Friday, February 21, 2014

Trash Day

Several months ago the city of Cochabamba made a decision that really stinks.  I mean, literally stinks.

It has to do with trash.  Up until now, trash management was pretty simple.  When we got a full bag of trash, I would throw it in the back of my car and on the way to wherever I was going I would drop it in a dumpster.  There were trash dumpsters every 10-15 blocks.  The closest one to us was about 15 blocks.  I would swing by, throw the trash in, and drive away.

Then, without any notice, one morning they took away every dumpster north of downtown, which is where we live.  Now, the nearest dumpster is three miles away and in the center of the city—thus to get there you have to endure downtown traffic.  In place of the dumpsters, there is now a trash truck that comes through the neighborhood.

Now you may be thinking…no big deal.  That is how they do it where you live.  However, there is a caveat. We cannot put our trash outside in cans and the trash men pick it up and set the empties back down.  Nope, here is how it works.  The truck drives up the main street with a man standing on the back hitting two metal bars together, “Clang, Clang, Clang!”.  The truck parks for five minutes about four blocks away.  When we hear the clanging, we have five minutes to grab all of our trash and run four blocks.  If we don’t make it, we have to go 10 blocks to the next stop.  The truck comes once a week.  That means that we have five or six bags of trash (there are 9 of us).  

The truck clangs between 5:00 and 5:30 in the morning on Tuesday.  

Yep.  At 5:30 ish in the morning we hear the clanging and have five minutes to get out of bed, get dressed, grab the trash, and make it to the truck.

That doesn’t happen.

So, for a while we would let the trash pile up beside the house.  I would go a couple of weeks and then take a load downtown.  The problem is that, even though we live behind brick walls, the wild cats in the neighborhood can get into the yard.  They rip open the bags and scatter the trash.  When it is time to haul it off, it always stinks, and inevitably there are a thousand maggots with ten thousand parent flies.  The kids actually retch as we gather it.

We learned two things.  One was that it was important to not let the trash pile up.  Even though we thought we could push it aside and deal with it later, that option stunk and was worse.  So, as inconvenient as it was, every two days I would carry a couple of bags to the dumpster.  It was simply too ugly to let it pile up.  Deal with the trash quickly.  Get it out of the house and away from the family.  We don’t want the rotting meat, maggots, flies, and cat poop in the yard.  

The second thing was that we looked for someone to come get the trash.  Sure enough, some guy saw a business opportunity and started a private trash collection.  As soon as we heard of him, we hired him.  He comes twice a week, after 9 in the morning, for $11/month.  

Problem solved.  Trash doesn’t pile up because someone takes it from us.

How about the trash in your heart?  This same lesson applies to the sin in our lives.  We often think that we can ignore those sinful thoughts, that poorly spoken word, that negative attitude.  We think that we can just let sleeping dogs lie and there is no problem.  That is wrong.  Sinful trash accumulates and rots the heart.  It makes you stink.  It impacts you.  You cannot pretend that it isn’t there.  It will pile up until it crushes you and rots your life.  

The best thing to do with the sinful trash in our life is haul it away immediately.  This is called instant confession and keeping short sin accounts.  When the Holy Spirit points out a sinful thought, attitude, action or word…immediately haul that away!  

The second thing is that we have someone that will take our trash.  Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again so that He could deliver you from your trash.  He will not just haul it away, He cleans us up and helps us stop the trash.

Short sin accounts…deal with the trash now.

Trust Christ.  He will change your heart of trash for a heart of gold. 

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Warning Signs

Warning Signs

We have a great way of informing people that something is wrong on the road.  We don’ t put out flares.  We do not have nice plastic, yellow barrels.  We don’t have reflective signs or flashing lights.

We put branches in the road.  If you are driving down the highway, and you see a few branches in the road, on the side of the road, or just ‘out of the ordinary’, then that means that something is screwy in Denmark.  

I just took these photos on the way home from the store.  We have had an overnight storm and these massive potholes are brand new and should be avoided. There were other branches at a place where a manhole cover had been washed away by the water gushing out of the ground.  You could not see that there was no longer a cover.  

The road is washed out.  The bridge is gone. There has been a landslide. There is an accident.  Someone is broken down.  A huge pothole has appeared.  The branches signify that some unknown problem is ahead, watch out for it.  We were once driving to another city in the mountains and there were a few fresh cut branches in the road.  They meant that a landslide had happened and there was no longer a road.  

Small warning for a big problem.

However, it is a warning.  That is what we need.  

The problem is not that the warning sign is not kosher, whether it is here in Bolivia or in life.  It is that we ignore it.  We are too busy to see it, or we just think that it doesn’t apply to us.  Then, we crash, damage or destroy something.

In life, we have warning signs as well.  Maybe your increased pant size is telling you that you have succumbed to the sin of gluttony.  Do we ignore it and just buy bigger clothes, or do we repent?  

Are you easily angered at your children’s disobedience or childlike mistakes?  Could be that you have unresolved bitterness in your heart and your anger is warning you that you need to forgive.  

Do you find yourself thinking bad thoughts or ‘what you could have said’, or judging the motivation of your spouse?  A warning sign that you are not communicating, or that you need to love and forgive.

Do you find yourself constantly judging what the pastor said or should have said?  Do you go to church on a regular basis, but never change anything in your daily life?  Could be a warning sign of self-righteousness.

Do you have a job but very little money or disposable income?  Is that a branch trying to block you from driving into coveting, greed or the love of money?

We need to learn to listen to and watch for the warning signs. They are almost always there before the disaster hits.

Leia Mais…

Monday, February 10, 2014

Situational Awareness

I was walking with Denise one night and noticed two young men a couple of blocks behind us. Denise and I stopped for a few minutes, and then started walking again. I casually glanced behind and saw that the two men were still there…maintaining their distance. We continued walking and I told Denise to walk a little faster. They started walking faster. We crossed the street. They crossed the street. We were leaving the well lit part of the street and about to enter a several block area with no streetlights. The guys closed the distance just a little. 

What do you think was happening? I agree with you. It seemed pretty obvious that we were about to be mugged. So, without warning, we suddenly crossed the street and jumped in a taxi going the other way. I nodded my head and smiled at the guys as we passed them.

That is something that we have ingrained in our kids. We tell it to all the mission teams that come down. It is called situational awareness. We live in a city where there is a lot of crime. It is almost all nonviolent, however theft is the norm. On four different occasions we have been robbed (the teens) by knifepoint. Crime happens. The way to avoid being a victim is to be aware of your surroundings. Are things kosher? Is someone following you? When you crossed the street…did they? What do you feel like? Is the area well lit? Are there plenty of other people around.

We teach the kids to avoid areas where crime is more likely to occur, and to keep an eye on their surroundings. Situational Awareness. (SA)

I have noticed something. SA is pretty easy to do when I am thinking about me and any threats to me. 

I have a question for you. How good is your SA when it comes to noticing the hurts, needs, doubts, fears, or desires of others? How often do you pick up on someone else’s depression or loneliness? Do you recognize regret or sorrow in another person?

It seems to me that SA is something that should be taught and practiced in our churches, our workplaces and our homes. Not looking for threats, but looking for ways to bless others. What if we asked someone “How are you?” and really wanted to know? How would people respond to us…and then more importantly to the love of Christ if we noticed their lives (not just their presence—not the same thing) and then took an interest in them?

Situational Awareness….or as the Bible calls it, “Love one another”. Lets practice it.

Leia Mais…

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Talking Or Teaching Part 2

Be creative.  Please. I am begging you. Use your imagination and teach like Jesus.  Think about what He did.  He used object lessons and things from everyday life.  He used flowers, birds and children.  He put mud on a blind man’s face.  He spoke in such a way that thousands wanted to hear what He had to say, even if they disagreed with it.  Let me tell you an example that I use in my pastor conferences.  I put in a dvd of any popular show.  Then, I have the pastors count how many times in 3 minutes that a different camera angle is used.  It is almost always more than once every five seconds.  Once every five seconds we see the show from a different angle.  It keeps us interested, it keeps us watching.  I then ask how many angles do we give to our audience.  Usually it is one…a talking head.  I believe that using different angles, different ways of communicating the same truth, helps us connect and get it.  I use children, volunteers, play dough (last week), videos, cartoons, drama, visuals, graphic arts, various presentation packages (Prezi, Powerpoint, Keynote), object lessons, etc.  They all are used to communicate the truth.  My sermons are usually 45 minutes long, but within them there will be two or three different angles.  Let me share with you what I believe is the greatest compliment that I have received, and I have been told it multiple times by parents.  They tell me that their children love my sermons.  They say that one of the things they like most about my preaching is that everyone can understand me.  It is the illustrations that they remember.  

Tell stories (without notes).  Stories of personal failures, success and applications.  Stories of how you lived out the truth.  Stories, not dull history.  Use everyday life examples and parables to show what you are teaching.  I said without notes.  I will say more about this in 7, but a story is easy to remember, especially if it is a story of your life.  I cannot understand it when I am in a church and a pastor says, “Let me share with you something that happened to my family last year.”  Then he reads it.  Telling a story is way better than reading one.  Know your stories….and

Know what you are going to say. Let me say that again.  KNOW what you are going to say.  Notes are a great thing to keep you on track, but if you need them then you do not know your content.  My messages are on my ipad, and are usually 15-20 pages long.  However, on any given Sunday, if I cannot find my ipad, then I can preach.  (this has happened to me probably 10 times in my life—in the hectic morning rush I put down my Bible/Ipad and cannot remember where it is).  A great way to do this is through visuals.  I use photos to make my points.  I can remember my message and stay on track because I know what content accompanies a specific photo.  You can try mind mapping, pictures, printouts of your slides, whatever…but DO NOT READ YOUR MESSAGE.   If you have to read your sermon or lesson…if you need to look at your notes more than once a minute…you do not know what you are going to say (so SHUT UP), you are not passionate about what you are saying, (so SHUT UP) and/or you have not applied what you are saying (so SHUT UP).

Plan on how you are going to say what you are going to say. In my conferences I tell pastors that preparation of WHAT they are going to say is only half the job.  We need to know how we are going to say it.  What illustration will I use and when.  Is there a story that really expands this point?  Where can I be creative?  I believe that our people need to SEE the truth as well as hear it…so we need to think about what we are going to do to allow them to see it.  I spend 15 hours each week on my sermon.  50% of that time is in developing content, and then 50% is on how to communicate that content.  Not just content, but the actual presentation.  I memorize each 45 minute sermon each week.  When will you talk fast, talk slow, pause, etc.  I color code my notes to include pauses, emphasis, even specific eye contact at points.  What you are doing is far too important to improvise on the fly.

Use graphic arts not powerpoint.  We KILL people with our powerpoint.  It is horrible.  It is done incorrectly.  It is not supportive to the communication of the truth.  I highly recommend a book called Presentation Zen.  This book teaches the proper way to use powerpoint and keynote.  In a nutshell, our presentation software should be art or photos designed to convey emotion.  Our words convey content.  A few years ago, I quit writing my points on powerpoint and instead found emotional photos that I would show as I stated my point.  Every Sunday after church I ask my children to recap the sermon.  I lie not, this is what they do.  “The first photo was of a lady sinking in quicksand.  When we saw that you talked about how, even in the hardest times of our lives, God is with us.   Then you had a photo of a man drinking toxic waste—I loved that photo!  That was when you said that bitterness is poison to our soul.”  This is a real life example and it was an 8 year old talking.  Here is the photo of the man that I used.  See how that grabs attention better than a boring slide with text on it?

I hope that those who read this will be challenged to improve how they communicate.  If any of these points interest you, then go to Amazon and buy books on it.  


Leia Mais…

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teaching Or Talking

Teaching Or Talking Pt 1.

One of the passions of my life is teaching.  I simply love it.  I have taught in churches, seminary, Bible colleges and High School.  I really love teaching.  I try to do it well.  I invest a lot of time in my teaching.

This little quick blog is for the teachers.  Teaching is wonderful.  Boring teaching is HORRIBLE.  Teaching the Bible in a boring manner is a sin.  How can we take the living Word of God and make it dull, lifeless, and something to be endured for thirty minutes?  

I was thinking about this, and wanted to share some insights that I have gained over the last 25 years of professional teaching.  These are points that I cover in various seminars, workshops and conferences…but just highlighted here for your thinking…

 Improve yourself.  Do not think that you have arrived.  I believe that I am a good teacher (don’t we all?).  However, every month I read a book, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, read blogs, anything that I can do in order to improve.  I am better than I was last year, but worse than I will be next year.  Here is the kicker.  If you do not schedule time to improve, then you will never have time to improve and you will be stuck in the rut that you have been in since the last time you actually tried to improve.  Remember, a rut is nothing more than a grave with both ends knocked out.  If you are in a rut, you are dead. If you are not trying to improve, then you are stagnating.

Believe in your topic.  This is especially true for Bible teachers.  One of my pet peeves is the dry, boring communication of information in a sermon.  You need to truly believe that what you have to say is really worth hearing.  If it is not worth hearing, then SHUT UP.  Life is too short for me to listen to your worthless, valueless junk.  Go find something that is worth communicating and then communicate it in such a way that conveys its value.

Be passionate. This comes from #2.  I think that the listener will be about 50% as passionate about the subject as the speaker.  So, if on a scale of 1-10 you are a 5, then your listener is a 2.5.  Passion communicates.  I believe that passion comes from application.  When I have personally experienced the value of what I am saying, then I can speak from experience and not theory.  This is one of the problems I have with expositional preaching (I am an expositional preacher).  We take the Bible and make it into a history lesson that incorporates a view Greek or Hebrew word studies and then give a dry lecture about how things used to be in a far away land and a distant time. Who cares what happened in another culture in another time to another group of people?  How does this change my life today? The Bible wasn’t written “for them”, it was written FOR US by them.  If we can’t be passionate about what this text is saying to us in the here and now, then  I say the same thing as in #2.  If I am not passionate about what I am saying, then SHUT UP.  

Think about the listener.  I have taken many courses on communication.  I have read probably 100 books on it.  One thing that surprises me is how little we think about the listener.  The listener should guide what we say and how we say it.  For example, I do not preach the gospel and call sinners to repentance at a pastors conference.  My listeners are already saved.  The listeners should determine our style.  When I preach to a jungle river village in the Amazon basin I say different things, use different illustrations, tell different stories and usually emphasize different truths that I would use if I were teaching a Men’s Retreat in Tyson’s Corner VA.   We should think about our listener so that we can customize what we are saying to their lives.  Teaching is not vomiting up truth or data and expecting the learning dogs to lap it up.  It is presenting truth in such a way that the listener understands and is touched by it.  I love this illustration.  In the Hebrew language, the word “To Teach” is the same word as “To Learn”.  It was context that determined whether you were teaching or learning.  However, in the mindset of the Hebraic teacher, if the student did not learn, then the teacher did not teach.  I agree with that.  Teaching is not disseminating information and walking away.  It is communication in the language (and culture) of the listener so that they actually get what you are saying.  

Part 2 tomorrow....

Leia Mais…

Monday, February 3, 2014

Self Medicating

There is something about living in Cochabamba that I really like.  I am going to admit it, although every one of my friends who are in the medical profession will send me private emails telling me about how bad I am.  

In Bolivia you can self medicate.  It is easy.  Look at these photos.  

These were taken on my iphone while I was walking the other day.  They are all on the same street, within a mile of each other.  Pharmacy after pharmacy can be found in the city.  Not only that, but we do not have prescription meds. I can walk into a pharmacy and if I know the name of what I want, I can buy it.  The closest thing to a prescription is if you go to the doctor and he tells you what type of medicine to purchase.  

Because of that, we never go to the doctor.  Never.  The only time is in the case of an injury such as stitches or broken bones, and then we take the stitches out and remove the casts ourselves.  (more emails from my med friends).  Let me be real here...none of my children who are living at home (7 kids 17 years old down to 5) have ever been to the doctor because of illness.  Ever.  We only go for injuries.  

We can go to the lab and get test done.  You don’t need doctor’s orders for this either.  Just go into one of the hundreds of labs with a stool sample, urine sample, or ask them to take blood and test it.  You tell them what to test for or just get a broad analysis.

Here is how we do it.  We share our symptoms or test results with our friends, and then listen to their collective wisdom about what type of medicine to purchase and how to treat our ills.  That is if we don’t just try it ourselves without their input via the internet.

This may be a problem to the medical profession, but let me apply it to a greater spectrum of life...the truth is that we all self-medicate and it is destroying our lives.

We self-medicate in our relationships, problems, and our souls.  We look at the symptoms.  It may be hurt, anger, bitterness, lack of communication, sorrow, abandonment, no intimacy, etc., in our families.  In our souls it is just that we are ignorant of the reality of heaven, hell, God, satan, absolutes, eternity, etc.

So, what do we do?  Whether it is in our relationships or our eternal destination we go to our friends (or the collective wisdom of pop culture via media/entertainment) and we self medicate.  We apply the destructive advice to our lives.

We ask divorced people opinions on marriage.
We ask parents with disrespectful children advice on parenting.
We ask people overwhelmed in debt and who are not generous with their in our finances.
We ask agnostics...either in practice of in word...their sage counsel on eternity.

We ask people who do not know what we should do, and we do it.

We self-medicate.  We do this not with a stomach ache where the results maybe continued nausea.  We do it in life where the results are catastrophic.

What is the solution?

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68) 

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. (Proverbs 1:2-4)

The solution is to go to the Creator and Great Physician.  He alone can prescribe what we need.

Leia Mais…