Just Do It!

Character–whether good or bad–is simply the accumulation of habits over time.

Godly character is not formed in a moment, merely by an act of the will to choose what is right. But when that act of the will to choose what is right is repeated hundreds (or thousands) of times over the course of many years–that is what gradually forms a Godly character.

Bad character is not formed in a moment either, by one impulsive act or choice to sin. Rather, bad character is formed gradually through repeated decisions to sin over the course of many years.

Sometimes, if I’m talking with someone further along in their Christian maturity than me, I get the impression that, in their mind, what I’m struggling with is really no big deal. Therefore their counsel to me might come across as dismissive or simplistic, like the answer is obvious and I need to just do it! If I’m honest, though, I realize I probably do the same thing if I’m giving counsel to someone younger than me. I forget how intensely I used to struggle with the same thing they are encountering, and how impossible it must seem to them to ever be free of it.

And I forget that the freedom I experience now did not come through a one-and-done decision that “Doggone it, I’m not going to do this anymore.” No, the freedom I now experience came very slowly over many years of practicing habits and making little everyday decisions to pursue what is right. And in the daily grind of those 1001 little choices, it did not feel like anything was changing or maturing, but habits were forming that were moving me toward a greater maturity in Christ.

So in those opportunities to speak into the life of someone who is younger in faith, carelessly dismissing their struggle and expecting them to just do the right thing is not very helpful for them, no matter how true or wise “just doing the right thing” would be. Instead, I need to help them see their little, moment-by-moment choices that are becoming habits that gradually form their character. Likewise, I need to help them imagine new little, moment-by-moment choices that in time would also become habits, but would move them toward a Godly character instead.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Highlights from CCEF Conference

My wife and I greatly enjoyed attending the CCEF National Conference together this past weekend! Here are a few of the highlights for me, along with some oimg_1116ther random observations from our trip…

Most beautiful house: on Forest Ave, a few blocks from where we were staying on the North Shore in Chattanooga.

Favorite new song I learned at the conference: We Will Feast in the House of Zion

Favorite kinda new song we sang at the conference: Psalm 126

Favorite old song we sang at the conference: How Firm a Foundation (In case you can’t tell, singing together with 2000 other Christians so many songs rich in Gospel truths was one of the best parts of the conference for me!)

Favorite quote from the conference: Joni Eareckson Tada compared suffering to “splash-overs of hell,” but then said that “Splash-overs of heaven are: finding Jesus with you in the splash-overs from hell.”

Best find in the conference bookstore: The Radical Book for Kids, selling for $12.50 (50% off) before it has even been released!

Best restaurant food: sweet potato fries at Urban Stack in Chattanooga. So good!

Best lunch deal: a 4-pack of meal-size Santa Fe Chicken Salads for $5 (total!), from Costco.

Favorite insight from a speaker: Aaron Sironi reminded us that the essence of marriage is a one-flesh union, therefore marital conflict is more like an autoimmune disease (i.e. a body fighting against itself) than like a boxing match (2 opponents fighting each other).

Favorite speaker: David Powlison is a man I greatly respect, whose writing and teaching have become very influential in my thinking. He did not have a full plenary session to teach this time, but I was scrambling to jot down notes even from his opening remarks at the beginning of the conference–he has a lot of wisdom to share.

Most touching moment in the conference: Joni Eareckson Tada’s birthday landed during the conference, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her in the session when she and ice-signDavid Powlison had a “fireside chat.” Then Ken Tada (her husband) and Nan Powlison (David’s wife) came out with a gift for Joni and honored her–it was an emotional moment.

Most confusing road sign: We flew into Atlanta, and then drove up to Chattanooga, and all along the highway we kept seeing this sign. Huh?!
I finally came to the conclusion that it meant that the section of roadway that was a bridge might be icy even if the rest of the road was not icy, so proceed with caution. If I’m ever driving that road in winter, I guess I’ll have to watch out.

Making Space

One of my favorite descriptions of spiritual disciplines comes from Henri Nouwen, who says that discipline and discipleship have the same root word, and disciplines are “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” To create space means that you must “prevent everything in your life from being filled up…that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied.”

My wife and I have been blessed with the opportunity to attend the CCEF National Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee this weekend. We were doubly blessed to have a couple days on either side of the conference to pull away from the busyness of our regular life, to rest and refresh. So we’re finishing up a stay in a little town called Peachtree City, img_1091just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, where we have had lots of “un-occupied” time, rather than filling up every spare moment with something to see or do. And in that “space” God is refreshing our hearts in ways that we did not plan on.

As I was working on a writing project yesterday, there was enough space available in the unhurried afternoon to follow some “rabbit trails” of what I was studying, and God led me to some discoveries that were surprising and exciting (at least to me!). I was looking at Luke 5:16 where it says that Jesus often withdrew to desolate places to pray, and I decided to explore the word “withdrew.” What I discovered was that the Greek word in Scripture that is translated “withdraw” or “withdrew” in English is a comprised of two words together–the preposition that means “under” and the verb that means “to leave space which may be filled or occupied by another.”

So when Jesus withdrew, it literally means He went “under space.” He submitted to (i.e. came under the authority of) some empty space in order to have room to be filled and occupied by another, namely His Father, through prayer. Jesus went to a desolate place, where there was nothing to fill His time or preoccupy His heart. But He did not do that merely to empty Himself as in Buddhism, but in order that His mind and heart could be occupied fully with His Father in prayer.

May you–and may I–learn to create space in the midst of our busyness, so that our hearts can be filled with all that the Father desires to lavish on us.

Hurry Up & Learn Patience!

I’m all for patience–I just wish it wasn’t such a slow process!

In my family growing up, anger was often present but rarely acknowledged. Outwardly we were a very calm family who believed that all anger was ungodly, but that simply meant that our anger was only expressed in a simmering, passive-aggressive manner. So I’ve never thought of myself as an angry person.

My perceptiogood-and-angryn of myself has been changing over the past four years since our adopted, special-needs daughter joined our family. There have been far more visible expressions of anger coming out of me in these four years than ever before. God is graciously allowing me to see that I am not the patient, calm person that I thought I was.

So when David Powlison’s book, Good and Angry, was recently published, it immediately caught my attention. Powlison calls the good form of anger “the constructive displeasure of mercy,” and he says there are four key aspects in that: patience, forgiveness, charity, and constructive conflict. His description of patience was very insightful to me:

You bear with difficult people and events, not out of indifference, resignation, or cowardice. You hang in there because you are driven by a different purpose. You are willing to work slowly to solve things. Patience is not passivity. It is how to be purposeful and constructive in the face of great difficulties. You are even willing to live constructively for a long time within seeming insoluble evils. By definition, patience means that what’s wrong doesn’t change right away. (pg 78)

That’s part of my struggle in loving my daughter: I know my impatient anger toward her is wrong, but if I think that the only other option is to have no anger, then I just end up in resignation or indifference, which also is wrong. So to see true patience as the Godly balance between those two extremes is helpful—I can still agree that her mindlessness and disobedience is wrong, but at the same time be willing to work slowly over a long period of time to solve that. To be patient with her means agreeing that something is wrong without demanding instant change. When I stop to think about it, I know that some things are changing in my daughter, but it’s just extremely slow. So I know I need to continue to persist in training her (even though the easier thing is to slide into resignation), and yet in the training accept the reality that change is far, far slower than I would like (rather than pushing for immediate change).

The ironic thing is that my daughter has been far more patient with me in my stumbling attempts to love than I have with her in her stumbling attempts to learn.