Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Are you telling a compelling story? (part 1)

If someone were to tell the story of your life, today, what would it sound like? Would it be a boring story? Would it be an exciting one? Would it be a story that pleased God? Would it be such a compelling story that others would want to emulate you?

I'm currently in the middle of reading Don Miller's latest book A Million Miles In a Thousand Years. These are the kind of questions that Don asks about his own life and what he learned "while he was editing his life."

The basic structure of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. In order for a great story to take place, the lead character must undergo change. That change may be one from defeat to victory, addiction to recovery, immorality to morality, hatred to love, or bitterness to forgiveness. If the character doesn't change, then the story still hasn't happened, yet.

For the last 17 months, I have been living a very complicated story, a story that I never thought I would end up living in a thousand years. Some of that story is my fault; a lot of it isn't. But, no matter who is at fault, what matters is how we conduct ourselves in the middle of our own story. In order for the story to take place, we must undergo transformation. I haven't always been successful, but I have attempted to live a life of integrity and honor in the midst of a crazy story. I have allowed transformation to take place through the working of the Holy Spirit and God's Word. I pray that is enough and that God accomplishes His purposes through me, whatever they may be.

Today is a big day for my story. An entire chapter will probably be written in one day that will impact all the chapters that follow. What happens today will determine what the future chapters are going to read like for myself and for those around me. Someday, I hope to share my story with you.

One day, unless the Lord returns soon, we are all going to die. A preacher, and maybe some of your family and friends are going to stand before a crowd of mourners and tell the story of your life. What do you think they are going to say about your story? Will they have little to say because you really didn't live a very compelling story? Perhaps you have been living a life of selfishness. You haven't really pursued a life that would be telling a story of God's amazing love for you and how that love is demonstrated in the life of a follower of Christ. You haven't truly displayed the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). As you live out your life, consider that your story will be told by someone one day. Are you giving those who will tell your story a really awesome one to retell, or a tragedy?

So, how about you? Are you a character in a story that wants something and is trying to overcome some conflict? Examine your story. Is it time for you to edit your life? Is it time to write a more compelling story? Are you willing to undergo character transformation in order to tell a better story?

Do you have a story to tell? If so, I'd love to hear it. Just leave me a comment below.

Also check out these related posts:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Books and people

There is a quote that I heard a few years ago (first from Dave Ramsey, I believe) that goes something like this: "How we change in the next five years will depend on the books we read and the people we meet."

Let that quote sink into your brain for a moment.

If you desire to change, grow, and develop as a believer in Christ, then you must have an action plan that includes books and people.


Any old book is not going to cut it. Sure, you can read novels, sci-fi, fantasy books, and so on, but are you really going to grow as a person as a result? I personally like to read books from the thought leaders of our day (in both the Christian and secular worlds) whether it be Francis Chan, Bob Buford, and Andy Stanley, or Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Jim Collins, and Richard Koch. These are the authors that are really writing some of the most thought-provoking material of our time.

Most fiction books can be beneficial for recreation and creativity, but at the end of the day, do they help you grow as a person? I will concede that if you're a fiction book author, then they would be helpful to read, but not necessarily that helpful for the average person who wants to grow in their life.

Reading blogs can also be beneficial as well. Many authors use daily blog posts to work out their writing for future books. An example of this would be Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles  In A Thousand Years. You can check out Don's blog at Blogs are wonderful vehicles of relevant, consistent, and informative reading.

Also, in a way, reading good books and blogs is very much like building a relationship with people. Although it's a one-sided relationship, you are learning from an author, a writer who has taken the time to write about his own life experiences and what he has learned.


Start with those people you already know and make your connection stronger. Your family is a great beginning point: parents, brothers, sisters, spouse, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on. Next, move to people in your network that you haven't visited with in a while. Make a phone call. Schedule a lunch. Send an email, tweet, or Facebook message. Reach out to them with no particular agenda other than to renew the connection and swap stories with each other. Who knows? Maybe once you hear their story and they hear yours, you can help one another. Perhaps, you will grow as a person just by sharing and learning from each other.

Everyday, people cross our path from whom we can benefit from making a connection with and they can benefit from making a connection with us. Let me give you a couple of recent examples from my own life:

  • A couple of weeks ago, I did a 3-part series about the book The 80/20 Principle, The Secret to Achieving More With Less by author Richard Koch. The day after my first post went live, I received an "out of the blue" email from Mr. Koch himself, thanking me for promoting his book. Since that first email, we have had a couple of brief email conversations back and forth. How cool is that? Here's what I learned from making this connection: First, if people are talking about you (especially in a positive light), you need to make a connection. And second, none of us are too big or too small to reach out to each other. In the blogosphere, I'm just a small fish in a big pond and Mr. Koch is a successful, big-time author, but he took the time to make a connection.
  • As the Financial Peace University coordinator and stewardship pastor at my church, I receive a number of letters and emails from various local financial institutions attempting to make a connection with me. Unfortunately, I haven't always been wise enough to make connections with all of these folks, until just a few weeks when a local company called Wise Wealth reached out to me via letter, email, and phone. After they went through the work of trying to make a connection with me through these three communication points, I figured I needed to talk to these guys. So, we setup a brief meeting yesterday morning to discuss how their company could benefit members of my church who were having financial difficulties. Here's what I learned from making this connection: First, be persistent and use different forms of communication when attempting to make a connection with others. Sometimes it just takes time to get somebody's attention with whom you desire to make a connection. Second, explain the benefits of building relationships with each other. In the case of Wise Wealth, they offer a number of free services in order to build relationships and trust with people who are having money problems. Third, you may discover that you both have common goals and can benefit each other in a relationship.
So, let me ask you today, what good books are you reading right now? Also, are you making important personal and professional connections on a regular basis? Feel free to leave me a comment below and tell me your story. Let's make a connection.

Also check out these related posts:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stewardship is all about discipleship

Stewardship is all about discipleship. Yes, God desires all of us to handle our personal finances in a wise, Biblical manner, but in the end, He wants our heart, not the money. It's all His to begin with anyway.

When the Bible talks about stewardship, it mostly focuses on the intimate connection between how a person handles financial matters and their relationship with God. If I am in love with God, I will be a deeply committed, passionate follower of Him. As a result, I will not love money. I will desire the mind of Christ in determining what He wants me to do with His money that He has given me to manage.

The New Testament paints a clear picture of a disciple of Christ. Being a disciple involves both leaving and following; once we are able to leave something behind, we are then free to follow Christ. This includes leaving behind the pursuit of money to follow Him.

In the book Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry In Your Congregation, author Charles R. Lane writes this regarding the struggle we have with trying to serve both God and wealth:
Jesus doesn't want his children wandering away from him. Jesus doesn't want wealth to become the object of trust that causes one of his beloved to stop trusting in him. This is the bottom line. Jesus wants your trust. He knows that if you try to trust your wealth and him, you are in an impossible situation. Your trust will go one way or the other. You can't do both, and he doesn't want to risk losing you.
In the story of the rich young ruler, Jesus addresses this issue with a potential disciple in Mark 10:17-22:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good - except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus loved the young ruler and desired for him to be a disciple, but Jesus knew that the ruler's wealth was a roadblock for him to becoming a fully committed follower of Him. After the ruler left Jesus, He addressed the issue of wealth and discipleship with His followers in Mark 10:23-27:
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not God; all things are possible with God."
The concept of the difficulty of the rich entering God's Kingdom was so surprising to the disciples that Jesus had to say it twice! The disciples response was "Who then can be saved?" Jesus came back that although what looks like a difficult situation for man, all things are possible with God's help! Rich people can be Christ followers if they change their attitude about money, adopting a mindset such as:
  • God owns everything. I'm just His money manager.
  • Am I trusting in wealth for my security, or am I truly trusting in God to sustain me? If I'm truly trusting in God, what should that look like in my life?
  • God has called me to invest in His Kingdom. Am I keeping too much for my own needs and desires?
Jesus closes His teaching on wealth and discipleship by stressing the rewards of leaving and following. The disciples told Jesus (perhaps in a mode of self-defense), "We have left everything to follow you!" We see Jesus' response in Mark 10:29-31:
"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
There are eternal rewards waiting in heaven for those who choose to leave and follow, and the return on our investment is incredible - 100x! Our life here on earth is short. Eternity is forever. Everyday, we have a question to ask ourselves and a choice to make: are we leaving and following for the sake of God's Kingdom?

Also check out these related posts:

Monday, August 23, 2010

9 things I love about my Apple iPad

In a post last month, I had mentioned that I was delaying a purchase on an Apple iPad for various reasons, but a few weeks ago, I had enough money saved up to go ahead and make my purchase. I also saved a few bucks by purchasing a slightly used 32GB WiFi version over at

This post will be a little off topic from my usual posts, but I wanted to share with you 9 things I love about my iPad.
  1. Blogshelf App. Hands down, I find this application the best way to keep up with my favorite bloggers. Blogshelf costs $4.99 through the app store and it's the only app at this point in time that I have actually paid money for, but to me the cost has been worth it. Blogshelf looks and feels a lot like the iBook app but instead of ebooks, it has a book-like graphic representation of the blogs you have subscribed to. So, instead of getting on my desktop or laptop and hunting through my bookmarks for my favorite blogs, I just pull up the Blogshelf app and keep up with daily posts in a very efficient manner.
  2. Bible Apps. Right now, I have 3 different Bible applications downloaded to my iPad, and they were all free versions. Unfortunately, most of the free Bible apps require that you be connected to the internet via WiFi or 3G in order to access different versions, such as The Amplified Bible, The New International Version, and so on. This is not usually a big issue for me for the times I need to use the Bible apps. My church is wired for WiFi, so I can pull up these Bible Apps in worship services and Sunday School. The best two free apps I have discovered so far are the OliveTree BibleReader and Just1Word, Bible +1.
  3. eBook Reading. The main reason I wanted to purchase an iPad in the first place was to read eBooks. Since the Kindle first came out a few years ago, I have wanted to purchase that as an eBook reader, but when I heard the Apple rumors that the iPad would have that capability, I delayed my purchase for a multi-function iPad and I'm really glad I did. You can download eBooks through Apple's iBooks Store app or go with the Kindle app for iPad. Since I've had a long-term relationship with Amazon for many years, I've chosen to go primarily with them for my eBooks. The interesting thing I have discovered in reading eBooks is that I can actually read books faster electronically than traditional paper books. Going forward, I will definitely need to budget for 4-5 Kindle books per month.
  4. Netflix movie streaming. I subscribed to Netflix a couple of months ago in order to stream movies to my computer. Then, I discovered you can stream Netflix movies through your TV via a Wii, which became my favorite way to watch them. With the Netflix app on the iPad, though, the quality is really incredible. I have a really old TV (almost 20 years old), so it makes sense that the quality would be better, even with the iPad's smaller screen.
  5. Weather Channel app. The days of waiting for a complete weather forecast from your local TV station or even the Weather Channel on cable or satellite are now over. With just one tap of my finger, I can now view a synopsis of my local weather for the day, an hourly breakdown, and a 10-day forecast. You can also view various maps such as radar, rain and clouds, temperature, UV index, and so on.
  6. Social networking apps. I find the free social apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as a great way to keep up with my friends, connections, and followers on the go.
  7. iPod app. As a musician and instrumental worship pastor, I have found the iPod as a useful tool. Over a year ago, I purchased an older, used 1GB iPod nano to use for work and personal reasons. Now with the iPod function on the iPad, I find this a much easier way to organize my mp3 files into playlists related to my work responsibilities and personal music listening. This app comes preloaded on the iPad.
  8. Note taking. In the past, I always found myself scrambling about my office looking for a notepad to take with me to meetings, but no longer. The iPad comes pre-loaded with a Notes app that I have found more than adequate for my needs. I just did a search on notepads in the app store, though, and I discovered a few notepads with some great features. Hmmm, I may need to purchase a better app for this.
  9. Fun for the Kids. There are a number of fun, free apps available for kids that my daughters have enjoyed playing with. These apps include word search games, a Radio Disney app, a drawing app, a race car game, and a Toy Story 3 app. The iPad is fun for the entire family!
Do you own an iPad? If so, what are your favorite functions and applications?

Friday, August 20, 2010

How you talk to yourself determines your attitude (part 3)

In my first post on self-talk, we discovered that all of us talk to ourselves on a regular basis, whether it be positive or negative self-talk as described by author David Stoop in his book Self-Talk: Key to Personal Growth. We examined the patterns of negative self-talk when we allow our circumstances to lead us to irrational thought processes. We saw this in the Biblical example of Job. And finally, we looked at the solution to change our negative self-talk as given in God's Word. In my second post, we looked at our self-talk in connection to the specific emotions of anger and depression. In this third and final post, we will look at the emotions of guilt, worry, and anxiety in connection to our self-talk. I will then conclude with a look at utilizing our self-talk in order to live an assertive life.

Self-Talk and Guilt

We often have feelings of guilt from sin, anger, and depression from our past. Our guilt takes us back to these past memories, and in an attempt to remove this guilt, we begin to reshape the memories of our sin. Some guilt is warranted when we are convicted by the Holy Spirit in order to bring us to repentance, but here we're talking more about false guilt. False guilt leads us to make self-talk statements such as "I shouldn't have done that, but I should have done that instead." So, what do we do? We attempt to correct these wrongs by trying harder, which often leads to further failures.

We see this in the the life of the Apostle Paul as he wrestles with guilt in Romans 7:21-24,
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Paul struggles with the sin nature as all of us do. He can't seem to do what he knows he should be doing, and he does that which he knows he shouldn't be doing. Because he's not doing the good he knows he supposed to do, this cycles into more guilt and frustration. The solution to Paul's struggle is found in the opening of the next chapter, Romans 8:1-2,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life sets me free from the law of sin and death.
Because of Christ's work on the cross and the Holy Spirit's work in the life of the believer, we have been set free. There is nothing any of us can do or not do that will condemn us. There are no more "shoulds." In the book, David Stoop concludes his discoveries concerning self-talk and guilt with this statement:
Self-Talk can be an accuser or it can glory in forgiveness, as David does in Psalm 103. You can let your thoughts run wild with guilt and anger, or you can capture every thought and bring it under the umbrella of forgiveness. Destroy the shoulds, the hopeless standards, the small sharp stones. In their place put forgiveness, for only forgiveness can cancel out the debt of guilt and anger (p. 129).
Self-Talk, Worry and Anxiety

As human beings, we have a tendency to worry about many things. We worry about our family. We worry about our jobs. We worry about money. We worry about the economy and its impact on all these things.

Worry has been defined as "stewing without doing." This is an excellent definition because there is nothing that you and I can do about our worries because they are all oriented in the future. Plus, just about everything we worry about is out of our control in the first place and not even likely to take place.

Worry has a paralyzing effect on all of us. We feel hopeless and helpless to move forward because the worry is choking off any emotional, creative energy in our lives.

Anxiety is similar to worry, except that anxiety does not have a specific object. It is simply a restless concern in our lives. Anxiety can and will turn to worry once we place our concern onto a specific object such as our job, the economy, and so on.

The problem with worry is that it is our attempt to control the future. Just as we use guilt as an attempt to reshape our past, we us worry as a mechanism to shape our future, which of course is impossible. Our self-talk in a worried state would sound something like this if say, perhaps, we have just lost our job:

What if I can't find a job?
What if I use up my savings?
I must find something for a job!
It isn't fair that I lost my job!
I've got to find work!

In these statements, there are a lot of "what ifs" and "musts." We are allowing our self-talk to raise our needs to an absolute - I must! You cannot accept any other alternatives, and when this happens, you end up trapped in the present, paralyzed in your worry and you cannot creatively move forward in your life.

The key to breaking out of the cycle of anxiety and worry is to place your trust in God alone. I realize this is easier said than done, but as believers in Christ, our walk must line up with our talk. If we truly believe that He is God and we are His children, that He is in ultimate control of all things. He knows our past, our present, and our future. There is no way that we can reach into the future in an attempt to control our situation. We must rest our faith and control into the hands of Him who has promised to care for us. Jesus reminds his followers of this fact in Matthew 6:25-31,
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'"
Assertive Living Through Self-Talk

Most people associate assertiveness with aggressiveness. The reason for this is that we often see people who were once passive in their behavior learn to assert themselves. When these people figure out that they have rights, they have a tendency to allow the emotion of anger to rise to the surface as a result of their previous passivity, and they become aggressive. In the end, though, this is not true assertiveness. All of us have tendencies in three different approaches to life: passiveness, aggressiveness, and assertiveness.

Those who tend to be passive in their approach to life are usually controlled by fear. Their self-talk reflects fear of telling people "no" and standing up for their rights in certain situations. For example:
"I can't tell the waiter that this food was bad. He and the manager will think I'm just trying to get a free meal."
"I can't say no to my boss. I'll get fired."
"I can't tell my friend the truth about her poor choices, because then she won't be my friend anymore."
Those who tend to be aggressive in their approach to life have pent-up anger and resentment and do explode. The aggressive person's self-talk might sound something like:
"This food tastes terrible. I demand a free meal!"
"My boss wants me to do what? He's being totally unreasonable and I have certain rights around here!"
"My friend is being a real jerk, and I'm just going to give her a piece of my mind!"
Assertive living is different. It is not passive or aggressive. It is not motivated by fear or anger. The motivation behind true assertive living is based on the emotion of love. You care enough about yourself and others that you will speak up for your rights, while being careful not to violate other's rights at the same time. The purpose behind assertive living is not to get what you want. Rather, it is a mechanism, a tool that we can use in order to regain a sense of self-control. You are able to act the way that you choose, not react. In the above examples, assertive self-talk might sound something like:
"This food is really bad. I'm going to let my waiter know that it is really not good. I'm sure he will be understanding and bring me something better. If I then get it for free or at a discount, that will be a bonus blessing for me."
"My boss is asking me to do something that I'm not sure I have time to do. If his request is reasonable, I will do all that I can to accomplish what I am able. If I then run into difficulties, I will meet with him and discuss the challenges I am having with this project."
"My friend is really making some very poor choices in her life right now. I will speak the truth in love to her. If after hearing the truth she chooses not to be my friend, then that is her choice. I will still love her and pray for her."
The Apostle Paul was an example of assertive living. In Galatians 2:11-14 we read the story of Paul's confrontation with Peter:
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
In this story, we see Paul as Peter's brother in Christ confronting him in an assertive manner. He told Peter the truth in love. If Paul had been passive about this hypocrisy, he would not have confronted Peter out of fear of losing a friend in Christ. If Paul had confronted Peter in an aggressive manner, we would have seen Paul shouting at Peter, demanding that he stop what he was doing. Paul handled this delicate situation in an appropriate manner.


As you go about your life, examine how you are talking to yourself on a regular basis. Does your self-talk reflect emotions rooted in anger, depression, guilt, worry, or anxiety? Place your faith in Christ to help you in overcoming your emotions and change the way you are talking to yourself. Remember, you do have a choice in how you feel and act if you will guard your mind on what you are allowing it to meditate on. Live a life of assertiveness through the love of Christ.

Also check out these related posts:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How you talk to yourself determines your attitude (part 2)

In my previous post, we discovered that all of us talk to ourselves on a regular basis, whether it be positive or negative self-talk as described by author David Stoop in his book Self-Talk: Key to Personal Growth. We examined the patterns of negative self-talk when we allow our circumstances to lead us to irrational thought processes. We saw this in the Biblical example of Job. And finally, we looked at the solution to change our negative self-talk as given in God's Word. In this post, we will investigate the specific emotions such as anger and depression in connection to our self-talk.

Self-Talk and Anger

Anger can take many forms and be expressed in a variety of ways, but the most common is the exploding temper. In the Christian world, we have been taught throughout our lives that the emotion of anger was a sin and that we should avoid feeling this emotion at whatever the cost. The problem with this teaching is that it's not Biblical. Throughout the Old Testament, we see time and again that God was very angry with the Israelites and punished them severely as a result. In the New Testament, we see that even Jesus expressed the emotion of anger on a few occasions, most notably when he chased to money changers out of the temple with a whip! As believers, we are allowed to experience and express anger, but we should not sin as a result (Ephesians 4:26).

So how can we experience the emotion of anger and not sin? The key is to listen to our self-talk when we become angry. Examine your belief systems - what are you saying and believing about your circumstances that is causing you to be angry? It is very normal to have initial feelings of hurt and frustration, but once these feelings have subsided, why is it that we still feel anger? The reason is that we are continuing to make demands on a particular person or situation. When you examine your self-talk, look for the "shoulds, musts, gottas, and ought tos"in your thoughts. Here are some examples:
  • My kids should stop fighting immediately!
  • My husband shouldn't be so insensitive to my feelings.
  • My wife should have cleaned the house and cooked dinner before I got home from work.
  • My business should be doing better than it is right now!
In order to be angry and sin not, we must get rid of the demands in our self-talk. For example, in the above statements, we would be better off to change our demanding thoughts into wants and desires.
  • I wish my children would stop fighting with each other. I need to allow them to settle their disputes on their own as much as possible.
  • I wish my husband wouldn't be so insensitive. I will pray that he will learn to be more sensitive to my thoughts and feelings.
  • I wish my wife would have cleaned the house and had dinner ready before I got home from work. Perhaps I should offer to help her. I'm sure she has had a very busy day.
  • I wish my business was doing better. How can I be more proactive to increase my sales?
Self-Talk and Depression

Depression is a major problem in our society, today. Many people have brain chemical balance issues and should be treated with medications such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxill. Many, though, are simply depressed because of their negative self-talk. They allow difficult circumstances to control their feelings and actions.

We can see depression in the Bible. King Saul, King David, Jeremiah, and Elijah all struggled with bouts of depression in their lives. Note how David dealt with his depression in Psalm 42:5,
Why are you cast down [depressed], O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
So how do we break these thought patterns that lead to depression in our lives? In his book, David Stoop gives us six steps to help us on our journey for even the smallest sliver of hope with God's help:
  1. Do Something. In order to break the cycle of depression, you must make a decision to do something, anything that will give you a sense of being back in control. If you stopped exercising since you became depressed, then make a decision to take a walk. If you haven't been returning phone calls since you became depressed, then return at least one call. One small action can allow God to take back control of your life.
  2. Take Care of Yourself. When we get depressed, we often stop caring for ourselves. In fact, depression is often the result of caring for others over ourselves. We get burned out helping everybody else, this burn out causes depression, and then we just throw in the towel all together. You need to take time to get the proper amounts of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Recreate by doing something you enjoy such as reading a good book or playing a round of golf. As you take care of you, allow God to heal you as well.
  3. Challenge the Distortions in Your Self-Talk. Allow God through the power of the Holy Spirit to challenge your distorted thought patterns. Open yourself to new possible ways of viewing your life through God's eyes.
  4. Refocus. When we are depressed, our perceptions about God and ourselves are distorted. God is still God, though, and never changing. Anger at ourselves and even at possibly God Himself is often the root cause of most depression. We need to refocus this anger on where it truly belongs - the source, whether it be people or circumstances. When we refocus this anger away from ourselves and God, we allow the Lord to work on our feelings. He is our ultimate hope and protection in difficult circumstances.
  5. Limit the Depressive Symptoms. This is simply an extension of number four. We don't deny that we have the symptoms of depression, but we set limits on how long we will focus on those feelings. We must find a balance on experiencing these feelings but not allowing our lives to be controlled by them. Don't allow yourself to linger on these feelings at other times.
  6. Break the Pattern of Isolation. When we become depressed, we often go into isolation. We cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. We distance ourselves from the very people who care for us and desire to help. We want to be alone with our pain and suffering. Unfortunately, this is the worst thing we can do when we become depressed. Get out there and spend time with those you love and cherish. Focus on investing time in your most important relationships - God, your family, and your friends.
In my third and final post, we will look at the emotions of guilt, worry, and anxiety in connection to our self-talk. I will then conclude with a look at utilizing our self-talk in order to live an assertive life.

Also check out these related posts:

Monday, August 16, 2010

How you talk to yourself determines your attitude (part 1)

You talk to yourself all the time

Have you ever realized that you talk to yourself? No, I'm not talking about the crazy people that walk around muttering to themselves. Everyday, all of us hold hundreds of conversations in our mind that can range from asking ourselves what we are going to eat for breakfast, what outfit we are going to wear to work, or how we are going to pay our bills this month. Even worse, we talk to ourselves in a negative fashion when it comes to our daily circumstances. We allow positive and negative events in our environment to control our thoughts or belief systems, which then leads to an emotional response - good or bad.

In the book Self-Talk: Key to Personal Growth, author David Stoop addresses the issue in this way (p. 28):
...We have been taught to believe that our feelings and emotions are determined by the events in our lives. Our culture, through the media - especially the advertising media - continually reinforces this belief. Are you unhappy? Then try this new mouthwash! Feeling lonely because no one will talk to you? Then try our shampoo and get rid of that offensive dandruff. Can't sleep? Try our new remedy in a capsule. The examples go on and on.
The truth is that our emotions and behavior are not dependent on what is going on around us in our environment. We can change mouthwashes and still be unhappy. We can use the new shampoo and still feel lonely. We can take a pill and still lie there wide awake. The reason is that something else is at work that determines emotional and behavioral responses to life situations. The cognitive theorists suggest that this additional factor is our thoughts, or belief systems. These thoughts, or belief systems, are what I call Self-Talk.
We are what we think

When I was growing up back in the 70s and 80s, I remember seeing a number of TV commercials regarding nutrition for kids. The end of these commercials would often say something like, "you are what you eat." The point that these commercials were attempting to drive home to our little brains full of mush was that if you eat junk food, then your bodies will be unhealthy, but if you have a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and so on, then your body will be healthier.

The same thing is true with our minds. If we read a bunch of trash or if we watch a lot of unwholesome television, then we will start thinking unwholesome thoughts. When we allow negative people and difficult circumstances to shape our thoughts, we then end up mediating on these thoughts and hold unwholesome conversations with ourselves regarding these thoughts. We slip deeper and deeper into negative thought patterns which lead us to negative attitudes. Our tendency is to blame our circumstances for causing us to act and feel the way that we do. Some examples of this could include:
  • Billy Bob didn't ask me out on a date. I am ugly and lonely.
  • My kids won't stop fighting with each other. I am furious.
  • I was let go at work. I am a loser.
  • Susie won't return my phone call. She must not like me anymore.
When we start feeling and acting based on our external circumstances, we have a tendency to become very irrational in our thought process. In the above examples, maybe these responses would be closer to reality:
  • Billy Bob didn't ask me out on a date. He is really shy and nervous about talking to me because maybe he's attracted to me.
  • My kids won't stop fighting with each other. Children constantly get in squabbles with each other. It's just a part of growing up.
  • I was let go at work. My workplace had no choice but to lay me off with the state of my business and the economic climate.
  • Susie won't return my phone call. Susie is on vacation this week and hasn't checked her voicemail, yet.
A Biblical example of irrational self-talk

Job is probably one of the best Biblical examples of negative self-talk. Job is a guy that has it all. He was probably one of the wealthiest men of his time period and had a large family. The Bible says that he was the greatest man among all the people of the East (Job 1:3b). In spite of all of his earthly blessings though, Job was a worrier! He was always concerned that his children had sinned against God and regularly offered sacrifices on their behalf (Job 1:4-5). His behavior was compulsive.

A few chapters later after Satan's testing had begun, we see Job's worrisome attitude in his statement,
For my sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil (Job 3:24-26).
Yes, Job has much to despair at this point in his life. He has lost his family. He has lost his wealth. He has lost his health. The man that had everything worried about all that he had, and by the third chapter, all of Job's worries had become a reality.

How do we change our self-talk?

As the above examples illustrate, our irrational thought processes may or may not have any basis in reality. Most likely, there is a whole other set of circumstances in which we are unaware or have not even considered. How do we change these thought patterns that have become a habitual way of thinking for many years now?

The great news is that this pattern of negative self-talk can be broken! Here are some general tips as given by David Stoop in order to gain control of our thoughts:
  1. You do have a choice in how you feel and act. We can regain self-control by beginning with our minds. We must capture these negative thoughts, change them, and bring them into obedience to Christ. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  2. You must watch what you think about. We must constantly guard our minds in what we allow ourselves to mediate upon. You will gain self-control by controlling your thought patterns. As you observe a pattern of negative self-talk, capture those thoughts, and examine them to see if they are truly worthy to be a part of your belief system. The Apostle Paul warns us not to conform our thinking to that of the world, but rather we must renew our mind through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
In my next post, we will look at specific emotions such as anger and depression in connection to our self-talk.

Also check out these related posts:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Creating an 80/20 Lifestyle (part 3)

Over the last two posts this week, we have been looking at the Pareto Principle as researched and applied by Richard Koch in his book The 80/20 Principle, The Secret to Achieving More With Less. In the first post, I covered the background material to the 80/20 Principle. In the second post, I looked at the practical aspects of living out the 80/20 Principle in our time, relationships, work, money, and happiness. In this third and final installment, I will examine the life of the ultimate example of 80/20 Christian living - Jesus Christ.

Jesus lived an 80/20 Principled Life

Although the four gospels only give us a very small snapshot of how Jesus spent His time here on earth, I think we can deduce that He focused on what truly mattered - His own top 20% of activity that yielded Him way more than 80% of results! He lived an 80/20 life in the following ways:
  1. He focused time and energy on a strong relationship with God the Father. We often see Jesus getting away from it all to spend time alone with His Father. 
    • He spent 40 days and 40 nights in prayer and fasting (Matthew 4). 
    • He would withdraw to solitary places and mountainsides to pray (Matthew 14). 
    • Before going to the cross, He spent the night in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Matthew 26).
  2. He focused time and energy on building strong relationships with those who would carry out His mission. Jesus developed leaders. He had "rings" or layers of relationships around Him. 
    • The first and closest ring was composed of His three closest disciples - Peter, James, and John. They were the leaders within the group of disciples. He spent the most time with these disciples, most likely because He knew they were the top 20%, so to speak, that would carry out the majority of the work of spreading the gospel. After His ascension, he would later spend time with Saul, better known as Paul, who would radically transform the Gentile world for Christ.
    • The second ring of relationships around Jesus was the other 9 disciples. Although He spent more time with the first three then the other nine, He still poured much of his life into them as well.
    • The third ring around Jesus numbered about 120 disciples. These people were the next layer of close followers who waited in the upper room for the arrival of the Holy Spirit after Jesus had ascended into heaven. This ring helped launch the first church in Jerusalem.
    • The final ring was the crowd. These were the ones who gathered to hear Jesus teach and experience His healing power. Obviously, He spent the least amount of time with the crowd, but He had compassion on them and wanted them to know Him. Members of the crowd would later become disciples who would help spread the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the Roman world.
  3. He focused time and energy on preaching and teaching. Jesus was a revolutionary in his teaching as compared to the religious establishment of His time. Judaism had become so twisted and out of control that He needed to reveal the true Kingdom of God. He taught that He had come to fulfill the Law.
  4. He focused time and energy performing miracles and healing. Jesus knew that He needed to demonstrate His divine nature through miracles and healing so that His disciples and the crowd would believe that He was who said He was.
  5. He prepared Himself and His followers for His ultimate mission - the cross. On a number of different occasions,  Jesus shared with His closest followers that He would suffer, die, and be resurrected the third day in order to provide forgiveness of sin and adoption into God's family.
Jesus modeled 80/20 living in His own brief time here on earth. He knew why the Father had sent Him, and He focused the majority of His time on communicating His earthly mission, building leaders who would carry out that mission, and pointing people to God's Kingdom. He calls all of us who name Him as Lord to live with the same intensity by investing our time, talents, and money into building His Kingdom.
    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV).

    Also check out these related posts:

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Creating an 80/20 Lifestyle (part 2)

    In my last post, we looked at the background to the concept of the 80/20 Principle as first laid out by Vilfredo Pareto and as researched by Richard Koch in his book The 80/20 Principle. In this second post, we will investigate strategies for applying the 80/20 Principle to our everyday lives.

    Living 80/20 in our time management

    Not all of our time is equal. We are more productive at some periods in our day over others. We achieve greater satisfaction and enjoyment in our activities at certain times over others. The key is to determine the specific 20% of our time that yields the greatest results and overall satisfaction, and then attempt to expand our results and satisfaction by investing more time back into the high-yielding activities of that 20%.

    In The 80/20 Principle, author Richard Koch addresses time in this manner:
    It is not shortage of time that should worry us, but the tendency for the majority of time to be spent in low-quality ways. Speeding up or being more "efficient" with our time will not help us; indeed, such ways of thinking are more the problem than the solution.
    80/20 Thinking directs us to a more "eastern" view of time. Time should not be seen as a sequence, running from left to right as in nearly all graphical representations that the culture of business has imposed on us. It is better to view time as a synchronizing and cyclical device, just as the inventors of the clock intended. Time keeps coming around, bringing with it the opportunity to learn, to deepen a few valued relationships, to produce a better product or outcome, and to add more value to life. We do not exist just in the present; we spring from the past and have a treasure trove of past associations; and our future, like our past, is already immanent in the present (p. 152).

    Living 80/20 in our relationships

    Not all of our relationships are equal. Certain key relationships bring greater rewards and greater happiness. Anthropologists assert that we as human beings are hard-wired for only a few key relationships to begin with, and once these slots are filled, they are filled forever. The book asserts that this may explain the observation of superficial relationships in those whose profession or circumstances force them to have a great number of relationships, such as salespeople, (dare I say pastors?), or those who move very frequently.

    In the book, Richard Koch recommends compiling a Top 20 personal relationship chart:
    ... write down the names of your Top 20 friends and loved ones, those with whom you have the most important relationships, ranked from most important to least important to you. "Important" means the depth and closeness of the personal relationship, the extent to which the relationship helps you in life and the extent to which the relationship enhances your sense of who you are and what you can become...
    Next, allocate a total of 100 points between the relationships in terms of their importance to you. For example, if the first person on the list is exactly as important as the next 19 down the list combined, allocate 50 points to him or her. You may need to have more than one run at the numbers to make them add up to 100 by the time you're finished.
    I don't know what your list looks like, but a typical pattern in line with the 80/20 Principle would have two characteristics; the top four relationships (20 percent of the total) would score most of the points (maybe 80 percent); and there would tend to be a constant relationship between each number and the next one down. For example, number two may be two-thirds or half as important as number one; number three may similarly be two-thirds or half as important as number two; and so on. It is interesting to note that if the number one relationship is twice as important as number two and so on, relationship number six is only about 3 percent as important as number one!
    You get the point. The importance is the quality of our relationships, not the quantity. Go deep with just a handful of people, focusing your time and emotional energy on them.
    Living 80/20 in our work

    Not all of our work is equal. Whether you work for yourself or for somebody else, you were most likely hired (or you started your own business) in order to produce a few specific important results. When we get settled into our work role or get our business up and running, we unfortunately get bogged down with a number of other extraneous issues in our work that pull us away from the two to three primary objectives that we should be pursuing - the ones we were hired in the first place to accomplish. So, what do we need to do to to live out 80/20 in the workplace?
    1. Be sure that you are very clear on the specific 2-3 big results you were hired to accomplish (or created your own business to accomplish).
    2. Religiously focus on growing those 2-3 key results each day.
    3. Align the majority of your daily tasks (your 20%) to focus on and accomplish the key results (your 80% of results).
    4. Whenever possible, delegate everything else (your 80% of tasks) that falls outside the boundaries of the 2-3 key results.
    5. Say "no" to anything and everything else as much as possible.
    6. Reinvest and expand on your top 20% that achieves 80% of your results. This will have a multiplication effect!
    Living 80/20 with our money

    We as Americans must face the fact that money dislikes to be distributed equally. Our politicians are always at work attempting to redistribute what the wealthiest of us create, but it won't work. The wealthy know how to create more cashflow through business, investments, tax loopholes, and so on.

    But what does it mean for the American Christian to live an 80/20 life with the money God has entrusted to our management? First, we must live a generous life. A hallmark of a life transformed by Christ is generosity. We must "send on ahead" as much as we possibly can through giving back to God (what is already His in the first place) of our time, talents, and money. This truly becomes the top 20% of our resources that leads to eternal rewards in heaven one day. Second, we focus on managing the money God has given to us to the best of our ability. This means having financial goals, an estate plan, the various types of insurances, a budget, and so on. We live below our means, depending on God to provide for our families. Third, we shed and cut back as much as possible on the lower 80% in order to reinvest in the top 20%. We must get to the point where we are thoughtfully and purposefully managing God's resources that He has entrusted to us in order to have the greatest Kingdom impact.

    Living 80/20 to expand our happiness

    Although I'm certainly not a proponent of living out our lives in order to solely pursue happiness through hedonism, we can structure the time, relationships, work, and money that have been given to us by God in such a way that will bring an increase to our overall happiness and satisfaction. Of course, it should go without saying that our overall happiness should spring forth out of our joy in the Lord. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

    In his book, Richard Koch gives 2 simple ways to increase happiness:
    • Identify the times when you are happiest and expand them as much as possible.
    • Identify the times when you are least happy and reduce them as much as possible.
    For the Christian, I would assert that the times when we're truly happy and filled with the joy of the Lord are the moments when we are giving back to the Lord and to others; the times we are truly fulfilling His mission for our lives here on earth. I would also assert that the times we are least happy and fulfilled are the times we are focused on ourselves, living a life of selfishness. We should focus more time and energy on our top 20% in the arena of happiness by giving more of ourselves away, and at the same time, we should be reducing our selfish tendencies.

    Are you living an 80/20 Christian life in the areas of time, relationships, work, money, and happiness? Why or why not?

    In Part 3, we will look at the ultimate example of the 80/20 principled life for the Christian - Jesus himself.

    Also check out these related posts:

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Creating an 80/20 Lifestyle (part 1)

    A Great Book

    Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading a great book on the Pareto Principle called The 80/20 Principle, The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch. I ended up purchasing this book on the recommendation of Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work-week. Tim is a big fan of the book because he has successfully applied the 80/20 principle to just about every part of his life.

    This week in a 3-part series, I’m going to blog on the use of the principles laid out in this book to maximize our effectiveness in living the rich Christian life.


    The underlying concept behind the 80/20 principle is that the world is extremely unbalanced. Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) first discovered this principle while he was investigating the patterns of wealth and income in nineteenth-century England. What he found is that the majority of income and wealth went to a minority of people. In and of its self, this was not very surprising, but Pareto also discovered two important facts in his research:
    1. There is a consistent mathematical relationship between the proportion of people and the amount of wealth this group enjoyed. In simple terms, if 20% of the people retained 80% of a nation’s wealth, then you could reliably predict that 10% would enjoy 65% and the top 5% would have 50%. The key to his discovery was not the percentages, but that the distribution of wealth across the population was predictably unbalanced.
    2. This pattern of imbalance was repeated consistently whenever he looked at the data for different historical time periods or other countries. The same pattern repeats its self with mathematical precision over and over again no matter the time or place.
    Although Pareto had uncovered a significant discovery, he was terrible at explaining his findings, and the importance of the principle lay dormant until after World War II. At this point, others such as George Zipf, Joseph Moses Juran, and the IBM company began utilizing the 80/20 principle in the area of business operations. Today, Pareto’s Principle is commonly known, taught, and practiced around the world.

    The Principle’s Importance

    We expect all causes to have an equal amount of significance – every customer is important, every product produced is as significant as the other, every relationship we engage in, and every minute of each day is of the exact same importance. Even though this idea of equality and “fairness” seems logical, the math and real life experience tells us otherwise. In business, 20% of customer base generates 80% of revenue and 20% of products produce 80% of the bottom line.

    Instead of fighting against this imbalance, we need to work with the imbalance, placing more time, energy, and action into the most profitable 20% of anything we do and less in the bottom 80%.

    In my next post, we will look at real life application of the 80/20 principle into our daily lives: our time, our relationships, and our work.

    Also check out these related posts:

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Blog changes are coming

    Over the next several days, there will be some technical site upgrades that will be occurring on the Rich Christian, Poor Christian Blog. I am suspending further posts until all of these take place. I am hoping that I will be able to return to a regular posting schedule by next week.

    I look forward to resuming our conversation then.