Gratitude Leads to Joy

Lately I’ve been practicing what I call intentional gratitude. I stop in the day, as often as I think to, and pause to recount things for which I am grateful. I’m always amazed at two things: how many things I have to be grateful for how easy it is to overlook them It’s like the old saying about seeing the glass as half-empty, or half-full. Our lives are always like that: both full and empty. There are things we have, and things we lack. Blessings and disappointments. And our default seems to be for the bad things, the disappointments, to…

8 Ways to Find Sermon Illustrations

Every preacher knows the feeling of needing an illustration, but not having anything handy. Even if you have good systems for capturing and filing illustrations, you will inevitably have moments where nothing is in your notes, and you cannot think of anything spontaneously. I know some people are against illustrations, and certainly they can be abused. For instance, we can be tempted to rely on illustrations too much out of a desire to make our sermons more engaging or emotional. But I’m convinced that there is also a way to go about illustrating that is honoring the text of Scripture,…

Pastors Should Like People (Not Just Love Them)

Affection should be a part of ministry. It was for Paul: “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8) “being affectionately desirous of you … because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Affection isn’t quite identical to kindness or even love. In these verses, for instance, affection involves yearning (Philippians 1:8), desire, and dearness (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Put it this way: to do ministry well, you need to not only love people, but like them. You need to give your heart to them. But amidst the strains and seasons of ministry, it is easy for affection…

Suffering is a Doorway, Not a Dead End

Suffering for Christ is the calling of every Christian. It is like a doorway we cannot get around, but must walk through. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22); “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12); “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). There are lots of reasons to be modest about whatever suffering we are going through. For example: we don’t suffer as much…

7 Ways to Fight Distraction During Prayer

I’ve been trying to pray more this year. But prayer does not always come easily to me. I often find (can you relate?) that I sit down to pray with the best of intentions, only to suddenly catch myself, a few moments later, daydreaming about yesterday’s conversation, tomorrow’s meeting, or next week’s vacation. Most of us have experienced this, and the rest of us are liars! Distraction can be a huge hindrance in our prayer life, but I am also discovering that it provides an opportunity for growth. Here are seven strategies for fighting distraction, and harnessing it to deepen…

Three Ways Movies are Searching for the Gospel

I love movies. I always have, but for some reason I’ve grown more and more fascinated with movies in the last three or four years—the massive industry that stands behind them, the intricacies and subtleties that make for good acting and good narration, and most of all, the power of stories to communicate at such a deep, complex, emotional level. I can’t wait for Star Wars next week. Maybe part of it is living in Southern California. The other week Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler were filming part of their new movie The House right here in Sierra Madre, and as I walked…

Five Strategies for Daily Bible Reading

I’ve always been amazed by Jesus’ response to Satan’s first temptation: “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). I picture Jesus there, looking at the stones. His ribs are poking out, and his body is worn away after 40 days of fasting. But even in extreme hunger, Jesus prioritizes spiritual food above our physical food: “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, Jesus’ response is not simply a rejection of Satan’s offer, but a…