Monday, July 27, 2015


“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us!” (1 John 3:1 Mes).

Monday, July 20, 2015


Once you learn a habit, good or bad, it becomes a part of your muscle memory.  It’s at the level of your neural pathways.  When sin gets into our habits it gets into our neurons.  And our way of thinking is altered.  Our neurons need redemption.

Kent Dunnington in his book, Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice, writes that many federal health institutes and professional organizations assume addiction is a "brain disease" purely "because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain." However, playing the cello and studying for a taxi license and memorizing the Old Testament also lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain.  Shall we call them diseases, too?

Dunnington says that addiction is neither simply a physical disease nor a weakness of the will; that to understand it correctly, we need to resurrect an old spiritual category: habit. We have habits because we are embodied creatures; most of our behaviors are not under our conscious control. That's a great gift from God—if we had to concentrate on tying our shoes every time we did that, life would be impossible.

But sin has gotten into our habits, into our bodies, including our neurons.  Partly, we may be predisposed to this.  For example, people with a version of the Monoamine oxidase A (MOA) gene that creates less of the enzyme tend to have more trouble with anger and impulse control. This means that when Paul says "In your anger, do not sin," some people are predisposed to struggle with this more than others.

That doesn't mean that such people are robots or victims or not responsible for their behavior.  It does explain part of why Jesus tells us to "Judge not"; none of us knows the genetic material that any other person is blessed with or battling in any given moment.

This is why God’s truth from the Scriptures has to be embodied.  It has to become habituated into attitudes, patterns of response, and reflexive action.  Call it the practice of spiritual disciplines or holy habits.   

The reason that spiritual disciplines are an important part of change is that they honor the physical nature of human life.  Information alone doesn't override bad habits.  God uses relationships, experiences, and practices to shape and re-shape the character of our lives that gets embedded at the most physical level.

John Ortberg tells of how a few decades ago scientists did a series of experiments where monkeys were taught how to pinch food pellets in deep trays. As the monkeys got faster at this practice, the parts of the brain controlling the index finger and thumb actually grew bigger. This and other experiments showed that the brain is not static as had often been thought, but is dynamic, able to change from one shape to another. This is true for human beings as well. The part of violinists' brains that controls their left hand (used for precise fingering movements) will be bigger than the part that controls their right hand.

In another study, people were put into one of three groups; one group did nothing; one exercised their pinky finger, a third group spent 15 minutes a day merely thinking about exercising their pinky finger. As expected the exercisers got stronger pinkies. But amazingly—so did the people who merely thought about exercising. Changes in the brain can actually increase physical strength.

Every thought we entertain is, in a real sense, doing a tiny bit of brain surgery on us.

The Apostle Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).

Monday, July 13, 2015


I’ve come to realize the truth in what John Ortberg says: Most of the time our behavior is governed by habit.  Most of the time, a change of behavior requires the acquisition of new habits.  A habit is a relatively permanent pattern of behavior that allows you to navigate life.  The capacity for habitual behavior is indispensable.  When you first learn to drive a car there are so many steps to remember.  But after you learn, it becomes habitual.  That means it is literally "in your body" (or "muscle memory").  It’s at the level of your neural pathways.  

Neurologists call this process where the brain converts a sequence of actions into routine activity "chunking."  Chunking turns out to be one of the most important dynamics in terms of sin and spiritual maturity.  Following Jesus is, to a large degree, allowing the Holy Spirit to "re-chunk" our lives. This is a physical description of the Apostle Paul's command to the Romans: " … but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2).  Habits are extremely freeing.  They are what allow my body to be driving my car while my mind is sifting through the priorities of my day.

But sin gets into our habits.  This is what Paul was talking about when he talked about sin being “in our members.” “… the sinful passions … were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death … I see a … law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:5, 23 NAS). 

He was talking about human beings as embodied creatures.  Sin is in the habitual patterns that govern what our hands do and where our eyes look and words our mouths say.  Habits are in our neural pathways.  And sin gets in our habits.  So sin gets in our neurons.  And our way of thinking is altered.  Like so much else, our neurons are fallen, and can't get up.  They need redemption.  We need a transformation. 

But we’ll not be transformed by simply having more Biblical information poured into us.  The information has to be embodied.  It has to become habituated into attitudes, patterns of response, and reflexive action.  Call it the practice of spiritual disciplines or holy habits.  Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matt. 7:24-27).

Monday, July 6, 2015


Ever feel like you’ve lost traction?  Maybe you feel that your personal growth has stalled.  Maybe your spiritual life or your efforts to connect people with God aren’t getting anywhere.  Maybe you feel the time and effort you put into serving people isn’t paying off.

You begin those things with great anticipation and excitement, but life happens, and you get distracted and lose the joy and motivation, and those things become sidelined.

I believe the answer is consistency.  Simply said, you have to do what you know God wants you to do every day, every week, and every month.  You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God (Psa.  119:1).

Some people succeed more than others because they simply do what they do more.  They wake up every day and even when they don’t feel like it they read their Bibles, practice their spirituality, step out of their comfort zones to connect others with the Good News of Christ, read books which value God’s values, and do what they do in their work and recreation and relationships all for God’s glory.

“Work as hard as you can.  I empty the tank each and every day.” – Carli Lloyd, Golden Ball Award, World Champion US Women’s Soccer Team 2015.

The difference I see between a productive Christian life and an unproductive Christian life is how consistently the productive Christian works on his or her relationship with God. 

We’ve got to get away from seasons of doing and not doing, and get into a pattern of always doing.  Until you do that, until you get into a daily and weekly groove, you won’t see the growth you want.

“Motivation comes in the process of doing.” – Dr. Gary Chapman.

Get traction again.  Be consistent.  Do what you know God wants you to do with all your strength.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill.