Four Things God Does to Encourage us

If you are like me it’s so easy to become discouraged and disappointed when things don’t go as you had planned. Life can be difficult and painful at times and most people become weary and tired as well.

In the book of Acts Paul faced many challenges, disappointments, rejections and dangerous situations on his missionary journey’s that started the early church and Christian movement. I’m sure he was weary, tired and discouraged. There are some consistent things that God did to encourage and help Paul for his mission and journey.

God does these same things in our lives. The key is being aware and acknowledging these things when they happen. I don’t believe things just happen by chance, God is always at work in our lives if we pay attention.

  1. God sends helpers and encouragers. God always works through people. People that are obedient to His ways and looking for ways to love and serve those around them. When you are discouraged, feeling alone or struggling with issues of life. Pray and ask God to bring the right people into your life. It’s in times like this that God sends people to encourage us and help us. 

Remember, we also have an enemy that does not want that to happen and will try to get you to isolate yourself even more and to avoid people. Battle against that. As you connect with God he will give you the discernment to know who is from Him and who is not from Him. That’s important because some people are not good for our faith and walk with God. Some people will give counsel that does not line up with Scripture and can deceive us. That is why we must be in God’s Word ourselves and work on the most important relationship in your life and that is the relationship with Jesus Christ.

The big question is who are those people that God has brought into your life to be an encourager, helper or mentor. But even more than that, who are you doing that for. Who are you encouraging, helping or mentoring?

2. God does the unexpected. So many times in Scripture and in our own lives God does something unexpected or miraculous. It’s usually at the most unexpected times as well. It’s those only God moments, where you can’t explain it other than only God.

For Paul there are so many times that God does the miraculous. Whether it’s a person believing that he does not think will, or God healing someone or delivering someone from evil. When we are down and discouraged look for God to do the unexpected to bring us encouragement.

3. God spoke to him directly.

In Acts 18:9-10 it says this: 9 “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

This is what God said to Paul and I believe this applies to us today as well. God uses these words to encourage and help us. Today we have all of the Bible to hear from God. That is the primary way God speaks to us today.

  • God’s Courage – Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.” 

Embrace perseverance: Courage often requires perseverance through trials and difficulties. Endure with faith, knowing that God is refining your character and strengthening your courage. James 1:12 encourages us, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

Pray for courage daily: Bring your fears, anxieties, and concerns to God in prayer. Ask Him to grant you courage to face challenges and to trust in His power. Psalm 31:24 says, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!”

Trust that God will equip and empower you for the task. Isaiah 41:10 assures us, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

  • God’s Presence“For I am with you”

How do we stay aware of God’s presence?

Become more aware of God’s presence by creating space.You cannot become more aware of His presence without quieting your soul. Dallas Willard said, “Hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life.”  You need time and space to hear God clearly. When we are always on the go, moving from task to task with the earbuds in, email open, television blasting, and social media buzzing, God is left in the background.  Listen to what Jesus did according to Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Why was it solitary? Simply, he was removing the distractions so that He could focus on God. You and I should do the same at least once a day if not more. And then we need to do it for extended times. It is during these times when we can hear and sense God more clearly.

Become more aware of God’s presence by obeying His Word. A key spiritual principle is that God makes Himself known and reveals His presence to those who choose to obey His word. Jesus explained it this way, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” (John 14:21)  The word “reveal” means to appear in person! How cool is that? God shows Himself to those who are willing to obey because their obedience reveals their love for Him. In this sense, God is just like you and me. He is drawn to those who love Him.

Become more aware of God’s presence by talking to Him. Paul encouraged all believers in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “…pray without ceasing.” When we turn our inner conversation into a conversation with God, it brings Him into our lives like nothing else can.  You can literally talk to Him about everything that is going on all the time. As you get better and better at this, you begin to hear Him speak back to you. And this, my friends, is what you were created for.

  • God’s Protection – “and no one is going to attack and harm you”

God’s protection is not the absence of trials but the confidence that He is with His people, providing strength, guidance, and shelter in every circumstance.

When it comes to God’s protection:

Pray for Protection: It’s appropriate to pray for God’s protection in specific situations or for loved ones. Philippians 4:6 encourages believers to “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Put on the Armor of God: Ephesians 6:11-13 encourages believers to “put on the whole armor of God” to stand against spiritual forces of evil. This spiritual armor includes truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and the Word of God.

Stay Connected to the Church: Being part of a Christian community is a way God protects us. We all need the strength of companionship and support in times of adversity. Brothers and sisters in Christ, praying for each other, listening to each other, caring for each other, guiding each other, and even challenging each other.

  • God’s reveals part of His Plan – “because I have many people in this city.”

Why is God reminding him to not be afraid, keep on speaking, reminding him that God is with him and that he will protect him. It’s because God knows there are a lot of people in this city that will believe in Jesus and be saved. He wants Paul to stay there and deeply invest in the people of this city. 

God is all knowing and His plan needs to be our plan. Our obedience is key in this. That means sometimes doing things that don’t make complete sense to us.

God’s ultimate plan is always for people to believe in Jesus and have eternal life – Salvation. Our part is planting the seeds, watering those seeds that have been planted and being a Christ like example to the people around us.

God reveals His plan to us in small doses. Here He is telling Paul to stay, to invest deeply into these people and develop disciples. 

However, if we are not spending time with God, not praying much, not opening our Bibles, not going to church or in community with other believers it’s very difficult to hear from God and his plan for us.

4. God Guides us to what was next.

That vision from God gave Paul a peace about continuing to stay there and preach the Word. Paul was able to teach, coach and disciple many people because of the people around him, the courage he got from knowing that God was with Him always and that He would be protected on this journey. He also knew that many would come to faith which spurred him on to share about Jesus.

Because Paul was regularly practicing the presence of God and deepening that relationship with God he was guided by God through the Holy Spirit. He could sense when he was released to pursue something else or go to a new place.

Throughout the book of Acts on this journey that Paul is on we see him walking with the Spirit. God’s Spirit guiding Paul to stay or go, speak or be silent, even who to talk to and what to say.

Today we too are guided by the Holy Spirit. When we walk in tune with the Spirit we get the guidance to what is next. We get the courage to take that step and we are often protected along the way.

Ask God to guide you to what is next in your life. It starts with prayer and asking God for help and direction. Then look for the people God will send your way and dig into God’s word to hear directly from him, and of course expect the unexpected.

Do You Enjoy Waiting?

I meet with and talk with a lot of people and one thing I don’t think I have ever heard is someone say they are really good at being patient.  Not many people list that as a strength, most often it’s listed as a weakness.  The meaning of the word patience is quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.  It’s an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.  Calmness, stability, and persistent courage in trying circumstances.  Does that describe me?  How about you?

Have you heard or made this comment: “Be careful when you pray for patience, because you might be tested.”  It’s almost like we are afraid to ask God for patience, because then we may be put into a position to have to actually be patient.  So why is it so hard for most people to be patient?  Why is this this virtue such a challenge to the majority of people.

Some of it stems from living in an instant gratification culture.  We have access to almost anything through our computers and phones, from emails to movie tickets.  I have seen people nearly go ballistic if they have to wait in line for more than a few minutes.  When looking to check-out at Walmart we work hard at finding the quickest line and when the line beside us goes faster, we get angry.  This mindset of getting things instantly has a dark side to it.  It affects our emotional intelligence and spiritual maturity.  The capacity to wait – trading a temporary delight for a more substantial success later- is a core component of emotional intelligence and spiritual maturity.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord. Psalms 27:14

If we have a hard time waiting, we tend to act like children and throw a temper tantrum to get what we want.  Studies at Columbia University measured 4 year old’s ability to resist candy, then followed up more than a decade later.  Kids who could wait only a few seconds for the candy, had SAT scores as teens that averaged 60 points lower than those of the kids who’d had the self-control to resist for 5 minutes or longer.  Good things come to those who wait.  This is often hard to see in the moment when we really want something.  However, going with those first impulses can get us into trouble and into debt.

The good news is that we can all change and everyone can improve in this area of patience.  Our brains can be rewired and transformed, so that we actually respond and behave in a different way.  This of course takes time and patience with lots of endurance.  Here are a few suggestions on how to practice and improve our patience:

  1. Create more space between impulse and action – When hit with that impulse that I must have this or I must buy that, wait for a few hours and see if you still feel that way.  Delaying that impulse often leads to better more sound decisions, health and relationships.  Maybe the impulse is to say something to your spouse to defend yourself or attack his behavior, hold those words in and wait.  Think through how those words could be received and how they could do more damage.  Maybe it’s a purchase of something beyond the budget.  The power to walk away will begin to rewire the brain and help change the finances.
  2. Plan on Waiting – If we plan ahead for when we have to wait, it can be a huge shift in perspective.  When waiting in traffic, use that time to breath deeply and pray.  The deep belly breathing is a proven stress reliever and prayer has a way of shifting our focus to the right things.  Also, listening to a podcast or worship music can be a great way to use the time while you wait.  When you plan on waiting, those long waits can become little retreats.
  3. Plan Ahead – Allow more time, not less, to get to places; don’t leave important tasks to the last minute; resist doing one more thing before leaving the office or home, which causes us to be anxious, and often late, even before starting out.  The more we can plan ahead, the less impatient we will be when delayed.
  4. Practice saying No – Our lives are too busy because we take on too much.  Simplifying our lives can dramatically improve our patience.  Most of the things we are doing or involved in are good things, but too much is too much.  Start by listing out the most important things in your life.  What other things are distracting you from the most important?  When we are able to say no to some things we are able excel in others.
  5. Don’t try to change other people – The harder we try to change the other person the worse the relationship becomes.  Being patient with other people takes a shift from trying to figure out how to change them, to trying to figure out how to love and serve them.  Our patience level goes way up when we approach other people with a mindset to serve them and love them instead of change them.  That way when they don’t behave like we think they should it’s much easier to just keep serving and loving.  It’s not our job to fix other people or the world, it’s our job to work on ourselves.
  6. Understand why some things push your buttons – We all have hot buttons, those things that set us off and lead us into impatience and other emotions.  When we fully understand why certain things set us off, then we can learn new ways of responding when those buttons get pushed.  Our response after that button is pushed is what leads to conflict, anger, impatience and immaturity.  Our buttons are based on core fears we all have.  Things like fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood or unheard, fear of being inadequate, judged or cheated.  Fears like that cause us to respond is some whacked out ways. Some self discovery here can help you in all your relationships and be more patient with others and yourself.
  7. Be Flexible – We get most impatient when our plans are messed up.  When our schedule does not work out or something or someone blocks our goal.  When those unexpected things come up, take it as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow.  Maybe that person was brought into your life in that moment to help you grow more mature.  When we are so rigid in our goals and schedule it causes us to be very impatient with anyone that gets in the way.  We live in a fallen broken world with fallen broken people.  Expect roadblocks and distractions, and be prepared to adjust the best laid plans as necessary.
  8. Include God – On our own we will fail miserably in becoming more patient.  Asking God to help us in this area is the best thing any of us can do.  The more we talk to God about patience and other areas we need help in, the more He shapes and molds us.  When we plug into God, anything is possible.
  9. Finally, keep being persistent in your prayers even if God doesn’t seem to be answering. God does hear your prayers and is working in many ways that you do not see. Trust Him and His timing and keep doing your part of working on yourself and praying for others and the circumstances around you.

Discernment

Discernment helps to do several important things:

  1. Discover what’s under the surface.  Discernment enables a person to see a partial picture, fill in the missing pieces intuitively, and find the real heart of a matter. You can dig beneath what’s happening on the surface.
  2. Sharpen your problem solving ability.  The closer a person is to their area of gifting, the stronger their intuition and ability to see root causes. Discernment helps you know what the real problems are. Good discernment also helps to resolve conflict in a more healthy way.
  3. Evaluate your options, and make better decisions.  Discernment enables you to use both your gut and your head to find the best option for your family or your organization. It helps you to slow down and think clearly before making a decision.
  4. Multiply your opportunities.  People create their own “luck” as the result of discernment, that willingness to use their experience and follow their instincts. Doing that often leads to new discoveries and new opportunities.

To improve your discernment, do the following:

  • Pray and ask God to give you discernment.
  • Learn from past successes and failures.  
  • Learn how others think and practice empathy.
  • Ask good questions, and actively listen.

Thoughts about Church – Part One

Most people have experienced some confusion or frustration with the church. The word itself can pull up bad memories or hurtful circumstances for some. Maybe you feel it was ineffective or irrelevant to your life. The church has been, and continues to be attacked from the outside and compromised on the inside at times.

It’s easy to criticize the church. It’s full of human beings that make mistakes and bad decisions, and sometimes hurt one another. Church leaders can be controlling and overbearing sometimes. Church leaders can also be weak and afraid. sometimes.

Yet God wants us to love the church. It was His design for reaching the world. The purpose of the church is to be an extension of the purpose of Jesus Christ. That purpose is to spread the good news about Jesus. To make disciples, baptize them, and teach them the ways of God.

To understand what the church is, we should look at what it is not:

  • The church is not a physical building. The building is simply place for the church to gather.
  • The church is not an institution or organization. It’s not a denomination or an affiliation.
  • The church is not a set of services or activities.
  • The church is not just a congregation.

The Bible describes the church in four ways:

  1. The words church refers to the universal church, which is all believers on earth at any given time.
  2. The word church refers to a particular location. The New Testament places the most emphasis on the church in its local setting. The churches in Galatia, the church in Cenchrea, the church in Sugarcreek.
  3. The word church refers to the actual gathering of believers in any place of worship.
  4. The word church refers to the body of Christ. Christ is the head. It is through the church that Christ does His work. As His followers, we are Christ’s hands and feet and voice.

How should the church function?

  • Believers in a church should use their gifts to serve.
  • Believers in the church should submit to one another.
  • Believers in the church are priests, each one loving, serving, and caring for each other.
  • Believers in the church should be striving for unity and growing in their relationship with Christ.
  • Believers in the church should be supporting the church through giving, serving and praying.
  • Believers in the church should be inviting others to come and meet Jesus.

The church is also compared to a flock of sheep, with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The church should have elders/shepherds that care, oversee, serve, and lead the people. These shepherds set the vision and direction for the church. They provide protection, provision and care for the flock.

The church is also referred to as a family. God’s Word says we are sons and daughters of God, united together by our faith in Jesus Christ. As family members, we are free to enjoy a mutual, intimate relationship with God our Father and other children in His family. In a family, people are always more important than policies. Relationships are always more important than roles.

A healthy church will thrive and have an impact on the lives of the people that gather together. Those lives will have Kingdom impact in lives outside the church in our world. The church can also be unhealthy and cause a lot of damage to peoples lives which causes damage to the world we all live in.

In Part Two I will talk about Why the church exists.

Living intentionally for Christ

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, he forgives our sins and redeems us. We are born again spiritually. That the biggest most important decision you will ever make.

So as a Follower of Christ how do we live intentionally and walk in our new identity?

For a Christian, living intentionally begins with living a life submitted to Christ. In Christ we find our identity and purpose.  Knowing your purpose is key, because your purpose determines your priorities. As you seek God, He will reveal your specific calling and purpose to you.

However, as a follower of Jesus Christ your main purpose is to bring glory to God by loving and worshiping Him with your life – all that you are and everything that you do.

That’s where we start. Before your career, financial, and relationship goals can fall into place, you must be intentional in your relationship with God. He will guide you and give you wisdom for your decisions.

Colossians 2:6-10

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

What’s the secret to living the Christian life? We all start off so well. We receive Christ as our Savior, and we are filled with excitement at the prospect of new life in Christ. Our sins have been forgiven, we have been restored to relationship with God, we have assurance that we will go to heaven when we die, and we know that our whole life just changed. The old is gone, the new has come!

We start off enthusiastic for Christ and ready to take on the whole world. And then many of us seem to struggle and flounder at times. Why is that? We want to live the Christian life. Why is it so hard sometimes? What’s the secret to living the Christian life?

In the Scripture you just read, Paul tells us three things about living the Christian life. The Christian life is marked by faith in Christ, it is marked by freedom in Christ and it is marked by fullness in Christ.

We received Christ Jesus by faith – now we should continue to live in him by faith.

First of all, the Christian life is marked by faith in Christ. Look at verses 6-7:

 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” What is Paul saying here? Your Christian life began with faith in Christ, and it must also continue with faith in Christ.

By faith you received Christ Jesus as Lord. Declaring: “Jesus is Lord.”

We confess our faith in Jesus as Lord at our baptism, when we mark ourselves as Christ followers and when we go under the water it is symbolic of death to our old self and coming out of the water resurrection and a new life a new heart..

By faith you received Christ Jesus as Lord. Now Paul says, you need to live in Christ the same way you received him.

The Christian life is not simply faith in a set of teachings but faith in a person. It is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The Christian life is lived in Christ. Christ lives in you, and therefore you live your life in him. Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, you continue to live in him.

First of all, you are rooted and built up in him. “Rooted” refers to the foundation of your Christian life. The Christian life is founded on Christ and Christ alone. It is not founded on your goodness or your works or your merit. The Christian life is founded on faith in Christ and Christ alone.

As Jesus says in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the root and source of the Christian life. You cannot live the Christian life apart from Christ.

Next, Paul tells us you are “strengthened in the faith as you were taught.” The word translated “strengthened” in this verse means “established” or “made firm.” Not only must you have faith in Christ. You must also be well-grounded in your faith.

Paul is telling us to stick with the gospel. Stay grounded in Christ and the Bible. Don’t go looking for new teachings outside of Christ. Grow in what you already know!

He also says a life that is lived by faith in Christ is one that is overflowing with thankfulness. Begin each day thanking God for your life and salvation and for the many blessings he has given you in Christ. Living in Christ means being thankful and grateful every day.

Someone said – How do you know if your bucket is full? If your feet are getting wet.

Don’t be just a little thankful. Be overflowing with thankfulness. You can never thank God enough.

The Christian life is marked by faith in Christ, and secondly the Christian life is marked by freedom in Christ.

Look at verse 8 where Paul writes: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

In other words this is a strong warning to guard your freedom, to stay alert, to be on the lookout for those things that can rob you of your freedom and take you captive.

Things like deceptive and false teaching, the lies of the world, busyness of life

It’s fighting the daily spiritual battle from our enemy, we do that by walking in our true identity as children of God, loved by our heavenly father and bringing glory to HIm

C. True freedom is found in Christ alone

Too many people think the Christian life is all about rules and regulations when Christ really offers us a life of beautiful freedom.

In Christ you are free from condemnation, free from guilt and shame, free from fear, free from sin. We are constantly attacked in those areas, but we must remember who we re and whose we are. Children of God, deeply loved sand accepted.

in Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

The last thing is this:

1) The Christian life is marked by faith in Christ. 2) The Christian life is marked by freedom in Christ. And 3) The Christian life is marked by fullness in Christ.

Look at verses 9-10: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”

A. All the fullness of God lives in Christ

This is a remarkable statement. First Paul says that all the fullness of God lives in Christ. Not just God’s attributes but his very essence; not just part but all – all that marks God as God dwells in Jesus Christ.

Not only that, Jesus Christ is also the head over every power and authority. Paul is probably thinking about spiritual beings once again, earlier in Colossians he spoke about spiritual beings as thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. All these powers and authorities were created by Christ, and all these powers and authorities are subject to Christ.

And then there is one more part to this remarkable statement. You have been given fullness in Christ! Christ lives in you; all the fullness of God lives in Christ; and therefore you have been given fullness in Christ.

Paul’s point in Colossians is this. Why give in to the hollow and empty philosophy of the false teachers when you have been given fullness in Christ?

You’ve already been filled! You have Christ! What more are you looking for? As Max Anders writes: “Don’t go looking for treasure you already have!” Everything you need from God you have in Christ.

Closing Scripture:

2 Peter 1:3-8:  3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. NIV

CONCLUSION: So what is the secret to living the Christian life? Christianity is not simply living out a creed, but it is living in a person Your True Identity is In Christ!

You are united with Christ by faith, and you receive the strength to live the Christian life every day through your relationship with him. Your Christian life began with Christ, and it must continue with Christ.

The Christian life is marked by faith in Christ, freedom in Christ and fullness in Christ. Anything less is not authentic Christianity. What’s the secret to living the Christian life? It’s simple. The secret to living the Christian life is living in Christ. That’s the heart of Christianity.

Wisdom for Difficult Times

James 1:2-5

“My friends, consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure. Make sure that your endurance carries you all the way without failing, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. But if any of you lack wisdom, you should pray to God, who will give it to you; because God gives generously and graciously to all.”

What do you do when hardships hit you? Who do you talk to when life takes a turn for the worse? What do you do when people attack you? Who do you turn to when things get out of control?

Some people go to social media for information. Some people turn to the news, or to government leaders. Some people turn to their friends or parents or a trusted mentor. And some people turn to God.

Turning to God is the first and best thing we can all do in difficult times. I think we can also talk to people we trust to process and gain insight into what is best. But talking to God should always come first. Asking for help, for wisdom and discernment to know what is right and what is not. I often ask God for spiritual strength to keep going, or for God to bring the right people into my life to give me direction or encouragement.

James tells us that we should be grateful for hardships and trials, as it will make us better, it will give us wisdom and valuable experience, building our endurance. However we only gain wisdom, and our character is only strengthened, if we handle those adversities in the right way. When we learn from our failures, and gain deeper understanding about who God is, who we are, and what our purpose in life is, then we gain true wisdom.

Wisdom cannot be purchased, but wisdom can be developed. Reading God’s word and praying to God, gives us the right perspectives when dealing with difficult times. That is why it is so critical to be reading God’s word and praying during the hard times of our lives. Going to church and listening to messages from Biblically based leaders can give you new insights, wisdom and encouragement.

Good leaders will point people to Jesus, and the incredible transformation that comes from a relationship with Him. When spiritual growth and personal growth come together there is real transformation.

In these days of political unrest, division, hatred, and deception, we need to understand that this is not new, there have been and always will be difficult, trying times in this world. However, if you have a personal relationship with Jesus, it changes your perspective. Why? because now you know where you will spend eternity. Fear is taken over by love, and we experience a freedom like nothing else.

So use common sense and be wise in difficult times, but also look to God for your wisdom, courage and strength. Talk to Him regularly, read what He has to say, then listen and obey.

Seven Things I’ve Learned about Great Leadership

As I reflect on being a leader over the last 30 years, it’s been a process of building, learning and growing. I still believe that everything rises and falls on leadership. The times that I have not lead well, things began to slip whether at work or at home. When I’ve led well progress was made and change happened, in me and others. I’ve learned so much and still have a lot to learn and improve on, but I would like to share some of what I believe about leadership.

I’d like to share seven thoughts about leadership, and what great leaders do.

  1. Great leaders develop people – People development should be a daily event, integrated into every interaction and conversation. As a leader you are constantly evaluating things and people around you. Are the right people in the right position, who needs more attention, what resources are needed to help them grow, are our systems encouraging growth, learning and improvement. Encouragement is a big part of developing people, building up their self-confidence, encouraging risk taking and constant improvement. Leaders need to mentor, coach and counsel the people they lead. The only way to do that is by getting to know them, their personalities, what motivates them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they are passionate about.
  2. Great leaders cast vision – Vision leaks and it’s the leaders responsibility to keep filling people up with the vision. If there is no vision the organization, the family, the relationship will decline. To cast vision you must be clear about what the vision really is. The vision can’t be constantly changing. Dripping the vision consistently, rewarding people that get it and living it out as an example.
  3. Great leaders build trust – Trust is built over time by being consistent, doing what you say, listening, and being humble. Leaders take responsibility for when things go wrong and they generously pass around praise when things go right. Trust building also comes from good decisions, asking for peoples input, and doing what is best for your company, your family or the relationship. It also makes a huge difference to admit when you were wrong and to ask for forgiveness when you make a mistake. Trust takes a long time to build, but can be lost very quickly with one bad decision or mistake. What helps me is to have some other leaders around me that know me and hold me accountable, pray for me and encourage me.
  4. Great leaders make the tough calls – Tough calls can bring on criticism, resistance and complaints. Leaders that are willing to make difficult decisions do that because of the vision, the values, and the culture they are passionate about. Anything that derails that or distracts from that, needs to be changed or eliminated. The ability to make the tough calls comes from years of experience, failure and victories. It’s also vital to have some trusted advisors or mentors that can help you when you are facing a tough decision.
  5. Great leaders serve – Serving the people around you is one of the primary functions of a leader. What I mean by that is good leaders look for ways to make things better for their people. What resources are needed? What information is needed? What questions need to be asked? Who needs to rest or slow down? Who needs to be challenged more? The best way to do this is by meeting with your people, asking questions, getting to know them better, and really caring about them. Great leaders serve!
  6. Great leaders inspire – Inspiration comes from a compelling vision, but it also comes from being a good example. Leaders that live out what they say and lead by example inspire others to do the same. Leaders that take risks, learn through failure, and lead with integrity inspire people and give people the courage to do the same. Inspiration comes from the words leaders use and the actions they take.
  7. Great leaders are humble – Humility is the key to great leadership. Thinking about what is best for others and not yourself. Being open to new ideas or other people’s opinions. Admitting when you make a mistake, and owning bad decisions. Being humble does not mean you are weak, it really means you are strong and confident. It means you are not afraid to surround yourself with people more talented than you are. Leaders that have the combination of humility and persistence are the leaders people want to follow.

There is so much more to leadership, but if you work on just a few of these things you can grow as a leader. If you are struggling as a leader, keep going, it’s in the struggling that you become the leader God created you to be.

The last thing I will say about great leadership is that faith in Jesus Christ has been a game changer for me. Jesus is the best leader this world has ever seen. Simply studying and following the life of Jesus will make you a better leader. Putting your faith and trust in him changes your eternal destiny. He is all seven of those things in perfection, and so much more.

Five ways to work on your marriage

As we start a new year many people are thinking about what they want to work on or improve in 2023. For those of us that are married that relationship is often something we would like to improve. Every marriage has difficulties and challenges, that’s normal. The reality is that many couples don’t work through issues and let them pile up over many years.

As you start your new year I hope you will set a few goals, or ideas on how you can work on the most important relationship you have, your marriage. I would like to share five ways that you can work on improving your marriage. Some of these might click and be helpful and some may not. The point is to work at, and be intentional about being a better husband or wife.

  1. Work at being a better listener.

Most of the conflict we experience comes from misunderstandings or simply not listening. This skill can improve any relationship and make the other person feel more valued. How do I do that? A few things that help me, include turning off any distractions like the TV or phone. Turn to the person and give them your full attention. Once your spouse has shared what’s on their mind, repeat back what you heard or ask clarifying questions. The goal is to understand what they said. You might even ask if they want your opinion or to just listen.

Listening also includes reading their body language and tone of voice. That will help you to understand if this is very important, or are they upset, hurt, or confused. The reason to do this is that good listener also connect emotionally. You can actually acknowledge the emotion by saying something like this: Honey I can see you’re very upset, how can I help? Make it a goal in 2023 to be a better listener, before you talk with your spouse remind yourself to listen more and speak less.

2. Work at being a better communicator

This is another area a lot of people struggle with. Misunderstandings and conflict often happen when things are not clear, or are said in a way that is confusing or even hurtful. For some it might be not talking enough, not sharing and keeping things to yourself. For others it might be talking too much and people get lost or lose focus.

For those that don’t talk much, I urge you to work on talking more with your spouse. Talking is a way to connect with each other and to feel like you are letting the other person into your world. When you think about something try to follow through and actually say it to the other person, as long as it’s not hurtful or mean. If you have something important to tell your spouse you might even practice out loud, or write it down before you have the conversation. It’s also very important in communication to be clear and try not to have serious conversations when you are highly emotional.

For those that talk too much, work on reading the other person. Are they starting to zone out or get distracted? If so, stop talking and ask if they have any questions or input into what you have been talking about. You should also practice condensing your stories and not sharing all the fine details. What is your main point you want to make?

In 2023 work to be more clear and open in your communication with your spouse. By open, I mean sharing at a deeper level, being more vulnerable and honest. That means taking a risk and opening up. If you’re not able to do that, then I suggest talking with a trusted mentor or counselor about how you can work on your communication.

3. Work at expressing love.

You made a commitment to love and to cherish till death do you part when you got married. To improve your marriage, it’s important to express love on a regular basis. That’s more than simply saying I love you. I’m talking about the Five Love Languages: Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Gifts, Words of Affirmation and Quality Time. All of these are important but everyone has one or two that means a lot more than others. Words of Affirmation is by far the top one for me. A word of encouragement is like fuel for my soul.

If you don’t know your spouses love language make that a goal in 2023 to learn what it is, and then work at speaking that to your spouse more often. One way to do that is to read the book Five Love Languages or do a google search and find information about each of the five love languages. Then have a conversation with your spouse about what theirs is and what yours is. I wrote an article about this back in 2015 called How to communicate with your spouse.

4. Work at praying for your spouse.

If you are a Christian then prayer should be an important part of your life. If it’s not then start there. Simply be more intentional about talking with God, share your heart with Him as well as your frustrations. Give him praise and thanks on a regular basis.

Start the practice of praying for your spouse, listen for things you can pray about, share things with your spouse, if they are a Christian that they can pray about for you. Write things down so you remember and try to pray several times a week for them. Keep it simple but work at doing it consistently.

This will be a big step to improving your marriage. Prayer is powerful and affective. Taking a moment to simply say a short prayer for your spouse and kids, with him or her will go a long way to building love, connection and intimacy in your marriage.

5. Work at spending time together.

Most married couples find it hard to have time for each other. Raising kids, working and taking care of the house are challenging and keep us busy. Then add sports, hobbies, getting groceries, and even church activities and there isn’t much time for each other.

In 2023 be more intentional about scheduling time together, whether that’s a date night or simply a quiet evening together each week. Talk about what works for you, and then schedule it. Get a baby sitter if you have to, but try to make this happen more often this year. Also work on being more fully present when you are together. We often are consumed with work, finances, special projects or hobbies and don’t give our full attention to our spouse. It takes work and planning to spend time together but it’s worth it in the long run.

I could keep going but those 5 are a good start. Look for more ideas coming soon.

Obey Like Jesus

If ever there was a word that makes us cringe, it would be obedience. For a lot of folks, obedience has a negative connotation. Maybe it reminds you of your failures, your inability to measure up to some standard. Maybe it reminds you of someone in your past (a parent, or a pastor) who used religion to manipulate you.

As Parents you want your children to “obey” you. Not because they are afraid of you, but because they trust you. Lots of kids rebel against authority, especially their parents. They experiment on how far they can push it. They want to go their own way, even if you as the parent know better. Honestly many adults are also rebelling, doing their own thing and not obeying authority figures, especially God.

When it comes to obeying someone, it’s a lot easier to obey someone you trust and feel loved by. However, not everyone who insists on obedience does so out of love for us. Some people throw this word around like a hand grenade, and do a lot of damage in the name of God. Obedience is a power word. Usually when someone insists on our obedience it’s a “red flag.” Some people use this word to conceal their ambitions, hidden agenda, and selfishness. Emotionally abusive people love to use this word as they tread all over us like a doormat.

From a Biblical perspective, we’re always living in obedience to someone, or something. And so our obedience can be directed toward God, or it can be dislocated away from God.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Romans 6:16

We can be mastered by sin just as readily as anything. So we obey our addictions. We obey our lusts. We obey our appetite for caffeine, alcohol, sugars, carbs.  We obey our materialistic impulses–the idol of bigger, better, faster, newer, shinier. We obey our tech impulses, new and better devices. Few masters are more ruthless than our desires.

At first our lusts isolate us from others. We withdrawal to do our thing. Then they demand greater commitment. Time, energy, resources, relationships, life. At first we try to manage them, until they finally consume us, destroying us in the end.

In Mark 7:8 Jesus observes how we “lay aside the commands of God to obey the traditions of men.”

We can identify as a certain denomination instead of a follower of Jesus. We obey the traditions we learned instead of the person we love, Jesus. Instead of serving God, sometimes we can become servants of our religious/political ideologies.

The masses didn’t crucify Jesus because he was the Son of God, or was obeying God. They killed him because he didn’t obey their traditions. In John 12:43 he describes how people “love human praise more than praise from God.” How many times have you felt conviction about some great thing God put on your heart, only to realize that your spouse, a boyfriend/ girlfriend, your kids, a friend was not on board, or disagreed with you? So instead of pressing forward, you relented, and gave in to the pressure. Our need for affirmation, and approval is so strong, we will cave rather than risk the disapproval of others. It’s like a law has been passed: “I have to be liked.” I need a Facebook thumbs up, a Twitter retweet, to have the validation I need in life. Do we obey men, or do we obey God?

Galatians 2:16 says, “…we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law” (NLT).

The Bible describes how people believe they are accepted by God by obeying all the laws God has given. So like the Rich Young Ruler, people try to establish their own righteousness before God. Our checklists become a source of pride for us, and they become a sort of litmus test by which we gauge other’s sincerity, spirituality, or faith. “I don’t ever miss church. I read my Bible. I’ve been baptized. I tithe. I volunteer. I go to Bible study. I go on missions trips. I care about orphans, widows, prisoners, the hungry, the sick. . . I, I, I…” Our selective, cherry-picked lists can give us a false sense of confidence before God.

God’s standard is Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

Who or what do you most obey? Jesus’ obedience wasn’t oriented around things… it was oriented to Father. Look at how Jesus obeyed. In John 8:28-30 Jesus says, “… I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. “ And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”  

Philippians 2:8, “… being found in the appearance as a man, Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” 

To Obey Like Jesus: First, obedience is all about relationship. “Obedience or trusting obedience is God’s love language.” The “heart” of obedience is pleasing the Father in everything–i.e. in all we say and do. He is pleased when we obey because he knows that means we trust him. When we trust God we want to obey God, When we have a relationship with Jesus and are intimate with our Father God we don’t obey out of fear, it’s out of love. 2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

Second, grace is the basis for our relationship with God. We are saved through faith in Christ alone, by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, His perfect righteousness, His blood. The best we can do is respond to God’s offer of mercy. We can confess Jesus as Lord. We can repent and turn to God. We can pledge our lives to him in baptism. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” Faith in Jesus Christ leads to being born again spiritually. You are a new person and that new person begins to grow in love for Jesus. As that love grows, trust increases and obedience increases.

Third, obedience is God’s prescription for blessing. God’s commands carry a blessing, a promise, a reward. God’s promise to the children of Abraham is that if they obeyed God, it would go well for them, they would live a long life, and receive inheritance. If we sow obedience, we reap God’s very best in our lives. In Luke 11:28 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  I even noticed in 1 John 3:22 that obedience makes our prayers more powerful. John says, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.”

Last, obedience is evidence our faith is alive, not dead. James says faith without works is DOA (James 2:17).  1 John 2:5-6 says, “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus lived.”  If our faith is alive, real, vibrant, sincere, it will show itself in how we live. Obedience is the inevitable fruit of saving faith.  In the end, God judges our faith by every word spoken, and every deed done, whether in public or private.

Who will you obey?

Marriage: Finish Strong

Starting a race is easy, finishing a race is hard – Getting married is easy, staying married is hard.

So how do you stay married?  More importantly how do you stay happily married, because lots of couples can just co-exist and hang on.

Look at two passages of Scripture 1 Corinthians 13 :4-7 and Galatians 5:22

In Galatians, patience is listed as part of the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”.

Paul talks about the fruit that should be evident in our lives if we are living for God in Galatians.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 13 he goes into detail about the meaning of love, which is the key to staying married. in verse 4 it says that love is patient and kind. I believe that is one of the keys to finishing strong in a marriage.

The definition of Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Have self-control in difficult situations.

Increasing patience is viewed as the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian who has accepted the gift of salvation

In the Bible, patience is referred to in several sections. 

  • The book of Proverbs notes that “through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone” (Proverbs 25:14-16, NIV);
  •  Ecclesiastes points out that the “end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” (Ecclesiastes 7:7-9, NIV); 
  • In the book of James, the Bible urges Christians to be patient, and ” see how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,…until it receives the early and the late rains.” (James 5:7-11, NAB). 
  •  1 Thessalonians states that we should “be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good for each other and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, NAB). 

So how do we practice patience in a relationship, especially the marriage relationship?

1.  Remind yourself that things take time. People who are impatient, are people who insist on getting things done now and don’t like to waste time. However, some things just can’t be rushed. 

  • Think about your happiest memories. Chances are, they were instances when your patience paid off, like when you worked steadily toward a goal that wasn’t immediately gratifying, or took a little extra time to spend leisurely with a loved one. Would you have those memories if you had been impatient? Probably not.
  • Almost anything really good in life takes time and dedication, and if you’re impatient, you’re more likely to give up on relationships, goals, and other things that are important to you. Good things may not always come to those who wait, but most good things that do come don’t happen right away.

2.  Remember what matters. Not focusing on what matters most in this life fuels impatience. You can move the world toward peace, by being kind, generous in forgiveness of others, being grateful for what is, and taking full advantage of what matters most. When other less important things fuel our impatience, taking time to remember any one of these items reduces our tendency to want something different right now.

3.   Always have a positive outlook in life and about your spouse Being positive is imperative to possessing a sense of patience. Believe the best about your spouse. Remember that marriage is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way.

4.   Expect the unexpected. Yes, you have plans, but things don’t always work out as planned. Accept the twist and turns in life gracefully. Keep your expectations realistic. This applies not only to circumstances, but also the behavior of those around you. 

  • If you find yourself blowing up over your child or your spouse accidentally spilling a drink, you’re not in touch with the fact that people aren’t perfect. Even if the occasion is not an isolated incident but is instead caused by their repeated neglect and carelessness, losing your patience isn’t going to make it any better. That’s something to be addressed with discussion and self-control.
  1.  Give yourself a break.
  • Stop holding yourself and the world around you to unattainable standards. Sure, we’d all be more patient if he would always listen, she would stop complaining, traffic flowed smoothly, and people didn’t make mistakes – but that’s never going to happen. Expecting the world to run smoothly is like beating your head against the wall. Give yourself a break!

The Benefits of Developing Patience

  1. Reduces stress levels and makes you a happier, healthier person.

When you learn and practice patience you don’t get as angry, stressed or overwhelmed. You are more in control of your emotions and in a better position to deal with difficult situations with ease and poise.
This promotes longevity and makes you a happier, healthier person.

  1. Results in better decision-making.

When you’re patient you take the time to assess the situation, see the big picture, and weigh any pros and cons. The chances of making a big mistake lessen because you avoid making it in haste. Taking the time to problem solve requires patience and deliberation. 

  1. Helps develop understanding, empathy and compassion.

You are automatically more understanding and compassionate with others when you yourself are patient. Patient people take the time to process what they go through and are able to determine what it takes to overcome obstacles, so they are more understanding of others. This results in better, more fulfilling relationships with spouses, friends, children and bosses. 

  1. Helps you understand and appreciate the process of growth.

As mentioned earlier anything worthwhile takes time and effort to achieve. As the old saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Planning, growth, evaluation and measurement all take time, and taking time takes patience. 

 Tips on How to Develop Patience

  • Take a day where you make patience your goal for the entire day.

Make a concerted effort to take your time and think about everything you do, be mindful and live in the moment. At the end of the day, observe all the ways in which you’ve made smarter decisions, got along better with others and actually understood what took place. Learn to do it on a daily basis. Developing patience is much like physical exercise because it requires persistence and effort. 

  • Slow down.

If you have the tendency to rush around and try to hurry things up, want things done immediately and can’t wait for things to take their natural course, STOP. Take several deep breaths before you act or make a move. For example, if you’re in a long lineup at the grocery store or in heavy traffic, make the decision to pause and not get worked up. Do some isometrics, listen to the radio, or just enjoy the view. Getting impatient won’t make things move along any faster, so why get worked up for nothing?

  • Practice delaying gratification.

When you want to reach for that dessert, second drink, or buying your tenth pair of red shoes, stop and think about it first. Maybe you don’t need or want any of them that badly after all. You can save yourself some money or added calories. 

  • Practice thinking before you speak.

At times we blurt out the first thought that comes into our heads without considering the consequences. If we’re patient, and can pause and go over what we want to say, we can avoid hurting or offending others. 

A few other tips on Patience:

  • Don’t be patient with bad behavior.  Be patient with how you respond to bad behavior.
  • Praise your spouse publicly, be sincere and specific.  Brag about how great he is or how organized she is.
  • Have crucial conversations in private.  Don’t argue and fight in front of the kids or in public.  Be patient enough to work on the conflict when you both can focus and not be distracted.
  • Try to praise more than admonish – you should praise 3 times more than you admonish.  If all you do is complain about what they are not doing and never praising them there will be little motivation to make any changes.

Being Kind goes with Patience:

  • Kindness always starts with you!  When you are kind it will influence your spouse, children and anyone else around you
  • When you are kind to another person it is difficult to not be kind in turn.
  • Being kind means making their day better.  Are they better off for being around you?
  • It is how you talk to each other the words that you use.
  • Helping when you can, serving them to make their day easier.
  • It can be very simple, a smile, a hug, a kiss, paying attention and listening, giving a small gift, saying I love you, writing a note!

Kindness is intentionally creating and maintaining the right environment in your home so your spouse and children can also be kind to others. 

The goal is to make deposits in their emotional bank account, which means you have to know their love language and what is important to them.

Prayer is important:

Prayer is the last thing I want to leave with you. 

Trying to be patient and kind on our own will not work.  You can do it for a while, but it will not last long term.

Only by involving God can you be patient and kind and all those other things we read about in 1 Corinthians 13

When we pray we plug into the incredible power of God.  It activates things spiritually that we cannot see.

Prayer also changes our perspective and reminds us of what is important.

So I want you to commit to praying for your spouse everyday for the next 21 days.

If you forget, just start again the next day.

Finish Strong!