Have you ever prayed for patience?  I have, and there are few things that I have ever regretted more.  Don’t get me wrong, patience is a great thing.  It is one of the fruit of the Spirit, in fact, and we’ll get to that a little more in a minute. 

But trying to attain patience, the process of learning and developing patience, is a nightmare.  If you pray for patience, God will put you in all sorts of situations where you will have to be patient.  For some reason, that seems like a prayer He is always willing to answer with yes.  If you ask Him to help you become more patient, be prepared to wait, be frustrated, and cry it out.  Patience is a-coming.

That is why patience, in its truest form, is one of the most rare fruit to actually possess.  Many people may appear patient, but actually being able to use it to glorify God is an entirely different story. 

According to Google, patience means “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”  So how can somebody glorify God just by not getting upset or angry?  Isn’t that more like damage control?  Not necessarily.

We often think of ourselves as patient because we can mask our emotions.  We believe that as long as we keep our frustrations at bay, then we are being patient. 

But if the Google definition is accurate, and I believe it is, patience is not just being able to hide being upset.  It is having the spiritual constitution to not get upset in the first place.

Patience is one of the most tricky traits on the fruit of the spirit list because there are no obvious fruit.  Since the definition of patience revolves around not doing something, it is often difficult for it to even be identified.  In fact, the fruit that comes from patience is often credited as being a different kind of fruit.

When we see a fellow believer being patient through a tough situation, we usually admire their faithfulness.

When we notice other Christians being patient with people that are giving them a hard time, we are in awe of their gentleness.

When we see another Christian seeking to bless others even though their blessings have yet to arrive, we are overwhelmed by their kindness.

If we are truly patient with our circumstances, our relationships, and with God, we will be able to see other fruit appear in abundance.  It’s like I always say, “Be patient.  Be fruitful.”  Okay, I don’t always say that.  But maybe I should start.

 
I love baseball.  I love playing it, I love watching it, and I even love studying it.  Being a math guy, I really appreciate all of the statistical implications involved in the game and how they play themselves out on the field.  You know what they say: “Numbers don’t lie.”

Over the last 15 years or so, though, the numbers in baseball have been turned upside down.  You may have seen or heard of the Brad Pitt movie, Moneyball, that explains some of these changes.  Going back to the work of Bill James, baseball professionals have started to realize that the traditional ideas of successful players were not necessarily accurate.

Whereas traditional baseball scouts look for players that look big and strong, those that have natural-looking swings, those that have low sprint times, those that hit the longest home runs, and those that “look” like baseball stars, it turns out that those things often have little to do with actual statistical production.  Those same traits that were believed to be full-proof in baseball circles, as it turns out, are relatively worthless.

While I would love to give Bill James and his contemporaries all of the credit for these ideas, I believe we have to look back at the book of 1 Samuel to find the origin of these theories.  God had commanded Samuel to go out and anoint a king to replace Saul.  He rolled up on Jessie’s land and started sizing up his sons.  Just when Samuel thought he found the most kingly of the group, God dropped a little knowledge on him.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)

Yes, God is talking about the selection of a king in this particular passage.  Is He also talking about baseball?  I’ll let you decide.

I am pretty sure, though, that He is talking about every situation imaginable on earth.  We tend to have certain expectations of people based on their looks or their background.  We love to put people in boxes because it makes it easier on us. 

It’s time that we start looking at peoples’ hearts.  I know it is difficult because we are conditioned otherwise.  But when you are considering somebody for a job at your company, or looking for a person to fill a role in a project, take some time and get to know them.  Learn about who they are, what they believe, and where their heart is.  Then choose the qualified candidate whose heart is most in-line with your mission.

In all of his books, author Malcolm Gladwell points out that while conventional wisdom is usually simple and easy, it is not always true.  Things are often not as they appear.  So we need to be willing to abandon traditional expectations and look beyond the obvious.

As Christians, we claim to want to be just like Jesus.  Yet, we go with the flow and buy into whatever society tells us is acceptable or successful.  In order for us to carry out our mission of sharing Christ with the world, we need to be able to see things as they really are. 

Like Samuel being led to anoint young David as king, we need to be able to look past the smokescreen that society has created and find truth in the hearts of the people around us.  That is the only way we will be able to serve them, love them, introduce them to Jesus, and work alongside them to do the same for others.

Perhaps if I knew as much about the Bible as I do about baseball, this would be easier for me to do.  What’s stopping you?

 
I am a big sports fan.  No, I don’t mean that I really love sports.  I’m saying that I am a rotund fellow that enjoys sporting events. 

I always have, in fact.  When I was a little boy, I remember staying up late with my dad to watch basketball and baseball playoff games.  Those were great times.  The irony, however, is that it is more difficult for me to stay awake and watch them now than it was then.

The thing that has always bothered me about watching sports on television is that I could see the obvious mistakes made by the officials (referees, umpires, or whatever they call them in soccer (seriously, they call the field a pitch…I don’t get it)).  (Note:  That was my first parenthetical statement inside of a parenthetical statement...and it felt good.)   

Anyway, it frustrated me that the officials for the games often missed calls that I could see very clearly in my slow-motion zoomed-in replays on my television.  So why didn’t they just find a TV and make sure they got the call right? 

It wasn’t until I was in college that instant replay started being used to clarify close calls in sporting events.  A large argument against using replay was that it would eliminate the “human element” of the game.  For many, the judgment, no matter how erroneous it may be, is part of the game.  So any attempt to correct their mistakes is actually changing the games that we all know and love. 

I could not disagree more.  The more accurate the officiating would be, the more fair the games would be to each team and we would be more likely to see the team that actually plays better win the game.  In my opinion, the human element often ruins the game due to the lack of consistency and infallibility. 

The instant replay scenario is quite the opposite of what we are doing with ministry.  It seems like, the more we try to do and the more we plan it out, we are readily eliminating the human element of our ministry.  Sometimes we are meeting basic needs, other times we are entertaining, and every now and then we may even take the time to pray for and/or with someone. 

However, we tend to focus more on the details of the operation and less on those we are serving.    We put more emphasis on efficiency than relationships.  Many times, it seems that the majority of our ministry is focused on quantity than quality.  It’s more about accomplishing tasks and less about showing love.

I realize the merit in reaching out to 500 people instead of 50.  My point is that, when we ignore the human element of ministry, we make it more difficult for those we serve to see the real Jesus in our work.  When we fail to build relationships, we end up building barriers that make it hard for us to really love on people.

In your next ministry event, try to put a little more emphasis on the human element.  Build relationships, show love, and share your story.  That is always the right call.

 
Have you ever seen a gullible?  They are wild beasts, not much bigger than a badger but as dangerous as a rabid rhino.  Their fur is soft as silk and their whiskers are used to make the most delicate of harp strings.  Legend has it that if you stare into a mirror for 30 seconds without looking away a gullible will appear before your eyes.

Some people will believe anything, right?  I mean, I know it is fun to watch your little brother run around in the woods chasing a snipe.  But it is not really as much fun when you are on the other side of the trick, is it?

Sometimes it is easy for us to believe information fed to us by those we trust.  We also tend to believe whatever seems to be common knowledge and follow the common practices of those around us even when we don’t completely understand them. 

We follow these practices to fit in, and we are conditioned to believe common knowledge because it must be common knowledge for a reason, right?  And the reason we readily accept information from those we trust is because we…trust…them.  Trust is a great thing.  I actually believe we need to trust people more, especially those that we share our spiritual journeys with.

However, we need to be careful when we start blindly accepting what people tell us.  Our relationships with God are too important for us to take someone else’s word about how to live them out, even the word of those we trust.  Yes, we should listen to Christian counsel.  Yes, we should study sermon notes.  Yes, we should read books by Christian authors (like my book later this year).

Yet, we should also be reading the Bible and spending time in prayer to allow the Holy Spirit to help us discern whether information is truth or needs further investigation.  We need to take the time to actually question those things that are presented to us as absolutes.  We need to make sure that we believe something because our experiences tell us it is true and not because we heard it from somebody else.

Many people would tell you that questioning your beliefs is a sign of insecurity or weakness.  They may tell you that showing any form of doubt is detrimental to your faith.  I beg to differ.  I believe that if you take the time to investigate what the Bible says about certain issues, you pray for guidance on those issues, you read books about them, and talk to other Christians about them, you will ultimately have stronger faith because you know why you believe the things that you believe.

Ask questions.  Read more.  Prayer harder.  These are the things that make your faith strong.


 
As I recently sent my 2,000th tweet on Twitter, I have decided to spend some time looking back on the past few years.  What things have I done well?  What things could I have done better?  One reality that is clear, considering the fact that I have tweeted 2,000 times, is that I talk too much.

Speaking with each other is how we build relationships.  That is how we learn about one another, learn from one another, and share our testimonies.  Words can be very powerful.

However, we usually are not careful enough with our words.  While we may try to be intentional with what we say, we still end up spouting things out in an attempt to be funny, or seem smart, or stand out in whatever way seems appealing at the moment.  Our words are the primary way that we show people who we are.  Unfortunately, we often try too hard to say things that illustrate who we are…or who we wish we were.

When looking for Biblical evidence to support the importance of words, we need to look no further than the original source of dropped knowledge: the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs is a book full of wisdom, and it can cut deep into the heart of complex issues.  However, it also supports the beauty and power of simplicity.  In light of today’s topic, I shall follow suit.

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.  (Proverbs 21:23 NIV)

 
“Kind” is not a word that we use very often, at least not correctly.  People often talk about being nice, or pleasant, or caring.  But kindness is a concept that unfortunately is often sold short by comparing it to these other terms, and they are usually substituted for it out of convenience.  In fact, I probably would have never heard the word “kind” growing up if it did not rhyme with “rewind.”  (Note:  Nobody under 23 will get that joke.)

Kindness is so much more than anything it is commonly associated with.  Being nice or pleasant is not necessarily genuine; it is more like being consistently polite, which people fake every day.  Caring is great, but it does not always result in action. 

Kindness involves showing authentic love through intentional actions.  Actually loving people and caring about them is the foundation of kindness.  Wanting to help them, wanting to spend time with them, and being willing to give up your own interests are all essential roots from which kindness can grow. 

We can give lip service to kindness all day and talk about how much we love each other or how dedicated we are to making our community a better place.  But do we really mean it?  Do we really care about helping people, or do we want them to get help as long as we are not inconvenienced?

Pure, genuine love.  Actually feeling pain for those in pain and not just knowing that there are people hurting is the difference between actual kindness and playing Christian.  That is why a strong foundation of genuine love and concern is vital to being kind.

Using that foundation as motivation to serve widows and orphans, meet the needs of the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit those that are alone, build relationships with non-believers, comfort those in pain and anything else the Holy Spirits leads us to do is what kindness is all about. 

People often associate kindness with gentleness, and sometimes confuse both of these traits for weakness or being timid.  That could not be further from the truth.  Anybody can have a heart for a cause, but people that truly show kindness get off of their behinds and make a difference.  Let’s make a difference today.

 
So I’m writing a book.  I have been working for a few months on expanding some material that has come from this blog, and I hope to release an e-book later this year.  It has been a very exciting experience so far, but has also proven to be very busy.

I actually had my first meeting with my unofficially official editor last week.  It felt like I was asking somebody to pick apart my soul and tell me everything I had ever done wrong.  But she went easy on me, and she was very encouraging.  There was one piece of encouragement, in fact, that I plan to apply not only to my writing, but to my testimony.

As we were discussing my questionable grammar and what she referred to as a “voice,” she told me that I need to be conversational.  She insisted that it would make my book more relatable and that it allows me to be a part of the text.

How often do we try to be proper or formal when we are sharing the gospel?  In fact, we usually end up being downright formulaic.  I suppose we are afraid that we will mess something up or get something wrong.  But ultimately, we end up taking the power out of our testimony.

Testimonies are supposed to be more than sharing a step by step process for getting to know Jesus.  Sharing your testimony is supposed to be sharing your story and your experience with Jesus, and letting people know how much He means to you.  When we try to formalize it or follow a prescribed witnessing plan, we take our experience out of the equation.

Being conversational allows our voice and our story to be prominent in our testimony.  It also invites those we are sharing with into our stories and into our lives.  If we invite them in and they see firsthand what a relationship with Jesus is all about, that is when our testimony is most impactful.

Be relatable.  Be personal.  Be conversational.  That is how Jesus dealt with people, so maybe it is time we start doing the same.

 
Recently, I wrote a blog post where I quoted nine consecutive verses of scripture.  That’s crazy, right?  People don’t have time to add that much Bible to their random daily blog reading.  In a world dominated by Twitter and text messages, how could I expect people to be patient enough to endure all that extra scripture?

While I am obviously being sarcastic, that was my actual thought process after I added the passage.  I had actually written out a brief apology for using that many verses in my post.  As I re-read my apology, I asked myself, “Did I just apologize for asking people to read the Bible?”  And that, my friends, is where my ideas for blog posts come from.

Why on earth would I apologize for asking somebody to read the Bible?  Is it ever a bad thing to take in more of God’s Word?  No.  It’s not.  Yet, I felt guilty for adding an extra 30-45 seconds of reading to my brief blog post.  I was that worried about inconveniencing people. 

I want to say that is laughable.  I wish I could say this was just me being weird.  But I have a feeling that we do this much more than we realize. 

I understand that streamlining information can be useful if you are trying to get and keep peoples’ attention nowadays.  However, is it really necessary to consolidate or even water down the gospel just to make sure folks don’t get bored or distracted?  Do we really need to apologize when we expect a little bit of commitment to growing closer to Christ?

The answer, of course, is no.  We, as Christians, need to hold each other to a higher standard.  We need to have more accountability.  If we were doing this thing right, there would be no hesitation in expecting another believer to take a step closer to God.  It would be an honor to be called out in obedience by a fellow Christian.

Last week, I almost apologized for asking you to read a significant passage of the Holy Bible.  I was afraid that putting more spiritual content on my Christian blog would make people not want to read it.  For that, I do owe you an apology.  I am truly sorry, and I assure you that I will never hesitate to expect spiritual dedication from you again.

 
This may come as a huge shock to most of you, but I don’t consider myself a snazzy dresser.  I know I always look good, but it’s mostly genetics.  Sorry to spoil that for you.

Seriously though, I’d say about 40% of the time I end up changing clothes before I leave my house because my wife informs me that my clothes don’t match.  I know little about color schemes, and even less about fashion.  That’s what makes me the perfect person to write on this subject.

The way I see it, there are four different categories of church outfits.  Each has its own merit, but none of them are perfect.  Which one of these categories do you fall into?

1.  The hipster – Blue jeans.  T-shirt.  Sport coat.  Shiny shoes.  One of these things does not belong, but they work so well together.  Usually, the hipster also rocks some sort of think-framed glasses.  More often than not, they don’t even have a prescription.  This category is meant for a person that desperately wants to look cool, but does not want anybody to know.  (Note:  No matter how disheveled your hair looks, we know you did it on purpose.)

2.  Business casual – Just like it sounds: nice looking shirt and “good” jeans, possibly khakis but they must be accompanied by sneakers.  This look screams “I want to be wearing pajamas” and whispers “I care enough not to.”  There is a good chance that most of these folks wore the same outfit to work on casual Friday, and they really could not care less if anybody notices.  These people value comfort above appearance…obviously.

3.  The rebel – Old faded t-shirt, ripped up blue jeans, last summer’s sandals.  These people dress down just to show you that dressing up is not necessary for worship.  Unlike the hipsters, the rebels actually do have “bed head” and there is a good chance they slept in their t-shirts.  They want to pull off the “hobo” look with as little class as possible, and they hope somebody has the guts to confront them about their attire.  Rebels value their right to worship as an individual, and they take the song “Come Just As Your Are” literally.

4.  The Sunday best – Pretty simple: the nicest thing in your closet.  This is the most well known category for church attire, as its common name is derived from standard church etiquette.  Some of these people look forward to looking their best as give their all to worshiping their creator, while some of them are just too worried about being judged to wear anything else.

While I tend to alternate through categories, myself, I usually fall into "business casual" out of sheer laziness.  However, I really don’t have any problem with any of them.  I think you should dress in such a way that it does not even become an issue when you worship.  If you start thinking about your clothes during the service, then it becomes a problem.

That is why, while I am all for wearing whatever you want, I have real trouble dealing with the “Sunday best” mentality…and even the phrase itself.  I believe it gives off an elitist vibe that turns non-believers off when it comes to church.  If they believe they will be judged for any reason, especially something as silly as clothing, they are much less likely to be open to the love we have to offer.

So while I encourage everyone to dress however you want, be careful in how you discuss church attire.  If anything, aren’t we trying to send the message that what is on the surface doesn’t really matter?  Let’s be very clear about that, and we may be surprised by the number of people that feel more welcome in our worship services.

 
Have you ever been wrong?  Not me.  I thought I was once, but I was mistaken.

It’s true that we always want to be right.  But we can’t always be.  And that really should not be a problem for anybody, unless you plan to interact with other people from time to time.  That could get a little frustrating.

We have to interact with people every day.  That is unless you are “middle school Jamie” sitting in your bedroom learning how to hack your neighbor’s computers using a dial up connection and chugging a 2-liter of Squirt.  Otherwise, you are probably forced to talk to, and maybe even work toward a common goal with, other people every day.

Well, at least this is a simple task at church since we all share the same common goals.  Wait…what’s that?  Church business isn’t simple?  Ministry projects don’t plan themselves?  People have different ideas about how to deliver the gospel?  Yeah, right.  Am I supposed to believe that there are Bible versions other than the King James, too?

Any time you get people together, there are sure to be several different opinions.  That can be a problem if you are trying to finalize details of a project, set a balanced budget, or even decide on the start time of a potluck.  For the record, they should always start at 5 p.m.  That leaves room to eat the meal, have dessert, and get hungry enough for leftovers before bedtime.

But it is of the utmost importance that we all work to get on the same page.  We need to be reading scripture, talking to one another, and spending time in prayer asking that the Holy Spirit lead us all in the same direction.

In the book of Acts, it is reiterated over and over that the early church was on the same page.  In fact, the author makes this point clear by saying that they were all on “one accord” no less than ten times.  That phrase, “one accord,” seems to come up almost every time that the apostles and their followers are about to see an increase in numbers.  The author attributes a large part of their success in spreading the gospel to the fact that they were all on the same page. 

If we can get an entire group of Christians moving in the same direction, without even so much as an unspoken objection, we will accomplish great things.  Unfortunately, between our “me generation” mentality and our mega-churches, it would seem like a miracle to get everyone on one accord. 

In order for us to get on the same page, we all need to take a step back from our own feelings, opinions, and even our own logical judgment to listen to the Holy Spirit.  If we start getting our minds, our hearts, and especially our wallets involved, we immediately compromise the ability of our group of believers to follow the will of Christ.

We need to spend time in the Bible daily so we can better understand what ministry is all about.  We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us all in the same direction.  We also need to pray that we will be able to leave our biases out of the equation.

Pray.  Read.  Pray.  Plan.  Pray.  In that order.  That’s our best chance at getting on one accord with one another.

Have you ever been completely in tune with a group of believers when spreading the gospel?  How do you think that impacted your ministry?