MICHAEL ANTHONY BLOG
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When I was five years old, my father took me on my first fishing trip off the Jersey shore, in a party boat. I wouldn’t call what happened on that boat a “party” by a long shot. To this day, it remains one of the longest days I’ve had to endure. I got so seasick that traditional chum was not needed to lure the fish. I recycled my breakfast into the ocean, offering the fish my bacon and egg breakfast, complete with orange juice and buttered toast, thickly smeared with jam.
There were too many other fishermen on that boat with iron stomachs – and every single one of them was there to catch fish. No chance they would turn around and bring me back to the docks.
Dad figured he might as well make due. To keep me from stumbling overboard, and to accomplish his goal of fishing, he wedged me between his butt and a bench. He kept me somewhat stable as the boat swayed, the ocean sprayed and the sickening stench of diesel fumes, mixed with cigarette smoke filled my gut. I fed the fish again and again. Why Jesus didn’t use this imagery to describe Hell beats me. I love the ocean – from the beach.
When I am at the beach, my mind invariably drifts toward the story of Jonah and the big fish (it wasn’t a whale). The problem with the biblical story of Jonah isn’t in figuring out how a grown man could be swallowed by a big fish. It isn’t in figuring out how Jonah could survive inside a fish for three days and nights. The problem is how much I am just like Jonah – and I don’t like it any more than diesel fumes on a rocking boat filled with smoking fishermen. Jonah’s problem was that he was more concerned about a doggone plant than human beings. How is that even possible?
After finally obeying God and preaching to the people of Nineveh, Jonah took time to see if the people would respond to God’s message spoken through him. Here’s the account in Jonah 4:6-11 (ESV):
The only thing worse than diesel fumes, cigarette smoke and recycling a bacon and egg breakfast on the open sea, is to be called by God and not care about people. To know the love of God – to receive His favor and calling – and to not care that others receive the same is more disgusting than a seasick venture on a temporarily full stomach. It’s far too easy to sail through life and have more affection for things than for people.
Jonah’s problem is my problem, and it needs to make me a bit sicker than I am these days. What about you? Can you identify? Is it easier for you to care about things, and your own comfort, than it is to care – to truly care – for people?
The honest to God truth is that I’m far more like Jonah than I am Jesus. I bet I’m not alone, am I?
I’m very grateful to be chosen as a guest writer for Patheos.com for the new movie Me Before You. The movie is a love story about a young couple – and the extraordinary challenges they face when things take an unexpected turn. What does it really mean to “live boldly” as the movie encourages? When is a live worth much – or not much at all? Here are my thoughts – which I’m sure will make you think about what it means to “live well” . . .
Have you seen “Me Before You”? What are your thoughts about when a life is no longer worth living? Who can make such decisions? What does it mean to “live boldly” and to “live well”?
MOST OF THE LESSONS I’VE LEARNED IN LIFE I’VE LEARNED THROUGH FAILURE. The profound truth is that we postpone our own success until we learn from our mistakes, sins and shortfalls. In fact, when you develop the habit of examining your failures, you accelerate and enhance your odds of succeeding. In order to do this, you have to learn to think counter-culturally – because our culture worships success without understanding the importance of failure.
Success requires that we learn to think deeply. This can be painful work when it comes to examining our own pitfalls. And, it’s exactly why so many don’t want to do it. In a culture where thinking deeply is a lost art (we are more often told what to think rather than how), you have to make a decision to swim up-stream if you really want to change. In the final analysis, change is exactly what success is about. It requires re-tooling, improving, refining . . . metamorphosis.
Eternal attentiveness is the price paid for real success. Deep thinking, introspection and personal evaluation have to be the new way of life – unless you don’t want to succeed. This is why embracing our failures, rather than running from them, ignoring them and pretending they didn’t happen in the first place, is one of the most foolish things you can do to undermine your own success.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said famous philosopher Socrates.[i] Another philosopher put it this way:
These words, penned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5, help us understand the importance of constantly reflecting on our walks with God. Specifically, it’s not possible to walk with God until and unless we are walking with Jesus Christ. To have Jesus Christ within us, says Paul, is to have Jesus Christ leading us. In other words, true faith is lived from the inside-out.
The person who gets himself/herself into the perpetual practice of self-examination and testing, specifically in regard to obedience to Christ, is living an examined life. It’s the only life worth living. This is where all change begins – and it’s where all change deepens, broadens and becomes contagious.
There is nothing more contagious than a person who is truly walking with God. There are a lot of posers these days. You don’t want to be a poser. You want to be the genuine article. Remember that Scripture memorization does not mean a person is walking with Christ. Nor does the amount of time one spends in prayer or how one serves in church. If these were the measuring rods of walking with God, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have been prime candidates to pick up the mantle of Jesus. Alarmingly, Jesus did not choose one such man as an Apostle. We would do well to learn a lesson in Jesus’ selection: one can know the Bible – really know the Bible – and miss Jesus nonetheless. The Bible, without self-examination, will not change us. It is only when we do the hard work of self-examination and testing that we bring the Bible to bear against our sinful nature, bad habits, resistance to God and . . . failure.
Get into the practice of bringing the Bible to bear on all your failures. Ask yourself – often – if Christ is in you to such a degree that it’s not possible for others to miss Him when they find themselves in your presence. To be in the presence of a Christ-follower is to be in the presence of Christ. At least this is God’s intention. Is it ours?
I struggle with failure and I bet you do, too. HAVE YOU MADE THE MISTAKE OF VIEWING YOUR “FAILURES” AS ENEMIES RATHER ALLIES? HOW CAN SELF-EXAMINATION AND DEEP THINKING HELP YOU SUCCEED?
[i] This quote is attributed to Socrates, but not with absolute certainty.
Life is happening. Are you here while it’s unfolding? When you’re home, are you really home, or still at work? While at work, are you at home? When your children are talking to you, looking for attention and guidance, are you attentive, guiding? Is your spouse nurtured or neglected? Are you so adept at “multi-tasking” that you’ve lost the ability to be present in the present?
Many of us mistake distraction for living. We’ve developed the illusion of living, and lost the art of being there. I’m being honest – because this is one of my own struggles. I bet you can identify. When did we start thinking doing more meant living life better? I’m not sure it really matters if we understand when it all began. What matters is that we took the bait – and we’re missing out on life.
Recapture the lost are of being there. Here are some things I’m working on that may be helpful for you, too:
- Pay attention when people talk to you. Use eye contact. Stop what you are doing and pay attention.
- If you can’t give someone your full attention at the moment, simply explain you don’t have time at the moment, but you will next time.
- If you find that you have to resort to #2 repeatedly, you may be too busy, too distracted, too focused on things rather than people.
- Listen to, prioritize, spend time with and really be there with your spouse, making it obvious that nothing else on earth matters. Do this often, because your spouse is the most important person God has given you.
- Listen to, prioritize, spend time with and really be there with your children, making it obvious that nothing else on earth matters. Do this often, because your children are the most important people God has given you.
- Forgive people and move on. Stop being a fault-finder. If you don’t forgive, you won’t be able to be “here” in the present – because you’ll be stuck in the past. Forgive people the way you need to be forgiven and get on to the important things of life, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- Plan down time, or it will escape you. You have seven days in a week. One day should be a day of rest. Schedule it, guard it. Love it. If you do, it will even help the other six days be more productive. Try it for four weeks and see for yourself.
- Start and end your days in prayer, reading the Bible and making it your objective to put it into action each day. Ask God to help you. He will. Not sure where to begin? Start with the Gospels, observing how Jesus dealt with people, and follow in His footsteps.
I struggle with “being there” and I bet you do, too. I’m sure I will until my last breath. I need to be committed to recapturing the lost art of being there. Until our final moment, let’s do all we can to become the best version of ourselves possible. It think that’s a worthy endeavor, don’t you?
BULLET BLOG . . .
IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO IMPROVE EVERY RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE, LOOK NO FURTHER. IF YOU REALLY WANT YOUR LIFE TO CHANGE, HERE’S THE GAME-CHANGER. It’s a bit of ancient philosophy that’s timeless and potent for twenty-first century living. If you pour every conversation through this filter – before it begins – your entire life will turn around. God will use you to turn the lives of others around, too. USE THIS FILTER FOR SEVEN DAYS STRAIGHT AND IT WILL SPARK A REVOLUTION. I’m not kidding. Here is the great relationship “funnel” courtesy of Ephesians 4:29:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. ”
WHY NOT SHARE THIS “BULLET BLOG” ON YOUR FB WALL?
Can you think of another “filter” through which to pour your words? Our words are powerful – but let your words be used for good, not evil. In fact, don’t even let them be used for neutrality. Life is too short to live in neutral.
STOP SETTLING. Don’t merely avoid negative, toxic conversations – start using every word like an artist painting deliberately on a palette. Create beautiful things with your words. Our words can bring people together or driver them apart. They can glorify God – or Satan. What are your words doing? Who are they glorifying?
If you are a Christ-follower, follow Him. Ephesians 4:29 says our words reveal how closely we are following. Consider Ephesians 4:17:
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”
Stop living like you used to. Let the power of God take you further today in your walk with Him and people.
SUGGESTED PRAYER: Lord, help me follow You. Help me to consciously use my words to fulfill what Ephesians 4:29 says. Help my words build others up, fit the occasion and give grace to every single listener, for your glory.
I’D LOVE TO READ YOUR COMMENTS. ARE YOU REALLY FOLLOWING THE JESUS YOU WANT EVERYONE ELSE TO FOLLOW? Are your words corrupting or encouraging? Do they build people up or tear others down? Are people genuinely closer to God after having a conversation with you? If the aren’t, you’re USING THE WRONG FUNNEL . . .
“BULLET BLOG” is the name I came up with for my fast reads, designed to give you one solid truth that can powerfully change your life. I typically publish them on Friday mornings. You can catch my other blogs throughout the week, along with my podcast and videos. Your comments are always appreciated. For more about me, click on the image or here. If you’d like to request an interview, or explore the potential of my speaking your group, click here.
THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAGEDY OF 2016 MAY NOT BE OUR RAGING RACIAL DIVISION, CONTINUED ECONOMIC DECLINE, MORAL MALAISE OR EVEN THE BATTLE OVER THE REDEFINITION OF GENDER (who among us ever thought we’d see that debated?). The greatest tragedy of 2016 may not even be the political circus we’re all witnessing. (Any day now, I’m convinced that one of the candidates is going to produce three rubber balls and start juggling). When the smoke of 2016 clears and all the dust settles, it may be said that the greatest tragedy of 2016 was that all the while that God was speaking, His people weren’t listening.
The National Week Of Repentance is underway. It’s not too late to participate in this historic, simultaneous movement of God and people throughout the america. Click here to jump in.
We American Christians are confused. We want the world to follow a Jesus we’re not following. We’re not reading our Bibles, spending much time in prayer or prioritizing forgiveness and reconciliation. No wonder no one is interested in following us. We believers seem to have a serious case of “spiritual amnesia.” We’ve lost our story. We seem to have forgotten the very core of the gospel: forgiveness and reconciliation. As a pastor, the number one problem I continually see in the Church is the disinterest, inability and outright refusal to forgive and reconcile – by people who claim to know, follow and love Jesus Christ. This is not merely a problem. It’s a self-inflicted, mortal gunshot wound to our witness. It’s also robbed God of His glory, since there is no gospel without forgiveness and reconciliation.
Listening precedes following. Following demonstrates obedience. Obedience reflects love. The truth may very well be that many of us – perhaps the overwhelming majority – have fallen out of love with the God we want others to follow. The Bible has a word for this, and it stings. It’s called hypocrisy. Here is how Merriam Webster defines this word:
No one wakes up in the morning looking for ways to be a hypocrite. But hypocrisy will become the default of life if we don’t intentionally pursue the Jesus we want everyone else to follow. Jesus says, “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).
Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15, NIV). He also says, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me . . .” (John 14:21, NIV)
ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN LEADER? Have you forgotten that in order to effectively lead others, you must really be following your LORD?
ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN PARENT OR GUARDIAN? Do you realize that the greatest need for the children under your care is to know that you are someone who truly walks with God?
WHAT IF EVERY CHRIST-FOLLOWER FOLLOWED CHRIST THE WAY YOU DO? Would that be a good thing, or would life go on, business as usual?
WHY POSTPONE YOUR GREATEST POTENTIAL FOR JESUS CHRIST? Get your ACTION GUIDE for this week’s National Week of Repentance. It will help you put aside unintentional hypocrisy and get back on track with Jesus Christ. You can download it by clicking here.