Archive | July, 2013

A Brief Introduction to the Aerobic Benefits of Political Rallies

31 Jul

Read: Matthew 6:1-13

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

Matthew 6:7 NASB

 

I learned early on that political rallies are governed by certain unspoken rules of conduct which, if observed, serve as an adequate substitute for a gym membership.  Among these, are the following:

  1. Applause is to be rendered for every speaker.  This rule must be observed regardless of who he is, what he says (though it is considered good form to find something about which to applaud even if it is merely the grace with which he introduces the man who will be introducing the key-note speaker), or whether you have ever even heard his name.  A ten minute ovation at the end of his introduction is customary.
  2. Regardless of your personal feelings towards a given speaker, any effort on his part to “share the vision” must be greeted with a standing ovation.  The length of this sporadic applause varies based upon the rank or status of the speaker, however the conclusion of any speech is usually met with applause appropriate to the man who may be the next U.S. President (even if he is merely a City Councilman).
  3. It is vital to maintain a reasonable (but not excessive) interval between bouts of applause.  If five minutes pass without the speaker having said anything of note, it is incumbent upon all listeners to find something vaguely worthy of recognition and lead off an ovation.  (Everyone else in the room will usually follow, even if they have lost track of the speaker’s main point, since it is considered worse form to refrain from applause than to applaud for whatever irrelevant point has just been made.)

In practice, observance of these rules (and the accompanying aerobic program) looks something like this:

Climbing onto the stage, a relatively low ranking official (though higher ranking than most of the audience) calls the room to order.  Since he is introducing the speaker who will introduce the key-note speaker, he only speaks for five minutes and shares a few brief remarks concerning the quality of family life observed by the speaker who will follow.  After concluding his introduction, everyone in the room rises from their seats and offers the mandatory ten minutes of applause.

Next, the speaker introducing the key-note speaker ascends the podium and delivers a few “brief remarks”.  These last for at least half an hour (partly due to the applause taking place at five minute intervals) and are concluded with the thunder of another ten minute ovation.

The keynote speaker then rises and speaks for an hour or more, during which the aerobics reach their glorious peak and older and weaker members of the audience sporadically pass out due to overexertion.

As you can see, this makes for a fine workout.  Unfortunately, for most of the attendees these repeated standing ovations are meaningless.  They are repeated simply to make the person offering the applause appear to be more truly “American”, not because individuals actually feel any connection to the points being made.

Sadly, many Christians fall into a similar habit with their prayer lives.  While prayer is meant to connect us with God, all too often, we fall into the rut of simply repeating the same words over and over.  Like those at a political rally, we must take care to pay attention to what is being said because, unlike politicians, God wants more from our conversation than endless repetitions.  He is seeking a relationship… and that can only be developed when we take the time to truly connect with His message through our prayers.

Challenge:  Do your prayers sound like dialogue or are they merely endless chatter?  The next time you sit down to pray, do so intentionally – with plans to develop a relationship.  You’ll gain far more than can ever be acquired through inattentive repetition!

Encountering the World of Islam

29 Jul

What does it mean to be a follower of Islam? The question is a simple one, but the answers are not. According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today – that’s nearly ¼ of the world’s entire population! Spread out across six continents, these faithful seek each day to become more wholly submitted to the will of Allah, but what this looks like can vary tremendously from one sect to another. That’s why Keith E. Swartley’s textbook, “Encountering the World of Islam” was one of my first stops as I began seeking a deeper understanding of a faith so different from my own.

Designed to provide Christians with an introduction to the development and expression of Muslim belief, “Encountering the World of Islam” takes an in depth look at the origins, theology, and culture which surround this historic faith. In eleven carefully planned lessons, readers will learn what it means to be a Muslim, what the faith looks like in daily life, and how they can most effectively communicate their own faith with their Islamic friends. Supplemental readings introduced students to the world of Muslim missions (and some of the difficult questions which surround the topic) while practical activities help readers to better understand the culture which surrounds one of our world’s biggest religions. Join in the online community and you’ll receive an even more enlightening introduction!

Re-released in updated form by IVP Books in 2012, “Encountering the World of Islam” is available for $27.12 in paperback and makes an excellent introduction for everyone from the casual observer to the mission-minded believer!

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Solutions to Sleeplessness

26 Jul

Last week in “Sleep and Evangelism”, we took a look at a few of the medical benefits to sleep and how it affects our daily lives (including our ability to effectively share the Gospel with those around us).  We discussed the role it plays in healing our bodies, spurring creativity, and improving our memories. Clearly, God had a purpose when He created sleep.  So what do we do if we aren’t getting enough?  Here are some good ideas:

  1. Take a good look at your schedule.  If your day is packed from dawn to dusk or filled with tasks that keep you awake until different times each night, you’ve likely found the reason for your restlessness.  Prayerfully consider which activities are really important… then let the rest go.  Remember that there is a time and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), so even if you have to let an opportunity fall by the wayside now, it doesn’t mean that it will remain there forever.  If reducing your workload isn’t possible, try creating a sleep schedule that will at least help you get to bed at the same time each night.  Just adding a dependable rhythm to your slumber can make a huge difference in its quality![1]
  2. Put the electronics away.  Studies show that the light emitted by devices like laptops, iPods, and television sets actually prevents our bodies from emitting the hormone melatonin… which helps us fall asleep.[2]  Try putting these devices away an hour before bed.  Then use the spare time for ritual pre-bed tasks like reading a devotional or brushing your teeth.
  3. Eat right and don’t eat late.  While going to bed hungry isn’t good, neither is going to bed too full.  Try making dinner your last opportunity to eat each day.  And don’t only make it your last meal, make it a healthy one.  You may be surprised at how much your diet and eating habits impact your slumber![3]
  4. Exercise.  Even a little conscientious stretching can set the rhythm necessary for a good night’s sleep.  Before you panic about needing to pump iron before bed, however, take a look at the National Sleep Institute’s 2013 poll.  Participants indicated that restful nights weren’t dependent on when during the day they worked out, just that they did![4]  A simple decision to take the stairs instead of the elevator or ride your bike instead of catching the bus can make a big difference.
  5. Count sheep… or better yet, say your prayers.  While it might sound disrespectful at first, prayer can play a vital role in taking our minds off the concerns that plagued us during the day, placing our focus back on God… exactly where it belongs!  This helps to shut down the ever-turning wheels of our brains, allowing us to relax and get the sleep we so desperately need.

These, of course, are only a few suggestions.  If you’d like a few more, take a look at the articles footnoted in this post.  You’re sure to find some great ideas that will set you on the path to getting the sleep you need if you’re going to live a life that brings glory to God!

The Page Cage

24 Jul

Read: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1 NASB

 

Our State House of Representatives had a special office set aside for the pages.  It was an unusually small room (perhaps eight feet by four feet) jam-packed with files and monitors and snacks and backpacks and, for one brief, glimmering moment: pages.  Seventeen of us, as a matter of fact.

It had been a rather slow day and, despite offers to let us leave the Capitol early, we had each elected to stay.  It wasn’t an odd decision given that we were making nearly double minimum wage just for being there, but it did leave us with an important dilemma: just what do with all that spare time.  The committee rooms had been prepared, our errands run, our Representatives prepped and now it was just a group of teenagers left to their own devices.

I don’t remember who suggested it, but someone came up with the idea that it would be fun to see if all of us really could fit into the cramped space affectionately known as “the page cage”.  One by one, we made our way inside, folding ourselves into fetal positions, craning arms, and elevating legs until all of us were cozily tucked away.  It was a poor fit, but it worked – just long enough for the Assistant Sergeant at Arms to wander by and discover the mass of grinning faces peering at her through the door.

While it was fun for a few minutes, I have to admit that I was glad to unfold myself and get out!  I needed space… and so do the activities in our lives.  While it can be tempting to pack our hours as full as possible, the Bible advises against it.  Scripture tells us that seasons in our lives come and go and that there is a time for every activity under the sun.  Instead of trying to jam everything into a few days, weeks, or years, we should allow ourselves the time to enjoy the journey… and to do everything well.

Challenge:  Sit down and take a good, honest look at your schedule.  Are you doing too much?  If so, commit to paring down your activities – giving time to the things that matter right now and letting everything else wait.  There will be time enough in the end!

How to Talk about Jesus without Freaking Out

22 Jul

A Hollywood producer, Karen Covell was used to speaking her mind on just about everything… except, that is, her faith.  For some reason, opening her mouth to explain why she trusted in Christ left her feeling weak-kneed.  Why was it that she had such difficulty expressing the one thing that mattered most?

Evangelism can be challengeing – especially for those of us who weren’t gifted with Billy Graham’s charisma.  Put us on the spot and we freeze.  We know we should say something, but what? Even if we do know what, how can we be sure we’ve said all of the “important” stuff?  And what do we do if the conversation turns hostile?  The answers to these questions may be simpler than we think.

In How to Talk About Jesus (Without Freaking Out), Karen, her husband Jim (a composer) and friend Victorya (an agent) draw upon their own experiences to teach readers a simple, relational way to talk about Christ without feeling awkward.  Like most things in Hollywood, the technique is based upon the concept of story-telling: the story of the person in front of you, your personal story, and the story of God and His love for humanity.  It’s about learning to give a testimony – in a way that clearly and honestly demonstrates the work of Christ in you.

Packed full of helpful hints and tips on everything from addressing personal fears to answering deep theological questions, How to Talk About Jesus (Without Freaking Out) provides readers with a variety of effective techniques that will be comfortable for any personality type.  It’s a great introduction to evangelism for everyone whether they’re new to the faith or an old hand!

Re-released by Thrilling LIfe Publishers in 2013, How to Talk About Jesus (Without Freaking Out) is available for $16.14 in paperback.

Evangelism and Physical Fitness: Sleep and Evangelism

19 Jul

Sleep is a natural part of our bodies’ rhythm, a need hard-wired into us by our Creator.  Overindulging the need is sinful, but ignoring it is equally so.  Last week in “Evangelism and Physical Fitness”, we took a very brief look at what the Bible has to say about the important role that sleep plays in our lives.  Far from being a random commandment, God’s concern for our rest has a solid basis in human physiology.  Scientists have told us much about the value of sleep in our lives.  Here’s a look at just a few of its benefits along with some thoughts on how those benefits help us to be better evangelists!

  1. Our bodies do much to repair the ravages of the day while we slumber.  Muscles damaged by use are knit back together and injuries are healed.  The result is that those who get regular, quality sleep heal faster and are more capable of performing the physical tasks necessary for a productive life.  This is important to us as “spiritual warriors” because no combatant, no matter how skilled, is able to fight a battle that they don’t have the energy to show up for!
  2. Our bodies and minds are deeply interconnected, so it should come as no surprise that what influences one often times influences the other – and sleep is no exception.  It is during sleep that memories from the preceding day are consolidated.  This helps us to better recall information when it’s time to take a test or put a new skill into practice.  The value of this should be evident.  Those who wish to find success in school, the workplace, or as evangelists, need to be able to remember and use what they have learned.
  3. Sleep decreases irritability.  People who receive sufficient rest are more capable of viewing situations in a logical fashion and have shown an increased ability to control their physical responses.  (Indeed, it appears that driving tired may be far more dangerous than driving drunk![1]  Now imagine going through an entire day like this!)  The result is that more rest generally equals less erratic action both physically and emotionally.  The end product is an improvement not only in the quality of our work, but also in the quality of our relationships – something of vital importance to the evangelist.  After all, what good is sharing the Gospel if our lives don’t reflect the patience and love of Christ?
  4. Sleep improves our ability to pay attention to what happens around us when we are awake.  We are more likely to notice details and recognize potential dangers in advance.  The result is that we remember more of what we see or study.  As Christian warriors, this attention to detail is vital to our ability to recognize opportunities to share the Good News of the Gospel with others.  It also increases our ability to learn from each experience.
  5.  Sleep spurs our creative problem-solving abilities.[2]  This means that we’re less likely to commit the “insanity” of trying the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time.  It also means that we’re more likely to think of new and more efficient ways to accomplish the tasks at hand – whether those tasks involve creating a better model for customer service, developing a more efficient robotic hand, or finding the most appropriate way to address a skeptic’s questions.

Obviously, the benefits of sufficient sleep are enormous!  So what should you do if you aren’t getting enough sleep?  We’ll take a look at some solutions next week.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own experiences with sleep enhanced/deprived evangelism in the comment box below!

Kodak Moment

17 Jul

Read: Luke 12:13-34

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-46 NASB

 

My first day working for the Senator was an eventful one, to say the least.  Our Regional Director had been having computer problems for a little over a week and had come into the office on that particular morning to find that her computer had crashed.  Completely.  The result was that, instead of spending the morning training me, she spent most of her time on the phone with the Senate IT tech trying to figure out how to restart the system. At one point, this required that she retrieve the computer’s serial number from her CPU.

This was rather a dilemma, since the CPU was neatly and irretrievable stashed behind her desk.  In order to reach it, she had to clear everything off her desk, moving it into the office’s other nooks and crannies.  Then, to get far enough behind her desk to read the number, she had to lean over the top and flip upside down behind it.  I remember smiling as I watched her standing on her head, talking to the tech (who was privy to the entire process via speaker-phone).

“I think this is a Kodak moment,” I said with a grin.

“It had better not be,” she threatened, “or your six month review won’t be pretty.”

As complex as computers are, my boss’ situation was really quite a simple one.  She had something she needed (a computer that worked) and she was willing to do whatever was necessary to get it (hanging upside down behind her desk)… even if it looked a little silly.

Unfortunately, many times, we as Christians are more concerned with what we look like, than with what we need.  Scripture tells us that we should take care when it comes to setting our priorities.  While it is pleasant to have the respect of others, if that becomes our primary focus, we will lose what really matters: the approval of God.

Challenge:  The next time you find yourself asking what others will think, take a moment to ask what God thinks.  Then, act upon the latter.  The rewards will be far beyond what you can imagine!

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