed and changed we may begin to make some very harmful choices, all for this elusive approval.
  5. We are hesitate to confess that we have been snared by the approval trap – A powerful statement used in recovery ministries is that you are only as sick as your secrets. When it comes to recognizing that we are in the approval trap, we (especially pastors) can be very slow to confess this issue. The main reason is that we convince ourselves that it is not a real trap and that it is really not a big deal. The second reason for our hesitation is that we are usually ashamed to admit that we have been trapped by the desire for approval.

There are other problems with the chase for approval, but these 5 should be more than enough to make us stop and consider if we are being trapped. If the answer is yes, then admit it and talk with someone. I will try and address some steps to conquering the approval trap that I have had to take, and continue to take, next week.

Here’s hoping you can be honest with yourself as you determine if you are caught in this trap. Here’s hoping that you can talk with someone you trust about this possibility. I will be praying for all who read this post, and if you would like for me to pray for you specifically then leave me a comment and if you do not wish for others to see the comment just add that to your comment.

Dennis

Dealing with CBTD …

The goal is not so much to overcome CBTD, as it is to make sure you are not overwhelmed by it. While sorting out and defining how I felt and what is going on with me I realized that I do not want to completely do away with CBTD syndrome. There are aspects of it that are positive, but there are many parts of it that are not productive. So I am seeking to make sure I am not overwhelmed by my CBTD and that I put to use the productive parts of it.

Confusion is rarely a good thing. The only time I can fathom confusion to be positive is when it would cause me to slow down long enough to figure out the right thing to do. Too often confusion leads to poor decisions.

Burdens are not bad in and of themselves, but they can be bad if we get buried by the burdens. We must be careful not to lose sight of the needs that create the burdens. The needs are real and we must keep praying about and seeking to meet the needs.

Tiredness can result from physical exertion, lack of good rest, stress or burdens. Being tired impacts nearly everything you do. When you are tired it is your body telling you that something is not how it was created to be and something needs to change.

Depression, whether a mild feeling down or of the more serious variety always need to be addressed.
So what do we do to keep from being overwhelmed by CBTD and overcoming some of it?

Start by praying and ask for wisdom to see yourself accurately. I don’t always see myself as I really am, anyone else have that issue? Pray for clarity, pray for wisdom, pray for strength, pray for courage to do whatever needs to be done and but don’t stop praying for the needs of others.

Evaluate your recent activities. Look at your calendar. What have you been doing recently? How busy have you been? Look at your physical issues. Have you been getting enough good rest? Have you been eating lousy? Do you have a physical illness that needs to be addressed?

Talk with someone you trust. A friend, someone from your small group, a counselor, your pastor, your spouse or a sibling or parent are often ones who can help you. Tell them how you are feeling. Tell them what is going on in your life and in your emotions. But, make sure you talk.

Pray some more.

Spend some time doing something out of your normal routine. Something that is interesting or enjoyable to you. A change of routine can do wonders.

Make sure you are heading in the right direction in your life and relationships. If you are not, then make a course correction.

Recognize that not all of CBTD is bad. Burdens are a natural part of caring for others and are often a motivating factor to pray. Tiredness and confusion can be helpful in small doses if it causes us to slow down and examine our life and direction. Just don’t stay in a confused or tired condition for long. Depression always needs to be addressed and if it lingers then get real help.

You are not strange if you are dealing with CBTD. It generally shows that you are out and about and that you are caring about what happens with other people. Let’s lift each other in prayer. Let’s encourage each other. Let’s serve together. Let’s lift each other up when we stumble. Let’s not give up.

Dennis

Confused, Burdened, Tired or Depressed?

Have you ever been confused? Have you ever been confused about things you are feeling? Have you ever been confused about whether you are depressed, or maybe just tired or are you just carrying some heavy burdens? If the answer is yes, then you and I have something in common.

There is no doubt that I could use some time off, but what I am feeling is more than fatigue. I have begun to use the phrase “my heart hurts”. I am not talking about any physical issues with my heart muscle. It is my attempt to give a word picture of what is going on with me.

There have been moments recently when I have certainly felt down about things happening in the lives of people around me. So I guess on some level there is depression. But there is much more going on.

I know that I am carrying some burdens and am burdened for some people and situations.
Can you relate to any of this?

Maybe we need to create a new category or description of how we feel during times like this? How about CBTD syndrome?

It is beginning to dawn on me that the burdens I feel, the things that make “my heart hurt” are wearing on me and creating some serious fatigue. I am recognizing that delays in seeing improvement in the things that are burdening me it certainly brings me down. I am beginning to understand the relationships that exist between burdens, the resulting fatigue and the depression that chases you during these times. All of which leaves me confused many times.

In my self-analysis I believe that I am suffering from CBTD. Are you suffering from this?
Tomorrow I will get into a little more detail on the causes of CBTD syndrome. Then we will look at what, if anything, can be done to overcome or improve the symptoms of CBTD.

Here’s hoping that you are feeling the presence of God no matter what you are facing or feeling. Here’s hoping that matter how you are feeling you will look to encourage someone today.

Dennis

Sometimes …

Sometimes it feels like the hurt will never go away.
Sometimes it feels like I will never get beyond my past.
Sometimes I feel paralyzed by indecision and fear.
Sometimes I feel strong, and then I remember.
Sometimes I wish I could forget, but it seems my memory for those things will never fade.
Sometimes I wonder what if …?
Sometimes I feel that I am the exception. That all the promises were meant for everyone else.
Sometimes that is just how I feel.
Sometimes I remember those words, “For God so loved the world…” That includes me.
Sometimes I go to the Bible and believe.
Sometimes is so frustrating, but God is still God.
Sometimes can be so lonely, but God is always with me.
Sometimes I need to pray as the father of a boy whom Jesus healed did “…I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”*
Sometimes is not the answer, but God is.

Here’s hoping you can move from living in the sometimes, to living in the knowledge that you are loved, that you are forgiven, that God has a plan for you and that God is still God no matter what you feel sometimes.

Dennis
*Mark 9:24 in the New International Version copyright 1984.

5 Ways to Make Your Pastor’s Sermons Better …

I was joking with my congregation recently and told them that I preach better when they sing passionately during our worship service. I went on to tell them that the quality of my preaching that day was completely dependent on them. We laughed together. But it got me thinking about ways in which a congregation can really help their pastor’s preaching.

1) Pray for your pastor and his message – this means praying for him/her at times during the week as they study and prepare. Then praying for them on Sunday as they begin the message as well. When you invest in the message ahead of time through prayer you are more likely to view the message positively. It is always good to pray for your pastor, but praying for their sermon prep is vital.

2) Look interested and engaged during the message – While your pastor is speaking look up and be engaged in what is being said. Look at your bible or notes, but there is a lot of time to be looking up. Looking up lets your pastor know you are listening and it encourages him. When your pastor is encouraged he/she preaches better.

3) Inform your pastor that you pray for his/her preparation – we all appreciate knowing that people are praying for us. Be specific and let your pastor know you are praying for their study and preparation. Even ask if there is something in particular you can pray for as they prepare this week. Knowing that people are praying as I study gives me strength throughout the week.

4) Be a participant in the whole worship service – when you sing during the music, when you pray during prayer time and when you give during the offering you are fully invested in the worship service. When you are invested and engaged in the whole service you are prepared to hear, receive and respond to your pastor’s sermon.

5) Speak positively about your pastor, and his/her preaching, during the week – this will give you a positive outlook as you enter on Sunday and it will help others to approach the message positively. Even if your pastor is not a great orator, speak positively about them and you may be surprised at how much better the sermons become.

It is always easier to preach to a group that is supportive, expectant, positive, prayerful and engaged. Try some of these things and see what happens. You may discover that your pastor is preaching better. At the very least you will know that you have done your best to support and encourage your pastor.

Here’s hoping that the message you receive this week is outstanding.

Dennis

5 Steps to Overcoming Discouragement …

I posted about the “Top 5 Sources of Discouragement” and I discovered many of you resonated with the same sources that I deal with myself. So here are some ways in which I work on overcoming discouragement (these are not in an order of importance) …

1. Have a person, or small group with which to share and pray. Currently I meet every other week with 5 other men who are in ministry. We share, pray, guide and encourage one another. We pray for each other throughout the week and we laugh together a lot. This group is vital for my spiritual, emotional and mental health.

2. Do something for someone else. When I begin to feel sorry for myself one of the surest ways to begin climbing out of that pit is to serve someone else. The serving takes the focus off of me and I focus on someone else. Often as I do something for someone else I am reminded of how blessed I am. Discouragement can lead to self-pity which causes me to focus only me and when I focus only on me I magnify my discouragement.

3. Have some other interests. Having something else to do that engages my mind helps shift my focus for a while. When I come back from whatever it is I feel refreshed and that helps with the discouragement. For me it could be going fishing, reading just for fun, going golfing or exercising. I can head off discouragement by scheduling some time for these other interests before I am discouraged.

4. Prayer. Remember, I said these were not in order of importance. What I am speaking of here is to pray specifically against the discouragement. Also, when I pray for others I once again take the focus off of me and onto others. Part of my praying must include a time of praise which also moves me from “navel gazing” into my own issues and gets my eyes up where they should be.

5. Evaluating the reason(s) I am discouraged. When I am discouraged I need to take some time and evaluate how I got to this point and see if there is something I need to change in me. Just like when I am criticized I need to find the truth in the criticism and make changes. I have to be careful and fall into the trap of just blaming someone, or something, else for my discouragement. It is rarely that simple.

What have you found helpful in working through discouragement? Leave a comment, I know this is not an exhaustive list.

Here’s hoping you are not stuck in discouragement and that if you are discouraged I pray that these steps will help you navigate your way through it.

Dennis

What Do You Really, Really Want? …

This is the title of my message this morning. A year-long study by the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, UK revealed a list of the top 10 most recognizable/persistent songs and the Spice Girls “Wannabe” topped the list. “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. So I’ll tell you what you really, really want. I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want, so tell me what you want, what you really, really want …” I know, you couldn’t help but start singing as you read those lyrics. It’s okay, you can confess it.

What the Spice Girls wanted is different that the focus of my sermon. Jesus wanted to know what people really wanted. He didn’t assume, he asked. Whether it was of the invalid in John 5, or the blind man in Mark 10, he wanted to know what they wanted and if they really wanted to get well.

As I processed Jesus’ question to the invalid in John 5:6, “Do you want to get well?” I kept having those pesky lyrics ringing in my head “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want”. But do I tell what I really, really want or do I just say what seems most obvious or accepted among my tribe?

When I answer the question of what I really want do I then just sit back and wait, or do I get up? Do I sit and wonder why things happen for other people and nothing seems to happen for me as I sit here and wait? While it is true that sometimes we don’t see the change we claim to desire because we are not patient enough, it is also true that we often miss out because we are waiting for it to be served to us when it is already within in reach if we will just get up. (Pretty sure my high school English teacher would have put a red mark here for a run on sentence.)

Jesus told the invalid, after he indicated that he wanted to get well, to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. At once the man was cured”.

So here is the question following the question this morning. What do you want so much that you will change, or are willing to be changed, in order for it to come true?

What do you really, really want? How will you answer and what will you do?

Warning: I apologize for putting the tune of “Wannabe” in your consciousness today. If you are caught humming or singing it today, you have my permission to blame me. Or, you could take the opportunity to ask that person what they really, really want?

Dennis

Liar, Liar Not so Much …

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire”. I wrote about excuses and especially about our/my “go to” excuses. Those excuses we go to as a default whenever we have something we know we should have done that we did not do. Like exercise, the “honey do” list, write some thank you notes, eat better, witness, read our Bible, and other stuff.

I worked on this in a few areas but kept putting off the “get in better shape” area. Hey it was easy to put off because I have had so much practice. I can say that I have started to do something about this area of my life. I still have to use “Liar, Liar” as part of my statement about getting in better shape because I just started this 5 days ago. Also, I missed 1 day in those 5. For me doing something to better my health and get in better physical condition 4 out of 5 days is miles ahead of where I have been for a long while.

I promised that I would give updates on how I am doing in this area, so consider this an update. I have started. That is the most important step. I don’t feel any better yet, only feel better in saying that I have started.

As for spiritual areas, I am doing better in them than in the physical areas. I challenged myself at the beginning of July to read straight through the Bible in the last 6 months of the year. I have read something every day for 3 months and I am well ahead of schedule to finish by the end of the year. My prayer time is increasing slowly, but it is increasing and I am focusing better as I pray.

Another area that I have felt I need to do better in is writing. I believe I am to be writing more and exploring some other areas of writing. I haven’t done much with this in the past couple of weeks. Well, I guess I have done a little as I am currently finishing the writing of a 35 day devotional series for my congregation. I am really struggling with the writing area and need to become disciplined in this matter. One of my struggles is that I just don’t schedule time to write, which makes it easier to revert to one of my “go to” excuses of being too busy.

Thanks for checking back in on me. I will attempt to give you some periodic updates of my progress in these areas.

How are you doing with your excuses? Any progress? I would love to hear from you, so I can pray with you and encourage you as well.

Dennis

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire …

Do you remember this old elementary school chant? As a kid I didn’t think through the implications of this chant. As an adult I am surmising that it is supposed to be a word picture of how uncomfortable it can be when you lie, and especially when you continue to lie. This came to my mind today as I was making excuses to myself as to why I was not getting in better physical condition. In other words I called myself out, “Liar, liar, pants on fire”. I didn’t like hearing it any better today than I did back in elementary school.

As I heard this childhood chant in my head today I was faced with this reality. I continue to be out of shape, in fact getting more out of shape, because the pain of getting in better physical condition seems greater than the pain of continuing in this out of shape condition. Notice I used the word “seems”. The reality is, the problems with being this out of shape, of which my weight is some of the problem but not all of the problem, are much greater and painful in the long run than the pains of getting in better physical shape.

So I keep lying to myself. I even tell myself that I am not really that out of shape. If I said that on the playground I would get the whole school to chant “Liar, liar, pants on fire”. That is a whopper of a lie. So why do I keep telling it to myself. A more critical question is, why do I keep embracing the lie?

My conclusion is that it is just more comfortable, albeit temporarily, to believe the lie than to do what is necessary to begin changing my condition. Can you relate?

I believe there are many things in our lives in which this scenario is true. How about spiritually? Why don’t we have a better prayer life? Or, why don’t we read our bible more? Or, why don’t we invite our neighbors to church? Or, why don’t we stand up for what we claim to believe at work or school? Or, why don’t we give more? Or, why don’t we serve others? How about in our families and relationships? Why do we allow there to be distance in a relationship with a family member or with a friend? Why …. I could go on for a while, but I imagine that you are already ahead of me at this point.

In what area of your life could we call “Liar, liar, pants on fire” on you?

Now the question is, what will I do about my revelation? Stay tuned, I may give you some updates in the near future. How about you? What will you do if you have heard “Liar, liar, pants on fire” for yourself while reading this post?

Here’s hoping that you join me and begin some changes. I think I would prefer to hear a different chant, this one is getting too painful.

Dennis