Monday, September 28, 2015

No Discounting the Value of Accountability

Years ago when I was a magazine editor, we did a cover story on “accountability.” Personal accountability was a hot topic. Everyone was talking about accountability groups or having accountability partners. We don’t hear the term as much these days, but it’s no less important.

Whether dancing, as this Asheville,
N.C. statue depicts, or struggling
through life, it's usually better
to partner with others.
I recall key principles we presented in that edition of the magazine. One was that the goal of an accountability partner is not to catch the other person doing something wrong, but rather helping that individual to “win” by attaining goals and objectives he or she had agreed upon to pursue. The person being held accountable sets the goals; the accountability partner serves only to provide reminders and encouragement to keep him or her on track.

For that reason, an accountability partner should be someone without a vested interest in the other individual’s performance. Being accountable to a person you report to in a workplace setting, for example, wouldn’t be good, since that individual has a keen investment in what you do – and how you do it. We should be accountable to someone whose apple cart won’t topple if we’re unsuccessful in meeting our goals.

The third important principle I learned is we can’t be held accountable if we're not truly willing to be held accountable. Sounds simple, but that’s foundational. For instance, a person might be struggling with a major issue in his life – perhaps a recurring sin – but if he doesn’t want to submit to being held accountable in that area, any efforts to help will be futile.

Back in 1969, Frank Sinatra’s hit tune “My Way” became an enduring classic, reflecting on our predisposition to “do it my way.” Sinatra, of course, didn’t invent this perspective, but he did give it an enchanting melody. The tune lilts through my mind as I write.

The problem is, as many of us have sadly discovered, “my way” isn’t always the best way. Living life on impulse and in isolation, guided by self-absorbed tunnel vision, can keep us from seeing potential potholes and pitfalls as we advance in our journey through life and work. Becoming accountable to another person – or a small group of people – isn’t a guarantee that we won’t fail, but can help us in avoiding a lot of mistakes while helping us to achieve a lot of positive goals.

A couple of Bible passages address this specifically. Proverbs 27:17 declares, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man (or woman) sharpens another.” Do you have someone “sharpening” you, helping you in your desire to accomplish some things you’d struggle to achieve on your own?

Then there’s Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, which talks about the power in numbers: “Two are better than one…a cord of three strands is hard to break.” Sounds like a small accountability group to me, a handful of men or women that agree to meet on a regular basis with their sole intent being to help one another to win, to work toward meaningful goals and overcome besetting struggles through mutual support, admonition, and a willingness to ask – and be asked – tough questions.

One of my favorite verses in the Scriptures is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states temptation is common to us all, but God promises to provide a “way of escape” for us. But the preceding verse is a cautionary one: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). A strong, caring accountability partner or two could become that "way of escape," helping us to spot looming danger before we have to suffer the consequences.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Discipline’s Not a Dirty Word

College football has returned and I’m among the millions ecstatic about it. There’s nothing like watching college-age men – who are also expected (at least in theory) to attend classes, pass exams and stay out of trouble – compete in the unpredictable game of irresistible force vs. immovable object.

Of course, with ubiquitous cameras focused on everything both on field and off, down to the last moustache and eyelash, we’ll be seeing enough controversial scenes to keep the talking heads yammering for hours on end. It happened again a couple of weeks ago after the head coach of a major college program berated a young player on the sidelines.

The player, after scoring a go-ahead touchdown, made the symbolic “throat slash” gesture to the opposing crowd, for which the game officials rewarded him with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. As the athlete returned to the sideline, his coach huddled the team around the young fellow and for about 30 seconds, with extreme zeal, informed him such behavior was totally unacceptable. I’m not sure what words the frustrated coach used, but suspect “golly” and “darn” weren’t among them.

Predictably, by the next Monday radio and TV sports commentators were revisiting the incident, debating whether the coach’s public tirade had been over the top. Equally predictably, many commentators opined that embarrassing the player in such a manner had been unnecessary.

Discipline these days, it seems, is widely regarded as a dirty word. It toys with fragile psyches, some believe. It restricts self-expression, others say. It borders on abuse of authority, is the position of many.

Well, to borrow a term from the local deli, “Baloney!” I suspect one reason our society at times borders on anarchy is because too few are willing to exercise discipline. Just as a spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down, an appropriate measure of discipline can save young, impressionable minds from the dire consequences of future misdeeds.

Let’s be clear: Discipline and punishment are not synonymous. Punishment typically is action intended to get even, avenge or repay someone for a wrong deed. The purpose of discipline, however, is correction. That doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes unpleasant to receive, but the intent is to guide in the right direction, not inflict pain out of anger.

For example, tomatoes require the “discipline” of a stake to grow upward and strong, rather than languishing on the ground. Trellises are often used to help rosebushes grow tall and healthy, and those plants are pruned (disciplined) at appropriate times so they become more productive.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” In other words, discipline children to follow their rightful and proper bent. If a parent wants a son or daughter to grow into a respectable, respectful, reliable individual, they must discipline them to discern right from wrong, and realize they are responsible for actions good or bad.

The Bible underscores the importance of understanding discipline is for our benefit. “He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding” (Proverbs 15:32).

In fact, we’re told if we find ourselves in a position of authority – whether as a parent, coach, teacher, or employer – exacting discipline when needed is evidence of our concern for the person. God gives us the ultimate example: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

I can’t speak for the head coach whose verbal explosion was captured on camera and replayed countless times online and on TV. I don’t know if his outburst was out of “fatherly” love or sheer exasperation. But the player and teammates were left with no doubt that “throat slashing” and other unsportsmanlike behavior would not be tolerated.

Hopefully the episode will be chalked up as a difficult but necessary lesson learned.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Missing Out on a Great Deal

What if that "too good to be true" offer really was true?

Have you ever gotten one of those phone calls announcing, “Hello, you’ve won an all-expenses paid trip to…”? Maybe it was a cruise to the Caribbean, Alaska or Europe, or an extended vacation at some posh hotel or resort. What has been your reaction?

We get calls like that at least once a week. I either hang up immediately or, if it’s a real, breathing person calling and not some computerized recording, politely state I’m not interested or don’t have time to talk…then hang up. Maybe you do the same.

But what if the offer proved to be legitimate – you really did win some incredible, no-cost-to-you excursion? You’d want to accept it, right? If the offer were for you to go anywhere you wanted, no money out of your pocket whatsoever, where would it be? Ponder that for a moment.

Now: What if you received a call like that, but dismissed it as a marketing scheme, only to learn later – too late – that it was genuine? Maybe your next-door neighbor, or a good friend, received that same call and was now packing for the trip of a lifetime, while you were resigned to staying home, all because you said, “No thanks. We’re not interested.” How would you feel?

I don’t suggest allowing yourself to get suckered in the next time a telemarketer dials your number. There are too many scams and con artists out there, ready to pounce on the next gullible individual they find. But there are real contests out there, and real people do win them. At least that’s what I’ve heard. It would be a shame to miss out, wouldn’t it?

Sadly, every day thousands of people ignore or turn down an opportunity that seems too good to be true, forfeiting the offer of a lifetime – actually, an eternal lifetime. This offer, you’ve probably surmised by now, is eternal life. It truly is free, no strings attached, available to anyone willing to receive it.

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned was Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There it is in just 20 words. We can’t earn it or deserve it – what we’ve earned or deserve is death, everlasting separation from God. But in its place we’re offered a gift – eternal life and an everlasting relationship with God based on what Jesus has already done for us.

Because as Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Putting it in everyday terms, He erased a debt He did not owe to pay a price we could not pay. One caveat: like any gift, it must be accepted. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

As with the phone call we get promising something that sounds too good to be true, countless people every day are rejecting this great deal – this incomprehensible offer. Reasons are many. Some conclude, “It’s just too good to be true – it can’t be that simple.” A good friend said those words to me years ago. Thankfully, in time he discovered it is true – and it is that simple.

Most people refuse the gift out of pride, in one manner or another. Some think they can prove themselves deserving, that they’re good, moral people, so how could God reject that? Others are defiant; they want to live their lives their way without any interference from God or anyone else. There’s the old “faith is a crutch” rationale. And some blame the Lord for the pain in their lives, or problems we see around the world – therefore they opt for disbelief or choose to reject God, as if He needs our stamp of approval.

I compare that to the phone call with the fantastic promise. Most offers do sound too good to be true, because they are. But I can attest, along with thousands of people I’ve met over the years, that God’s offer of eternal life, hope, joy and peace – far beyond anything the world can offer – is good. And it’s true. Just not “too good to be true.”

Jesus said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Unfortunately, even among those that profess to be His followers, we sometimes leave Jesus outside the door, knocking and asking to be welcomed in while we busily go about our business.

Perhaps someone reading this needs to answer the door and for the first time, invite Jesus to enter. Others may know Him, at least on a casual basis, but if they’re honest, He’s not yet their Lord. If you’re one of them, maybe it’s time to let the door swing open and for once, allow Him to show that He truly is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quiet Amidst the Chaos

Did you catch the phenomenon that occurred a couple of weeks ago?

The winds of politics shift so swiftly it might be old news by the time this post appears, but Dr. Ben Carson, a noted neurosurgeon who has never held public office, had drawn even with Donald Trump in a poll of voters in Iowa, one of the early Presidential election testing grounds.

No, I’m not about to launch into some political diatribe. It’s just that after all the attention Trump has received from the media for his loud and expansive harangues, it’s interesting that Carson – in many ways kind of an “anti-Trump” – has quietly surged in voter appeal.

A writer on one Internet news and commentary site exposited, “Trump is a bombastic narcissist, Carson is quiet and self-effacing.” The columnist also described Carson, in contrast to the controversial Trump, as “polite and well-mannered” and “a gentleman.”

I admire many of Dr. Carson’s views, and his life story – rising from an impoverished childhood to achieve international acclaim in the world of medicine – is inspiring. But after watching some of his videos, which show his calm, soft-spoken, deliberate demeanor, I felt certain his style was too reserved to garner the attention needed for a serious Presidential effort. Maybe I was wrong.

The rule of the day in garnering headlines seems to be “loud and proud, bold and boisterous,” and the louder and more outlandish the presentation is, the better. So it seems curious that the quiet, controlled voice of an eminent physician could even be heard amidst the chaos.

Maybe it’s the “E.F. Hutton effect.” If you’re old enough you'll remember the TV commercials of the late 1970s for the stock brokerage in which groups of busy people would suddenly pause because, as the ads declared, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” I’ve known people like that, refraining from saying much in meetings, but when they did speak up, you knew it would be something worth listening to.

Sometimes the din of shouting gets so loud it’s almost impossible to hear what’s being said. At such times, the soft, calculating voice of wisdom has a way of cutting through the clamor.

The Bible teaches as much. One of my favorite verses from Proverbs – which I’ve attempted many times to put into practice – states, “When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).

Several other passages speak directly to the virtues and benefits of judicious and measured speech. For instance, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Another verse, Proverbs 17:27, states, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”

Then there’s the stern warning from Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Have you ever thought about careful, well-considered words as being a treasure? Proverbs 20:15 declares, “Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.” Diamonds from the tongue, maybe?

Dozens of other verses in Proverbs address both effective and careless communication, but one that might be worth considering as we watch the Presidential races ramp up in the coming months offers this advice: “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend” (Proverbs 22:11).

Fourteen months from now, when all the screaming and shouting, posturing and preening has mercifully come to a conclusion, will the man or woman preparing to assume the Presidency be one whose speech was quiet, yet convincing? It will definitely be interesting to see.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tangled Webs and Websites

Recently a website many of us had never heard about grabbed a lot of headlines – mainly because something happened to make lots of people aware of it. And for the most part, not in a good way.

This website was created for the stated purpose of enabling its users to have extramarital affairs. While being discreet. This somehow wasn’t surprising, given the times we live in, when virtually anything goes. The problem occurred when the website was hacked and data from its users became public. Suddenly philandering intentions of people from all walks of life were exposed.

Alas, infidelity isn’t a joking matter and it seems the mates being cheated on – whether in thought, or in actual deed – were not amused. Some of the irate customers of this website proceeded to sue its owners, citing breach of privacy. The fact they had visited and used the website, violating solemn vows to their mates, seemed secondary for some.

Hey, I’m not judging. 1 Corinthians 10:12 emphasizes, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” As someone wisely has observed, unless we’re circumspect and diligent to establish safe boundaries, there’s not a sin anyone’s ever committed that, given the right time, place and circumstances, we’re not capable of committing ourselves.

But thinking about the hapless individuals whose deceptions were suddenly brought to light, what did they really expect? As Numbers 32:23 states, “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Or as Sir Walter Scott so eloquently wrote, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

None of us is perfect. If someone were to look far and deep enough, there’s certain to be something in all of our pasts that we wouldn’t be proud to make public. But the best way to prevent having unwise actions come to light is to avoid committing them in the first place.

Followers of Christ are advised to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). This seems to say we’re not only to avoid actual wrongdoing, but also to steer clear of its general vicinity. As Proverbs 21:29 states, “A wicked man puts up a bold front, but an upright man gives thought to his ways.”

“I can handle anything but temptation”: This is true for all of us in one way or another. So rather than flirting with bad choices, then suffering the consequences when we act of them, like a child testing how close she can get to a flame without getting burned, it’s wise to keep our distance, no matter how enticing the “opportunity” may seem. 

As the apostle James wrote, Submit yourselves, then, to God. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It’s better to flee than be exposed as a fraud.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Business of Busyness

Busyness: Making great time, but do we know where we're going?
Busy. Busy. Busy. That’s the way to describe many of us: “Soccer moms” shuttling their children from one activity to another, packing as much as possible into as little time as possible. Multi-taskers testing themselves to see how many things they can work on at one time. Travelers rushing from airline to baggage claim to rental car, braced for series of important business meetings before turning around and reversing their itinerary. No question, we're busy folks.

But this business of busyness is hardly new. Decades ago, long before email and the Internet, cell phones and texting, Mahatma Gandhi stated, “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.” And author and thinker David Steindl-Rast pointed out, “The Chinese character or pictograph for ‘busy’ is composed of two characters: ‘heart’ and ‘killing.’” Ponder that image for a moment.

I think it was writer Patrick Morley who first observed, “The only problem with being in the rat race is that the rat always wins.”

This isn’t to say having lots of things to do is necessarily bad. It sure beats having absolutely nothing to do. Most of us enjoy being active, and we like feeling productive and useful. But when, instead of forgetting to stop and smell the roses, we find ourselves not even noticing whether there are any roses to stop and smell, maybe our busyness is starting to overwhelm us.

So what we need, to counteract this impulse to live frenetic, virtually out of control lives, is some balance. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 asserts, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity (purpose) under heaven.” That would tell us instead of perpetually hustling about, shouting to all who will listen, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m making great time!” it would be good to intentionally slow down long enough to consider – even reevaluate – what we’re doing, and why.

I remember times at work when the assignment seemed to require acting first and thinking later. But taking the time to plan can save time and often, lots of headaches that come from unplanned, unanticipated consequences. Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll opt for profit over poverty any day.

When we’re overly busy, flying from one commitment to the next, barely having enough time to catch a breath in between, the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome is greatly diminished. Kind of like a swimmer diving into the pool without first finding out what event she’s competing in. This holds true at work, in our homes, even in community and church activities. Maybe that’s why Proverbs 19:2 tells us, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

Just the other day I was sitting at an intersection, awaiting the turn signal so I could proceed. Watching the oncoming traffic, I saw several people eagerly texting, keeping one eye on the road (if that) and one eye on the smart phone screen. Busy people, oblivious to the fact that at any moment the drivers in front of them could make sudden moves for which they’d be ill-prepared to respond, distracted as they were. Proverbs talks about that, too. “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it” (Proverbs 27:12).

But we don’t have to be racing along the roadways, scampering through airports, or running from one meeting to another to be busy. Our minds are constantly whirring, pondering a seemingly endless array of topics, problems and worries. Once again, the Scriptures warn us, for God’s sake – literally – slow down. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…” (Psalm 37:7).

Being busy isn’t a sin, but if busyness has become our continual state of being, this might be a good time to slow down. If we let ourselves become tyrannized by the urgent, we risk missing something important.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Work Isn’t Just About Money

Like Little Boy Blue in this Rock City depiction,
many of us are taking today off work.

Today marks another Labor Day, when many of us opt to not labor. But not everyone, thank goodness.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency and medical personnel, and the military will be working, because issues of safety, health and human well-being never take a holiday. We can all go to our favorite restaurants and retail stores as well, because eating and buying never seem to take the day off. For workers in those establishments, Labor Day’s just another day. If you spend the day at a theme park or a professional ball game, labor won’t be optional for the ticket sellers, concessionaires, ride operators and performers.

As for the rest of us, ranging from mail carriers to office workers to road construction crews, we can pause, enjoying a long weekend. It might be a time for revisiting the value of work, beyond getting a paycheck and covering our financial obligations.

We hear a lot these days about unemployment and underemployment, and they are serious concerns. Especially if you’re among the unemployed or underemployed. Being able to enjoy a day off from work means you have work from which to take a day off.

But Labor Day should be more than just a day for honoring workers. It should also be a day for celebrating work’s intrinsic value. Because it’s not a curse; it’s a blessing and part of our calling as men and women created in the image of God. The first chapter of Genesis describes how God worked, creating the entire universe and then narrowing His scope in creating the earth, everything in it, and finally His prize creation, humankind.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

But in making us His image bearers, God delegated some responsibilities to us: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it…. I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Genesis 1:28-29).

God wasn’t about to provide everything we needed on a silver platter. We would have to put forth the effort to gather it. After the Fall – the sinful disobedience of man – work because hard. But just because it’s difficult, sometimes a real pain, that doesn’t mean it’s not important in God’s scheme of things.

As the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In other words, for each of us the Lord has a divine “to-do list,” not to earn His love and favor, but to serve as the instruments for what He desires to accomplish – through us.

And as we do His work, God wants us to do it His way. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

There’s a line of thinking, even within evangelical churches, that “secular” work is somehow a necessary evil, a rung or two below that of a pastor, Bible teacher or missionary. However, the Scriptures don’t make such a distinction. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul writes, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” And he’s not directing his admonition to the clergy and seminary students.

Sadly, many people find work a relentless, distasteful grind, a way to put food on the table and keep bill collectors at bay, but nothing more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could find jobs we truly enjoyed? That’s a topic for another day perhaps, but recently I came across a quote from an old friend that might be helpful.

The last Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was an engaging, high-spirited motivational speaker who found a positive slant for almost everything. He offered this observation about the daily duties we call “work” or labor:
“Don’t try to get a better job; do a better job. Do a better job, and you’ll have a better job!”

Wise words. Rather than leaning over the fence or staring out the window, yearning for the “greener grass” on the other side and imagining what it could be like working somewhere else, it might make a great difference to fully commit to the jobs we have, do our best where we are, and then possibly discover what we have to do isn’t so bad after all.

And who knows? If we really do our jobs well, maybe someone will notice and reward us by offering an even better job. It’s not unprecedented. So, happy Labor Day!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Either Getting Better or Getting Worse

A friend was talking about an experience he and his wife had canoeing. It was a fun, just-the-two-of-us time for them, a respite from their very full lives. “Canoe-dling” he called it. In the process, my friend gained an “aha” experience. They were in constant motion, whether they liked it or not.

Whether we're in a canoe, in a raft
or some other watercraft, we can
choose to either paddle
or "go with the flow."
When they were paddling, my friend and his better half were headed in the direction they chose. But when they stopped paddling, they continued to drift, although not always on the course they preferred. So they had a choice: Either continue paddling and go where they wanted to go, or just drift and see where they would wind up.

I’ve never traveled in a canoe, maybe fearful of experiencing the dreaded “up the creek without a paddle” dilemma. But I’ve been on a raft and inner tubes on lakes and in the ocean, so I’ve experienced this paddle-or-drift phenomenon.

Once I was sitting in an inner tube at a beach in New Jersey, and laid my head back to relax to the bobbing of the waves. A few minutes later I opened my eyes and realized the shore wasn’t so close anymore. Wisely at that moment I opted to paddle rather than drift. Who knows where I would have ended up?

A principle behind this applies to any facet of life: You’re either getting better or getting worse. You’re either making progress toward your chosen direction, or you’re drifting away from it – and it might take considerable effort to get back to where you want to be.

Woody Hayes, the legendary coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes (did you know college football season is upon us, finally?), was the first person I ever heard making that statement, although many have repeated it since, and it might not have been original with him. No matter, it’s true.

To achieve anything worthwhile, whether it’s to launch a business, achieve a rewarding career, build a thriving marriage, raise successful children, or enjoy a prospering spiritual life, takes work: Consistent, determined effort constantly aimed at desired goals.

I’ve seen this repeatedly over the years I’ve been striving to follow Jesus Christ. Sometimes I have sensed I was drawing closer to Him, enjoying a deepening relationship with my Savior and Lord. And other times I’ve been drifting away, maybe not dramatically but subtly and steadily.

One of the seven churches described out in the Book of Revelation, the church at Ephesus, apparently had this problem, so it’s nothing new. A passage commends believers in that ancient city for “your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men…. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:2-4). Sounds good, right? Except then comes a but. Rather, a “yet”:

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5).

Clearly these people were doing some good things. But they had “forsaken their first love.” Maybe they’d grown complacent, self-satisfied in their service. They could have been on the brink of becoming “weary in well doing,” as the apostle Paul termed it in Galatians 6:9. Perhaps they had become prideful, patting themselves on the back for all they were doing in the name of Christ. It could be they had become so busy doing the right things they had started to neglect the right relationship.

Jesus had told His followers, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In other words, even good deeds performed in our own strength rather than the power of His Spirit are of little value.

Maybe they had just quit paddling, started basking in their accomplishments, and failed to realize they were drifting away from an ever-deepening, abiding relationship with Christ. There’s no such thing as status quo for maintaining a healthy spiritual life.

This seems to be the case with the Church in the 21st century as well, don’t you think? We’re overwhelmed with activities and programs, good things mostly, but despite all the effort it seems comparatively little is being accomplished – at least of eternal value. Could it be that we, too, have “lost our first love”?

Maybe it’s time we tried to find it again. Could be we’re so busy “doing for Christ” that we’re leaving Him behind.