Beyond Symptoms: Getting to the root of our problems

What’s the root of your problem?

I ask because we’ve become a symptoms-focused culture. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it certainly is now. We look at a problem and gravitate toward addressing the most obvious symptoms while doing little for the disease.

I don’t have to look any further than a mirror to find a guilty party.

For instance, my wife and I adopted a couple of kittens about 14 months ago. They lived inside through their first winter, which spoiled them more than a little. They’ve been mostly outside cats since the spring and full-time outside cats since we got a new couch this summer.

Here’s the problem: Because we live in a wooded hillside area, our property is visited by any number of wild critters, including raccoons. These black-eyed bandits are fond of cat food, so they regularly make themselves at home on our back deck. One of my solutions has been to trap them (cat food makes great bait) and then release them several miles from our home. But God has provided a seemingly endless supply of raccoons in our woods, and I’m getting a bit tired of hauling them off.

The root of the problem is that raccoons will always find their way to this free and easy food source. The best solution, of course, is to limit their food supply by not leaving cat food outside after dark. It’s a hassle to remember, but much less of a hassle than becoming a taxi service for the area’s raccoon population.

Maybe we treat the symptoms because we don’t know of a cure for the disease. I can’t eradicate all raccoons or change their desire for cat food. Despite advances in modern medicine, doctors often can’t do much more than address the symptoms of our ailments. Or, maybe we know the cure — which is sometimes true in medicine — but we find it easier or more convenient to treat the symptoms and just live with the disease. That’s why we wear clothes that make us look a little thinner rather than eating healthy food and exercising. Or, maybe we focus on the symptom because it gives the appearance of progress. Perception is better than reality.

For the world to really get better, however, each of us needs to do the hard work of addressing the true root of our problems: We’re sinners.

We can mask that reality and find all sorts of ways to justify it or explain it away, but the truth of it will always gnaw at us and prevent us from living as we’re called to live.

How do we treat this disease? We call on the Great Physician and then follow His prescriptions. Only God can take away our sins. He’ll do it if we ask, but we still have to live as fallen creatures until He brings us home. In the meantime, we can treat our disease through obedience to Him. That includes disciplines like prayer, the study of His Word, fellowship and worship with other believers, and submission to His authority over every aspect of our lives.

Those things aren’t easy, but they are essential to our spiritual health.

Treating the symptoms of our spiritual illness isn’t a bad thing, it’s just incomplete. We don’t have to do one or the other; we can address both at the same time. But if we never address the root of the problem, we’ll spend the rest of our lives treating symptoms that only get worse over time.

Fruits of a Jamaican Church Plant

What happens when followers of Jesus grow like Jesus? The church grows for Jesus.

Allow me to share an example …

Last weekend I went on a business trip to Jamaica. I know, it’s a tough life, but somebody had to do it, right? I got this call from a client who wanted me to shadow a film crew doing a commercial with track star Usain Bolt. I would spend a few days in and around Kingston, including a 15-minute interview with Bolt, and then write a series of stories about it for the product’s US website (

photo credit: jamaica-march-2013-007 via photopin (license)
photo credit: jamaica-march-2013-007 via photopin (license)

Audrey was able to take a little time off from work to go with me, and she entertained herself while I was working. When we travel over a weekend, we try to visit a local church. One, we believe in the value of regular corporate worship with other followers of Jesus. Two, we enjoy and learn from experiencing worship and teaching in settings that are very different from our home church.

One of the options Audrey found online was Bethel Baptist Church, so we asked the hotel staff about it. When the front desk clerk seemed clueless, a waiter stepped in and confirmed that it was close – a short cab ride – and a very good option.  So off we went.

The worship center seats about 200 people, and the church holds three services each Sunday. In other words, it’s Jamaica’s version of a megachurch. There’s no air conditioning, but the side walls are all open windows so the breeze can flow through and large fans are mounted around the room. We found a seat near one, and settled in for the next two hours (this ain’t America, folks!).

We enjoyed the message – Rev. Burchell Taylor taught on 1 John 5:1-5 and how faith is our victory – but the other thing that jumped out at me was the life of this church.

Charles McCullough, a pastor from America, helped launch the church in 1954 with 20 members, and then moved back to the States three years later. In other words, he planted, many others watered, and the church began to grow, grow, grow.

On the day we visited, Taylor was celebrating 46 years as the pastor, but there were no signs that he or the church had lost their focus on growth. Their timeline – past and present – is full of partnerships with other churches and organizations, church plants and evangelism around the island, and social and spiritual ministries to the people of Kingston.

Bethel clearly has a focus on growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man – for each person and as a church body. It’s Luke 2:52 in action.

The visit reminded me that growth never happens unless something is planted and nurtured. We all play a role in that, for ourselves and for those around us. When we grow like Jesus, His church grows in ways that impact our community and the world around us. And who knows what fruit that growth might produce in the decades and decades to come, even long after we’re gone?

Note: Planting seeds is sometimes dangerous work. When we returned home, we read about the deaths of Harold Nichols and Randy Hentzel, two missionaries who had been working in Jamaica since 2002 with TEAMS for Medical Missions. “I don’t ever want anything portrayed that Jamaica is a terrible place,” Nichols’ wife Teri told a CNN affiliate. “I know this is a tragedy, but tragedies happen everywhere. They’ve been really good to us.”

Note: If you haven’t read the Grow Like Jesus, why not check it out now? If you’ve read it, drop me a note and let me know what you thought about it. Also, please go to and rate/review it. Thanks! Stephen

Beyond the Obvious: 3 Tips on Finding Rest

Every now and then I notice a wave of articles about research that has proven something we’ve always known. This week contribution? Drumroll, please … Rest matters.

Human beings need sleep. Our bodies need to recharge. We need a good eight hours of sleep, we’re told. And while people who get by on six often think they’re getting enough, research proves their performance suffers.

Followers of Jesus (and others who are scholars of the Old and New Testaments) are usually aware that rest is Biblical. God rested after creating the universe (Genesis 2:2-3), not because He was tired but to set an example (Mark 2:27). Jesus rested (Mark 4:38, 6:31) and promised we can find the ultimate rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

In short, rest helps us stay fit mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, which are all important when it comes to our spiritual growth.

So we should rest. Got it. But how?

If you’re like me, knowing what’s good for you and doing what’s good for you often are two different things. Forcing sleep is particularly challenging. Thankfully, I’m married to a wonderful woman who values rest and has taught me some tricks for sleeping more soundly.

  1. Change your diet. My wife and I generally eat a healthy diet based on The Daniel Plan. I’ve not only lost weight with this approach, but I sleep much better. Research tells us (the obvious) that there’s a high correlation between sleep apnea and obesity, so dieting and exercising to promote physical health also ends up promoting better rest.
  2. Fix your routine. Left to my own desires, I’d stay up late watching television or working or playing games on the computer or ipad. But because I’m married to someone smarter than me, I go to bed relatively early and around the same time each night. I try not to drink anything within a few hours of bedtime. And we turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before we get ready for bed. We pray together during this time. And if it’s nice enough, we walk out on our deck and stargaze for several minutes. (Note: We don’t have a television in our bedroom, something I highly recommend for anyone who wants a healthy marriage.)
  3. Talk to Jesus. Inevitably, we all have those nights when we struggle to fall asleep or when we wake up and can’t go back to sleep. Our thoughts race around from stressful topic to stressful topic. We problem solve. We pre-schedule work. Or we slip into negative scenario building where we waste time imaging the worst things that can happen. A friend of mine taught me that these are perfect opportunities to talk to Jesus. “If I’m having a hard time going to sleep,” he told me, “I figure Jesus must want to tell me something.” Tell Jesus what’s on your mind. Ask Him what He wants to tell you. Have a conversation with the Word. And you’ll be amazed at how often you soon will find rest in His peace.

Note: Here’s a link to 68 verses that touch on rest.