What's the hardest thing about making a new commitment? You guessed it, actually doing what you committed to do. We've all been there right? We make a commitment because we're super excited, we're confident that this is going to be the moment that we actually do it. This will be the moment that we follow through and actually see this thing through to completion and then, "Wham". Life hits, things get busy and stuff gets pushed to the back burner. Give me an "Amen" if you've ever had this thought, "Well, I never actually told anyone I would do this, so no harm, no foul." Let's try something different this time around.
A few days ago I challenged you to take the, "More than Multiple Choice" challenge. Many of you left comments that you would indeed take the challenge. Some of you even challenged family members to join you. Wow, an entire family taking the challenge together. That would be amazing.
But what if things get busy? What if, as the Christmas season rolls in, we find stuff getting shuffled around and things start to get moved to the back burner? Maybe, just maybe in a few days or weeks, you'll think, "Well, I never actually told anyone I would do this, so no harm, no foul."
Matthew 5:33-37 says, "And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."
As if inviting you to take this challenge wasn't enough, allow me to tighten the screws on you just a little more. Tell us who you are. If you're making the commitment to join in on the "More than Multiple Choice" challenge, make that commitment a declaration right here, right now.
Teenagers will likely write thousands of essays before they graduate high school and most assuredly before they graduate college. They'll write essays on everything from politics and history to current events and former dignitaries. Why is it that teachers and professors assign essays as a method for learning? What is it about this style of learning that makes it so widely popular?
There is something powerful and almost mysterious about researching a topic, formulating your own thoughts and putting them down on paper that solidifies them in your own mind. That's what teachers and professors throughout academia have known for years. That's why students from high schools and universities alike are inundated with essay assignments. Students everywhere cringe when they realize that an essay is required. Why? Because they know it will require more than just jibber jabber on a page. They know that it will require research. They know it will require time.
A thought recently occurred to me that perhaps the church has missed this idea. Our churches are full of activities, events and classes all designed to help people grow spiritually but all within the bounds of being sure not to require too much. We hesitate to ask people to really "dig in", to do "homework" or to "spend extra time" really studying their faith. We've become experts at packaging Christianity into bite sized chunks that fit nicely into a prescribed Sunday or Wednesday formats.
Of course our goal shouldn't be to make people cringe when they realize that there could be and should be more to their faith than just multiple choice and fill in the blanks. But what if? What if we realized that God desires us to study Him? What if we realized that God desires us to research Him? What if our faith was more than multiple choice and fill in the blanks?
It was with this idea in mind that I recently challenged my students to participate in an essay contest on the topic of Psalm 23:4, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
The criteria are as follows:
Minimum 1 page (double spaced)
No particular format required
No minimum amount of resources needed, but all resources must be cited.
Topic must be on Psalm 23:4, giving particular attention to, "your rod and your staff.."
Of course I sweetened the pot a little by offering the winner 2 free lift tickets to our upcoming snow tubing trip but the lessons and benefits are greater than that. It's about digging in. It's about knowing that there's more than just fill in the blanks in regards to our faith. There's meaning, there's depth, there are layers.
Here's my challenge to you. Dig in for yourself. Start now and don't wait. Don't make plans for some future goal, do it now.
I invite you to take this same challenge. Study Psalm 23:4 and write an essay on it. You won't be so lucky as to receive 2 free lift tickets but here's my promise. You'll be better off because of it. You'll be better off when you start truly studying who God is and what He says to you through His Word. Take the "More than Multiple Choice" Challenge for yourself.
While it's now original to us, it's still a great idea. You may remember the "VH1" version that tracked down former superstars many moons later to discover what they're up to all of these years later. Or perhaps you've seen Oprah's version, hunting down former talk show guests and getting updates on their stories. Well, "Where are they now?" is coming soon to HOOVITORLOSEIT.COM. While none of our guests are music or television sensations, many of them are now serving God in some amazing ways. We'll be tracking down former students to see what they are doing now. Some are serving as missionaries, some are now in full-time vocational ministry, some are leading worship, some are serving God in businesses and companies all across the nation. We'll be posting the audio from each of the interviews on our site for your listening enjoyment. Want to suggest a former student for us to track down and interview? Contact us with your suggestion.
Today I spent about 5 hours at a monastery in the Cincinnati area. I scheduled this time to be away, study, read, write and meditate, all things that I seldom have time for in the regular schedule of my week. I arrived this morning about 8:30 a.m. and was promptly greeted by one of the sisters who showed me to my quarters for the day. I was immediately taken back by the size of the space I was given to use. I was expecting a small room, from the pictures I had seen on the internet, something slightly larger than a bathroom. What I received instead was in essence, a small apartment, complete with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, living room, t.v., all the essentials of a home. After showing me around and explaining a few basics, the sister let herself out and I was left in the silence with nothing more than the raindrops clattering on the windows.
Finding myself in a new space, I worried that I would struggle to focus. My day was supposed to be centered on reading, writing and prayer and I became nervous that I would spend a bulk of my time anxiously checking out my surroundings. As I scoped out the remaining doors and rooms that she had not opened I was struck by something more than just the size of the room. Although large in square footage, this space was extremely simple. A simple desk, simple love seat, simple table, simple kitchen, simple bathroom, simple hallway, simple t.v., simple everything.
As my day progressed it was as if God was simply reminding me that simplicity is all I need. Sometimes I, and maybe even you can spend so much of our lives pursuing the not so simple. We strive to have the latest and greatest, we pride ourselves on the detail and the connectedness of all of our devices, we love having over 1000 television channels but interestingly only watch about 10 of them. We long for vehicles that are somehow capable of doing more than simply transporting us from point A to point B. We work extra hours to afford houses that we don't have time to enjoy.
God calls each of us to a different lifestyle but what God has been revealing to me is that less is more. Don't get me wrong, I love my devices and I love my television but today was simply a reminder that I don't need any of that. Take it all away and I'm still here. My family is still here. Most importantly, God is still with me.