Does the Bible have Refrigerator Rights in Your Life?

When I visit my parents in Georgia, within five minutes of my arrival I almost always open the refrigerator to see what’s in it. I’ve done this for years. And they don’t mind me doing so. However, I don’t have that freedom to do that in most everyone else’s home. If someone invited me over and I opened their refrigerator, they’d think I was either crazy or that I lacked key social skills. I liken refrigerator rights to how open we are to allowing God’s Word to shape our conduct and character. How do we know that God’s Word has refrigerator rights in our hearts? Consider five questions that might answer that question.

Before I suggest these questions, we can learn a key insight about ‘refrigerator rights’ from Jesus’ half-brother James who wrote the book named after him. In James 1.21 we find this insightful phrase, humbly accept the word planted in you.

The idea of accept denotes a welcoming reception you feel in a friend’s home, much like how my parents receive me when I visit them. Their welcoming atmosphere gives me the freedom to open up their refrigerator. Likewise, when we truly give God’s Word refrigerator rights to our souls, we welcome His Word to instruct, convict, and direct our lives.

Ask yourself these questions to discover the degree God’s Word has refrigerator rights to your heart.

  1. I read, meditate on, or study God’s Word several times each week.
  2. I approach the Bible as a living and God-breathed book, unlike how I approach reading a novel or a textbook.
    • For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4.12)
  3. I seek to connect the then and there (what the Bible says) to the here and now (how I need to directly apply it to my life). I don’t read simply for interest, but for life transformation.
  4. I read the Bible reflectively, slowly, and meditatively. In this post I write about a unique and fresh approach to Bible reading.
  5. I refuse to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that apply to me. I open up every part of my life and heart to God’s Spirit applying Biblical Truth to me.

The next time you open up your own refrigerator, ask yourself this question.

Does God’s Word have refrigerator rights in my heart? 

What has helped you keep your heart open to God’s Word?

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When You’re in the Belly of a Big Fish

Jonah, one of Scriptures most interesting characters, finds himself in the belly of a big faith after he ran from God. Sometimes crisis, pain, and difficulty can feel like we’re stuck in the same place Jonah found himself. So what do we do? I believe Jonah 2 (a prayer he prayed while in the big fish three days) gives us some insight.

First, what might it look like for you to be in the belly of a fish?

  • You are losing your job and there are no jobs on the horizon.
  • You hate your job but can’t get out.
  • Your marriage is on the rocks.
  • Your teens are walking down a very dark path.
  • Your church seems like it’s going nowhere and things look hopeless.
  • You never seem to have enough money to pay your bills (or pay the church bills if you’re a pastor).
  • You just got a bad doctor’s report.

Can we learn anything during those times? R. T. Kendall believes we can. He writes, “The belly of the fish is not a happy place to live, but it is a good place to learn.”[1]

So, what does Jonah teach us about what to do when we are in the belly of a fish, in a difficult situation, crisis, or pain.

1. Pray.

Verse 1 tells us that from inside the fish he prayed. Unfortunately, we often pray after we’ve tried every thing else. James counsels us to pray in James 5.13.  Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.

2. Don’t stuff your emotion, suppress your pain, or pretend all is ok. 

Sometimes leaders fail to admit to others or themselves that things really are bad because doing so might us look weak. So, we stuff our emotions, over spiritualize, or busy ourselves to push the pain away. Jonah didn’t do that, though. He graphically describes his situation with words like these: distress, grave, currents swirling, waves and breakers sweeping over him, banished from his sight, engulfed, seaweed wrapped around his head, barred in forever, in the pit, life ebbing away.

Instead of stuffing, one way we can actually dampen painful emotions is to label them, put a name on them. Learn more in this post about dealing with painful emotions.

At the same time we must admit our painful emotions, we must not go to the other extreme and ruminate, replay, and constantly rehearse the difficult situation. Doing so will actually amp them up.

3. Stay hopeful by redirecting your thinking.

As Jonah recounts how difficult things have been, he shifts mental gears with the phrase, “But you (God).” In fact, the Bible often describes God intervening for his people with this phrase, But God. Stories about Noah, Joseph, Joshua, David, and Paul describe But God moments in their lives when the Lord rescued them.

When you’re in the belly, don’t deny the reality of the difficulty. And instead of rehearsing and ruminating, redirect your thinking to the But God’s in Scripture and in your life.

4. Remove any God substitutes.

In verse 8 Jonah talks about worthless idols, probably referring the pagan sailors who were in the boat and who practiced idolatry. For believers today, we can get easily get attached to subtle idols and false gods in our lives. Idols and false gods look different to different people.

Some people drive in their gods.

Some people live in their gods.

Some people live with their gods.

Some people work for their gods.

Some people serve in the gods (their church or their ministry).

The problem with all these gods is what my daughter Tiffany and I discovered several years ago when we took the Hollywood backstage tour in California. The tour involved riding a tram that drove by many familiar houses and buildings used in the movies and TV shows. However, the guide explained that all the sets were facades, false fronts. There was nothing behind them but junk.

Those sets parallel false gods and idols in our own lives. They promise to fill our hearts and give us life, happiness and joy, but they don’t stand up to the rigors of real life. They are all false fronts.

When in the belly of a big fish we often think about what’s truly most important. If you’re in the belly, use this time to root out and discard any God substitutes.

When you’ve been in the belly of a big fish, what life lessons did you learn?

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[1] Smith, B. K., & Page, F. S. (1995). Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Vol. 19B, p. 241). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Are these a Pastor’s 5 Greatest Fears?

If you are human, you have secret fears. I don’t mean ones like fear of snakes or fear of heights, but deeper ones. You may have never verbalized them to anyone. Perhaps they have burrowed themselves deep into your subconscious. Perhaps they’ve become like a shadow that dogs your every step. Perhaps they’re no big deal. However you’d classify yours, I believe we all carry them. And pastors deal with them as well. Although I’ve not based my list below on science or surveys, I believe they capture several fears pastors often face.

A pastor’s 5 greatest fears (not in any special order):

1. What if my ministry is insignificant? In writing my second book (Five Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, IVP, 2010, ), I included a quote by David Goetz that captures this fear well.

I often sat in the studies of both small-church pastors and mega-church pastors, listening to their stories, their hopes, their plans for significance. I deduced, albeit unscientifically, that often clergymen in midlife had worse crises of limits than did other professionals. Religious professionals went into the ministry for the significance, to make an impact, called by God to make a difference with their lives. But when you re fifty-three and serving a congregation of 250, you know, finally, you’ll never achieve the large-church immortality symbol, the glory that was promised to you. That can be a dark moment-or a dark couple of years. (Kindle e-book loc 1919).

2. What if I really mess up?

One of the rising stars in the Baptist world in the 80’s and 90’s in the US, Joel Gregory, rose to what was then the pinnacle of the Baptist world to pastor First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX and succeed W. A. Criswell. However, two years later he resigned, his marriage failed, and he sold cemetery plots to make a living. His remarkable journey (nicely chronicled here), however, led him to a place of redemption and he is now a respected preaching professor at Baylor.

3. When if people leave my church because they are upset?

I know of no pastor who has every led a church where 100% of the people stayed. Some leave for good reasons. Some don’t. And often the pastor is the last one to hear they left. When that happens, it hurts, notwithstanding the good feelings that come from ‘blessed subtractions.’

4. What if I can’t make the people happy?

In my third book (People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership), I surveyed over 2000 pastors and discovered that from 79%-91% of pastors self admitted that people pleasing affected their ministry to some extent. This common temptation is even wired into our brains. Social rejection lights up the same regions of the brain that physical pain does so when we know someone is not pleased with our performance, it actually hurts.

5. What if the people really knew my deepest struggles?

Acceptable struggles like overwork or eating too much usually don’t affect how church people see you. But, what about pastors who struggle with secret jealousies of more successful pastors, lust, or feeling that they often ‘fake it’ on Sundays. If the people knew their deepest struggles, what would they think? What would their boards think? What would those who hold them in high regard think?

The Bible says we are broken people. That’s what makes grace so good. God extends his unmerited love and mercy to us to restore, remake, and remold us. Salvation freed us from the penalty of sin. His Spirit is freeing us from the power of sin. Yet, it won’t be until heaven until we are freed from the very presence of sins, including our deepest fears.

Perhaps we should admit our deepest fears to the Lord and to a close, safe friend who can help us face them and conquer them with the Spirit’s power. In this post you can learn what to look for in a safe friend.

What would you add to this list?

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10 Indicators You Have no Margin in your Life

Although I posted this recently, it’s worth a re-read. In Richard Swenson’s seminal book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, he defines margin this way. Margin is the space between our load and our limits.

He says it is related to our reserves and resilience. He calls it a buffer, a place where we can recharge our batteries, and a space where we can focus on what matters most. I highly recommend the book. Unfortunately, those in ministry often lack margin. Here are 10 signs that may indicate you lack margin and 5 steps to gain more of it.

  1. I’m always mentally and physically exhausted.
  2. Small things more easily get under my skin. I can’t turn my anxious thoughts off.
  3. I don’t seem to have the joy for ministry I once did.
  4. I count down the days until my day off. Yet even on my day off I’m still anxiously thinking about ministry stuff.
  5. Those who love me most tell me to slow down yet I always have a comeback excuse.
  6. I often worry about what others think of my performance.
  7. I too easily take things personally.
  8. I find that I can’t focus as well as I once did.
  9. I get easily distracted and try to multi-task more often.
  10. My devotional times with God are mostly dry.

If a few of these are consistently true of you, you may need more margin in your life.

If that’s so, what should you do?

When I’ve found myself with little margin, it hasn’t been easy to change things, but these steps have helped.

  1. Admit that you life is too full and that it’s not good, pleasing to God, or healthy for you.
  2. Learn the art of mindfulness, being aware of and in the present moment without being harsh on yourself or worrying about what happened yesterday or fretting about what might happen tomorrow. Meditate on the words of Jesus in Matthew 6.
  3. Take a day off, really. Turn off your phone and don’t check email. Do something that refreshes your soul.
  4. Turn your mind off earlier in the day than you do now. Perhaps you need to decrease night meetings. Maybe you need to establish hard stops for those evening meetings.
  5. Remind your self that if you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of others.

    After all, Jesus did say something about loving yourself.

What has helped you gain better margin?

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Are you a Generous Person? 10 Indicators you are

Through examples and commands, the Scriptures challenge His followers to strive for abundant generosity. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul describes an amazing example from a very poor church (the church in Macedonia) that exemplified lavish generosity through an offering they took up for an even more destitute church than they (the church at Jerusalem). As you read these 10 qualities of a generous person, ask yourself how well your life embodies each.

First, some backstory. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, a relatively wealthy church. A year prior they had committed to collecting an offering for the poor church in Jerusalem. But, for whatever reasons they had not completed it. Paul address this issue in 2 Cor. 8 by using the generosity of the Macedonian church in hopes that they (the church in Corinth) would complete the offering. I believe this chapter points to these 10 qualities.

Generous people…

  1. Give out of a joyful heart. Paul describes the Macedonian church as overflowing with joy.
  2. Don’t tie generosity to their financial status. Famine and a heavy handed government worked against the Christians in Macedonia. They were destitute themselves, but didn’t let that limit their generosity.
  3. Willing give. This church didn’t have to be coerced. They initiated giving.
  4. Consider giving a privilege rather than a duty. 
  5. Look for ways to give. They didn’t focus on their bad economic situation. Instead, they looked for how they could help others in spite of it.
  6. Have experienced a work of deep grace. Grace is a theme found throughout the 2 Corinthians. They truly understood what Jesus did for them and their lives evidenced that understanding.
  7. Welcome challenging giving opportunities. Paul wrote in verse 8 that giving  can actually “test the sincerity” of our love. They weren’t afraid to step out in faith with this challenging opportunity.
  8. Match their intentions to reality. Unlike the Corinthian church that intended to give but didn’t, the Macedonian church decided to give and actually did.
  9. Expect wise stewardship of their gifts. In verse 20 Paul says he took pains to make sure that how they administered their gifts looked right not only in the eyes of God but also in the eyes of the givers as well.
  10. Enthusiastically give. One of the Christians Paul sent with this message was described as being zealous. I believe Paul mentioned this quality to point to their need to be enthusiastic about their promise to give.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late 1800’s and 1900’s served for 55 years without a furlough and spent the final two decades of her life bedridden. She captures the essence of true generosity with this quote.

You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving. 

How would you describe your generosity?

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