Choose a life of Self Giving

I believe life is about growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we do that the rest of our lives find direction, meaning and purpose.

And one of the ways of God that leads us deeper into this kind of relationship is the pathway of self-giving. 

I’m not talking about giving your money, though the happiest and healthiest saints are always the most generous. I’m talking about giving yourself. 

We know from experience and from the Bible that the path of self-giving is the path of greatest joy and growth. It’s not free from risk and pain. But it is the path of greatest joy. 

Paul said in Acts 20:35, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” More happy. More deeply satisfying. More rich and solid. Especially giving yourself.

This is who you are as a Christian. The moment you become a Christian, you are a giver by nature. self-giving is part of your nature, your essence, your identity.

Listen to Jesus: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him [that’s what it means to be a Christian] will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). 

That is who you are. You are a spring. You don’t do a spring. You are a spring. Whoever believes in me, Jesus said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). That’s who you are. You are a spring. You are a fountain.

And what makes springs and fountains happy and healthy is when they make streams. If you stop them up, they stagnate. If you let them give — if you let them become what they are — they stay clear and healthy and life-giving and happy. 

Let’s turn to 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12.

Seven Ways Paul Gave Himself

Now listen to Paul as he tells us seven ways that he gave them himself. Please, don’t think of this as for someone else. Be encouraged to become what you are in Christ, a fountain, a spring, a giver of yourself.

1. First, Paul took a risk.

Verse 2: “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.”

Going to church or going back to church is risky. Many of you have had bad church experiences, you’ve been hurt or disappointed or neglected or even rejected.
Taking the step of going is big. Walking into a new church with all the unknowns, is taking a risk

It’s the same thing getting into a small group or volunteering to serve. It’s risky, you could get hurt again, you could be disappointed again, you might not click or it might not be the right fit.

But that’s what the Gospel is all about – taking a risk, living and giving our lives to others. Loving and serving and growing. You can’t do that if you live an isolated, careful life. 

Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones and take a risk

2. Paul lived with integrity.

Verse 3: “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive.”

He gave them the truth and kept himself pure (that word for “impurity” is regularly used by Paul for sexual sin). He wasn’t doing this to find an inappropriate relationship.

He’s saying look guys our motives for helping you, for sharing the Gospel with you was from a heart of integrity. Integrity is not living perfect, but it’s being quick to admit your failures, your mistakes, asking for forgiveness – It’s being open, honest and of good character.

Our desire should be to live lives of integrity so that we can be a positive helpful influence on others.

We are not perfect, but we do have Christ, we do have the Holy Spirit.

3. Paul was not a People Pleaser.

Verse 4: “We speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” Verse 6: “Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others.”

People-pleasing makes people into phonies or pretenders. It usually means they are deeply insecure. 

What they want most is your approval. And so they are not real. They will do or say anything to make you happy, to avoid conflict or get you to like them

We all have some of these tendencies of wanting people to like us or to get their approval. That’s not wrong, it’s just should not be our primary motivator for doing things..

That is not giving yourselves. You never really know the real person. Paul will have nothing to do with that. He was all about pleasing God – His focus was on listening to God, obeying God, Sharing the good news about Jesus.

Relax in Jesus, and be who you are — warts, wrinkles, scars, and all.

4. Paul was Honest & Humble.

Verse 5: “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness.”

Flattery is using language not for the sake of truth, but for the sake of manipulation. You want something. 

In this case, Paul was being accused of buttering them up as a way to get money. They say he wanted their money, not their souls. And he says, “you and God know that is not true.”

We should live our lives the same way, not trying to manipulate people to get what we want, to get our way, to make more money.

We should not go to church or get into a small group to better our financial position or our status or to take advantage of someone else’s generosity, but to give ourselves.

Listen to verse 9: “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” He was not after their money. He was after their hearts for their good, he wanted them to have a relationship with Jesus. 

He was there to give them himself. When you give yourself, you don’t flatter, and you don’t position yourself for money, and you don’t expect to be served. You are there to give. That’s who you are in Christ — a giver.

That should be our attitude when you go to church, when we join a small group, when we volunteer to serve. Not what can I get, but what can I give.

5. Paul Cared Deeply for others.

Verse 6–8: We could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

He exchanged a relationship of power for a relationship of affection. This is a very vulnerable thing for a leader to do, or anyone really. 

Caring about people and caring for people is part of our calling to give ourselves to each other. 

Don’t ever think you are above this. Don’t ever think you are too sophisticated or too self-sufficient, or too cool to give yourself like this — showing tender affection like a mother with her children.

Who can you show kindness to? Where can you build meaningful relationships that lead to care and friendship.

For some of you it starts in your homes, with your spouse or with your family. But don’t stop there. You can be a part of a group, serve on a team, be a mentor or pray for people and encourage people that are hurting or struggling.

Ask God to change your heart, to help you care deeply about other people and how you can love and serve others.

6. Paul treated people right.

Verse 10: “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.”

He is not saying he was sinless. What this means is: We honored God, we treated people right, and we gave no one a legitimate reason to blame us for our behavior

He was above reproach. What a beautiful thing — what a compelling thing — when we can be real and be good. He walked in integrity.

Paul was open, vulnerable and real. There was nothing fake about him. He was genuine, he treated people with respect, love and care. He was full of truth and grace, which made it hard for people to find fault in him or accuse him of anything shady.

7. Paul was an Encourager

Verses 11–12: “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

And the legacy was not the memory of himself, but the kingdom and the glory of God.

Paul was a great encourager, just like a father encourages his children, so we can be known as an encourager, instead of a complainer.

Who can you encourage? Write a note, send  a text, say a prayer, visit, call.

Bottom Line: You Have Something to Give, Choose a life of giving Yourself.

My Top 10 Spiritual Leadership Principles

The year 2020 has been quite unique with the COVID-19 virus, the protests and riots, the political unrest and the economic turmoil. That’s just in the first 7 months.

As I look back over the first part of 2020 there is so much I have learned or that has been reinforced in me. I’ve been in some sort of leadership position since I was in my early 20’s. Over those 30 years I’ve learned a lot about leadership, made a lot of mistakes, and had to unlearn some things as well.

There are some guiding principles that have helped me to lead better, whether at work or at home. This tough year has reenforced these principles for me and I hope they will help you as a leader.

Here are 10 principles that guide my leadership:

  1. Vision is Vital – In times of turmoil, fasted paced change and chaos, a clear compelling vision is so important. It’s during those hard times that vision gives people the right perspective, and helps people to focus on the right things. Communicating the vision on a regular basis is also vital. Great leaders repeat themselves over and over when it comes to vision. Consistent, clear communication of where you are going as an organization or a family will keep your team pulling in the right direction. Most people need a regular reminder for why they are doing what they are doing, and why they are part of the organization.
  2. Be Flexible with your plans but firm on the vision – When things are uncertain and chaotic in the world around you, being able to change plans quickly can be the difference between success and failure. The best leaders are always evaluating their plans and strategies to make sure they still make sense and are working. Listening and asking the right questions can really help in knowing when to be flexible and when to be firm.
  3. Pray for Wisdom – Being in leadership means that you have to make some difficult decisions. It also means that you will be criticized and questioned. Asking God for wisdom is a way to gain clarity, check your motives and gain deeper insight. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Connecting with God is a huge advantage in leadership, making this part of your daily life will make you a better leader.
  4. Learn to be patient and decisive – This one is so hard, especially for high D leaders. Often it is wise to pray and wait, to plan and wait, to think and wait. One of the keys to great leadership is the ability to be patient and yet bold and decisive when the timing is right. That means you have to understand your vision, your people, your culture and the world around you. As a leader you never have all the facts and you can’t wait for a perfect time. Managing the tension between being patient and taking action is a leadership skill that takes time to get good at. Often it takes trial and error, life lessons and lot’s of prayer to get really good at this.
  5. Seek wise counsel – The people you have around you, and the people that you listen to are so critical for any leader. When things are chaotic you need some wise mentors that can speak into the situation and ask the right questions. Great leaders are constantly looking for the best mentors to help them navigate the uncertain waters and avoid making big mistakes. Seeking out counsel can help you avoid unnecessary pain and struggle.
  6. Make time for important relationships – When things are changing around you and your busy and stressed, it’s vital to take time for family, friends and teammates. Don’t neglect the people around you, plan and schedule time with them to stay connected. Fight against isolating yourself as a leader. Those relationships will nourish you emotionally and strengthen you personally and the people around you.
  7. Find a regular rhythm of rest – This is another hard thing to do for hard charging leaders. Resting looks different for everyone, but find those things that recharge you, and disconnect you from the day to day stress of your leadership. Take at least one day a week off and really rest. It makes you sharper, more likeable and may even help you live longer.
  8. Spend time with God Daily – This is one of the most important things you can do no matter what is going on around you. Daily prayer, reading God’s word, devotions, meditating on Scripture are all ways Christian leaders can stay sharp and focused on the right things. Taking care of your soul helps you keep your priorities in the right place, and helps you grow spiritually.
  9. Pay attention to your emotions – It times of chaos and stress emotions can get out of whack. Negative emotions are a warning sign that something is wrong. If you are getting lots of negative emotions it can spiral you downward into depression, anxiety and darkness. In that state of mind it’s very difficult to make good decisions and lead well. If your struggling emotionally, ask for help. Talk to a trusted mentor, go to a Christian counselor or trusted Pastor. Talk about what is contributing to the negative emotions. You can also work on what your putting into your mind like social media and news. Be careful who your listening to, and make sure you are spending time with God.
  10. Lead with Love – This is all about your heart and what is motivating you. Caring about the people you lead and wanting what is best for them builds a great culture. When it comes to leading with love Paul gives us great advice in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonors others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” You may not have thought about that as a leadership verse, but think about the kind of leader you love to follow. Usually it’s because they are doing much of what Paul wrote about in those passages. At work or at home, lead with love.

Those are a few critical principles that have helped me along the way. Keep working on yourself, because the healthier you are as a leader the healthier your organization and the people around you will be. Lead on and Lead well.

Worry vs. Prayer

Big Point:  Worry is focused negative thinking, while prayer is focused spiritual thinking.

About 19 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, but far more suffer from mild anxiety or worry that has not yet developed into a disorder.  For many people today, worry has simply become a mental habit. Automatically thinking the worse case scenario for the events that happen in their lives.  It’s also playing the “what if” possibilities over & over in their minds.

This has become the normal for many people, however there is a better way and a better normal.  This way leads to less stress, more peace and better health. Philippians 4:6-7 gives us the better way “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

So, prayer is the better way.  Pray should be our normal response to anything that comes our way.  Pausing to talk to God, ask for his help, for wisdom, for courage, for patience.  Expressing our frustrations, fears and doubts to him instead of having a negative conversation with ourselves leads to peace.  It also leads to better health both physically and emotionally.

Read and Reflect:  Read these passages of Scripture several times.  Each time you read it emphasize a different word.  Then reflect and think about what you noticed.

  • Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7
  • “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
  • “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” 1 John 4:4
  • “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9
  • “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Questions to Consider:

  • What do you tend to worry about the most?
  • What benefits would you gain by praying more instead of worrying?
  • What is one thing you could do to remind yourself to pray more throughout your day?
  • When was the last time you memorized a passage of Scripture?  If it’s been awhile consider memorizing one of the verses in this devotional.

What’s Next?

  • Memorize one or more passages of Scripture this week.
  • Focus on Jesus by reading the story found in Luke 10:38-42
  • Make a list of all the things that you are grateful for
  • Build prayer into your daily schedule, with reminders until it becomes normal.

Pray:
Dear Lord,
I need you now because I am full of stress and anxiety. Reading your Word brings comfort, as I ask you to come and take my heavy burdens. I take each burden, one by one, and lay them at your feet. Please carry them for me so that I don’t have to. Replace them with your humble and gentle spirit so that I will find rest for my soul today. I receive your gift of peace of mind and heart. Thank you that I can lie down tonight in peace and sleep. I know that you, Lord, will keep me safe. I am not afraid because you are always with me. Please keep me daily, Lord, in your perfect peace.
Amen.

Why Are We So Afraid?

It seems these days that many people are living in fear. Fear and anxiety are a common every day occurrence for people. We fear the economy getting bad, we fear losing our jobs, we fear something happening to our children, we fear getting sick or being infected with the Corona Virus. We fear people we don’t know, we fear the other political party, we fear being rejected, failing, being misunderstood. I could keep going.

Why are you so afraid? Jesus spoke those words to his followers after he calmed a storm. It’s a question he is still asking all of us. Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?

Here is what was happening at that time. Jesus had been building his ministry and was attracting many people. He had just spent most of the previous days teaching the people gathered about the Kingdom of God.

So after a day of teaching and then explaining the teaching in simple terms to his disciples, he said to his disciples “Let’s go over the other side.” So off they go to cross the Sea of Galilee. This sea is known for having violent and unexpected storms. When the storm hit, these seasoned fishermen panicked, thinking the storm was going to sink the boats and they would drown. As this storm began, Jesus was sleeping. He was tired from a long day of teaching. They finally woke him up and said; don’t you care if we drown and die!

Does any of this sound familiar? Our lives are full of unexpected violent storms. Things happen that are completely out of our control. It often feels like Jesus is sleeping and does not care that we are in this storm. We feel like we need to cry out and wake him up. We want him to keep us safe and take the storm away.

The disciples knew who Jesus was, they believed what he was teaching them, yet they underestimated his power. They did not fully trust that he would not let them die. We are the same way, we believe in God and may even have read and studied what he has to teach us; yet we don’t always fully trust him with the storms that come up in our lives.

What did Jesus do? Jesus stood up and commanded the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be Still!” Then the wind stopped, and it became completely calm. That’s Jesus! He’s in control, He is all powerful, He loves us.

Think about the storms in your life, the situations that cause you great anxiety. Whatever your difficulty or challenge, you have two options:

  • You can worry and stress and assume that Jesus no longer cares like the disciples did.
  • Or, you can resist that fear, and trust that God is in control and He will guide you through the storm or calm the storm.

We too often try to take control of the ship and fix things on our own. When we do that and exclude God, he patiently waits for us to come to him and trust him, to put our faith in him.

Here are two lessons we learn in life’s storms:

  • You and I must trust what God has told us. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
  • You and I must remind ourselves who’s in the boat with us. When God permits us to go through a life storm, it’s usually to show us that there is no problem he can’t solve. There is no storm that is too big for him.

Traveling through these storms with Jesus in our boat strengthens our faith, develops our character and deepens our relationship with him. That only happens when we completely trust him no matter what comes our way. Even when we don’t understand why something is happening, God wants us to trust him and not be afraid. When we try to lean on our own understanding we will fall down and miss what God has for us.

Proverbs 3:5-6 say “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Leaning means putting our full weight on him, resting on him without fear of falling. God knows what is best for us, because he has a much bigger perspective than we do.

If you are in the middle of a life storm, know that Jesus is in the boat with you, or you can invite him into your boat. Once there, he will never leave you, he will stick with you through the most violent storms imaginable. Lean on him when you don’t know what your next move should be. Trust God completely, he might not make the storm go away, but he will not let you drown.

Generosity is …

Generosity is a quality that most people want to be around. It can be inspiring and heart warming to see genuine generosity. However, generosity is a heart issue, it’s what is happening in our heart that causes us to be generous.

Paul wrote most of the New Testament and he talks a good bit about generosity. in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 he unpacks some amazing truths about what generosity is. Take a moment and reflect on these 11 truths and then ask yourself how generous you are? Where do you need to grow?

  1. Generosity is unrelated to income and wealth – You can be generous no matter what your economic status.

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 8:2

2. Generosity is never forced – it’s a choice we make everyday.

For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own. 8:3 

3. Generosity cannot be contained! – When we are transformed to see as God sees, and care as God cares, we understand the honor we have in giving. Giving is contagious.

And they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 8:4 

4. Generosity is always focused first toward the Lord – When we give ourselves to the Lord, our hearts turn from selfish to generous.

And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. 8:5 

5. Generosity is tangible evidence of our love for God – It is outward evidence of the inner change happening in us.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 8:8 

6. Generous people meet needs – God helps us to notice the needs around us and gives us the discernment to know how to best help those in need.

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need . . . “[He] who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 8:14-15

7. Generosity honors the Lord – It is an act of worship and brings glory to God.

What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 8:19 

8. Real generosity is expressed cheerfully – It’s a joy to give. When we give we are a blessing to others and when we give we are blessed ourselves.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 9:7

9. Generosity is personal between us and God – It’s a personal choice to give, we should always pray about our giving and make plans to give.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 9:7 

10. God provides the gift for the generous to give – God owns it all and supplies it all.

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous . . . 9:10–11 

11. Expressed generosity moves others closer to God – Our giving impacts people in ways only God really sees.

So that you can be generous…and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity . . . 9:11–13 

Three Words for 2020

Blessed, Satisfied and Successful. Those are words that most people would want to say about their lives.  When we are feeling blessed, satisfied and successful, we are most likely going to be happy and content.  However in order to achieve those things in our lives there needs to be some other qualities in our lives.  Here are three thoughts about how to be blessed, satisfied and successful:

  1. You must be broken in order to be blessed.  In order to receive God’s blessing in our lives, we often must go through a period of brokenness.  When we go through difficult times, it often brings us to our knees and our pride is stripped away.  This is when we remove the distractions and desperately seek God for help. When we allow God to break us, we can experience breakthroughs in our life.  When we stop pretending and get real with God by admitting our weakness and our dependence on Him, we can experience blessing on the other side. Brokenness is painful yet that pain can bring about a transformation that leads to blessing if we stay on the path God has for us.
  2. You must Surrender in order to be satisfied. Satisfaction comes when we surrender to God and allow Him to have control.  When we can stop trusting in ourselves and start trusting in Him, our level of peace and satisfaction will increase.  Surrender involves a decision to turn everything over to God. Everything includes our finances, our marriages, our friendships, our children, our work, our free time, our ministry, our relationships, our hobbies, our possessions, our attitudes, our emotions and our minds.
  3. You need to sacrifice in order to succeed. John Maxwell has a saying that you have to give up in order to go up.  Sacrifice is necessary to succeed in any area of life. In marriage, it takes sacrifice in order to love and serve your spouse.  Selfishness will destroy any relationship, so the person that is willing to sacrifice can find success and healthy relationships as a result.  To succeed in any area of life it takes sacrifice and hard work. When we bring God into the picture, He can give us the strength we need to sacrifice and humble ourselves in order to bring success.   Success is not about performing better, it’s about being willing to sacrifice in the short-term in order to be successful in the long-term.

God desires to have a personal, growing relationship with all people.  He is the one that can bring blessing into our lives. He is the one that can bring satisfaction and success.  Having a relationship with God does not mean we will have no problems, there will be problems and pain in our lives.  A relationship with God means that we have an all powerful, all knowing, loving heavenly father that will always be with us through every trial and triumph in our lives.

Are You Facing Adversity?

I have been thinking about this topic for awhile now. I am passionate about growing in faith, character and leadership. That has been my personal mission statement for many years. Often times we forget that to grow, we must face adversity. If we do not have adversity we don’t fully develop. The Christian life is intended to be one of continuous growth. We all want to grow, but we often resist the process.

So how can we learn and grow through adversity? The first thing is to accept the fact that we will have adversity in life. We need to submit to the fact that life will have difficulties and we need to look for the lessons involved with each adversity. We also need to apply God’s word when we face adversity. There are many Biblical principles that we can put into action in times of adversity. Can you show Christian love when someone offends you or treats you unjustly? Lastly we must remember the lessons learned in times of adversity

Adversity does several things in our lives. It prunes us of the the unfruitful stuff in our lives. An unpruned vine will produce a great deal of unproductive growth but little fruit. I was talking with my Amish neighbor that runs an orchard. I asked about the peach trees they had been working on. He said that they had to knock off three fourths of the budding peaches in order to get the best crop of peaches. If they would not do that they would get a bunch of peaches that are small and not very tasty.

Adversity also helps us to become more like Christ. This is called holiness. God uses adversity to enlighten our minds about our own needs as well as the teachings of Scripture. He uses adversity to shape and mold us into the men and women He desires us to be.

Adversity causes us to be more dependant on Christ. God teaches us through adversity to rely on Him instead of ourselves. Adversity forces us to look to God for strength, wisdom and courage.

Adversity also develops perseverance. Hebrews 10:36 says “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised,” and in 12:1 it says “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” To persevere means to press forward. To keep pushing on despite hardships and roadblocks. To stay on track with God’s will for your life no matter what gets in the way. This can sometimes be a long drawn out process that can take years. That process will develop your character and prepare you for what God has in store for your life.

God also uses adversity to equip us to serve more effectively in ministry to others. Adversity allows us to identify with others that are suffering or hurting. It allows us to help them through similar times.

A great example of what I have been talking about is the cecropia moth. This moth is a beautiful creature, but it must go through a great struggle to get out of it’s cocoon. I read the story about someone that was watching this moth go through this struggle. In an effort to help, the viewer snipped the shell of the cocoon. Soon the moth came out, with its wings all crimped and shriveled. But as the person watched, the wings remained weak. The moth, which in a few minutes would have stretched those wings to fly, was now doomed to crawling out its brief life in frustration of ever being the beautiful creature God created it to be. What the person that “helped out” the moth did not realize, was that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon was an essential part of developing the muscle system of the moth’s body and pushing the body fluids out into the wings to expand them. By unwisely seeking to cut short the moth’s struggle, the watcher had actually crippled the moth and doomed its existence.

The adversities in our lives are much like that moth in the cocoon. God uses them to develop our spiritual, emotional and relational muscles. Many people go undeveloped and never realize their full potential because they sidestepped adversity or did not learn from it. Sometimes we can do the same in others peoples lives by “helping them out” and not allowing God to develop their character. We need to be careful how we face adversity and how we help others face adversity.

James 1:2-4 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Be Generous

F81ABBC8-9EB7-2769-67EBF258A0BD8E18It’s the most generous time of the year.  For many people Christmas time is a time to be generous with family, friends and even strangers.  It’s also the end of the year and people are thinking of year end giving.  I want to talk about generosity and what that really means.

As a follower of Jesus one of my desires is to be known as a generous person.  Jesus was very generous with his time, talent and treasure.  He taught many life-changing messages and stories about being generous.  He even gave his life for our sins.

Generosity is demonstrating the nature of God by wisely reinvesting the resources that He has entrusted to us.  There are several key traits that go into making someone generous.  Without these in our lives we cannot be truly generous.

  • Loving – It is not possible to have love without generosity, but it is possible to have generosity without love.  If you have the love of Christ in you, then generosity should flow out of you.  It should be a part of your nature to be generous and look for ways to give and serve others.  1 John 3:17 says “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
  • Sowing – Generosity follows the law of the harvest.  The more generous we are in sowing, the greater will be our harvest in true riches. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
  • Honoring – Honor means “to place value upon.”  We are instructed in Ephesians 6:12 to honor our parents.  We honor civil authorities by paying taxes and following laws.  When we give to the poor, we honor the Lord and He promises to repay.  Proverbs 19:17 says “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.”  Generosity is not just giving, it is giving abundantly or joyfully.
  • Grace – It is through God’s grace that we are able to give and be generous, and that giving is an expression of the grace we have in Christ Jesus.
  • Stewardship – A steward is one who is entrusted with the assets of the master and is responsible to make wise investments with them.  A wise steward understands that the assets he has under his control do not belong to him and should be returned to the master with increase.  We are stewards of all the people, possessions, abilities and talents that God has blessed us with.

Generosity brings light into a dark world.  It makes people smile and feel good.  Generosity also draws us closer to God because it’s when we are most like Him.  Giving also reminds us that God owns it all and that He is the one that can give us more or take it all away.  Being generous also breaks the bondage of greed and overcomes the love of money.

Here are some simple steps to help you be more generous:

  • Dedicate everything to God – This includes all your money, time, possessions, strength, abilities, and relationships.  Truly acknowledge that God owns it all.  That takes a lot of pressure off of us.
  • Practice living simply – Try to simplify your life.  This could mean selling or giving away some of your stuff.  It might mean giving up some luxury items so that you can live at or below your income.  It may mean saying no to some things in order to say yes to being more generous.
  • Give as God directs – The goal of generosity is to demonstrate the love of God so that others will be drawn to Him.  Start being generous by doing random acts of kindness.  You can also start giving to your local church.  Consider giving a percentage of your income.  Start giving your time by volunteering at your church, in the community or at a non-profit.

So how generous are you?  Do you see God as the provider of all wealth?  Do you see yourself as a steward of God’s resources?  Do you honor God with a generous portion of all His increase in your life?  Are you living as frugally as you can so you have more to invest in God?

Generosity is the result of focusing on God’s riches rather than our resources.  CS Lewis said this “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”

Ask God for opportunities to be generous and see what happens.

Five Key Spiritual Habits

habits

We are all busy, there are many things competing for our time and energy.  Leadership can be defined as having influence in someone elses life.  If you have faith in Jesus Christ you are also a spiritual leader, because now you are an ambassador for God.  The influence we have with people, whether it’s at work, home, school or church is often a reflection on what daily habits we have.

Jesus gave us a great example of things we can do to stay focused on the right things and keep the right perspective on life.  It’s easy to drift and be consumed by the day to day activities of life unless we develop these essential habits.  So here are five things we can observe in the life of Jesus that can contribute to our development of faith, character and leadership.

  • Solitude – This is a challenging behavior because it’s countercultural.  It is a rare and often unsettling feeling to stop doing and just be.  Solitude is being completely alone with God away from all human contact for extended periods of time. It is in these times of solitude that we can seek to refill our spiritual fuel tank, hear from God, think clearly and honestly.  It helps us make better decisions, work through grief and pain and strengthen our spirit and resolve.
    • Jesus spent 40 days alone in the desert.
    • Before he chose the 12 disciples he spent the entire night alone praying and thinking.
    • When a close friend John the Baptist was killed he went off in a boat by himself.
    • After a great ministry event of feeding the five thousand he went up into the hills by himself.
  • Prayer – How’s your prayer life?  Prayer is essential for our spiritual and emotional well-being. Regular connection with God through prayer is what sustained Jesus while he was here on earth.  For us as leaders it’s vital to be able to talk with God about anything and everything.  Prayer is the way in which we plug into God’s power, receive God’s comfort and encouragement, vent our frustrations and pain and intercede for other people.  Prayer helps prepare us for the day by focusing on God first.  Praying with people and for people is a powerful leadership principle.  Praying for your spouse, family, friends, co-workers, employees, small group, boss and other leaders is an effective way to lead and love people.  When prayer becomes a habit it becomes part of our DNA and normal way of life.
  • Bible – It’s the greatest resource known to mankind.  It’s more than a how-to manual for life, it’s an intimate love letter written to you from your Heavenly Father.  I’m currently reading through the New Testament in 60 days.  I’m on day 51 and I love it and look forward to it.  There are five practical ways you can cultivate this habit of getting into God’s Word.
    • Hearing God’s Word – That is why it’s important to go to church, to hear God’s Word and messages about how to listen and obey and put it into practice.  You can also listen to the Bible through great Bible Apps like YouVersion.  Have your spouse or friend read the Bible out loud to you, not only will you get into God’s Word it will build that relationship with your spouse or friend.
    • Reading God’s Word – There are so many great translations of the Bible that it’s much easier to read the Bible today.  I use my Bible App on my phone a lot.  There are great reading plans for all parts of the Bible.  Don’t take on too much but be consistent.  Reading the Bible daily or most days will help you lead better, even if you don’t understand everything at first.  Great leaders read a lot and the Bible should be at the top of the list.
    • Study God’s Word – This is more than just reading, this is examining and looking into the meaning and application of God’s Word.  This is great to do with other people in a small group, but we also need times when we dig in on our own.  Using a study Bible is helpful because there are study notes that explain what the Scriptures are saying.
    • Memorize God’s Word – When was the last time you memorized something?  A great way to go deeper in God’s Word is to memorize it.  Every year I lead a group of men and one of the things we do is memorize Scripture together.  Jesus used Scripture to fight against the devil and we can do the same.  When you memorize it you can recall it later when you need courage for the fight.
    • Meditate on God’s Word – Memorizing Scripture puts it into your head, while meditating puts it into your heart.  It’s focusing on a verse or several verses over a period of time.  Writing it down, reading it out loud, emphasizing different words, personalizing it by putting your name in the verse, praying the verse to God.  It’s praying while your focus on that Scripture and asking God to reveal what he wants you to know or do.
  • Trusting God – Jesus completely trusted God with absolutely everything.  In our culture we tend to only rely on or trust ourselves.  Trusting others and God is a struggle for most people.  Pride & fear fuel this lack of trust in our lives.  Many people have also been hurt or let down by important people in their lives so it’s hard to trust again.  Only in our relationship with God can we trust for complete unconditional love.  Because of God’s incredible, never changing love for us He is trustworthy.  When we understand who God is and how much He loves us it changes our perspective on life, ourselves and the world around us.
  • Intimate Community – Jesus had the 12 men that he spent significant time with.  But he also had 3 men that he was even closer and more intimate with.  It was his inner circle, the ones he did life with and passed on the leadership of the church to.  It’s vital for leaders to have soul-filling relationships with people where you can give and receive.  A safe place to share your heart, your struggles and your victories.  We need to be around people that know us well enough to tell us the truth, challenge us, question us and love us.

I hope these are habits that become a normal part of your life.  I encourage you to take small steps toward applying these habits into your daily, weekly and monthly routines.  If you do it will transform your leadership and your relationships.

 

The Heart of God

This past week I spent 6 days working with Hope Reigns doing disaster flood relief in West Virginia.  This is the third trip I have done with Hope Reigns.  They are a division of Eight Days of Hope a non-profit organization that helps communities rebuild after a disaster.

Every morning the volunteers gather and someone shares a message or devotional and we pray together before heading out to the projects.  In the evening after we eat together we have a time of worship and a message and more prayer.

On Monday July 4th I shared a devotional with the volunteers in the morning.  We had been talking about the heart of God and understanding how amazing his heart is.  Here is what I shared:

As I think about the heart of God I have to think about my own heart.  My heart is not perfect like God’s, I have stuff in there that is not good.  Things like anger, greed, envy, lust and pride just to name a few.

Of course Jesus changed everything when it comes to our spirit and our heart.  He made is possible once again to be at one with God.  To be reconciled to Him and a part of God’s family.  God’s heart is for us and His desire is for all to be reconciled to Him.

When we make the decision to have a relationship with Jesus.  When we believe Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, that he took the sins of the world on himself and died on a cross for those sins and then three days later rose from the dead overcoming sin and death, our spirit is changed.  We now have a part of God in us, the Holy Spirit resided in us.  That is when our hearts start to change.

We begin to see the world differently, we see people differently, we have a new perspective on life.  We are no longer slaves to sin because Jesus is now our Master.

Romans 8:26-28 says: “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them”

So since we have the Holy Spirit with us and for us and in us, we have a great advantage in life.  Over time as we mature in our faith and relationship with Christ.  Our heart changes, those things that were in there begin to become less and less and we have more of the Spirit in us.  In Galatians Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit and below is a listing of those fruits and a definition, the opposite and the counterfeit.

Be filled by the Spirit:

Love

Definition – To serve a person for their good and intrinsic value, not for what the person brings you.

Opposite – Fear: self-protection and abusing people.

Counterfeit – Selfish affection. Rescuing someone but really rescuing self. Attracted not to a person, but to how this person’s love makes you feel about yourself.

– Joy

Definition – Delight in God and his salvation

Opposite – Hopelessness, despair.

Counterfeit – Happiness that come because of the gift, not the giver. Mood swings based on circumstances.

– Peace

Definition – Confidence and rest in the wisdom and sovereignty of God more than your own.

Opposite – Anxiety and worry

Counterfeit – Indifference, apathy, not caring about something. “I don’t care.”

– Patience

Definition – Ability to take trouble (from others or life) without blowing up. To suffer joyfully.

Opposite – Resentment toward God and others.

Counterfeit – Cynicism. Self-righteousness. “This is too small to be bothered about.”

– Kindness

Definition – Practical kindness with vulnerability out of deep inner security.

Opposite – Envy.  Unable to rejoice others joy.

Counterfeit – Manipulative good deeds. “Right hand knowing what left hand is doing.” Self-congratulation and self-righteousness

– Goodness. (Integrity)

Definition – Honesty, transparency. Being the same in one situation as another.

Opposite – Phoniness; hypocrisy.

Counterfeit – Truth without love. “Getting it off the chest” for your sake.

– Faithfulness.

Definition – Loyalty. Courage. To be principle-driven, committed, utterly reliable. True to one’s word.

Opposite – Opportunist. Fair-weather friend.

Counterfeit – Love without truth. Being loyal when you should be willing to confront or challenge.

– gentleness. (humility)

Definition – Self-forgetfulness.

Opposite – Superiority: self-absorbed

Counterfeit – Inferiority: self-absorbed, self-consciousness.

– Self-control

Definition – Ability to choose the important thing over the urgent.

Opposite – A driven, impulsive, uncontrolled person.

Counterfeit – Willpower through pride

So we have the heart of God in us and The Holy Spirit is active every day in our lives.  We have everything we need to live life to the fullest and to deal with anything that comes our way.