What Should Our New Normal Look Like?

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As the days unfold, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to envision normalcy returning at some point. Listening to the headlines around us makes it sound like we might never return to life as it once was. Like you, I have no idea what the future holds. We may find in a few months things look about like they did back in 2019 or we may be living in a new time within our history where things are radically different. What I do know is this: at some point we will all reach that new normal.

In all situations, even the most up and down ones, we develop a new normal. Now, sometimes when we think of normal we think of that being good. That’s not always the case. Sometimes our new normal is simply how we have adjusted to live with the loss, pain, or hurt we have in our lives. I share that because I understand that whatever the new normal is, it may not bring about a lot of positivity for you. It may be a worse situation than the one before. But good or bad, we are going to develop a new normal.

I do think that regardless of what this new normal looks like, there are some things that ought to be on our minds; things that we don’t want to forget as we adjust to this new normal. The problem with normalcy is that it often leads us to forget the importance of things. I don’t want to do that and I know you don’t either. Here are  a few things I want to keep on my mind.

I hope we will recognize how much we need human connection. Hopefully this time has shown us we need to kill the mentality that says I don’t need people. Now, I’m an introvert, so don’t think this is coming from someone who is the life of the party. I like being around people but I also really like being at home with my family. Working the way I do, I spend a lot of time in an office studying and preparing and many of my days involve mostly me and my family. Yet, during this time I’ve found that I really, really need people. I miss being around people and no amount of phone calls, texts, or even video chats can change that. We need to remember the importance of physical, human interaction.

I hope that once we can be together, we don’t quit connecting in the many ways we have been. Nothing can replace physical interaction but I don’t know that we should go so far as to eliminate the other things we are having to do right now. There are people right now receiving more interaction than they normally do because people are mindful of the struggle of loneliness. We shouldn’t move away from trying to help with that. The truth is, physical interaction is hard to accomplish. It’s time consuming and sometimes difficult. Sometimes we don’t have the time to connect with someone face to face but we’ve all experienced in the last several weeks just how nice it is to know someone care enough to call or text. Let’s not let that end. People are going to be lonely and feel separate after this time is over. Our responsibility to them doesn’t change when the pandemic ends.

I hope our new normal places renewed value on the assembly of God’s people. The cliché about coming together as the church is that it is unnecessary; that you can be a Christian without the church. If this time is teaching us anything it’s that we need to be around fellow Christians. Not just existing in the same world they do but actually living life with them. Though the church isn’t the assembly alone, we need to be around one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 makes that clear to us. There is something a word or kind act can do that nothing can replace. Additionally, we need to worship God, not just at the same time of the day, but in the same location with other believers because it’s a tremendous reminder of the family that we are a part of in Jesus.

I hope we realize that we need to be together more than just in the assembly. As things started to unfold at the beginning of this pandemic I had the sobering realization that in many ways, outside of an hour or two per week, most Christians wouldn’t have their faith supremely disrupted. I realized that for the most part, as Christians we can easily spend very little time together and be just fine with it. I hope when things get to this new normal that we will realize that more is needed than just worshipping together on Sunday or even meeting on Wednesday. We need to be spending time together and growing together. Acts 2 paints a beautiful picture of a family of believers truly living for Christ together. This type of difficult situation shouldn’t just make us miss seeing each other. It should make us miss growing together. This time should be hard because what is so valuable in our faith, physical connection with God’s people, isn’t happening.

There are other things you might think of but these were some that came to my mind. I want things to go back to normal but I don’t want everything to be what it was before. Maybe you can relate. What have you learned? What do you want to keep or remember when we get to a new normal?

Is Everything a Competition?

Today many of my Oklahoma family and friends are enjoying a real snow day. Normally their snow days end up falling apart before they ever fully arrive, but not this time. It really snowed and it snowed a decent amount. But watching all of their talk of snow made me think about how we sometimes respond to others. Living in South Dakota means I see far more snow than my friends and family in Oklahoma. It’s also significantly colder here. When they complain about the cold or they start talking about a heavy snow coming, it’s tempting to respond with how much snowier and colder it is here.

Have you noticed that we often do that as people? We play this game of one-upmanship. When someone gets hurt we may talk about a worse hurt we’ve experienced. When someone is going through a difficult time, we talk about one that was even more difficult. Have you ever talked about how much your kids weighed when they were born? It’s like the bigger the better and if you had small children, they aren’t as good. It’s almost like we see life as a competition. That somehow their life and what’s going on must be compared to my own and a winner chosen.

But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The reality is, it can be cold in Oklahoma and cold in South Dakota. The truth is, your headache and someone else’s migraine can both hurt. None of us has the rights to suffering or pain. None of us has the position of authority to determine who gets to complain or vent or hurt. Though one may be greater than another, the greater doesn’t nullify the existence of the lesser.

So how do we keep ourselves from falling into this trap? The golden rule comes to mind in times like this. How would I want to be treated? If I’m crying out in suffering, I don’t want it belittled, I want to be heard. If I’m feeling cold, your colder situation doesn’t make mine any better. Instead of seeing life as a competition what if we started to view these situations as opportunities to encourage people and show them their value? What if we saw these opportunities as one’s to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) It is through compassion and kindness that good will be brought about, not through comparisons and dismissals.

In the end, treating one another the way we want to be treated will have a far greater impact.

Don’t Quit

 

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If you are like many other people, sometime in the past week or two you’ve likely considered what changes you hope to make in 2020. Every new year brings a renewed focus on being better, being more, than we were before. In many ways it’s exciting because we often take so little time to focus in on the changes that need to be made. Sometimes our lives can get so busy we forget what we really want to do and who we want to be. Taking time at the beginning of the year to refocus is definitely a good thing.

But just as resolutions are embedded within this time of year so too is failure. In a survey from US News and World Report they point out that 80% of resolutions fail by mid-February. That’s fairly demoralizing and though we often joke about how resolutions never pan out, the truth is, it really is a problem. Because of this high failure rate we might just bypass making changes altogether. After all, what’s the point?

I want to encourage you today to see things from a different perspective. The reality is that our lives are full of failures. Each one of us could write chapters and chapters on all the dreams and goals we’ve had that never panned out. But that really isn’t the issue, is it? The issue isn’t failure but how we respond to it. If you have made your goal to read your Bible every day and you forget on January 29th, what do you do? It’s tempting to scrap the entire goal because we’ve missed it already but what is the real goal? Is it really to just make sure you’ve read the words on every page of your Bible in 365 days? I doubt it. More likely it is the desire to draw nearer to God and this goal is helping make that a reality. With that perspective in mind, pick the Bible back up on January 30. Get back to reading. If you don’t get started again until March 12th, get started on March 12th. If the goal is worth having, it’s worth picking back up when you’ve dropped it.

Whatever goals and dreams you’ve come up with for this year, if they are worth it, keep coming back to them. Don’t let them fade away. Make the theme for your 2020 be persistence. At the end of 2020 let us look back and reflect on the challenges we overcame in striving to become the people God wants us to be.

 

https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail

Tips For Scripture Reading

 

As we get closer to the start of 2020 and our “Through the Old Testament” reading plan, I’d like to share some tips that might be helpful to you. The unfortunate truth for us as people is that often when we start something we struggle. It’s only after time invested that we come to understand things that are helpful in keeping going. The hope of this series is to provide some help in that beginning stage and start off on the right foot. So, what are some tips to keep in mind to gain more from our reading of the Old Testament?

Each story or situation given to us is there for a reason. It’s easy to start reading and think that something was just randomly inserted or that it doesn’t have any application to my life. While I will freely admit there are places that are definitely difficult to understand and the application may not be obvious, the other side of the coin is that there were countless things that could have been included in scripture but the things we have were the ones that were chosen. They are there for a reason. It might be teaching us something valuable about God or about people or making a connection to something previous or in the future.

With that in mind, there are two things I want to encourage as we start this process:

First, Look for themes. I’ve read or heard said before that the Bible is one big story. While I agree with that on a theoretical level, I also understand how someone could open the Bible and start reading and feel differently. In reading a book as extensive and deep as the Bible it’s not always easy to pick out the themes and overarching message being pointed to. So how do we look for themes? One of the easiest ways is to consider repeated words or phrases. When something is repeated there is usually a reason. When an idea comes up over and over again, there is something there God really wants us to understand. An example of this in the New Testament is found in chapters 13-17. As Jesus is speaking to His disciples right before His crucifxion one of the things he says several times and in several ways, is he is telling them these things now so they will remember He knew what was coming. As a result of His death, their world is about to be rocked and He wants them to look back and realize, this was the plan. That’s just one example of repetition pointing a theme out to us.

Second, try asking questions. Questions create opportunities to learn. When we ask questions about a passage or reading, we are forced to dig in and seek understanding. Most of the time when we ask questions we are going to feel compelled to find an answer. The challenge in reading, especially when reading something like the Old Testament, is to not simply read it; to only see it as something to accomplish or a task to fulfill. We can very easily treat it like we can with schoolwork and read to learn so we can regurgitate it and then move on to the next idea. While that method may work well for taking tests, it doesn’t tend to work well for long-term comprehension and growth in our faith. Our goal in reading isn’t simply to have read but to have learned and then as Jesus makes clear in His sermon on the mount, put it into practice.

To help with both of these points during our Wednesday night series we will be trying to point out some of those themes from the previous week’s reading as well as supplying some questions that might help us better understand the text. Our goal in 2020 isn’t simply to read through the Old Testament but to come to a greater knowledge of God as a result of spending more time with Him. We hope you are blessed by this series!

A Resolution to Read the Old Testament

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As the new year approaches we find our minds being drawn toward what 2020 might be like. What will happen? What do we want to happen? What can we do to grow and mature this year? The truth for most of us is that we could probably come up with several pages of changes and adjustments we’d like to make over the new year. Gain this, lose that. Stop this, start that. The list would go on and on.

And the reality is, if we could do all of those things, we’d probably be better for it. But as we all know, most of the “new years” resolutions we make never make it past January. Change is hard. Change is challenging. But in many cases, change is worth the fight.

For Christians one of those common goals for the new year is the study of scripture. Plans often involve either reading every day or reading through some portion or even all of the Bible over the next 12 months. Though Bible reading often comes across like a “check the box” kind of activity with the way we talk about it, it really is needed and is far more than that. I would guess few, if any of us, would suggest that our faith has grown most when we are in scripture least. The more we are around God’s word, the more it impacts us.

As has been brought up a couple of different ways already, our congregation is planning on reading through the Old Testament in 2020. The leadership understands the challenge this will be but feels comfortable that the results of this study will be very much worth the time invested. A couple of weeks ago in our Bible class we talked about the value of this plan so I’m not going to dig into that here but I would like to offer up some suggestions as we make plans to start this in January 1.

Find a method of reading or listening that works for you. As we talked about in class, we all learn differently and reading may be your preferred method or listening might be better for you. Either way, I would encourage you over the next couple of weeks to start a habit of covering a chapter or two each day. This will help you start developing the habit you are hoping to have throughout the next year and hopefully will also show you any potential struggles you might have such as the time of day you are trying to read or whether reading on your phone is more distracting than helpful.

If you know that you will need encouragement to maintain consistency in your reading, take the next couple of weeks to find someone to hold you accountable. If you want it to be someone doing the same readings that would probably be best but even if it is just someone you confirm your reading with, that will likely prove invaluable going forward. Make sure to choose someone as motivated as you are so that they will make sure to keep up with you as well.

I know that being at our Wednesday night class isn’t always an option for everyone but I would encourage you if you can’t make our class time to start watching the Facebook livestream, if you aren’t already. Because each week’s reading will be discussed on Wednesday night, this is a great opportunity to add some depth and understanding to the things you are looking at. We want this goal to be something we do together and participating in the class will help you get the most out of it. The livestream on Facebook will start when we start class, so roughly 7:10 or so. If you are unable to join us right then, the livestream remains on Facebook indefinitely. This means you can watch it later that night or any night after that.

I really believe this upcoming year is going to be a time of tremendous maturing and growth and I hope you are excited about the opportunity. If you have any questions about being a part of this, please let me know. If you are not a part of the Sioux Falls congregation but would like to participate, please let me know as well and I will get you the information you need.

What I Learned This Past Week

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Last week I shared something I was going to try in order to help my prayer life. This first step was reading through passages of scripture and praying about some of the things that I read. (If you’d like to read the original post: Wanting to Grow in Prayer) The hope was that this would help me focus and know what to pray about when I might not know what I should be praying for.  I chose to read through the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus to start off. I would read through one of the books each night and would pray through different parts as I read.

So, after close to a week of doing this, what did I notice?

I was praying about and for things I didn’t normally pray about. One of the easiest habits to fall into while praying is to pray for basically the same things each and every time. We pray for our families. We pray for ourselves. We pray for forgiveness. We’ve all got our list and that list is easy to fall into each time we pray to God.

In praying through a section of scripture, my mind was drawn to things that don’t tend to fall on my radar. I prayed for my need to be an example as Paul called Timothy to be one in 1 Timothy 4. I prayed for leaders based on 1 Timothy 2. Topics like teaching, money, fleeing wrong and pursuing right, and many others are brought to mind that likely aren’t normally in my thoughts during prayer.

So, if you are someone who finds yourself struggling to develop a broader prayer life; one that focuses outside of just the things that first come to mind about yourself and your family, this is a worthy exercise. It helps you read the text with a particular focus on how it applies to your life.

This next thing isn’t surprising but it’s still true: I’ve still got a long way to go. Even though this process has been good for me, I can still see the struggle I have in prayer and the room I have to grow. I still tend to focus my thoughts only on myself. I tend to lose focus pretty easily. My hope is that the more I continue this practice, the better I will be in overcoming those particular struggles.

In writing this article I started considering what I might do the same and differently over the next week in continuing this practice. Here are my recommendations to myself and any who would like to do this:

When possible, read through the whole book. If you want to plant on a particular passage and really pray about one idea, please do so. I think what is going to help me the most currently is praying over the themes and focuses that jump out over the whole book more than one particular section.

I also think that this time I will try to do my reading from several different translations. This last time I used the ESV for the most part and possibly the CSB as well. I will attempt to do the reading from the NASB, NIV and NKJV, in addition to the first two. While the translations will say essentially the same thing, the way they say it may spark something that really helps me consider another way to pray.

 

This next week my plan is to tackle the books of Colossians and Ephesians. These two books cover very similar issues so I’m hoping my prayers will be particularly focused since I will be coming back to similar ideas each day.

If you have any insights you’ve gained from this experience, feel free to share them!

Wanting to Grow in Prayer

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If you are ever in a Bible class and you aren’t sure how to answer a question, there are several answers that seem to work in a pinch: God, Jesus, Bible study and prayer. It seems like about whatever topic we may be covering in a class eventually (and often rightfully) gets into one of those. With the last two in particular we find that the answer to spiritual growth often points us toward greater Bible study and prayer.

Knowing that background, it’s not surprising that a couple of weeks ago I preached on prayer. The conclusion I ultimately tried to draw us to as we looked at the early church’s prayer life in the book of Acts was that we must be a people praying big prayers and expecting God to answer them because He is at work within us. I still believe every word of that. Yet I still find myself struggling to have the prayer life I want and believe I should have.

I’ve notice this recently as my mind has been drawn to the way I pray. If you are like me, you probably find yourself praying similar things every time you start to pray. You have specific phrases that you seem to almost use without thinking. While that could indicate a comfort with prayer that makes it natural, in my case I find that it points more to the fact that I struggle to truly focus and think while I pray. I’ve developed a habit of praying without much thought.

In order to challenge myself to grow in my prayer life, I’m going to try a few different things. My plan is then to follow up with additional blog posts on what I’ve learned and anything that I think might be helpful to you and others.

My first change is going to be something that I hope will help me with knowing what to pray and truly considering it. I’m going to begin by praying through a few books of the Bible. I’ve chosen Paul’s letters to a couple of young men, Timothy and Titus, as the books I’m going to pray through. If you’d like to join me in that or choose another book, I welcome any comments on what you gain from the exercise as well.

So what will this look like? As I read I will think about what is written and pray about having those qualities within me or making decisions in line with the instructions given. I will thank God for what He has provided. The content will all depend on the text. I will plan on going through one of the books every day and pray about the parts that catch my attention. So, as I mentioned, if you want to pick a book to do this as well, choose one and then choose some length to read and pray about the things you read.

So that’s the long and short of it. I will post again in a few days about how things are going.