Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Brain Filter

By now you all know I’m an OCD introvert at heart.  Sometimes I wish I could be spontaneous, make snap decisions, take action, live large, dangerous and free.  But then there are the times when I’m thankful for the filter part of my brain that carefully evaluates and assesses each thought before the action part of my brain kicks in.

Case in point…

I like to get to the gym early on Saturday and Sunday mornings to run.  There’s no noise, no one jockeying for position on the track, no kids sprinting around you; just soothing silence at 7:00 a.m.

I’m in the change room getting into my running gear  Tank top…check, shoes…check, sports bra…check, socks…check, running watch…check, shorts…  What, no shorts!  Frantic digging in backpack ensues.  The worst is confirmed.  No shorts!

I really don’t want to waste time driving home to get them. 

“Maybe I could run in my jeans.”  The brain filter wakes momentarily from its slumber to rule this out as way too restrictive. 
                                                                                                                           
“I wonder if anyone would notice if I ran in my underwear.  There’s not a lot of people around.  It's no different than a two-piece bathing suit”

The brain filter, still on guard from the previous thought, quickly vetoes this unacceptable idea.  Inspiration strikes!  Superstore is two minutes away and they generally have inexpensive workout gear.

Fast forward ten minutes to Superstore’s deserted lady’s clothing department.  Who knew the women’s department isn’t staffed at 7:30 in the morning?  I stand shorts in hand, staring at the locked fitting rooms. 

“Maybe I could crawl underneath the door…” 

The brain filter, thoroughly appalled by the audacity of this thought, deems it necessary to take more serious preventative measures, conjuring up a mental image of WKRP’s, Herb Tarlek, in a carp suit trapped underneath the door of a pay toilet. 

I snicker involuntarily and glance around to make sure no one heard.  Fine, no crawling under doors.  (For those of you who have never had the pleasure of watching this particular hilarity you can view the WKRP episode at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYbLzYCFYhw )

“What about just doing a quick change in the alcove by the fitting rooms?  The store’s relatively deserted, probably no one would even notice.” 

I glance furtively around the women’s department.  The brain filter takes swift evasive maneuvers and delivers up a brilliant HD image of me being hauled out of the alcove, half naked, by store security.  It’s not a pretty sight! 

Fine!  I surrender to the brain filter and walk the extra steps to the Customer Service desk to get a clerk to unlock a fitting room for me.

My brain filter has saved me from bad decisions on more than this occasion.  In fact it’s rescued me many times throughout my life.  But then there are the times when I’ve ignored the brain filter and regretted it later.  Some of those instances I’d rather forget!

The brain filter is a good thing.  It’s there so we don’t have to give in to every thought we have.  Isn’t it cool that God wired our brains this way?  We have choices and the brain filter helps us evaluate and choose between good and bad decisions.

You might know the brain filter by different names…

Will power
Self-control
Discipline

All of these things are inside of us.  We just have to exercise them. 

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  1 Corinthians 10:13

 
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT...
 
What decision are you toying with today? 
  • Spending money you can’t afford
  • Stealing office supplies from work
  • Cheating on an exam
  • An emotional affair on Facebook
  • Cheating on your taxes

Whatever the temptation, there’s ALWAYS a way out.  Ask God to kick your brain filter into high gear.  Exercise self-control and will power.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Is Here

Candles flicker in the nativity scene.  Coloured lights twinkle in the dark.  Presents overflow their space under the tree.  Christmas is here.

John Lennon sings, “So this is Christmas.  And what have you done?”

What have I done to prepare for Christmas?  What have you done?

Christmas is a bit of a schizophrenic holiday.  There’s the busy cooking, baking, shopping, cleaning, make everything perfect, Santa’s coming personality of Christmas.  And there’s the Advent, slowing down, contemplating, preparing the way, and God with us side of Christmas.

Personally I don’t see anything wrong with a little bit of schizophrenia in the holiday season.  It’s only when the balance shifts to the busy, at the exclusion of God with us, that we have a problem.

December is our busiest time at work.  Not only do our clients want to get as much advertising as possible on the radio in December, but we also run our biggest promotion of the year as a station.  We work to bring Christmas Miracles to families in need of some love and help to make their Christmas season better.

By the time the week before Christmas rolls around we’re all pretty exhausted.  Late Monday afternoon another Manager came into my office. 

We were talking about how we were both looking forward to a rest over the Christmas season.  She made a comment about a book I had in my hand.  With a note of irony in my voice I shared what I’d just been reading from Ann Voskamp’s book, “The Greatest Gift”.

“The miscarriage of Christmas begins when anxieties crowd out space within simply to carry Christ.  Make room; be a womb.  Be a womb to receive Christ everywhere, and it is He who delivers everyone.  So you let the last of the trimmings go.  Cease the pace to do, buy, produce more.  Find the calendar and erase.  Somewhere make space.  And you can feel the space become a sanctuary.”

We looked at each other and laughed. 

“So this is Christmas.  And what have you done?”  Have you made space?  Do you have time to receive Christ as He comes silently tonight? 

Read the Christmas story starting with Luke chapter 1 and read to the end of verse 40 in Luke chapter 2.  Make space for Christ now.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Can I Do To Please God?

The first week of Advent is almost over.  Back on Monday I started reading Ann Voskamp’s book, “The Greatest Gift – Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas”.  It’s provides a reading for each day leading up to Christmas.

She includes scripture passages, some thought provoking reflection, and an activity for the day.  Yesterday’s activity was to do one thing just to please God.

I had to stop and think about that.  What could I do that would please God?  I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t have a good answer. 

I thought of Random Acts of Shineness.  On Wednesdays ShineFM, the radio station I work at, encourages people to do something kind and unexpected for someone; hence Random Acts of Shineness.  I could buy coffee for someone, but that seemed fairly unoriginal.

Walking into Walmart that morning to buy gifts cards for client Christmas gifts I thought, “Here’s my chance.  Maybe I can do something that will please God here.” 

I took all 65 gift cards (yes that’s 65 cards that have to be activated individually) to the cashier.  She began to ring them up and I felt sorry for her and the people waiting behind me.  What would please God in this situation?

“Give her one of the gift cards,” my brain said. 

Now it’s funny how we automatically question something that’s out of the ordinary.  “What, give her one of the gift cards?  That’s a little weird, and it throws my count off, what if she gets in trouble for it?”

But the thought persisted, so after she processed the last card, I thanked her for her trouble, took one of the cards, and tried to give it to her.  She refused, saying she was just doing her job. 

Well that attempt crashed and burned.  So, what else can I do that will please God? 

I stopped at Tim Hortons to pick up a Take 10 coffee box for my next meeting.  Another thought occurred to me.  When I paid for the coffee I asked the cashier to ring through six $5.00 gift cards.  After paying, I handed him back the cards.  He looked confused, but then I explained that one was for him to keep and the others were for the next few people in line.

This attempt went a little better.  He declined the one for himself, but asked if he could save them until the next morning.  He said he had regulars who came in and he’d like to treat them to a morning coffee.  We agreed this would put them to good use and off I went.

Did that please God?  Maybe, but I think it was more of a “Random Act of Shineness” than a God pleasing moment. 

I have to face the fact that most days I don’t think about whether my daily activities are pleasing to God.  Usually I’m caught up in the busyness of daily life and don’t take time to do the small acts of kindness that show God’s love.  Sometimes it takes a wake-up call like the simple question, “What can I do to please God?” to bring me to my senses and start paying attention.

I’m glad yesterday’s devotion made me think about this question. Because of it, I’m now more aware of the people around me during this Advent season and I’m looking for ways I can please God.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT:
What do you do on a daily basis that pleases God? 

Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tasteless Grapes

It’s hard to buy good fruit in winter in Alberta.  Our -20° Celsius weather isn’t conducive to growth of any kind of fruit or vegetable!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to find some nice tasty grapes in Superstore.  This week, expecting consistent grape quality, I bought another package. 

Apparently it’s no longer grape season wherever these were grown.  I’ve had sweet grapes, sour grapes, crunchy grapes, squishy grapes, seedless grapes, and even monster grapes, but I’ve never quite tasted grapes like these.

They were completely tasteless.  I can’t even say they qualified as bland or bad, just completely void of flavor.

If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m…well what’s the word?  Let’s call it thrifty.  If I’ve paid for food I’m not about to throw it out. I’ll stuff it down whether I like it or not.  But I just couldn’t do it with these grapes.

I tried.  I munched down a few, trying to convince myself they didn’t really taste bad.  I was still getting nutrition and fiber from them, but my taste buds grew more outraged with every grape I put in my mouth.

I tried to figure out why flavorless grapes were so offensive, and then it occurred to me - all food has a taste.  It might be good or it might be bad, or even mediocre, but it all tastes like something.  As I was pondering this thought, a statement from Jesus popped into my mind.

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses it saltiness, how can it be made salty again?   It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”  Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

And what about this one…

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  Revelation 3:15-16 (NIV)

I’m not sure I truly appreciated the meaning behind these verses until I had my tasteless grape experience.  I actually did want to spit them out of my mouth!  How can salt not be salty?  How can grapes not be…well…grapey? 

And continuing with the analogy, what good are Christians if we’re not leading Christ-like lives.  If we’re neutral about our faith what kind of witness are we?  If we’re not passionate about shining the light of Christ, but simply come across as blasé about our faith, what good are we in the world?

Grapes should taste like grapes.  Salt should taste like salt.  Christians should strive to be like Christ, not only in their churches, but in their homes and communities, too.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT:

What does your life say about your faith?  Are you living out your Christianity or are you a tasteless grape?

Share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Saul's Leadership Lesson - What Not To Do - Lesson #4

We left Saul last week as he was about to lead his army into battle against the Philistines.  His army is successful and the Philistines flee.  The Israelite army pursues the Philistines, determined to drive them back.

Here’s the unexpected twist.  Saul decrees that his entire army is to fast until victory over the Philistines is complete.  Everyone except Saul’s son, Jonathan, knows about this.  Empty stomachs and the physical labour of battle don’t mix well.  By evening the men are weak and tired.

Ironically the army comes across food in the forest, but refuses to touch it because of Saul’s order.  Jonathan, not knowing any better, eats his fill and is refreshed. 

Later that evening Saul wants to continue to chase the Philistines, but the priest intervenes telling Saul to ask God what to do next.  Saul agrees, but no answer comes from God.  Saul suspects sin in the army is the reason God isn’t answering.

He gathers all his army leaders and demands to know what’s happened.

“Then Saul said to the leaders, ‘Something’s wrong!  I want all my army commanders to come here.  We must find out what sin was committed today.  I vow by the name of the Lord who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!’  But no one would tell him what the trouble was.”   1 Samuel 14:38-40

Isn’t it interesting...not one of Saul’s leaders has the courage to speak up and tell him the guilty party is his own son? 

I suspect no one speaks up because someone had the misfortune of speaking truth to Saul before and it didn’t go well.  Perhaps Saul subscribes to the “shoot the messenger” theory…literally.

Saul doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who’s open to suggestions from the people, but as a leader it’s important to maintain an open dialogue with your staff.  Team members should feel comfortable making suggestions that will improve the work place.

Saul’s Leadership Lesson #4
Stay humble and open enough that your leadership team and staff are comfortable bringing ideas to you.  Keep an open dialogue between you and your staff.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Saul's Leadership Lesson - What Not To Do - Lesson #3

The last few weeks we’ve looked at Saul and what NOT to do when you’re in a leadership position. 

We ended last week with these heartbreaking words from Samuel, the prophet, “…But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after His own heart.  The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of the people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.  1 Samuel 13:14 (NLT)

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Saul reacts to this revelation.  I wonder if he really grasps the implications of Samuel’s words.  Does he understand that God has left him? Does he have any concept of how that affects his future?  It’s a chilling thought!

Regardless, we catch up with Saul again in 1 Samuel 14.  He and the 600 men remaining in his army are camped close to the Philistine troops.  I’m guessing they’re probably demoralized and pretty scared right now.

But Jonathan, Saul’s son, decides to take action.   With God’s help, he succeeds in throwing the Philistine camp into confusion.  Saul’s army witnesses a bizarre sight.  There’s an earthquake, Philistines are running in all directions, and mayhem reigns. 

Saul realizes Jonathan is gone, and is probably the cause of the confusion in the Philistine camp.  Excited Saul calls for the priest, no doubt to determine God’s will in the matter.  Should he attack?

Before the priest can go through the ritual for determining God’s will, the confusion in the enemy camp rises to frenzied proportions.  Saul can barely contain himself.  Read his next words carefully.

“…But while Saul was talking to the priest, the confusion in the Philistine camp grew louder and louder.  So Saul said to the priest, ‘Never mind; let’s get going!’”  1 Samuel 14:19

NEVER MIND, LET’S GET GOING!  Yes, you heard right!  Rather than wait for the priest to determine God’s will Saul says, “Never mind, let’s get going!”  In other words, I don’t have time to wait for God.  I don’t need His help.  I’ve got this one covered.

Right now I’m shaking my head, thinking, “Dude…really…you just couldn’t wait!?! 

But what I hypocrite I am!  I do the same thing all the time!

How often have you rushed into a situation without consulting God?  How many times have you tried to do things in your own strength, leaving God out of the picture?

Saul’s Leadership Lesson #3…
In your leadership role or in any decision you make…always take time to consult God.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saul's Leadership Lesson - What Not to Do - Lesson #2

In Saul’s Leadership Lesson #1 from last week we talked about not taking credit for someone else’s ideas.  We see Saul do this when his son, Jonathan, defeats the Philistines.  This account is found in 1 Samuel 13:1-4.

The Philistines aren’t a nation to take defeat lightly.  They raise up a massive army and make plans to attack the Israelites.

How do the Israelites respond?

“The men of Israel saw what a tight spot they were in; and because they were hard pressed by the enemy, they tried to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes, and cisterns.  Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead...”  1 Samuel 13:6-7 (NLT)

That’s right, the people of God cower in fear of their enemies.  They forget about God’s deliverance from their previous battles.

What about their king?  What’s he doing?  He’s waiting for Samuel, the priest, to show up.  Samuel is to make a sacrifice to God and ask for His help in battle. 

Waiting on God and relying on Him to guide the army into battle is what Saul should do.  The problem starts when he gets impatient waiting for Samuel.

“…Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear.  Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come.  Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away.  So he demanded, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and peace offerings!’ And Saul sacrificed the burn offering himself.  1 Samuel 13:7-9 (NLT)

Samuel arrives just as Saul finishes the sacrifices.  He questions Saul about what he’s done.  Saul’s answer is filled with pride.

“…The Philistines are ready to march against us at Gilgal, and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!  So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.”  1 Samuel 13:12 (NLT)

What did Saul do wrong?  Offering sacrifices is the specific work of the priest.  His comment, “I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself…” indicates he feels he is just as capable of performing the holy sacrifice as the priest; when really he’s breaking God’s sacred law.

What's the result of Saul's pride-filled decision?

“How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed.  ‘You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you.  Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after His own heart.  The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of the people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”  1 Samuel 13:13-14 (NLT)

It’s humbling when pride leads you to think you can do someone else's job better than they can…and you fail.  Sadly, I speak from experience on this one.   My foray down the pride-filled road only cost me a lesson in humility, but Saul’s costs him the kingship of Israel.

Saul’s Leadership Lesson #2…
Don’t let your pride allow you to think you know better than everyone else on your team, so you try to do their jobs as well as your own.