Come Like Little Children

Come Like Little Children

My daughter loves to give gifts. Almost weekly she comes home with something to give to me. “I made this for you, Mommy,” she’ll say grinning and looking endearingly at me with her big brown eyes. Last year, she wrapped a Christmas gift for me and couldn’t wait for me to open it. In fact, she was so eager, she made me open it two weeks early! I was happy to oblige for the sheer joy of watching her light up. But as much as she enjoys giving gifts, I’d dare say that receiving a gift is pure exhilaration for her. She can’t believe we’d think of her. She won’t stop talking about the gift…at least for the day (she is a kid and kids tend to move on to the next thing). The point is, she receives gifts with open hands, humbly, with excitement and joy, with thanksgiving, and never once does she ask if she needs to repay you or earn what she’s been given. I wouldn’t go so far to say she doesn’t believe she deserves the gift, but she does know how to receive it.

As Jesus is teaching in Mark 10, the listeners began to bring children to him so that he might pray for them (10:13). His disciples, however, found this to be a nuisance and rebuked them. As Jesus witnessed the disciples’ behavior towards the children, He was indignant (10:14). He was righteously angry and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs to the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (10:15-16). How do children receive a gift? They receive it like my daughter. And that is what Jesus desires for us.

When I think about my own conversion, I think I was like my daughter in the way she receives various gifts from her mother and father. I was humbled, excited, thankful, and joyful. I couldn’t believe that I could have access to the Great I Am, that I’d be forgiven for all of the sin I have ever and would ever commit, and that Jesus would pay the price for it all. But then, as I’ve gotten older in the faith, I can sense some of the awe of this free gift and access to the kingdom waning. As I gain knowledge, I can sense a fight to remember the beautiful basics of my faith.

I imagine I’m not alone. Faith is a gift from God—we could never earn God’s favor and we could never sustain his favor through our good deeds. We need to heed Jesus’ words and ask him to make us like little children, receiving the free gift of faith with thanksgiving and exuberance. We don’t want to become so familiar with the gospel that we forget to be like children. Rather, let’s return each day remembering that God is our Father and he loves to pour out gifts to his children. All you and I must do is receive.

 

a version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine

Love and Run

Love and Run

One of the many benefits of writing, especially when I wrote for my local paper, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, is meeting various people from all walks of life. It is truly a blessing. One such meeting happened several years ago, when I interviewed a widow about her ministry to other widows. Her love for those ladies and the Lord was intoxicating. I want to be like her in so many ways.

She told me about various ways she had been able to serve others, and one was through something she affectionately named “love and run.” She would pray for God to allow for a time and place for her to do something for some unexpected person or family and then leave the place so that the recipient never knew who gave it. For example, once she pulled into a McDonald’s and told the drive-through worker that she wanted to purchase the person’s meal behind her. She paid and drove off.

Simple enough—and not even that original. But she did things like that a lot. And though she would never know the reaction or response of the one she helped, she did know that God was aware of her giving and her love of neighbor, and that was all that mattered to her. And this lady wasn’t giving out of her abundance—she was not rich. She was simply giving what she could with what she had.

Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:1−4,“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Public acts of obedience are not sinful. Much of what we do, if we are living out our walk faithfully, will likely be public in some ways. But if we are practicing our righteousness with the motive to draw attention to ourselves—for the eyes and praise of others—then we have turned our good deeds into a sham. We will always have to fight mixed motives, but we should resist the temptation to do things for the primary motive of glorifying ourselves rather than God. And although I don’t think we should feel any pressure to pay for meals in a drive-through lane, something about it is appealing because it allow for giving in secret.

Have you ever served someone or been able to give in secret? It’s so rewarding, isn’t it? But I confess—thinking “love and run” is not natural for me. I am much too selfish and aware of my schedule and the tasks I need to accomplish in any given day. So I need to pray for supernatural power to be others-focused in this way. And to think, God stores up rewards for those who give for His eyes and His glory alone. What a blessing!

Valentine’s Day is all about love. For some it’s also about heartache and pain—which makes it a perfect day to show love to someone in need. On Valentine’s Day this year, what if we joined my widow friend to think of those who might be in need of some practical displays of love? Let’s do our very own “love and run” this Wednesday—but shhh, don’t tell anyone what you do, when or how you did it. Just store it in your heart and pray that those who receive will be blessed by it!

Love and Run ideas:

  1. Buy someone’s meal at the restaurant table next to you—tell the waitress, but don’t tell the guests.
  2. Buy someone’s meal through a drive-through.
  3. Go to a store and complete payments on a random stranger’s “layaway.” (Let the store contact the recipient and tell them the item is ready to pick up.)
  4. Send a meal to a friend in need—via a different friend.
  5. Give money to someone in need.
  6. Rake leaves or mow the lawn at someone’s home who may need assistance.
  7. Drop off a note to a friend or someone you know who may need a good word of encouragement.
  8. Call a nonprofit organization, find out their greatest need, and then give it.
  9. Put together a date package (dinner, movie, etc.) for a husband and wife who are struggling financially.
  10. Go to a grocery store in less affluent part of town and purchase the groceries of the person in line ahead or behind you.
  11. Call your pastor and find out who is in need at your church. Pray for them and think of ways you might be able to care for them in more tangle ways.

 

Social Media: Handling the Habit

Social Media: Handling the Habit

(New Year’s resolutions were never something I was committed to in the past. However, I’m approaching 2018 differently. Over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing my goals and focus for the new year, along with thoughts and tidbits about how you might join me. You can read the introduction here, “Bible Reading in the New Year” here, “Rethinking Busy” here, and “Tools and Strategies for Using Time Well” here. Last week’s piece—“Social Media: Analyzing the Habit”—was the first of a two-part series on using social media. Today, we finish up that two-part series as well as this entire series on resolutions. )

As I said last week, I love social media. I really do. But the hold it has had on me over the past year became quite obvious as I began evaluating my time. I have no plans to completely retreat from Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. I’m not making a grand exit or even halting some form of weekly engagement. I’m simply attempting to make social media less invasive of my everyday life and work.

So what am I doing?

First, I think it’s important not to add undue burden to my readers. Any suggestions I make and any way of living that I share are not meant to be laws for you. They aren’t meant to be laws for me! As I seek to make changes, my desire is to be more effective and, in some cases, to repent where I see I’ve sinned against my God. But with repentance come grace and life, not burden. And my way (unless it’s clearly in the Scriptures and therefore not really my way) should never be considered the way. With that, here are my thoughts.

And how am I doing?

To be frank, not great. I had a goal and, as with many New Year’s resolutions, I haven’t done a great job of implementing changes so far. I have a few really good excuses (ha-ha), but for the beginning of this year, I haven’t made this change as much of a priority as it will be in the coming days. Basically, what I’ve been doing is learning about the issues and deciding what to do. The last thing I want to do is feed you stuff I’m not doing! May that never be.

With that, let’s grow together! Here are some tips and resources I’m hoping to implement. (a few of these I’m already doing). I’d love to hear from you about what you’re doing!

  1. If you are tempted to check your phone often, turn off, silence, or move it by a certain time every night and do not check it after that.
  2. Do not check phone first thing in the morning. (Caveat: I know some of you use your phone app to read your Bible. I do not. Remember that these are tips and not laws.)
  3. Check phone only at certain times during the day.
  4. Limit checking phone during “working hours.”
  5. Schedule times each week for deep, undistracted work that would include no phone. Be unreachable for a period of time. (This might require communicating with your spouse, coworkers, or others who might desire to reach you.)

One additional strategy I plan to implement is taking longer social-media breaks—a week, a month, or even longer. I suspect this will be where the rubber meets the road for me—and maybe for you too! I think taking a long break will show just how much I’ve relied on my phone. I imagine it will reveal my heart: my motives, my fears, my insecurities. Or perhaps I’m giving my phone too much credit. Maybe a break will reveal nothing at all and will instead just be a nice relief.

As to when do I plan to do it. I don’t know yet. In his book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke suggests not making an announcement when you take a break—just to get off the internet. When I do this exercise, I’ll take his advice and let you know later how it went!

Why I won’t exit completely

I want to love my neighbor as myself. I desire to serve my local community as best I can. This is all true. What’s also true is that both my neighbor and my local community are here, right here on the Internet. Because of busy schedules, it’s possible that I engage with many of my IRL (“in real life”) friends more on the Internet than IRL. My work with the ERLC and my ministry in general does also demand some level of social media (or internet) presence, As long as there are people on here—both local and beyond—I’d like to be on too.

I didn’t even have a smart phone until only four years ago. So I actually don’t think it would be that hard for me to say good-bye to it should society shift how we engage. But for now it’s such a sweet opportunity for gospel proclamation, enjoying one another, and learning about the culture. So for me, at least, it’s not time to say good-bye forever. Whether it’s time for you is a decision only you can make.

Finally, here are a few resources that might serve you in this regard. (Please note that I have not read all of them myself. A few are books I’ve seen recommended by people I trust.):

Connected: Curing the Pandemic of Everyone Feeling Alone Together, by Erin Davis

Engage: A Christian Witness Online, by Daniel Darling

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch

So what about you. Do you have any tips for cutting back on social media? How have you tried? How did it go?

Social Media: Analyzing the Habit

Social Media: Analyzing the Habit

(New Year’s resolutions were never something I was committed to in the past. However, I’m approaching 2018 differently. Over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing my goals and focus for the new year, along with thoughts and tidbits about how you might join me. You can read the introduction here, “Bible Reading in the New Year” here, “Rethinking Busy” here, and “Tools and Strategies for Using Time Well” here. Today’s piece is the first of a two-part series on using social media.)

I love social media. Love it. I enjoy looking at the pictures of my friends’ kids and all the beach trips every summer. I can celebrate when I see a friend who does something I can’t do well—like take the perfect picture of a sunset in a foggy Smoky Mountain sky.

I’m not usually tempted the way others may be when it comes to social media. I don’t compare or get jealous. I don’t feel like I need to represent my family as picture perfect. Although most of my pictures are of us smiling or enjoying life, I’d say it’s because we do enjoy life. But even though I don’t struggle with some of the typical pitfalls that many confess (comparison, falsehood, etc.), I do have to admit that I’m addicted, and that’s a problem.

As I’ve evaluated 2017 in hopes of making some changes for 2018, I’ve decided to focus on one annual goal in each of the following areas: spiritual, professional, technological, marriage, and family. And as I’ve moved into doing this, I’ve realized that making changes in the area of technology will affect every aspect of my life in a good way. As I previously wrote, I tend to fritter away a lot of my time with social media check-ins. I check to see what’s going on in Twitter, and the next thing I know I’m sucked in. I check in to see what’s happening on Facebook, and the next thing I know I’m watching silly videos. None of these things are bad or even sinful, but they quickly turn into wasted time, which turns into idleness, which sucks productivity and good work out of my day.

And that’s not all.

“Mom, I really feel uncomfortable when you look at the phone while driving.”

“Mom, Mom, Mom…never mind.”

Without knowing it, I’ve created a habit of using my phone as filler. What I mean is, while I’m waiting in line, if I’m at a stoplight, when I’m waiting on the kids to come out of school—whenever I’m sitting or standing still, I’m likely on my phone.

Why is this a problem?

If I’m constantly on my phone during quiet times, I tend to tune out what’s going on around me. If someone approaches me (even my kid) I don’t notice him or her at first. I no longer engage with those around me the way I used to. Simply being still and enjoying quietness has become increasingly difficult.

And increasingly, this habit has grown into a form of distraction. In the middle of reading a book, I’ll stop to check my phone. I do it during work times too. It even happened while I was writing this piece. My husband asked me a question, I answered, then I checked my phone before beginning to type again. My phone is always inches away from me. And increasingly, it seems, my phone is always calling to me.

Again, none of this is inherently sinful. But I am sinning as I fail to love my neighbor and work hard. I acknowledge that compulsively checking social media is not the best habit and can hinder my love for my neighbor, my work, and my ability to be fully where I am.

Why the Habit?

 There are many theories floating out there about why we get so hooked on social media. My friend Tony Reinke cites convincing research that suggests we can’t handle silence because we desire “fake brittle popularity” and we are afraid of “God’s serious presence drawn close.” We have all seen evidence on social media of the desire for popularity—people posting fake adventures because it made them feel needed, wanted, attractive, and less like who they really are. And maybe there are some who, as Reinke shares, don’t want to face the reality of who they truly are before a holy God.

Maybe that’s you. Maybe you turn to your phone as a way of escaping yourself and God. Maybe you run to social media because you’re terrified of being alone. Maybe you feel desperate to be known and loved, and you’ve forgotten that if you know Jesus, you are already fully known and fully loved. If any of that is true for you, I’d encourage you to read Reinke’s article in full and seek help beyond these articles. There may be a need for true intervention and healing.

To be honest, though, I don’t believe that’s the case for me—or for many of the people I know. We are a part of communities where sharing ourselves is a habit. We meet with God regularly, and we aren’t afraid of the ugly that is in our hearts. We simply began checking in on social media apps to fill the silences in our lives. And slowly we developed the habit that now touches all areas of our lives.

Nothing devious, simply invasive.

Next Week: Breaking the Habit

If we pause to think about the reality of it all, it’s astounding just how much our phones have become centerpieces in our lives. These little devices rule us, keeping us focused on things that have little to no bearing on our lives and distracting us from our present. This isn’t true for all of us, of course, but it’s a problem for too many. I’ve come to believe it’s a problem for me, so my technology goal for next year is to get this habit under control.

As I did with my article on work and productivity, I will make this a two-part post. Next week I will share some tips and resources I’ve picked up as I am seeking to change some of my phone habits.

Stay tuned!

(p.s. One of the resources I’ll be sharing about is FREE right now so I didn’t want to wait to share about it. Get 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke for FREE through Christian Audio. The deal ends in the next few days.)

Tools and Strategies for Using Time Well

Tools and Strategies for Using Time Well

(New Year’s resolutions were never something I was committed to in the past. However, I’m approaching 2018 differently. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my goals and focus for the new year, along with thoughts and tidbits about how you might join me. You can read the introduction here, “Bible Reading in the New Year,” here, and the third post of this series, “Rethinking Busy,” here.)

Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s, “Rethinking Busy.” So if you haven’t already done so, you might want to read that one first before tackling this one, which shares some time-management tools I’ve considered and some I hope to incorporate for the new year.

A quick reminder before we start: nothing you do can add to or subtract from the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf. Do you know this? Do you believe this? That‘s good news as we look at our crazy busy schedules, our disorganization, and our time-wasting habits. Tools aren’t meant to save us, but only to help us. That is why we need a healthy dose of humility before we attempt to change our habits. We need to remind ourselves that we aren’t God. Rather, we need God. We must pursue any and all change while resting in Jesus.

With that said, let’s look at some tools!

Advice from the Experts

When I shared yesterday that I’d be giving you tools, it occurred to me that I actually don’t have many tried-and-true time-management tools on my belt. I’m only learning and can’t begin to make that list without sharing a bunch of ideas I haven’t yet tried. So I want to start by sharing some books and articles from a few folks I’m learning from. Their wisdom is a great tool in itself.

First, here’s a list of books that have inspired and taught me:

The following articles have helped me a lot as well:

Finally, I’ve told my ERLC colleague Daniel Patterson that he needs to write a book on organization. But the next best thing is to simply follow him on Twitter. Here’s a list of his best-used tools for 2017.

The Method to My Madness

So what tools am I planning to employ to improve my use of time in the new year? My own approach is more about rethinking my approach to work than about using apps like Evernote (though people who use this tool rave about it). As the saying goes, old habits are hard to break, and when it comes to being organized, I’ve realized my biggest need is to break some old habits. But beyond remembering that I survived for thirty-five years without technology and social media—so I’ll be okay once I break a few of those habits—what I do and will be doing is quite simple. My chosen tools will include:

  1. Accountability: Beyond deadlines, which are a wonderful accountability tool, I’ll be “clocking” my hours of work. I’ll simply begin keeping track of how I spend my time when I’m supposed to be working.
  2. Google calendar: I have begun scheduling my days and adding important alerts and reminders into my Google calendar. Having a reminder pop up on my phone helps me stay on track and on task.
  3. Paper planning journal: This is old school, but I love it and have benefited from its use, especially for the home. At the beginning of each week, I fill out all I hope to accomplish that week, plan our menus, make shopping lists, and so on. I have found that without some planning, my hope to accomplish certain things simply won’t happen.
  4. Deep work: In my schedule I’m building in hours where I shut everything off and focus on writing, reading, or other tasks that require concentration. During those deep work hours, I am not on social media. I turn off the wifi on my computer, and my phone is tucked away or on airplane mode.
  5. Prayer: I want to grow in praying for the ordinary and mundane parts of my life, including my daily schedule

Now . . . it’s your turn. What do you hope to accomplish in 2018? What habits do you need to change? What new approach do you want to try? I hope some of the tools I’ve shared will help you as you strive, with God’s help, to make this year a fruitful one.

Rethinking Busy

Rethinking Busy

(New Year’s resolutions were never something I was committed to in the past. However, I’m approaching 2018 differently. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my goals and focus for the new year, along with thoughts and tidbits about how you might join me. You can read the introduction here and the first—and I’d say the most important—post of the series, “Bible Reading in the New Year,” here.)

I sat across from a ministry partner in December, and we discussed my goals and dream and hopes and desires for the future. It soon became apparent to him that I don’t really have a lot of goals or dreams or hopes. My work and ministry life has been an odd combination of taking steps of faith and a complete lack of ambition.

My journey into writing, for instance, seems unlike those of many of my peers. I wasn’t pining for a position or longing to write for 10 years. I was writing faithfully for my local newspaper, and from there I took a step of faith to begin writing from my Christian perspective. From there publishers and then an agent began to take interest, so I began writing books.

Maybe that path was unconventional—I don’t know. I hope I could say I was faithful in the little. I would hope to be able to say I will be faithful in the little I continue to do. But as my writing schedule has picked up, the need for deep work and focus has increased. I’ve been convicted of wasting valuable time that could be used to get work done and serve with greater effectiveness. So although I continue to be mostly goal-less in regards to my work, this year I’d like to change my methodology and my work habits. I’d like to be—what’s that word?— organized.

When Busyness is Actually Idleness

Most of us wouldn’t describe ourselves as idle. Idleness by definition is laziness or a lack of action. And we aren’t lazy. In fact, we are busy—incredibly busy. But what if our busyness is sprinkled with lazy, brainless, idle activities? What if we took an honest look at our time and discovered we spend more of it searching on Google, watching random videos, taking those oh-so-interesting, time-wasting tests about things like what character you’d play in Pride and Prejudice, and scrolling through social media for “just a minute” that turns into an hour at least. All of sudden our busyness looks more like a lack of effective and efficient time management.

Paul strongly warned the Thessalonian church to steer clear of brothers who were idle, intentionally shirking their God-given responsibilities. Some individuals within that church were not only neglecting their work but also taking advantage of the kindness of the other members of the church and meddling in the affairs of the other Christians. Paul didn’t mince words in his rebuke: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:10–11). Ouch, Paul.

With that in mind, as I evaluated 2017, I began to ask honest questions about my time. Amid my normal frenzy of due dates and serving and caring for my family, was I truly that busy, or was I struggling with idleness? I discovered that I tended to fill much of my time with distractions rather than with work. I wasn’t too busy. I was too distracted. And my distractions, my time-sucking doodling around, produced in me an anxious heart.

But didn’t I need to take breaks? Didn’t God command us to rest? Absolutely!* But that wasn’t really what I’d been doing. My problem wasn’t rest, but an improper use of the time allotted for work. And I imagine I’m not alone.

Starts with Humility

There’s a temptation in us to try to fix things by adding rules and structures when what we really need is heart change. As Hannah Anderson explains in her book, Humble Roots:

For years, I’ve heard that the solution to such stress comes from setting up boundaries, finding ways to be more productive, cultivating gratitude, and scheduling “me time….” For years, I’ve thought that my sense of peace depends entirely on me.”

She continues,

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus invites tired, weary people—people like us—to come to Him.… In other words, peace doesn’t start with me; peace starts with Him. Even more surprisingly, peace starts with learning His humility “ (p. 9−10).

Hannah is simply saying what we all know but tend to forget—that you and I are not God. Only God can accomplish all that needs to be done in any given day. For you and for me, using time better doesn’t begin with changing our schedules (although we will eventually get there!). It starts with an inner transformation, one that can only come by the mercy and grace of God. As we recognize our limitations and confess our need for help, God begins to change us.

I absolutely want to be more effective and efficient. But if there is no acknowledgment of my need for God as the demands of my schedule increase, then my sinful response to the demands will rear its ugly head.

My typical response is to avoid what needs to be done, which only leads to greater anxiety rather than peace. What is your go-to response? Perhaps it is to push through in your own strength and then to be irritable and tired and frustrated. Maybe you find yourself emotional, angry with others. Or maybe your response is discontentment—believing that if you only had (fill in the blank), then you wouldn’t have to work so hard. Whatever our sinful responses are, changing them requires a dose of humility—turning to the Lord for help in our weakness.

Before you move on to your next task, ask the Lord for strength and grace to complete it. Ask him to give you peace throughout the day. Tomorrow we’ll look at some time-management tools that I pray will help you as much as they are helping me.

*I share more about idleness and the need for and joy of rest in my book, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts.

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