Uphill Or Downhill?

…And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:18).

Paul is in prison, yet he tells his friends that he is choosing to rejoice. Wow! 

Not only that, but this same imprisoned man also reminds his friends to…

  • … let their joy in Jesus overflow 
  • … conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
  • … continue to have a servant’s attitude like Jesus
  • … don’t give in to complaining or arguing 
  • … look out for the interests of other people 
  • … rejoice in the Lord
  • … don’t rest on their laurels
  • … forget the past and press on toward the future 

John Maxwell has noted that most people have uphill dreams but downhill habits. That is definitely not a winning combination! 

Paul is making his friends aware of the possible downhill habits that may hold them back from their uphill dreams, and using himself as an example. This first step—awareness—is vital if we are going to break free of the things that are pulling us away from our God-given dreams. 

Solomon wrote, “The path of life leads UPWARD for the prudent to keep them from GOING DOWN to the realm of the dead” (Proverbs 15:24). 

Being prudent is saying, “I’m always on the lookout for what’s best.” 

None of us can go UP by ignoring our downhill habits, or even trying to coast through life. The only way to achieve our uphill dreams is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our downhill habits so that we can make a plan to turn those around. 

Check out these characteristics that Paul shares—

Downhill Habit              Uphill Habit
Complaining                    Rejoicing (4:4)
Selfishness                      Gentleness (4:5)
Worrying                         Praying (4:6a)
Grumbling                       Giving thanks (4:6b)
Fixing it myself                Giving it to God (4:6c)
Idle thoughts                   Thinking about my thinking (4:8)
Making my own way         Getting a mentor / partner (4:9)
Being discontent              Being content (4:11-12)
Trying to be self-made     Striving to be Christ-reliant (4:13)

A good prayer for all of us who have uphill dreams that we want to achieve—Holy Spirit, reveal to me my downhill habits. I acknowledge that I need Your help to see and break these habits. Then help me to replace them with Christ-honoring uphill habits that will allow me to achieve the purpose God has for my life.

Thursdays With Oswald—Difficult Times Reveal Our Habits

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Difficult Times Reveal Our Habits 

     Practice means continually doing that which no one sees or knows but ourselves. Habit is the result of practice, by continually doing a thing it becomes second nature. The difference between men is not a difference of personal power, but that some men are disciplined and others are not. The difference is not the degree of mental power but the degree of mental discipline. If we have taught ourselves how to think, we will have mental power plus the discipline of having it under control. Beware of impulse. Impulsiveness is the characteristic of a child, but it ought not to be the characteristic of a man, it means he has not disciplined himself. Undeterred impulse is undisciplined power.

     Every habit is purely mechanical, and whenever we form a habit it makes a material difference in the brain. The material of the brain alters very slowly, but it does alter, and by repeatedly doing a thing a groove is formed in the material of the brain so that it becomes easier to do it again, until at last we become unconscious of doing it. When we are regenerated we can reform by the power and presence of God every habit that is not in accordance with His life. … We have to learn to form habits according to the dictates of the Spirit of God. The power and the practice must go together. … If we keep practicing, what we practice becomes our second nature, and in a crisis we will find that not only does God’s grace stand by us, but our own nature also. The practicing is ours not God’s and the crisis reveals whether or not we have been practicing. [See Matthew 5:31-37.]

From Studies In The Sermon On The Mount

All of us have blind spots. These are typically habits that we have left in place, unchallenged and unchanged. That “groove” in our brain is operating on auto-pilot, but those blind-spot habits aren’t serving us well. 

The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian is to help us notice these habits in which we are unconsciously incompetent. But once the Spirit of God points these out, then we must practice, and practice, and practice until the new healthy habit has overwritten the old groove of the unhealthy habit. 

Then we will find, as Chambers points out, that in a time of crisis “not only does God’s grace stand by us, but our own nature also.” 

Times of difficulty will reveal habits—both the unhealthy and the healthy. The question then becomes: what are you going to do about the unhealthy habits? 

10 Quotes From “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a collection of 49 sermons from Eugene Peterson. Check out my full book review by clicking here. Below are a few quotes that caught my attention.

“The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence—congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written, congruence between a ship and its prow, congruence between preaching and living, congruence between the sermon and what is lived in both preacher and congregation, the congruence of the Word made flesh in Jesus with what is lived in our flesh.”

“Science and religion are opposites, the way your thumb and forefinger are opposites: if you are going to get a grip on things, you need them both.”

“Friendship is not a way of accomplishing something but a way of being with another in which we become more authentically ourselves.”

“Naming an event a miracle doesn’t mean we can’t understand it. It means we can’t anticipate it. It means we can’t reproduce it. We cannot control it. There is more going on then we can comprehend.”

“There are people today who mistakenly look at those [Ten] Commandments as restrictive, not realizing that for those who first heard them—and for those who hear them still, in faith—they provide for and preserve the values of the free life. The reality and truth of God is protected from commercialization and manipulation. Human life is honored. The dignity of work is protected. Close personal relationships are preserved. Truth is respected. Each of the commands articulates a reality and a value that protects a free life.”

“Aaron made a god, a golden calf. At that moment Aaron quit being their pastor and became their accomplice. There are some people who are always looking for a religion that makes no demands and offers only rewards, a religion that dazzles and entertains, a religion in which there is no waiting and no emptiness. And they can usually find someone like Aaron who will help them make it up, some sort of golden calf religion.”

“Acts of love cannot be canned and then used off the shelf. Every act of love requires creative and personal giving, responding, and serving appropriate to—context specific to—both the person doing the loving and the person being loved.”

“Our habit is to talk about God, not to Him. We love discussing God. The psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to Him.”

“The Christian life is not, in the first place, something we do. It consists of the healthy and mature formation of our lives by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. Christian living goes off the rails badly when it is conceived as a program or routine that we engage in or skills that we master.”

“In prayer we do not act. God does. In prayer we do not develop a technology that sets the gears and pulleys of miracle in motion. We participate in God’s action. ‘Not my will but Yours.’”

The Bad Habits Of Jesus (book review)

the-bad-habits-of-jesusMy wife asked me what book I was reading, and I told her, “The Bad Habits Of Jesus by Leonard Sweet.” Her quick reply was, “Oh, He didn’t have any!” Her gut reaction to this book’s title is probably the gut reaction of most Christians. But to think of Jesus that way is to completely misconstrue how much of a revolutionary Jesus was!

Sweet gives us 15 bad habits Jesus demonstrated while He lived and ministered in first-century Israel. They were “bad habits” because they went against the grain of all that polite, religious society had ingrained in the culture.

To give you an idea, let me list just one of Jesus Christ’s bad habits: He enjoyed the company of women. I know today many people would say, “Yeah, so what’s the big deal.”

The big deal is that women were called “misbegotten” by Aristotle. They were persona non grata if they weren’t in the company of their fathers or husbands. They could be mistreated or divorced solely because their husbands wanted to. And women could never—ever!—be a student of a rabbi.

And yet Jesus not only taught women, but He treated them with a dignity and respect that was unheard of in His culture. He allowed them to have key roles in supporting His ministry, and He elevated their value in society. Leonard Sweet points out, “Jesus is the first Person in recorded history, in fact, to critique the ‘male gaze,’ saying that ‘Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Jesus took the proverb ‘As he thinks in his heart, so is he’ seriously but went beyond ‘Don’t do it’ to ‘Don’t even think about it!’” Jesus protected women like they had never been protected before.

This is truly an innovative, paradigm-busting, eye-opening book, and in the process, my understanding of what Jesus taught and demonstrated in the Gospels was expanded as well. The Bad Habits Of Jesus is written in such an engaging style that you will have a hard time putting it down.

I am a Tyndale book reviewer.

5 Quotes To Protect Your Marriage From Pornography

Focus On The FamilyI recently finished reading a Focus On The Family reading plan on YouVersion called Infidelity: Protecting Your Marriage From Pornography. This is one part of a multi-part reading plan on healthy sexuality. I encourage you to check out all of these plans.

Here are some of the quotes I appreciated from this reading plan.

“Porn is powerful primarily because it offers a counterfeit form of intimacy and attachment—a replacement for the one-flesh bond between man and woman that God designed to function as the glue that holds the marriage relationship together (Genesis 2:24).”

“Mental health professionals report that the road to recovery is likely to be much longer and far more complicated for an individual engaged in an ongoing interpersonal cyber-affair than it is for a porn addict. That’s because ‘relationship’ at any level implies a degree of emotional entanglement. When the heart gets drawn into that web, the potential for pathology is inevitably raised.”

“Many porn addicts are sexually anorexic when it comes to normal marital relations. That’s because, through habit and practice, their sexual impulses have been alienated from their natural context—i.e., a healthy, committed personal relationship—and re-oriented around impersonal objects or illicit lusts or fetishes.”

“[Pornography] addiction is based on neurochemical changes that occur in the brain as a result of prolonged exposure to stimulating sexual imagery. Because of its neuro-chemical basis, it’s tenacious, progressive and destructive in nature.”

“Don’t assume that normal marital sexual relations will take the place of porn in [an addict’s] life. No living, breathing, thinking woman can possibly fill that role without doing untold damage to herself as a person. That’s because pornography addiction, in the final analysis, is not about sex. It’s a symptom of an intimacy disorder—a comprehensive psychological illness that compels an individual to avoid deep, meaningful interaction with another flesh-and-blood human being and to replace it with impersonal sensual imagery. Unless this disorder is addressed and rectified, your relationship cannot move forward on a healthy footing. Marriage will not fix the problem. It will only complicate matters and increase your pain.”

For more help, visit pureintimacy.org or Focus on the Family’s Help Center.You can also call the ministry’s Counseling Department for a free consultation at 855-771-HELP (4357).

Break Free From Porn—5 Quotes That Will Help You

The Porn CircuitThe Porn Circuit is a great book to make you aware of the dangers of pornography. You can read my full book review of this free downloadable book here, and check out the first set of quotes I shared by clicking here.

Here are some additional quotes specifically to help you break free from the hold pornography has on your life.

Your #1 strategy … LEARN TO HATE PORN!

Hate what it does to you, to your relationships, and to those involved in sex trafficking because of the porn industry.

#2 … Create some positive activities you can do when you’re tempted to look at porn.

“The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making logical part of the brain, and each time that a person resists temptation and each time a positive habit is reinforced, the prefrontal cortex gets stronger. That means a person’s willpower grows and the cues and cravings for porn use grow weaker.”

“This approach (of introducing positive habits) makes plastic sense because it grows a new brain circuit that gives pleasure and triggers dopamine release which, as we have seen, rewards the new activity and consolidates and grows new neural connections. This new circuit can eventually compete with the older one, and according to use it or lose it, the pathological networks will weaken. With this treatment we don’t so much ‘break’ bad habits as replace bad behaviors with better ones.” —Dr. Norman Doidge

“Whatever rewarding activity is pursued, it needs to be an activity that is reoccurring. Building new rewarding neural pathways requires time and ongoing repetition:

  1. Neurons that fire together wire together. Repeating a pleasurable activity instead of the compulsive activity, such as porn use, forms a new circuit that is gradually reinforced instead of the compulsion.
  2. Neurons that fire apart wire apart. When a person refuses to act on a compulsion, like porn and masturbation, it weakens the link between the activity and the idea that it will provide relief.”

#3 … Start using the 3-second rule.

“When watching TV, walking through the mall, or driving past billboards, temptation can strike when least expected. Many therapists recommend using the 3-Second Rule, which involves three steps:

  1. Alert: Realize that you see something inappropriate. It may only take a split-second to recognize a tempting situation.
  2. Avert: Close your eyes or look away. These first two steps should be instantaneous.
  3. Affirm: Give yourself a mental high-five to congratulate the effort. Say to yourself, ‘I saw that by mistake, and I quickly looked away. I’ve been clean for (xx number of days) and I’m going to stay that way.’”

3-Second Rule

#4 … Don’t forget to watch out for H.A.L.T. times.

“Physical care is vital to vigilance. HALT is the acronym often used by therapists to remind people of when they can be most vulnerable it stands for: hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Simply going to bed on a regular schedule to get a good night’s rest can help one’s brain be more focused on positive habits and more alert to fight temptations. Not only eating but also eating well can improve mood and feelings of well-being. Regular exercise keeps the mind more focused, the body feeling great, and improve sleep.”

18 Quotes From Wise People In “15 Invaluable Laws Of Growth”

15 Invaluable Laws of GrowthJohn Maxwell always shares great quotes in his books! This is the hallmark of a true servant leader, who doesn’t hoard what he reads or hears, nor is he concerned about getting all the credit. Here are some of the quotes I enjoyed from Maxwell’s book The 15 Invaluable Laws Of Growth.

“Character is a quality that embodies many important traits such as integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence, and wisdom. Unlike your fingerprints that you were born with and can’t change, character is something that you create within yourself and must take responsibility for changing.” —Jim Rohn

“I’ve concluded that while nobody plans to mess up their life, the problem is that a few of us plan not to. That is, we don’t put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure a happy ending.” —Andy Stanley

“I bless you, prison—I bless you for being in my life—for there lying on rotting prison straw, I learned the object of life is not prospering as I had grown up believing, but the maturing of the soul.” —Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Character cannot be summoned at the moment of crisis if it has been squandered by years of compromise and rationalization. The only testing ground for the heroic is the mundane. The only preparation for that one profound decision which can change a life, or even a nation, is those hundreds of half-conscious, self-defining, seemingly insignificant decisions made in private. Habit is the daily battle ground of character.” —Senator Dan Coats

“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” —Abraham Maslow

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” —George Elliot

“A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.” —Denis Waitley

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” —Viktor Frankl

“The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.” —Albert Schweitzer

“All meaningful and lasting change starts first in your imagination and then works its way out.” —Albert Einstein

“It’s better to look uninformed than to be uninformed.” —Richard Thalheimer

“When average people ask themselves, ‘Can I do this?’ they base it on the circumstances they see. … An abundant thinker asks different questions. An abundant thinker asks, ‘How can I?’ This simple twist of semantics changes everything. It forces your mind to create a solution.” —Brian Klimmer

“It is not wise, or even possible, to divorce private behavior from public leadership…. By its very nature, true leadership carries with it the burden of being an example.” —Gordon B. Hinckley

“Never confuse the giftedness of a person with the person. Their gifts allow them to do amazing things but the person may be flawed, which will eventually cause harm.” —Fred Smith

“Great things happen whenever we stop seeing ourselves as God’s gift to others, and begin seeing others as God’s gift to us.” —James S. Vuocolo

“Your doubts are not the product of accurate thinking, but habitual thinking. Years ago you excepted flawed conclusions as correct, begin to live your life as if those warped ideas about your potential were true, and ceased the bold experiment in living that brought you many breakthrough behaviors as a child.” —Price Pritchett

“If you send a rocket to the moon, about 90 percent of the time it’s off course—it ‘fails’ its way to the moon by continually making mistakes and correcting them.” —Price Pritchett

“Self-fulfillment thinks of how something serves me. Self-development thinks of how something helps me to serve others. With self-fulfillment, feeling good is the product. With self-development, feeling good is the by-product.” —Fred Smith

I have shared a lot of other content from this book:

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