Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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David Murray blogs on ministry, leadership, preaching, counseling, technology, and theology.
Updated: 2 hours 9 min ago

Real Men Have One Aim

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 1:00am

This is the second video in the Christian Man Academy Curriculum. For a transcript, click through to the Christian Man Academy website.

This video is all about finding our ultimate purpose in life. Why are we here and what will make us happy while we are here?

If we aim at God above all, and glorify God above all, we will enjoyGod above all else. We can only enjoy God if he is number one in our lives.

You can sign up for our weekly newsletter here or subscribe to the YouTube Channel to be notified of the latest videos.

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Thu, 02/14/2019 - 1:00am

Sexual Abuse in SBC
Joe Carter summarizes this tragedy in an FAQ. IMportant articles to read by J D Greear, Russell Moore, Al Mohler. One of Mohler’s conclusions is:

In light of this report and the nature of sexual abuse, an independent, third-party investigation is the only credible avenue for any organizations that face the kind of sinful patterns unearthed in this article by the Houston Chronicle. No Christian body, church, or denomination can investigate itself on these terms because such an investigation requires a high level of thoroughness and trustworthiness. Only a third-party investigator can provide that kind of objective analysis.

Trillia Newbell offers 6 Ways Pastors Can Help Victims of Sexual Assault.

And here is some beauty among the ashes: How I found hope after my ex-husband was convicted of sexual abuse.

Our Digital Lives Don’t Need to Make Us Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unwise
“Now is the moment to pursue a three-pronged approach to all digital encounters: literacy, hygiene, and labeling. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to re-shape our still primitive and often unruly digital culture into a safer, healthier, more rewarding domain.”

Finally, a Biblical Marriage Counseling Primer!
“If you are a pastor, biblical counselor, or anyone who walks with couples, get Counsel for Couples. I am confident it will not stay on your bookshelf, but be a well-worn resource as you care for and counsel couples.”

Is My Boyfriend’s Porn a Marriage Deal-Breaker?
“I would say, “Yeah, that is a deal-breaker.” …And I would say, “Don’t lower the bar.” I think we have lowered the bar too much. We have treated men like dogs in heat rather than men who are created in the image of God and who have the Holy Spirit, whose fruit is love, joy, and self-control. That last one, self-control, is usually used in relation to sexuality. Men are not victims, and these women have a right to expect more from us.”

Don’t Put Your Hope in Date Night
“When we falsely believe a date night out is the only way to grow in marriage, enjoy one another, foster intimacy, and maintain a healthy commitment, we’re bound to continually feel defeated and disappointed. God is gracious to provide many ways for couples to connect and grow deeper in their love for one another beyond a night out. In fact, date-night dry seasons might be the times we best reveal the beauty of our covenant, as we steadfastly love and serve each other in difficult times.”

“Gospel of the Happy God”
“Real happiness is the blessedness of God. Real happiness, the gospel of freedom and salvation and liberation and transformation, is when humans in all their need come under the care of the happy God who has no needs whatsoever, and who undertakes to pay the price of bringing us into fellowship with his own blessedness.”

Why you should make your pastor take a sabbatical
Some great resources here for pastors, elders, and congregations.


Manhood Restored by Eric Mason $1.99.

God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs by Timothy Keller $1.99.


The Most Significant Lessons We’ve Learned as Parents

Christian Man Academy Open for Enrollment

Wed, 02/13/2019 - 7:29am

I’ve had a growing burden for young men growing up in a world that is not only confused about masculinity but even hostile to it. In recent weeks, the Gillette ad has sparked renewed debate about “toxic masculinity.” Young (and not-so-young) men are looking for clarity, direction, and practical help about what it means to be a man and, especially, how to be a Christian man in today’s culture.

Jordan Peterson has tapped into this with his videos, books, and speeches, inspiring men to step up, take responsibility, and be the best men they can be. But, while Jordan Peterson incorporates many Christian themes and truths, for which we are grateful, he is not operating from a distinctively Christian worldview.

That’s why I’m launching the Christian Man Academy. It’s a video-based website for Christian men that will provide clear, practical, biblical teaching about what it means to be a man of God in our culture. I’ll be posting two short videos each week (on Tuesday and Thursday), together with further reading suggestions. I’ve already got fifty scripts ready to film and I’m working on the next fifty.

We’ll be starting off with the basics of being a Christian man, but we’ll eventually cover relationships, marriage, parenting, study, work, finances, organization, health, sex, and lots more. This will be a comprehensive, holistic, practical course on Christian manhood.

If you sign up for our free weekly newsletter, each Saturday you’ll get an email containing not only what’s been posted on the website each week, but additional articles and resources for further study. So why not enroll in the Academy and send this invitation to all the men in your life. Did I mention it’s all free?

Have a look around the website and watch the Welcome video here.

Big thanks to Cameron Morgan and Jordan Replogle for all their work on getting the website ready.

The Joy of Living a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 2:00am

Shona and I had the privilege of speaking at the recent Bethlehem Baptist Pastor’s Conference in Minneapolis. Shona told her story of depression, and then I shared the lessons we both learned through this time. Click here for video. The rest of the conference video and audio is here.

A Graphic Picture of Abortion

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 2:00am

Maybe I should have given a trigger warning. But sometimes we need to be triggered. Source.

Check out

Mon, 02/11/2019 - 1:00am

Four Words that Describe Today’s Pre-Teen Girls
They are insecure, anxious, confused, deceptive. How to change that? Have a look at Lies Girls Believe Online Bible Study.

5 Common Mental Errors That Sway Your Decision Making
Here are five common mental errors that sway you from making good decisions.

A Puritan Primer: The ABC’s of Counseling the Aged
“The following directions, taken from A Christian Directory by Richard Baxter,[1] provide a Puritan lens for counseling the special responsibilities of the aged. ”

Modern-Day Slavery by the Numbers
Worldwide, 40.3 million people were victims of modern-slavery in 2016.

Four years ago, I was a basket case
It’s vulnerability and transparency like this that’s smashing the stigma of mental and emotional disorders.

“That is one of the worst parts about anxiety: the anxiety that people will notice our anxiety. When one begins to have that feeling, she knows it is out of control. We shouldn’t feel so worried in the church, but unfortunately, that is the place I felt the least safe. The place where I felt the safest was with my husband, and to this day, I am so thankful for that.”

Sabbath Rest Is for Busy Moms, Too
“Over the course of several days, conversations, and prayer, I realized I needed a new definition of rest. I didn’t just need the kind of rest where I kick my feet up, I needed the deep soul rest that comes from dependence on Christ and is commanded by God: Sabbath rest. Out of his goodness and mercy, God rested from his work on the seventh day of creation (Gen. 2:15), setting a pattern for his creatures to follow.”

Kindle Books

Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty $2.99.

Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel by Michael Horton $1.59.

Called to Lead: 26 Leadership Lessons from the Life of the Apostle Paul by John F. MacArthur $2.99.

Expedition 37: The Darkest Night

Fri, 02/08/2019 - 7:19am

Here’s the video for Expedition 37 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Finding Your Passion

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 2:00am

I agree with James Clear that “Habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities.” I disagree with his application, which is, “Choose the habits that best suit you.” As he puts it:

“One of the best ways to ensure your habits remain satisfying over the long-run is to pick behaviors that align with your personality and skills. Work hard on the things that come easy.”

I disagree because God often requires us to eliminate sinful habits that are extremely easy for us, and to cultivate habits that are extremely difficult for us. By God’s grace, that can be extremely satisfying.

However, while Clear’s advice is bad for sanctification, it can be good for choosing our vocation. I’m sure we’ve all heard Dave Ramsey and others respond to people’s questions about their callings with the advice, “Follow your passion….Find your passion and develop it.”

I’d therefore like to take Clear’s words about habits and apply them to finding your vocation. To find your passion, ask yourself these questions:

What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
The mark of whether you are made for a task is not whether you love it but whether you can handle the pain of the task easier than most people. When are you enjoying yourself while other people are complaining? The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do.

What makes me lose track of time?
Flow is the mental state you enter when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away. This blend of happiness and peak performance is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone.” It is nearly impossible to experience a flow state and not find the task satisfying at least to some degree.

Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
We are continually comparing ourselves to those around us, and a behavior is more likely to be satisfying when the comparison is in our favor. When I started writing at, my email list grew very quickly. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing well, but I knew that results seemed to be coming faster for me than for some of my colleagues, which motivated me to keep writing.

What comes naturally to me?
For just a moment, ignore what you have been taught. Ignore what society has told you. Ignore what others expect of you. Look inside yourself and ask, “What feels natural to me? When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me?” No internal judgments or people-pleasing. No second-guessing or self-criticism. Just feelings of engagement and enjoyment. Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction. Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on. Once we realize our strengths, we know where to spend our time and energy.

Of course, we must also allow for the possibility that God’s calling may not be aligned with our passion, in which case we must follow God not our heart. However, if God has given us gifts and passion in one direction, we must seriously ask if that’s what God is calling us to.

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Check out

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 1:00am

You Might Need Marriage Counseling—Especially If You Think You Don’t
“As a Christian woman of color, I’ve noticed that marriage counseling can be taboo subject among both the Christian and the African American communities. I believe this stigma thrives for several reasons”

The Spiritual Dangers of Disconnecting from Creation
“I’ve spent my career working at the intersection of development and conservation in parks, recreation, and preserved open spaces. Over the last 30 years I’ve witnessed a deep and growing disconnect between people and nature. This disconnect is accelerating as the digital revolution means more people spend less time outdoors in creation, particularly in developed and urban contexts. I believe this disconnect can negatively affect our individual and corporate spiritual health.”

8 Real-Life Questions about Children and Discipline
“The Bible teaches that a loving parent is one that disciplines his or her child. But the how can often confound well-meaning parents. Below, Sam Crabtree, author of Parenting with Loving Correction: Practical Help for Raising Young Children shares some practical advice for how to navigate some specific situations in the home.”

Celebrities, Professors & Care-Givers: How We Lost Our Missional IQ
“Celebrity, professor, and care-giver; the preferable images for spiritual leadership in North America. Each of them has a cultural history. Each is an overcorrection. None represents the biblical pattern.”

Columns from Tabletalk Magazine, February 2019
This is an outstanding series of articles on a much neglected but important topic.

What happens when God suddenly sets a pastor aside from preaching?
“Pastor and Practical Shepherding President, Jim Savastio has preached God’s word faithfully for 35 years taking only a few weeks off at a time.  That all changed 3 months ago.  Jim unexpectedly experienced an onset of Bell’s Palsy in late November and has been unable to fill his pulpit for over two months. Listen as Brian talks with Jim and he reflects on God’s good providences and what he is learning during this time of being laid aside.”

A Jesus-Shaped Life Finished Well: Robert H. Mounce (1921–2019)
Click through for a beautiful video about Mounce’s care for his invalid wife.


Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous $1.99.

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by David Powlison $2.99.

This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel by Trevin Wax $2.99

Two Helps to Delaying Gratification

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 2:00am

James Clear’s  first three laws of behavior change—make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy—increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law of behavior change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time. It completes the habit loop. Clear’s fourth law is, “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”

And here’s where we run into a major problem, because most good habits come with an immediate cost or loss, whereas most bad habits come with an immediate reward or gain. Bad habits have an immediate reward and long-term costs (e.g. eating lots of chocolate), whereas good habits have an immediate cost but long term reward (e.g. dieting).

Indeed, success in nearly every field requires is to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward. That’s why, “People who are better at delaying gratification have higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, and superior social skills.”

So, what do we do? How do we use Clear’s fourth law? We can ignore it and simply push on through the immediate pain in hope of perseverance until we get the long-term gain. We can do this in the strength of God, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain, support, and strengthen us through the pain until repentance and obedience does pay off in the long-term. We can trust God’s promises of blessing upon obedience and tough it out by his grace. That’s certainly an option, and sometimes it’s the only option.

However, at least in some cases, might we not incorporate Clear’s suggestion to help us wait for ultimate gratification: “Add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.”

“Heresy!” you charge. “Is the Holy Spirit not enough?” Do we need to add Habit science to the Holy Spirit?

Well, consider a couple of immediate pleasures and immediate pains that Clear has in mind (you can think up others I’m sure):

Immediate reward: A habit tracker that provides visible evidence of success and progress.

Immediate punishment: An accountability partner or a habit contract that adds a social cost to bad behavior.

Obviously, these means could be, and often are, used independently of the Holy Spirit. But acknowledging that some of us need all the help we can get, is it not possible that the Holy Spirit can use these immediate rewards and punishments to help us to change out habits for the better? can we not pray:

“Lord I’m weak. I wish I could do what’s right just because it’s right. But often I don’t. I wish I could do what’s right because the Bible says it will pay off at the end. But I confess, even that ideal doesn’t change me. I’m weak and my ideals don’t match my reality. So, please see my desire to change. But also see my weakness. And bless my habit tracking and accountability to provide immediate reward for good and immediate punishment for wrong, and so make long-term changes in my life and character. Glorify your name as I look to you to do what I cannot do. And all for Jesus sake. Amen.”

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Check out

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 1:00am

Raising Future Husbands and Wives
“There’s a myth out there that is ruining marriages and probably reducing the number of marriages as well. It’s the myth that we can spend our childhood and adolescence putting our personal success before our need of personal character development and the needs of our future families. A selfless habit of mind will not suddenly appear in marriage. There’s a myth that if we meet Mr. Right or Ms. Perfect and exchange vows at the altar, magic marriage dust will fall upon us both, and we will walk out of that service transformed into selfless people, ready for the real-life demands of marriage. There is no magic marriage dust. We walk out of the service with the same deeply entrenched habits and dispositions that were rooted in our heart when we walked in. Only now, we have so much more responsibility. As parents of future husbands and future wives, perhaps we should think less about training up gifted standouts and focus more on training up men and women who will be prepared to succeed where Tiger Woods fell short.”

Cancer and God’s Sovereignty
“Everything changed when I received a cancer diagnosis on the day before my thirty-fourth birthday. The biopsy revealed a rare and aggressive cancer called angiosarcoma, and the five-year survival rate was not encouraging. I knew I might not live long enough for my eighteen-month-old daughter to remember me. Over the months of treatment and years of survivorship since that day, I’ve wrestled with God’s sovereignty. I don’t question the truth of His rule and reign over all things. I’m grateful that He provided a solid biblical understanding of His character before the phone call came. But I’ve often struggled to find lasting comfort from God’s sovereignty as I look ahead at an uncertain future for my family and me.”

Man says emotional support alligator helps his depression
‘m not recommending this, but….

Joie Henney, 65, said his registered emotional support animal named Wally likes to snuggle and give hugs, despite being a 5-foot-long alligator. The York Haven man said he received approval from his doctor to use Wally as his emotional support animal after not wanting to go on medication for depression.

Come to me and rest
“Just rest, child of God. Just rest. One day in seven. Silence those voices that tell you that 6 days and 24 hours a day are not enough. He knows you are dust, and need a rest. Buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and take a day. No dishes. No cooking. No cleaning. And just rest. Stop. God gave this day to you, so that you would know that your Father loves you and knows that you are finite, weak, and human. Your bones need rest. You need rest. Just stop. One day. Not a work that you do to earn God’s favor, but just stop and rest in his love. He sanctifies you.”

Church Budget Matters That Matter
“As congregations look at their budget it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sum total. But every dollar that appears there, is a dollar that can glorify God. No wonder the Lord Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).”

God’s Purposes for Suffering in Ministry (Part 1)
“2 Corinthians 4:6-18 gives us ten redemptive purposes for suffering in ministry. Today we will consider five purposes for suffering in ministry addressed in verses 6-13 and Part 2 will discuss five additional purposes found in verses 14-18.” And here is Part 2

Different Mega-Church: Same Old Scandal
This is powerful writing about the nature of power, and it applies not just to megachurches. Be warned that there is one mis-use of the world “hell.” That usually rules out a link on Check out, but this subject is too important and this insight so vital that I’m making a rare exception:

“We can’t just speak fearlessly into “that culture out there”, we must be able to speak fearlessly into “this culture in here”.   But as long as the “that culture out there” is nameless and faceless, it’s fairly easy to fight with.  This culture in here that we know and whose champions we know by first name? Not quite so much.”

3 lessons about mental illness for the sufferer and caregiver
“Loving someone with mental illness has taught me to show grace, compassion, empathy, and patience, giving me the opportunity to be a reflection of the character of Christ in the midst of difficult life circumstances. ”

Kindle Books

The J. H. Bavinck Reader $3.99.

Revelation: The Lectio Continua: Expository Commentary on the New Testament by Joel Beeke $2.99.

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World  by Michael Horton $2.99.

Check out

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 1:00am

3 lessons about mental illness for the sufferer and caregiver
“Loving someone with mental illness has taught me to show grace, compassion, empathy, and patience, giving me the opportunity to be a reflection of the character of Christ in the midst of difficult life circumstances.”

Theology for the Teen Years
“Despite the fact that my generation is the least religious generation in US history, God is at work among my peers. He is using faithful churches, pastors, and parents to give us clarity in the midst of a blindingly confusing culture. All throughout history, some of the biggest explosions of conversions and gospel work have happened among students. That could happen again today.”

Seven Questions to Ask Your Daughter’s Boyfriend
“I do not have a daughter, but I do have a sister. A sister who recently got engaged. Before she got engaged, her then-boyfriend and I had a conversation. My latent CIA interrogation skills, like my now-father-in-law’s almost two years ago, kicked into gear. I wanted to protect my sister, and to get to know and encourage the man who was already contemplating proposing. I wanted her best in the Lord, and his. By no means are the questions I came up with exhaustive. And some might be better suited at different times throughout the relationship (before the first date, or as the relationship becomes more serious, or before engagement, or after). I asked these questions before the proposal, and I pray they serve as a good starting place for other brothers (and even fathers) as they sit down to talk with a young man pursuing one of our treasured women.”

An Open Letter to the Parent of a Strong-Willed Child
“”I’ve heard parents say things like, “I feel like I’ve exhausted all my options. No approach seems to work. I’ve tried praying with him. I’ve tried appealing to his conscience. I’ve tried time-outs, and various consequences. . . and it just seems like things don’t get better, but worse. I’m very weary and discouraged. And weary. Did I mention weary?”"

Self-Control, the Leader’s Make-or-Break Virtue
“I’m convinced that the vast majority of leaders whose ministries implode because of a moral failing started on their path by neglecting their relationship with God. Estranged from God’s Spirit, the fruit of self-control eventually withered in their lives. One of the cruel ironies of ministry is that it’s easy to nurture other people’s souls while neglecting your own. If you’re not careful you can get to the place where you only talk to God when you’re praying in public and only open God’s Word to prepare to teach. Don’t be that leader. Make intimacy with the Father your number-one concern. Your life—and the lives of those you lead—depends on it.”

Preaching in a Mild State of Panic
“As one who has been teaching preaching to seminary students for over a decade I know that many (most?) approach using their preaching notes in a way that is detrimental to their preaching.”

Redemption Accomplished & Applied
PCRT conferences in Grand Rapids and Philadelphia.

Puritan Documentary


I want to highly recommend Broken Pieces and the God who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through the Eyes of a Mother which Westminster books has for sale at $9.00. My endorsement:

“The most honest and deeply moving Christian book I’ve read in a long time. Simonetta opens up her broken heart to show us the painful darkness and agonizing tragedy of serious mental illness. But she also opens the door of hope and help for other families by sharing the hard-won knowledge and resources she discovered both in the common grace of God and in the church of God. May this book transform her beloved son Jonathan’s death into life for many others.”

Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End  by David Gibson $2.99.

Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me by Kevin DeYoung

Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God by Joe Thorn $1.59.

The Two-Minute Rule

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 2:00am

When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two minute version.” James Clear, Atomic Habits, 161.

The idea here is to make  habits as easy as possible to start, with the hope that once we’ve started doing the right thing, it will be easier to continue doing it. Examples of creating a two-minute rule are:

  • “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
  • “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
  • “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”
  • “Write a book” becomes “Write one paragraph.”

However difficult the following steps and minutes, the first couple of steps and minutes should be made as easy as possible. We’re trying to find a gateway habit that naturally leads us down a more productive path (162).

The two-minute habit is a ritual that opens up a door to a harder and larger habit. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist. Clear says:

“The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things” (163).

Instead of focusing on the end goal, we focus on the first two steps until that becomes easy, then the next two steps, and so on.

I appreciate the practical realism of Clear’s book. He recognizes how hard it is for people to change. Yet he doesn’t just give up. He issues a challenge: “Nearly every life goal can be transformed into a two minute behavior.” Whatever Everest you are facing, ask yourself, “What two-minute behavior would get me started?”

Surely pastors can learn from Clear’s “pastoral” heart. We must empathize with human weakness. But we must also challenge people to change, big change. However, we must also give them the practical guidance. What are the first two steps or the first two minutes, if they are ever to meet these challenges and make these changes?

I’ve found that Christians are often frustrated that pastors and teachers either do not issue big enough challenges to change, or demand change without giving any help how to get there. Although in a secular framework, Clear provides a template that balances both big challenges and small changes.

So, pastors and counselors, let’s welcome Clear’s challenge and provide for our hearers and counselees with the two-minute behavior or inner process that will help them towards biblical life-goals, especially that of conformity to Christ.

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

The Four Most Important Decisions in Your Day

Wed, 01/30/2019 - 2:00am

The difference between a good day and a bad day is often 3-5 productive and healthy choices made at decisive moments.

We make hundreds of decisions every day but there are three or four that determine so many of the following ones. Have a look at this graphic from James Clear’s book, Atomic Habitsto illustrate the point:

We all start on the left side as soon as we get out of bed, and the decision we make there will have a huge influence whether our day will be a good one or a bad one. And there are a few other strategic decisions, that can have disproportionate impact on the rest of our day.

Clear compares these decisive moments to entrance ramps to a highway. Once we take that ramp, we are “locked in” for a number of miles before we can get off again. It may be a decision that only takes a few seconds to make, but it shapes the actions we  take for many minutes and even hours to come. Clear puts it like this:

“The difference between a good day and a bad day is often a few productive and healthy choices made at decisive moments…these choices stack up throughout the day and can ultimately lead to very different outcomes.” (161)

Another illustration is of walking into a restaurant; our options are constrained by what’s available in that restaurant.

This is why mastering these 3-5 decisive moments in our day is so important. These little habitual choices, often made without much thinking, “stack up, each one setting the trajectory for how you spend the next chunk of time” (161).

As I’ve reflected on this I’ve identified five decisive moments in my day. These are my on-ramps that determine the road I follow and whether I end up at a good day or a bad day:

1. When I wake up, do I look forward to the day with joy in God or do I look ahead with dread and fear?

2. Do I read my Bible and pray before checking email, the news, social media?

3. Do get to work as soon as I sit at my desk or do I allow myself to be distracted by the latest political news and opinions?

4. Do I shut off my mind and devices from work when I come home in the evening in order to give myself entirely to my family, or do I attempt to be half at home and half in cyberspace.

5. Do I get to bed no later than 10pm after a period of non-digital wind-down or do I just go to bed when I feel like it?

The more we can identify our on-ramps and make conscious decisions to take the right ones at the right time, the more likely we will end at the top of that graphic rather than the bottom.

And, of course, if we take wrong turn, we can ask God for forgiveness and grace to get back on track. He can turn the worst choices around and give us a good day even after the worst of choices. Where bad decisions abounded, there did good days much more abound. But we shouldn’t presume upon that two days in a row!

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Add Oil and Squeaks

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 2:00am

“Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with out bad ones.” James Clear, Atomic Habits, 155.

James Clear’s four laws for creating a good habit are:

  • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
  • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
  • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
  • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.

Conversely, his laws for breaking bad habits are:

  • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
  • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
  • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
  • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying. (54)

Over recent weeks, we’ve been undertaking analyzing the first two steps with a view to applying Clear’s teaching to sanctification, a large part of which is breaking bad habits and forming good ones. In today’s post we start looking at the third step, Response. Having made a good habit obvious and attractive, how do we make it easy to accomplish?

This is not just about doing easy things. It’s about making it as easy as possible in the moment to do what is right and good. Clear’s rationale is that if we can make good habits more convenient, we’ll be more likely to follow through on them. We’re trying to achieve more with less effort, so that doing the right thing is easier than doing the wrong thing. As Clear says:

“Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.” (155)

So we are looking for two things: ways to make the good easier and ways to make the bad harder. How can we add oil to good and how can we increase friction to the bad?

One of the best ways of doing this is to re-arrange our environment so that it will oil the good and make the bad squeak. Clear’s examples of oiling are:

  • Buy a selection of cards (birthday, thank you, graduation, sympathy), so that it’s easy to send when needed.
  • Layout exercise clothes the night before your morning run.
  • Chop up fruit and veg for an hour and put them into bags so that you can grab a ready-made bag each day of the week.

Some examples of adding squeaks are:

  • Unplug TV and remove batteries so that it’s harder to just turn it on and vegetate.
  • Leave your phone in another room when working.
  • Delete email and social media apps from your phone.

We’d all love to believe that with strong enough cues and cravings, that will be enough to motivate good habits. Clear, though, recognizes that the flesh can be weak even when the spirit is strong. We therefore need all the oil and squeaks we can get to help us.

Where do you need oil and where do you need squeaks? Or, are you maybe adding oil and squeaks in the completely wrong places?

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Practice Makes Patience

Mon, 01/28/2019 - 2:00am

If we want to grow in grace, we need to identify a grace and make a plan for how we will grow it.

For example, if my main spiritual goal is to develop and strengthen the grace of patience, I will:

  • Listen to sermons on patience
  • Read books and articles on patience
  • Memorize verses about patience
  • Meditate on God’s patience
  • Talk to patient people and learn from them
  • Think about how to exercise patience in various challenging situations
  • Ask my wife how I can improve.

All that is good and necessary. But most of all, I need to simply start practicing patience in everyday life. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits:

“If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it…You just need to get your reps in” (142).

Photography Experiment

A college photography experiment illustrates Clear’s point. Students were divided into a quantity group and a quality group. The quantity group would be judged on the amount of work they produced. The quality group would be judged on the excellence of their work. The former group would be graded by the number of photos they submitted (100 photos for an A, 90 for a B, and so on). The latter group would need to produce only one photo; but to get an A, it had to be a perfect image.

Which group produced the best photos?

Surprisingly it was the quantity group, the group that was actually out taking photos, while the quantity group spent most of the time studying and planning for the perfect picture.

In Motion v Taking Action

Clear says the difference is between being in motion and taking action. “When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. These are all good things, but they don’t produce a result” (141).

“Action on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action.” (141)

The quantity group improved their skills through practice, whereas the quality group simply theorized about perfect photos.

Clear’s conclusion is that “simply putting in your reps is one of the most critical steps you can take to encoding a new habit.” That’s because “Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.”

The most important question, then, is not, “How long does it take to build a new habit?” but “How many does it take to form a new habit?” That is, how many repetitions are required to make a habit automatic? (146).

In sum, whether you want better photos or better patience, the most effective form of learning is practice not planning.

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

“We get to lift weights tonight!”

Fri, 01/25/2019 - 2:00am

Shona and I work out with weights 4-5 evenings a week. We’re not trying to become Mr & Mrs Universe; we’re just trying to maintain our health and fitness in our fifties.

A month or so ago, we realized that we were finding it harder and harder to actually get going at it, and we realized it was partly the way we were framing the workout. Leading up to it, we’d be sitting on the sofa after supper and one of us would look at the other and say, “I’m afraid we have to workout.” The other would reply, “I suppose so. We might as well get it over with.” Then afterwards while we were gasping on the floor after the warm down we’d be groaning and complaining about how hard it was and how glad we were that it was over for another day.

We eventually realized how draining this kind of talk was. It was creating dread, delay, and discouragement. So we decided to change up the way we were viewing it and describing it. Before exercise I now say to myself, “I now get a chance to strengthen my body and improve my physical/mental/emotional/spiritual health.” Or, “I get to extend my life now.” Afterwards we high-five and celebrate another completed workout and its benefits. We’re now much more motivated, it’s far easier to get started, we work out far harder, and there’s far greater post-exercise satisfaction.

I didn’t know at the time, but having read James Clear’s Atomic HabitsI now know that what we did was “reframe our habit.”

“Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit more attractive” (131).

Clear gives examples of how to reframe the painful sacrifice associated with saving — “I get to increase my future purchasing power and financial freedom.” Instead of saying “I am nervous” before a big game or a big presentation, we say, “I am excited and getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.”

How many other spiritual activities could we reframe to make them more attractive?

From “I have to pray,” to “I get to enter the presence of God today and speak to him as my Father!”

From “I have to witness to my neighbor,” to “I get to tell my neighbor how to be eternally happy.”

From “I have to give money to the church,” to “I get to support God’s ambassadors bringing the good news to the world.”

From, “I have to suffer Christ,” to “I rejoice that I am counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name” (Acts 5:41).

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Depression and Decision Making

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 2:00am

Many depressed people is that they lose their ability to make decisions. They spend much of their days in a fog of uncertainty and indecisiveness, not knowing what to do next, or not being able to execute what they know they have to do.

I’d always thought it was impaired thinking that caused this, the impact of depression on the mind, but James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, identifies a closer connection with our feelings. Here’s a summary of his argument:

1. A craving is the sense that something is missing. It is the desire to change your internal state.

2. Desire is the difference between where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

3. Even the tiniest action is tinged with the motivation to feel differently than you do in the moment.

4. Our feelings and emotions tell us whether to hold steady in our current state or to make a change. They help us decide the best course of action.

It’s here that he makes the connection with depression:

“Neurologists have discovered that when emotions and feelings are impaired, we actually lose the ability to make decisions. We have no signal of what to pursue and what to avoid.” (129)

So the loss of feeling in depression, the dullness of emotions, is one of the major factors in contributing to indecisiveness and uncertainty in depressed people. Without emotions, it’s very difficult to know what to do next. There is no desire to change their internal state because they have little or no feeling.

That information not only helps us to understand depression better, it hopefully will also increase our sympathy for those with depression. We will condemn them less for their dithering and patiently wait for counseling, and possibly meds, to eventually restore their feelings and thereby their executive ability.

In the meantime, we often have to make decisions for them, we have to be decisive in the absence of their ability to do so. This kind of interventionist leadership takes great wisdom so as not to crush a person. Their input should still be considered, and the person helped to understand the decision, and even asked to approve it. This “team” or coached decision making, can give a sense of worth and value, and so also contribute to the healing process.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Discovering the Deeper Roots of our Habits

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 2:00am

 “Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper, underlying motive.” James Clear, Atomic Habits, 126.

Clear argues that every human desire or craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive” (127). Here are his examples of the deepest human motives and a corresponding surface level craving:

  • Find love and reproduce = Using Tinder.
  • Connect and bond with others = Browsing Facebook
  • Win social acceptance and approval = Posting on Instagram
  • Reduce uncertainty = Searching on Google
  • Achieve status and prestige = Playing video games.

As Clear says, our habits “are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices. The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same” (127).

How then do we change our habits. Let me offer a Christian adaptation of James Clear’s approach:

Step One: Ask, “What underlying desire or motive am I trying to satisfy?” “What am I trying to achieve by this activity?”

Step Two: Which of these underlying desires are legitimate? Which are approved by God and permissible and which are forbidden and to be repented of?

Looking at Clear’s examples, I would argue that winning social acceptance and approval is forbidden. Of course we are to work at being cooperative and helpful to others; the problem is when the approval and acceptance of others becomes a foundational desire that takes precedence over seeking God’s approval and acceptance.

From a biblical perspective, I’d also want to mortify the deep desire to “achieve status and prestige.” That does not only need to be re-directed; it needs to be repented of.

Step Three: What additional motives does the Bible commend? What biblical desires do we need to build into our lives? Really, this is about constructing a Christian worldview. Some samples would be:

  • A desire for the glory of God above all else.
  • A desire for acceptance with God and approval by God.
  • A desire to be like Christ.
  • A desire to be a blessing to others by being used in their salvation and sanctification.
  • A desire to strengthen and expand the Church of Christ.
  • A desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • A desire to serve God in my vocation.
  • A desire to honor God with my money.

None of these desires come naturally to us. We need God to reconstruct us with these fundamental building blocks.

Step Four: Ask, “What legitimate activity can I engage in to satisfy these desires, to meet this need?”

This involves thinking of new activities for the new motives, but it also involves thinking of new activities for the old underlying desires that are good.

As I think it’s relatively easy to find activities that satisfy the additional motives highlighted in Step Three, let’s take some of Clear’s examples again and suggest some alternative actions that satisfy the deep motives and desires far better:

  • Find love and reproduce = Marry a godly spouse and raise children for the Lord.
  • Connect and bond with others = Join a local church.
  • Reduce uncertainty = Trust God’s sovereignty.

So much of good biblical counseling is focused in this area. We are trying to help people get to “heart issues.” What are they really trying to achieve by their actions and words? And how can we help them identify wrong motives that must be repented of and right motives which are being pursued in the wrong way?

It’s about making the tree good and therefore making the fruit good (Matt. 12:33). We often say these words but don’t give people any help in achieving them. That’s where I found Clear helpful and challenging, although his incomplete system needs Biblical adjustment and supplementing.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Wed, 01/23/2019 - 1:00am

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Kindle editions of Word Bible Commentary series  are on sale. I have the whole set on Logos and always consult them. Although some of them are rather dry, and others are too concessive, for pastors with a good theological foundation, there are usually good insights into the biblical languages.

Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed by Betsy Childs Howard $2.99.