Monday, November 2, 2009

Matthew 6:21

Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Consider this

Don't think you are on the right road just because it's a well-beaten path. - Author UNKNOWN

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day 25 - Say Now to Mercy

I once had a conversation with a guy who was a religion major in college and claimed to be an agnostic. Not really knowing what that meant, I asked him to explain to me what it means to be agnostic. To make a long story short, he summarized agnosticism as acknowledging that there may be a higher power in the universe, but there was no way to prove or disprove the idea. I asked him about the idea of faith, because to me, it seems like that's the key piece that an agnostic is missing. His response was that he wasn't concerned because if the God of Christianity was a loving God, like we all believe, then as long as he was a good person, surely a loving God would let him go to Heaven. At the time, I was pretty young in my spiritual journey and wasn't really prepared to answer that claim the way I would have yesterday. And after reading Chapter 25 of Tom Holladay's, "The Relationship Principles of Jesus" I'd have even more to say.

Chapter 25 is the 2x4 moment of this book. What do I mean by that? As I read this chapter, the words jumped off the pages and hit me like a 2x4 across the head.

I love this quote from Tom -

"Being biblically nonjudgemental does not mean we pretend we don't see another person's sin...The question is this: "What will we do about it?"

First we need to look at ourselves and make sure we don't have the same sin in our lives, and if we do, we need to take care of that. Then, and only then, can we show mercy and help the person deal with their sin, in a non-judgmental, loving way.

What really hit home with me is that "MERCY IS NOT OPTIONAL" When I first read that, I thought yeah, yeah, I know that, but it took a minute to really sink in. We've all heard the Lord's Prayer many, many times, and probably can recite it from memory. But do you know what Jesus said to his disciples immediately after teaching the prayer? Tom quotes Jesus' words from Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT version)

"If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Whoa! Look at the second half of that quote again - But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

This is not an idea that Jesus mentioned once in passing and then never brought up again. Remember the story of the forgiven debtor who refused to forgive another who owed him money? It sure makes me want to rethink any grudges I may be holding.

Even when it is difficult to show merciful forgiveness, Paul offers some practical advice.

"Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." - Colossians 3:12-14

Day 26 - understanding God's Mercy

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Day 24 - Say Yes to Integrity

Yesterday, we discussed the danger of hypocrisy and the negative impact it can have on our relationships. No appreciates being told about the speck of dust in their eye when they can clearly see the plank in your own eye!

In Chapter 24, Tom Holladay encourages us to "Say Yes to Integrity". Over the last few weeks, Tom has shown us the importance of being honest in our relationships and that we owe it to our friends and family to help guide them when they need assistance. But if want to be heard, we need to take care of our own issues first - and that is integrity. Integrity means, "you make up your mind in advance to do the right thing."
Tom recommends that if you really want to be held accountable for your own actions, tell someone about it in advance. I like to run for fitness. A few years ago, a friend and I would meet to run every morning before work. We held each other accountable for showing up and putting in the miles. Well, eventually our career paths diverged and I didn't have anyone holdingme accountable for running. I would run for a few days, then take a week off. Eventually, I was taking more days off than I was running. So I decided to start a running streak where I would run at least 1 mile everyday - not matter what. And to make sure I'd stick with it, I told people about it and even started a blog. I had people asking me every few weeks if I was still doing that impossible streak. It really helped becasue I didn't want to have to tell them that I didn't make it. In case you are wondering, my first attempt at that streak ended at day 364, but I've started another streak and hopefully I can make it this time.

In our relationships, integrity is even more important. Tom suggests making the following three choices to hold yourself more accountable.

1. Choose to Speak theTruth - not about others, but yourself.
2. Choose to Be Honest about Yourself - "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" - James 5:16
3. Choose to Ask for God's Help - we don't have the power to overcome our weaknesses on our own.

Day 25 - Say Now to Mercy

Monday, February 23, 2009

Day 23 - Say No to Hypocrisy

I think hypocrisy is one of the things I most fear in my relationships and spiritual life. I know how far from perfect I am, and I often worry that I will be perceived as a hypocrite when I share something that God has done. As I thought about starting this site, the fear of being seen as a hypocrite actually held me back for some time.

I guess in some respect that fear makes me a hypocrite - being too concerned with what others will think or how I will appear. But, the difference, to me anyway, is that I didn't start the site to focus on me, but rather on how we can learn to hear God's voice in what we read, listen to, and see. I'm not pretending to have a unique inside track to God, rather I want share what I'm learning as I try to become more of the person God intends for me to be.

I think hypocrisy probably affects our relationships more than we realize. The people we love can see right through who we pretend to be. When they see us being dishonest about who we are, I'm sure that leads to them feeling we are being less than honest with them.

I'm going to continue to whittle down that plank in my own eye and focus on my integrity and hopefully you will be able to grant me some mercy as I do.

Day 24 - Say Yes to Integrity

Day 22 - The Danger of Judgment

In the first three weeks of the 40 Days Journey, Tom Holladay shared the first three of the six relationship principles that he has gleaned from his study of Jesus’ teachings from the New Testament, and for the next week, we will look at the fourth principle.

1. Place the highest value on relationships
2. Love as Jesus loves you
3. Communicate from the heart
4. As you judge, you will be judged

What does it mean to judge? It might be easier to first talk about what judging isn’t. Tom tells us that the command not to judge does not mean that we should not discern between right and wrong. It also doesn’t mean that we can agree to ignore what others are doing in hopes that they will ignore our shortcomings.

Tom describes being judgmental as condemning or excusing another’s thoughts or actions. We typically only think of being judgmental when we are condemning, but excusing bad behavior of someone we like is equally as wrong.

In Matthew 7, Jesus provides a picture for us to remember when it comes to judgment.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matther 7:3-5

From this passage, there are three points that Tom makes from Jesus’ teaching:
1. Don’t be a hypocrite – don’t say one thing and do another
2. Have integrity – hold yourself accountable first (focus on your own plank)
3. Show mercy – Once you have made yourself right, offer to help your brother (help remove the speck of dust)

I think we all remember the saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If Jesus, who was of the highest integrity, can show that kind of mercy to a woman, who was clearly guilty, and instead focused on the hypocrisy of those who accused her, then I think we should all be more careful of danger of being judgmental – from John 8:7-11.

Day 23 – Say No to Hypocrisy

Day 21 - Troubleshooting Communication

For the last week, we have been learning the importance of Communicating from the heart and understanding that it isn't always easy to do. There are going to be times when you can't always control both sides of a conversation. Even Jesus faced these challenges and again, we can learn from his example. Tom Holladay identifies several instances where Jesus dealt with problems of communication and offers some solid advice:

When Criticized - Offer Clear, Confident Responses

When Honestly Doubted - Offer Proof

When Ridiculed - Remain Silent

When Backed Into a Corner - Turn on the Light

When Rejected - Go Elsewhere

Tom offers many examples to illustrate these points throughout the chapter. Spend some time reading through them and check out the scriptures he references. There is a lot to be learned there.

Day 22 - The Danger of Judgement

Day 20 - How to Be Truly Heard

Earlier this week, Tom Holladay gave us three things to do to improve our communication with others:
  1. Build Trust
  2. Watch your heart
  3. Be honest

In Chapter 20, Tom lists three more techniques that Jesus used when speaking with others.

1. Jesus Touched Those He Healed

We know from Matthew 8, that Jesus didn't need to come in contact with someone to heal them. At his command, he could heal people even miles away. Had Jesus only been looking to be glorified, he could have done all of the healings this way and people would have been in awe of his power. But Jesus chose to touch the people he healed as an act of genuine kindness and concern.

2. Jesus Used Questions to Challenge

On many occasions, Jesus would challenge his disciples with questions. When Jesus asked Peter, "who do you say I am?" it was to get Peter's attention, not a need for personal affirmation. Questions can be natural attention getters. They cause us to think (or at least they should) before we respond.

3. Jesus Used Pictures to Communicate New Truth

When Jesus wanted to make a point, he often used parables to relate the discussion to something everyone was familiar with. By making that connection, he was better able to be heard and understood. Relating difficult subject matter to something we can all relate to is still applicable today. Not that many years ago, Ross Perot ran an entire presidential campaign by trying to simplify the issues down to stories the people could relate too.

Many of our communication difficulties could be alleviated if we all took the time to try harder to heard rather than bemoaning the fact that no one listens. I know that I often grow frustrated because I feel I have not been listened to. But I can also say that I probably didn't do enough to make sure I was heard. Hopefully I will apply the lessons learned here today when I want to be heard in the future.

Day 21 - Troubleshooting Communication

Friday, February 20, 2009

Day 19 - God is in the Conversation

"More important than the way you talk to someone is the way you talk to God about them." - Tom Holladay.

Back on Day 3, I mentioned that I don't consider myself a strong prayer. There are probably more reasons than I care to mention for why that is, but if I'm going to be serious about my relationships, I'm going to need to pray for them more effectively.

In Chapter 19 Tom Holladay identifies three words that describe how Jesus would teach us to pray.
  1. Persistence
  2. Confidence
  3. Reverance

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of the persistent widow to emphasize why they should never give up on prayer. The story begins with a judge whose only concern was himself. He cared nothing about the law or the people in his town. There was a widow in this town who came to him daily, begging for justice against another who had taken advantage of her. Initially the judge would dismiss her and ignore her pleas, but eventually she wore him down. The judge eventually granted her request, just so that she would stop bothering him. As Jesus concluded the story, he commanded those listening to

"Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?" - Luke 18:6-7


In The Message Bible, we can read how Jesus instructs us to pray -

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think God, who conceived you in love will be even better?" - Matthew 7:8-11

As Tom suggest, why pray at all if you don't expect God to answer it?

Reverence: defines reverence as:
a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.
Prayer is not about some formula on how you should speak with God, it is about having a respectful relationship with God. When Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father in Heaven", he was showing us just how close God can be to each of us in a daily relationship with Him.

Day 20 - How to Be Truly Heard

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day 18 - A New Kind of Honesty

Sometimes the truth is more important than feelings. But as Tom Holladay warns us, the truth alone is not enough.

"When we are honest, we will always be 'speaking the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15). It takes both - truth wrapped in love."

When someone has done something (or when you have done something) to cause pain in a relationship, there are two ways to confront that truth. You can drop it like a bomb or you can deliver that truth with love in a constructive way. It can be hard enough for people to hear what you have to say. When we communicate without love, no one is going to hear what you have to say, no matter how much truth there is in what you have to say. So while truth is the foundation of communication, love is the mortar that holds it together.

Day 19 - God Is in the Conversation

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Day 17 - The Connection between Mouth and Heart

In Matthew 12, a demon possessed man, who was blind and mute, was brought to Jesus and was healed. When the Pharisees heard of this miracle, their jealousy caused them to claim that Jesus could only have received these powers from Beelzebub. These wicked men led Jesus to deliver an angry and honest rebuke -
"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be aquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." - Matthew 12:33-37

As Tom Holladay points out in Chapter 17, that will make you think twice about an "innocent" slip of the tongue.

A few days ago, we talked about not being able to keep our feelings buried inside. No matter how strong we are, they always leak out into our relationships. The same thing happens with our communication. If we are filled with love, our words will be filled with love, but conversely, if we harbor bitterness or envy, it will show in how we communicate in our relationships.

And the bigger problem, as Tom points out, is that we get caught in a two-way cycle. When we harbor ill-feelings, they affect our words...when our words are hurtful, it stores more bitterness in our heart. The only way to stop the cycle is to take our heart AND our words more seriously.

I certainly have some work to do here. Many times my first response can be sarcastic. I've never thought about the implication that has on my relationships. I generally think of these remarks as being witty or funny ways to make my point. But I'd probably be more effective, and it would definitely be better if I found a more loving way to say the same thing. I guess the sarcasm just comes easier, but that doesn't excuse it. I'm going to focus more on what I say, especially to my children, and on the feelings in my heart that affect them.

Day 18 - A New Kind of Honesty

Monday, February 16, 2009

Day 16 - The Foundation Is Trust

Yesterday, Tom Holladay outlined three lessons we can learn from Jesus' examples for effective communication.

1. The foundation of communication is trust
2. Communication is always from the heart
3. Communication that makes an impact is honest

In Chapter 16, Tom discusses the first lesson -
The Foundation Is Trust

For communication to be effective, it has to be founded in trust. You can be the most eloquent speaker, but if your audience doesn't believe what you are saying, you might as well save your breath.

So, how many lies does it take to stop trusting someone? Just one! Tom explains that even a little dishonesty can really mess with communication. Have you ever made a promise to someone, and then, for whatever reason, not been able to honor that promise? Even though you may have had a good reason for breaking your promise, the next time, the other person will be less likely to believe you. And anything that affects the quality of our communication, affects our relationships.

This is why when Jesus spoke of the importance of keeping your word, He made it as simple as saying what you mean, without making a show of it.
"Simply let your 'yes' be 'yes,' and your 'no,' 'no'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." - Matthew 5:37

Tom also warns of the many ways we erode trust with our words through lies, flattery, broken promises, and silence. I encourage you to read through the examples he provides to explain each of these.

Day 17 - The Connection between Mouth and Heart

Day 15 – Communication Isn’t Easy

In the third week of our 40 days journey, we will study the third relationship principle outlined in The Relationship Principles of Jesus by Tom Holladay.

1. Place the Highest Value on Relationships
2. Love as Jesus Loves You

3. Communicate from the Heart

Communication is “a process by which information is confused by individuals through a conflicting system of emotions, behaviors, backgrounds, and desires.” – Tom Holladay, “The Relationship Principles of Jesus”.

While this may not agree with your dictionary’s definition of communication, it does sum up the reality of how difficult communication can be. Something as simple as using the wrong word at the wrong time can completely derail an otherwise great conversation.

Tom makes a great analogy when he describes communication as the fuel of relationships. A NASCAR driver would never try to compete against other drivers with just any old gasoline. To get the maximum performance out of their cars, they require the highest octane fuels. Our relationships are the same way; just any old communication will not keep a relationship moving forward for very long. And just like the tiniest spark can have devastating consequences when applied to the wrong fuel, so to can the words we use when we communicate in our relationships.

Fortunately, the Bible contains many examples of how Jesus communicated. In Chapter 15, Tom identifies three lessons we can learn from the teachings of Jesus on how to communicate and how to use communication in positive way in our relationships.

1. The foundation of communication is trust
2. Communication is always from the heart
3. Communication that makes an impact is honest

What we learn from these lessons is that our words, and how we communicate them, have real power that comes from God. When we communicate in a positive way, our words are given the power to heal relationships, someone’s faith, a broken heart, or a shattered hope. Over the next week, we will dig into how to harness that power for our relationships. I hope you’ll follow along.

Day 16 – The Foundation Is Trust

Day 14 – Choose to Accept, Choose to Sacrifice

Yesterday we looked at the first two of the four choices we need to make. In Chapter 14, Tom Holladay gives us the final two choices we must make.

1. Choose to Fellowship
2. Choose to Forgive
3. Choose to Accept
4. Choose to Sacrifice

Choose to Accept

“Accept on another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” – Romans 15:7

To love as Jesus loved us requires us to accept each other, faults and all, just as we are. Many times we think our relationships would improve if we were all more similar. But instead, relationships improve when we accept our differences. Tom points out that often we confuse acceptance with forgiveness. When we have a legitimate disagreement with someone, how we react will influence our future relationship with that person. We need to accept the person for our differences, not forgive them for being different.

Choose to Sacrifice

Sacrifices do not have to be life altering events. In fact, I agree with Tom that the daily sacrifices we make in our relationships are much more important. And as Tom points out, many of them will be done without anyone even knowing you made them.

Showing love requires everyone to make sacrifices. They can be as simple as where you go to eat, what movie you choose to see, or who has to clean the bathroom. Or maybe it is something more demanding, like moving to a new town when your spouse finds a new job. We do them because nothing is more important than our relationship.

When making sacrifices starts to become difficult, Tom provides some reminders to refocus our thoughts. Chances are, if you’ve ever been to a wedding, this will be something you’ve heard before. The ideas come from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

4.Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5.It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. 6.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7.It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1. Be Patient – I think Tom was speaking directly to me with this one. The examples in the book were spot on. While I’ve never driven around the block while waiting for my kids to remember they need to put shoes on to go to the store, I have gone out and sat in the car. Another thing I have the tendency to do is finish peoples sentences. In the past I’ve justified it to myself as showing I understand what they are trying to tell me, but the reality is I’m probably just being impatient.

2. Be Kind – This reminds us that often kindness is expressed in the little things that we do. When we show kindness we meet a person’s need in a practical way. Tom provides many examples of how we can do this in our daily lives.

3. Don’t Be Proud - I love this quote from the book, “If you felt truly secure in God’s love for you, you would have nothing to envy, you wouldn’t need to boast, and you wouldn’t have to build your ego by feeding it heaping helpings of pride” (pg 129).

4. Don’t Be Selfish – Verse 5 above gives some warning signs of being selfish. Choosing to be unselfish requires a daily commitment to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on our relationships.

5. Don’t Give Up – Verse 7 gives us the most important trait of love – it hopes and it perseveres. No matter how tough our relationships get, love can outlast the difficulties. Fortunately, when Jesus commanded to “Love one another, as I have loved you,” he provided many examples and teachings for us to learn from. Over the last seven days, we’ve discussed many of the examples that Tom Holladay has provided in his book. Starting tomorrow we will begin looking at the third relationship principle – Communicate from the Heart.

Day 15 - Communication Isn't Easy

Day 13 – Choose to Fellowship, Choose to Forgive

When Jesus commanded, Love each other as I have Loved you” – John 15:12, he gave us the power to love in a new and better way. In Chapter 13, Tom Holladay begins to outline the four choices that we must make to receive this power.

1. Choose to Fellowship:

What is fellowship? defines fellowship as, “the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere.” In other words, spending time with people you enjoy. But there is more to fellowship than just hanging out with friends. Jesus expects us to use our fellowship time in a positive manner. Fellowship is done with people who are trying to follow the same spiritual path and will support and guide you along that journey. They will be the people who love you as Jesus loves you.

2. Choose to Forgive:

In Ephesisans 4:32, Paul writes,
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
In this section, Tom asks two questions:

1. What does it mean to forgive?
2. Who are you trying to punish by choosing not to forgive?

Forgiveness can be hard because we confuse it with forgetting. To forgive someone does not mean you have to act like it never happened. But it does mean we have to let it go and not hold on to the bitterness or desire for revenge. I know from my own life that this can be a struggle. I can think of a couple of individuals that I used to work with who wronged my in ways that I am still dealing with to this day. At times, when I think back on those things, I sometimes imagine what it would be like to get even with them, even though it has been 3 years since the incident. I need to let go of that resentment and seek true forgiveness. It is foolish for me to hang on to that bitterness. I doubt either of the individuals even recalls what they did or how it affected my career decisions. I am the only one still feeling the pain.

Jesus doesn’t pull in punches when it comes to the importance of forgiveness. In one of the many parables Jesus used as teaching examples, he told the story of a king who wanted to settle the accounts with his servants. One of the servants owed the king the equivalent of millions of dollars and could not pay. When the judgment was given that all that the servant owned, including his wife and children, were to be sold to repay the debt, the servant begged for mercy and promised that with time he would repay the debt. The king took mercy on the servant and canceled the debt.

When the servant came across another man who owed him money, the equivalent of a few dollars, the servant attacked the man and demanded he pay back the debt. The man begged for mercy, but the servant refused and had him throw into prison until he could return the few dollars.

When the king heard what had happened, he was very distressed and called the servant back in. “You wicked servant. I canceled all of your debt because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? The king then turned the man over to the jailers to be tortured until he paid back all he owed.

Jesus concludes this eye opening parable with, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

We should find the strength to forgive others in the fact that Jesus has forgiven us. No matter what, God promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9. If Jesus, being sinless and perfect, can forgive us, shouldn’t we, at the very least, be able to forgive those who have wronged us.

I know true forgiveness is more than just saying, “I forgive you.” I need to let it all go. I hope and pray that I can do a better job of that, not only for my relationships, but ultimately so that I am not the one God refers to as a “wicked servant.”

Day 14 - Choose to Accept, Choose to Sacrifice

Day 12 – Act Immediately, Act Radically

If there is any doubt that Jesus puts the highest priority on relationships, consider what Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23, 24

Let’s put this in today’s terms – imagine it is Sunday morning and the pastor calls the ushers forward. The pastor prays a blessing on the gift and the giver. Then, just before the ushers come down the aisle, the pastor offers one last instruction, “Before you place your offering in the plate, first go and make right any relationship that has gone wrong.” Can you imagine the look of disbelief that would come over the congregation?

But Jesus says relationships are that important. In Chapter 12, Tom Holladay shares with us his thoughts on why fixing bad relationships should be our number one priority. Any time we allow a negative emotion to stay bottled up inside, it will fester like a sore or metastasize like a tumor until it becomes destructive. All containers eventually leak, and the longer you try and store those feelings inside, the more likely it is that they leak out and affect our actions and relationships. Time is not on your side in this situation. Procrastination will not make it any easier to deal with. We have to act immediately.

Sometimes, acting immediately means you will have to act radically to get rid of whatever is causing the negative emotions. If you saw the hit movie Fireproof, you saw an example of just how radical you may need to be. Caleb's (Kirk Cameron) marriage was in real trouble. There were many issues behind the trouble (and I hope to write a post about the movie in the future), but one had to do with his addiction to images on the internet. He knew that his actions were hurting his wife’s feelings, but his feelings were controlling his actions despite the consequences. When Caleb finally decided he was going to take responsibility for his actions, he did something that many of us have wanted to do at one time or another, but few would have the courage to do. He took the computer outside and smashed it to pieces with a baseball bat. And while his neighbor, Mr. Campbell, surely thought he was crazy, we can recognize that it was something that had to be done.

Watch the trailer below if you want to learn more about the movie.

Jesus taught that,

if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” - Matthew 5:30.

It doesn’t get much more radical than that. Temptation is a powerful force and many times the only way to resist is to separate yourself from the situation. If that means leaving a job, moving out of a neighborhood, or smashing your computer to tiny pieces, that’s what you need to do. None of those things are more important than your relationships with God, your spouse, and the people you know.

Day 13 - Choose to Fellowship, Choose to Forgive

Day 11 - Feelings Are Important

If you’ve ever seen the television show "Two and a Half Men", you know that Charlie Harper is a guy with problems. Charlie prides himself on his care-free lifestyle, living in an expensive Malibu beach house, drinking, smoking, gambling, and womanizing without any concern for the consequences or the people he hurts along the way. On TV, we call this comedy because Charlie takes it to a ridiculous extreme. But I’m sure we’ve all known someone whose concern for their own feelings at the expense of others was anything but funny.

How we control our feelings has a very real impact on our relationships. If we let our emotions and feelings control us, it will be very difficult to keep the three New Testament Commandments that we’ve discussed over the last week and a half. How can you love your neighbor as yourself when you are only concerned with your own feelings? Equally important, we cannot deny our feelings and portray ourselves as emotionless and uncaring. In Chapter 11, Tom reminds us that Jesus felt the same emotions we all have: anger (money changers in the temple), compassion (healing the sick), distress (waiting for the betrayal and His imminent crucifixion), and sadness (death of Lazarus). But Jesus used his emotions in ways that provided an opportunity to reach people and connect with them and He acted on them in a loving way. He didn’t just have compassion for the sick, He healed them. He didn’t just weep at the loss of Lazarus, He brought Lazarus out of the tomb. He didn’t complain about the people desecrating the temple, He chased them out. And most importantly, He didn’t call down a host of angles when they placed him on that cross. No, He suffered and died for you and for me.

Day 12 - Act Immediately, Act Radically

Day 10 – The Power of New

We all have had relationships that have failed. There are many reasons for why relationships fail, but I imagine most of them fail when they become routine. Early in a relationship, there is a huge amount of energy and excitement that comes from getting to know someone. Everything is fresh and you are learning and experiencing new things with someone you enjoy being with. Going out to dinner that first time, the conversation and the laughs just come naturally. But what happens the third time you go out to eat, the tenth time, the twentieth time? The newness wears off, the excitement may not be there, the routine sets in, and eventually it just feels normal.

I imagine, this is why Jesus needed to give us new commands about our relationships. The original Ten Commandments had been followed for hundreds of years. They were part of tradition, a list of rules that were to be followed. But lists have a tendency to be ignored after time. Have you ever been to a public swimming pool? Every pool that I have been at has a list of about eight rules of pool safety posted on a wall near the water. The first couple of times, I probably read them. I must have, because I can probably recite most of them. But now, when I go swimming, I don’t even look at them or think about them, and because I don’t think about them, I may not follow all of those rules when I’m swimming. I know I’m guilty of running beside the pool on more than one occasion.

The new commands that Jesus gave us were less of a list and more about how we choose to live our lives. When we act in a loving way, it will require something different every day. Just the emotion of love can become routine, but acting to show love stays fresh. It requires us to be constantly looking for new ways to show love.

As Tom Holladay points out in The Relationship Principles of Jesus, this sounds like an impossible task. But, Tom reminds us that with each command, God also give us a promise to help us fulfill that command. When Jesus approached his disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee that stormy night, he didn’t tell Peter to walk out to him just so Peter could sink. He was telling Peter that if he ignored his own doubts and trusted his faith, he could do it. Just as Peter was able to step out of his boat, we too can take the step to continuously act in a loving way in our relationships. We just need to trust God and ask for the strength to do it.

Day 11 - Feelings Are Important

Day 9 – The Power of Jesus’ Command

After spending a week discussing the two greatest commandments, I initially found this third command to be a bit redundant. If I love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as myself, doesn’t that insinuate that I would love as Jesus loved me?

You may recall from yesterday that I postulated Jesus’ third command was more about how we treat each other, or act toward one another, than the emotion of love. In Chapter 9, Tom Holladay shares that belief. Jesus was commanding us to act with love, just as he acted with love. Jesus knew that there would be times when we didn’t feel like loving. But even then, Jesus commands us to act with love. We know from Jesus prayer in the garden that suffering a crucifixion was not his first choice. But despite his own feelings, Jesus still prayed,

Yet not my will, but yours be done” – Luke 22:42.

When you choose to act on love, even when you don’t want to, it allows Jesus to work through you. You never know when that one act of love will make the difference in someone’s life.

Day 10 - The Power of New

Day 8 – The Impossible Challenge

Over the first seven days, we’ve looked at the first of the six relationship principles of Jesus in Tom Holladay’s book, The Relationship Principles of Jesus.

Relationship principle #1 - Place the Highest Value on Relationships

Over the course of the first week we learned the importance relationships by studying the two greatest commandments found in Mark 12: 29-31
1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

In the second week of our study, we will discuss the second relationship principle of Jesus:

Relationship principle #1 - Place the Highest Value on Relationships
Relationship principle #2 – Love as Jesus Loves You

In the final days leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus began to prepare with disciples for what was about to come. In John 13, Jesus gathered his disciples together for a meal prior to the Passover feast and before feeding them, Jesus washed their feet in a symbolic example of how they, the disciples, should care for one another after His death. In performing this menial task that was typically reserved for a servant, Jesus emphasized that no one was above the call to selfless service to a person in need. Jesus went on to give his disciples a third commandment.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” - John 13:34

The key here is the second half of that verse. Not only does Jesus expect us to love our fellow Christians, He expects us to love them with the same passion and humility that he showed his disciples, not only that night, but over the entire course of His ministry. I think putting this verse in the context of Jesus’ actions that night shows again that He was not referring to love in an emotional sense. This command tells us to care for one another’s needs, to humble ourselves to serve one another, and forgive as He forgives us.

I think Tom aptly gave this chapter the correct name. As he points out, Jesus didn’t treat us like we tend to treat our children. He didn't tell us to simply do our best or to give 110%. Jesus didn’t say love as much as your pastor loves you. He didn’t say make sure you at least love as much as your friend loves you. He said love “as I have loved you”. That seems pretty daunting.

But God doesn’t give us truly impossible challenges. He may give us things that we cannot accomplish by pure human strength or will, but if we call on God and rely on His strength, all things are possible. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus teaches that with true faith we have the power to do anything.

Mark 11:22, 23 – “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to the mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

If God gives us the ability through faith to “move mountains”, as the saying goes, He surely will give us the strength to love as he has loved us and meet the needs of the relationships He commands are so important. All we have to do is trust in Him and ask. It is so amazingly simple, yet we make it so hard.

Day 9 - The Power of Jesus' Command

Photos: Tom Holladay, (C)2009 Chris Earle Photography

Day 7 - Love Someone as Your Neighbor

If you have been reading along in The Relationship Principles of Jesus, by Tom Holladay, on Day 6 you learned that God expects us to love everyone as our neighbor. In other words, as Tom Holladay puts it, we cannot limit the extent of our love. But, an equally important point covered on Day 7 is that we must limit the expression of our love. God does not expect us to try and meet the needs of every person, rather he expects that we show love one person at a time.

The New Testament is full of examples where Jesus has demonstrated how we should show love. In the book of Luke, Jesus was visiting the home of a Pharisee when a woman entered the home. In Luke 7:37 we read that the woman was living a sinful life. I’ve always found it odd that a sinful woman would be able to just walk into the home of a religious and political leader, but maybe she was a “servant” who worked for the Pharisee. Anyway, the woman approached Jesus, with a large bottle of perfume, and begins to wash the feet of Jesus. When the host witnessed this, he began to question the authority of Jesus as a prophet. Surely a prophet would recognize this woman for who she was and not himself to be defiled by the woman’s touch. Rather than recoil and pull away from the woman, Jesus defended her and showed her the greatest act of love – forgiveness.

In John chapter 4, Jesus shows another example of loving an individual. Jesus was passing through Samaria on his way to Galilee when he came upon a well and stopped for a rest. A Samaritan woman came to the well and Jesus asked her for a drink. Now if you remember from yesterday and the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jews and Samaritans did not associate. The request even took the woman back, and she questioned if Jesus realized he was speaking to a Samaritan. Now I don’t think Jesus was really thirsty here and the passage never mentions if his request was fulfilled. I think Jesus was taking the opportunity to show love to an individual who society would have expected him to ignore. Not only did he show her courtesy by speaking with her, he took the opportunity to share God’s love with her and explain how things were about to change. No longer would there be a set of religious expectations for Jews and another for Gentiles. This was a radical idea at the time. The Jews were God’s chosen people. To suggest that everyone would have the same access to God was unheard of. Yet Jesus took the time to explain this to a woman that I expect most of his disciples would have failed to even acknowledge.

I need to love more like Jesus. I don’t want to even try and count the number of times I’ve chosen to ignore when something as simple as a smile may have made a difference to someone. The number of times I’ve thought that something or someone wasn’t my problem is shameful. I’m not talking about dedicating my life to a cause or traveling to another place to pay my penance. I simply want to show love when I can and not take the easy way out by ignoring a person in need. I’m going to take Tom’s advice and pray for God to teach me to love my neighbors the way he would want me to.

Day 8 - Impossible Challenge

Day 6 - Love Everyone as Your Neighbor

Who is your neighbor?

That question is at the heart of Chapter 6. To love your neighbor as yourself, we first need to define who we are talking about. Is it the person living in the house next door? Is it someone in your neighborhood? How about your town? When Jesus was asked this very question, he replied to the man with another of his famous parables, The Story of the Good Samaritan.

You probably recall the story from a childhood Sunday school lesson. A Jewish man was traveling the road between Jerusalem and Jericho and was attacked by a band of robbers and left for dead along the side of the road. Jesus goes on to tell of two Jewish men, a priest and a temple assistant, who come upon the man, but refuse to offer him any assistance and also leave him helpless on the side of the road. Finally, a Samaritan man comes along and despite the social and cultural distrust this man would have had for the injured Jewish man, he tended to the man’s wounds and carried him to safety.

One would have expected a fellow Jew to have compassion and care for the injured man, to show him love. But they didn’t. They pretended to not notice the man or justified why they were too busy to help. But in this parable, it is the man you would least expect to act neighborly who showed love for his fellow man.

Jesus teaches us to love everyone, no matter what our differences, no matter what our fears. And if God can love every person on Earth unconditionally, then we should strive with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength to do the same. Loving our neighbors as God loves us is really an extension of showing our love to God.

I found what Tom Holladay shared in Chapter 6 to be really poignant and challenging to the person I think I am and to the person I should be. I hope you will continue to read along and share your perspective as God speaks to you through the study of this book.

Day 7 - Love Someone as Your Neighbor

Day 5 – Love God with All Your Mind and Strength

From my previous posts, you can probably guess that loving God with all my mind is not something I can brag about. I have a hard time keeping the lesser things from taking over my thoughts, even when I pray. How do you love God with all your mind…how do you make him the center of all your thoughts with all the economic turmoil, families in crisis, and general distress in our society?

In Chapter 5, Tom suggests we look at
Phillipians 4:8 for guidance:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Had these words been spoken by Jesus and not written by Paul, we might refer to this verse as the third greatest command. As it is, it serves as a blueprint for building a Christian life. In one context, the verse focuses on adjectives that have been used to describe God himself. To love God with all our mind, we must continually focus our thoughts on Him. But it also tells us to focus on the good, and noble, and admirable things that our fellow man has done. It tells us to focus on the beauty in nature that God has created for us to enjoy. If we continually strive to do this, and fill our thoughts with these amazing things, it will prevent the lesser things from ruling our thoughts, and can keep temptations from overcoming our will.

Focusing only on what is good and pure and true, does not mean that we ignore all that is wrong in the world. Tom reminds us that focusing on these things is how we confront and combat those wrongs.

The next question is how do we love God with all our strength when we all have feelings of inadequacy and recognize our own weakness?

Tom lists three truths we must accept to truly love God with all our strength.
1. Have complete confidence that God can do anything.
2. That we can do nothing of ultimate or eternal significance without the power of Jesus Christ
3. Trust God to turn our weakness into His strength

Understanding that without God’s strength, I can do nothing makes it easier for me to ask God to use me as he wants because I know He can accomplish anything through me. This blog may just be one example. If God can use me to touch one person’s life, even if it is my own, I know it will be because of his strength. Nothing in my background qualifies me as an expert on relationships, religion, or writing. It will be from God taking my weakness and turning it into His strength.

Day 6 - Love Everyone As Your Neighbor

Day 4 – Love God With All Your Soul

What is your soul? How do you define it? Where is your soul?

These are not questions that are easily answered. In Chapter 4, Tom Holladay points to the Old and New Testament words for soul and defines it as "all your desires and passions, as your will to decide and the direction your life is taking. It is the power of your being."

So how do you love God with all your soul? Tom lists three ways:

1. Seek Him passionately – imagine seeking God with the same intensity that you would your car keys when you are late for work.
2. Love Him personally – God has created us to be unique individuals and it is only natural that our expression of love and our style of worship should be unique as well.
3. Decide to do what He wants you to do – Are you prepared to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done,” as Jesus did in the garden on the eve that he was betrayed?

I personally struggle with each of these and need to do better. I’ve mentioned previously that I am a terrible prayer and that I lose focus while praying. If I was passionately seeking a better relationship, I don’t think I would struggle with this as much as I do.

Prior to this study, I never thought of my uniqueness as an asset. I’ve worried more about conformity than being who God created me to be. If only we all focused more on what makes us unique (special) and not on what makes us different (strange).

Following God’s will, not just by words, but with full surrender is really hard for a Type A personality who wants to plan out everything. But I know it is tough and I pray almost every day for the wisdom to see what God has planned for me and the courage and strength to act on it.

Am I alone with this struggle? I doubt it. I imagine that this is tough for many Christians. My hope is that as I continue to focus on relationships for the next five weeks, I will be able to say that I have made progress.

Day 5 - Love God With All Your Mind and Strength

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Day 3 – Love God with All Your Heart

Let me start with a quote. “God’s principles don’t change our lives.”

Yes, that caught my attention as well. How could Tom Holladay suggest that? Well, he's right.

It is FAITH in God’s principles that changes our lives. We must believe and have faith that God’s principles can change us and then we need to act on that faith.

Back on day one we were reminded of the most important command
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

To see real change in our relationship with God, we must recognize or feel that something needs to improve, we need to decide to do something about it, we need to think about what we are going to do, and then we must do something. Ignore any one of these, and you will fail to realize change.

A good suggestion for a place to start:

Talk To God Out Loud and With Emotion.
1. Talk to God about your feelings.
2. Talk to God about your weaknesses.
3. Talk to God about his strengths.
4. Tell God your fears.
5. Pour out to God the desires of your heart.
6. Openly and emotionally admit your sins to God.
7. Say out loud what you know to be true.

I’ll be the first to admit I am a terrible prayer. When I pray, lesser things filter in and cause my thoughts and mind to wander. Many nights, as I find time to finally pray, I often drift off to sleep. How awful is it that I take that time with God for granted to the point that I can’t even stay awake? I can’t even imagine how annoyed my wife would be if I fell asleep every time I sat down to talk to her.

As my first action of faith, I am going to make an effort to follow Tom’s suggestions when I pray. I’m also going to make time to pray throughout the day, just as I would with my wife. I always look forward to that midday call at work from my wife, how much more should I desire the same time with God. So the next time it appears that I am talking to myself, give me the benefit of the doubt - I just might be praying.

Day 4 - Love God with All Your Soul

Day 2 – The Attraction of Lesser Things

In Day 1, we learned that nothing is more important than relationships – with God first and with others second. And while we most likely knew that before we read chapter 1, Tom Holladay had the courage to admit something else we all realize – making relationship our most important priority is the difficult part. The difficulty comes from the attraction of lesser things.

I can certainly relate to the examples in the chapter. It is much easier to grab the remote and flip on Sports Center in the morning than it is to pick up my Bible and read it with my breakfast. It is easier to let my attention drift back to the email or webpage I was reading when my daughter interrupts to tell me the most amazing thing that just happened on Webkinz.

Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. One will always win out. The problem is that we tend to choose the easier option because it requires “less faith and less effort.” We need to not only know that we must put relationships first, but we must act and put forth an effort to improve our relationships. To do that, Tom challenges us to determine who our master is and where we place our priorities.

Here are five very insightful and direct questions he poses to help us figure this out.
1. What is the first thing you think about in the morning?
2. What does your schedule tell you about your priorities?
3. As you look at your checkbook, who gets paid, no matter what?
4. What do you find yourself talking about most?
5. What is the last thing you think about when your head hits the pillow at night?

If I’m honest, I can’t say that relationships would even be in the top three of my responses for most of these questions. When I wake up in the morning I immediately start thinking about all I have to do that day. I can’t say that I’ve ever scheduled time to work on or think about relationships. I know I’ve never put take time to pray on my To-Do list. What could be more important than having that time scheduled each day?

Jesus provided us with many examples of putting relationships ahead of tasks. Read through the Gospel of Mark some day and pay special attention to the number of times the people around Jesus were in a rush to get somewhere or accomplish a task, and Jesus either ignored them or rebuked them. For Jesus, the need of the person, many times a person that most would have ignored, was more important than the task.

I’m hoping as I continue through the 40 days that I will focus less on my daily tasks and more on relationships. I will pay more attention to the ocean sapphire that completes the crown of wonder, than in finishing an email that will still be there in five minutes. I hope you will follow along.

Day 3 - Love God With All Your Heart

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love The Lord by Lincoln Brewster

If you are looking for a song that embraces all that Chapter 1 has to say, look no further than Lincoln Brewster's, "Love the Lord." Click on the player and hear a 1 minute preview directly from Lincoln Brewster. If you like the song, you can buy the entire album directly from Lincoln Brewster or download the mp3 file by clicking on the album cover and purchasing the track from

Day 1: Nothing is More Important than Relationships

Today I had the opportunity to listen to Ryan Holladay, the son of Tom Holladay, speak on this chapter in The Relationship Principles of Jesus. What a blessing to have someone with an inside track to really lay out what this 40 day journey is all about. If I had to summarize, as Ryan so eloquently pointed out, it all comes down to these famous verses from the Gospel of Mark -
Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: …Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second command is this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no commands more important than these.” – Mark 12:29-31 NCV

I think we all understand the second command – we hear it early on from a very young age. We call it the Golden Rule. But that first command can be much harder to succeed in fulfilling. As believers, we all say we love God, but do we love Him with all our heart…with all our soul…with all our mind…with all our strength? Have we built a relationship with him, a relationship with all the give and take?

I know my relationship has been focused more on the take. When I pray, I usually find myself asking, wanting, and sometime even begging. But that is not a relationship, it is a dependency. I need to offer more of myself, open my mind to a willingness to follow God’s will in my life. I don’t want to be that “relative” who only calls when they need something. I want to be able to say, that I’ve done everything I could, and that everything I’ve done, has been done to show love to God, my family, my friends, my acquaintance, strangers, colleagues, and even my enemies.

Listening to Ryan speak today, it really hit home that the most important thing God asks of us is that we have an ongoing relationship with Him that is continually striving to grow stronger and closer and that we love our fellow man as we want God to love us. Jesus never promised that either of these relationships would be easy or free from pain. He never promised there would not be disappointment or hurt feelings. And as you read through Chapter 1, you’ll see plenty of examples of this. But, God has given us love and love can overcome the obstacles that hinder our relationships. As we focus on that most important principle, and begin to build better relationships, God will bless us in ways that allow us to reach and affect more people for Him.

Day 2: The Attraction of Lesser Things

Photo: Ryan Holladay (c) 2009 Chris Earle Photography

Friday, February 13, 2009

40 Days of Love

Each January, the church I attend starts off the year with a church-wide devotional study to set the tone for the year. This year, we chose The Relationship Principles of Jesus
by Tom Holladay. Based on an exhaustive study of what Jesus did and said about relationships, this book guides readers on a forty-day journey that will bring new health and richness to their marriages, families, friendships, and all the relationships in their lives.

Tom is a teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, a megachurch with over 20,000 in weekly attendance. The Saddleback story is amazing in and of itself, and Tom has been there from the very beginning, working beside Pastor Rick Warren. Many of you are probably most familiar with Pastor Warren from his best-selling book The Purpose Driven® Life which has sold over 30 million copies world-wide.

On January 25, 2009, we were blessed to have Tom and his wife, Chaundel, speak at our kickoff event of what we are calling the 40 Days of Love. Tom and Chaundel were kind enough to share their insights from writing the book and stories from their past that illustrate the six foundational principles that Jesus taught and lived.

Nothing matters more than relationships—and no one understands them better than Jesus. In forty days, the goal is to bring new depth and health to your marriage, your family, and your friendships. You’ll be equipped with insights and a practical path for fulfilling God’s intention for all your relationships—even the difficult ones.

I know God will be speaking to me through the study of these relationship principles and I want to share that with everyone reading Gather and Glean. I think this study will be a great way to kickoff the site. So over the next six weeks, you can expect posts focused on each of the 40 chapters in Tom's book. The posts will be a mixture of an overview of what Tom teaches in the book, some of the scriptures he references, and what those lessons mean to me. When I can, I'll reference my own examples to illustrate what I am learning. I won't be covering every example Tom presents, you can read the book for that. My hope is that these posts will encourage you to focus on each chapter and hear the message God wants you to take away from the book. Feel free to comment if something in the post speaks to you as you read along.

EDITORS NOTE: If you are looking closely at the dates on these posts, you will notice they don't correspond to the actual dates of writing. It has taken me a bit longer to set up the site the way I wanted it, and therefore I'm a bit behind on the publishing of the posts. But, I have been writing the posts daily and saving them for publishing. I will be catching up over the next few days.

Day 1: Nothing is More Important Than Relationships

Photos: Tom Holladay, Chaundel and Tom Holladay (C)2009 Chris Earle Photography