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!

Forgive Like Jesus

How many of you have scars on your body? How many of you have ever felt judged? Maybe for the way you look or something you did in your past, or a decision you made. How many of you like being judged? Nobody raised their hand on that one.

How many of you have been hurt by someone? Maybe you were abused, rejected, made fun of or lied about you. Bullied? Maybe you were betrayed by a friend, or taken advantage of.

Being judged and being hurt can leave emotional scars in our lives. Those wounds stay with us and many times don’t heal right, they get infected and can spread and cause many other issues. Even when they heal properly they can still leave scars that remind us of what happened to us.

When Jesus was cornered and put in a bad situation, He didn’t lash out. Instead, Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground. He didn’t blurt out an answer. He didn’t get sarcastic. He didn’t get angry, He didn’t run or hide. He basically ignored them. One translation adds, “he acted as though he heard them not.” 

But they keep pressuring Jesus for an answer about the woman caught in adultery. Again look at how Jesus responds. He doesn’t make a long speech, or teach a deep lesson. He made a very simple statement. Jesus said, “Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.” When every left, she forgave the woman and encouraged her to sin no more.

In Romans 2:1 Paul tells us “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

To be like Jesus, we must learn to be quick to forgive, not quick to judge, or condemn. Paul tells us that “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

When you acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, he is quick to forgive and brings no condemnation or judgment. He wipes the slate clean.

Jesus also teaches us to pray for those who abuse us, in Luke 6:28 — “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Praying for people we care about is easy. Praying for people we don’t know well is also fairly easy. Praying for someone who hurt us or someone we loved is hard.

The reason Jesus tells us to do this is because He knows that our enemies, those who have hurt us in any way, can only be forgiven with the help of God. Praying for them helps us to break through the pain and see a person. When we pray for those that hurt us it begins that process of spiritual strengthening that is needed to truly forgive a person.

You might start by simply saying be with them, or maybe help them, or do something in their lives. Then you can get to the point where you actually ask God to bless them, make something good happen in their lives. Then maybe even deeper where you start to pray for their salvation, or their healing from whatever hurts they have.

Your prayers for others may or may not change them, but it will always change you. Forgiveness is more about you than the other person. Unforgiveness does a lot of damage in our hearts. It stays inside us right on top to the hurt and that often leads to negative emotions like anger, bitterness, frustration, and even things like depression and anxiety. 

Forgive as you have been forgiven. Jesus quickly forgave you! The moment you put your faith in him, the moment you asked. He is saying we should forgive that way. Forgiveness does not mean you will forget. You can’t just erase those memories and the hurt. But once you are free and healing you don’t think about it as much and eventually it’s not something you think about at all.

Forgiveness is not a feeling it is a choice, on our own we will never feel like forgiving, but with God’s help we can choose to forgive. Choose to give grace, and forgive, and speak the truth in love while not judging people as part of living like Jesus.

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.

Three Relationship Tips

We were created for relationships. God made us to be in relationship with other people, and with him. When we are not in healthy relationships our lives are more difficult, dark, and lonely. In order to improve our relationships with people and God, here are three simple things we can do to grow, and become more healthy.

  1. Spend Time Together – If you don’t intentionally spend time together, you don’t get to know the other person. It’s in those times together, that the relationship has a chance to grow, both deeper and closer. Regular touches face to face, eye to eye, where you talk, catch up, ask questions, encourage and resolve conflict. When it comes to spending time with God, it also takes being intentional. The ways I do that is mainly through prayer, simply talking and listening to God. Reading Scripture is another way I connect with him. Musical worship, meditation and being out in creation are other ways I connect with God. Whether it’s another person or God, make time for each other. Plan times together where you are not interrupted or distracted.
  2. Listen and Pay Attention – This is a huge thing in relationships. Most conflict happens because of misunderstandings. When you are with a person you care about, practice active listening, by asking clarifying questions. Pay attention to their non verbal language. Be fully present by not being distracted by your phone, the TV, or other people. This is a great way to let someone know you care about them, by listening and paying attention. How are you doing in listening and paying attention to God and what he is saying to you?
  3. Practice Forgiveness – No relationship can last without giving and receiving forgiveness. We all are imperfect and make mistakes. We can and do hurt each other, maybe unintentionally or maybe intentionally. Forgiveness is the secret sauce to a healthy relationship. It helps us to keep short accounts and not let things build up. Forgiveness is the beginning of healing and helps us to not keep score or bring up old hurts from the past. Forgiving is not forgetting, but it can lead to forgetting, or to not holding an offense against someone.

I could give many more tips on healthy relationships. The big thing to me is that any relationship that is important will take work. The more work you put into the relationship the healthier it becomes. Anything that is neglected tends to deteriorate. Don’t let that happen to your relationships. Make time and find ways to build up and improve your relationships. You will never regret that effort.

Six Ways to Handle Stress

We all experience stress every day. Some days are much worse than others. I’ve recently experienced some stress related to travel that made me think about how to handle and manage the stress we face every day. First our flight got cancelled, then our new flight was delayed 3 hours, which caused us to miss our connecting flight. You probably got stressed out just reading that.

When stress builds up over time it can wear us down, and take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. When we are worn down we often will do and say things that we can regret later.

Stress is often relatively short-term, and is often caused by feeling that work or home life is out of control. When both of those are out of control the stress feels extra heavy.

Maybe you have a heavy work week with several big projects, causing you to work extra hours, and maybe pushing to meet a tight deadline. You may also be experiencing tension at home with a close relationship, or have some financial pressure that has been building.

Most of the time we have high stress days or weeks, and then days or weeks of lower stress. It’s when those stress days move into months and years that it can take a toll on us to the breaking point.

Prolonged stress can lead to burnout. When you start reaching the point of burnout, your work starts to not seem as meaningful, and there is often a disconnect between what you are doing and what you want to do. You start to feel like you’re just going through the motions, and you can become cynical, critical and adversarial. You are probably experiencing regular mental and physical exhaustion, and you’re finding it hard to rest.

So what can we do to manage stress. First it’s important to recognize the unhealthy ways that we are dealing with stress. Many people will self medicate by drinking, smoking, eating, shopping, binging on something. I’ve been binging on Law & Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Chicago PD.

Next you can start working on healthy ways to deal with stress. Here are just a few that help me:

  1. Exercise/Eat Healthy/Sleep – I put those together because those are all physical things we can do to help with our stress. Those three things, when done in a healthy way, can reduce stress and make you stronger physically and emotionally. You become more resilient and can bounce back faster.
  2. Prayer/Meditation/Worship – I put those three together because those are spiritual things you can do to reduce stress in a big way. I believe in and follow Jesus, and when I spend more time with Him, I feel so much better and less stressed. I also include reading my Bible and doing daily devotions to help prepare me everyday for the stress that is coming. Block off extra time when stress is high for Quiet time with God. Listen to worship music, and sing along. Write in a journal and list everything you’re grateful for. Caring for yourself spiritually builds internal strength, and allows God to make changes in you and through you.
  3. Plan for and take breaks during the day, during the week, and during the month. – Every day take short refreshment breaks. It could be a 10 minute walk around the office, going and getting a drink of water, standing in the sunshine for a few minutes or taking 5 minutes to pray. Each week you should have a day of rest, where you are not working, but resting, reading, exercising, sleeping, spending time with loved ones. Every month you should plan a little extra time for self care, spiritual care or relational care. Plan those and put them on your calendar.
  4. Have honest conversations – Talk to your leader if you’re able to, about the stress you are feeling. Ask for clear expectations, and help in prioritizing your work. Also ask your leader if you have the right goals, and if they should be adjusted. If you don’t have any goals for work or home, work on setting a few and then talk with your boss or spouse. If you’re in a toxic environment have the courage to talk about that, and offer ways that you can help make it better.
  5. Learn the art of saying no, and asking for help – This can be hard, but is a great way to reduce stress. You can say no and still be kind and helpful. It’s also wise to ask for help. If you are unsure about something, or don’t know how to do it, ask for help or clarity. Good leaders appreciate when you ask questions, and you can avoid a lot of stress and miscommunication when you ask good questions. This works at home as well.
  6. Finally talk to a counselor, mentor or pastor – This can help to dig a little deeper and find out if there are things that are causing stress that are under the surface, or buried inside you. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it actually takes courage and strength to go get help, and it will reduce your stress in the long run.

Philippians 4:6-7 is very helpful when it comes to stress. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you”

Jesus also told his disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” When they had been overworked and overwhelmed Jesus encouraged them to get away and rest. That’s great advice for us today.

A Leaders First Priority – Vision

Leadership can be difficult, challenging and yet very rewarding. So much goes into leadership, and a leader never arrives or is perfect. Leading people is a privilege, a responsibility, and it takes continuous work to improve and grow.

One of the most important things any leader can bring to the people they lead is vision. So much has been written about vision, but I want to try to simplify what it means.

A leader has to figure out what needs to be done. Leaders get things done through other people. What needs to get done in the business, organization or family that will get them going in the direction you are heading? A vision is a clear picture of what could be, and why that’s important.

I believe every person should have a vision for their own lives. A leader must have a clear vision for their own life, and that often overlaps with the organization, department or group they are leading.

A vision must also be repeated over and over again. A leaders job is to keep people focused on the vision and reminding them how what they are doing is contributing to that vision. Every sale, every phone call, every email, every product, every delivery, every conversation, every meeting, every goal is contributing to the vision.

I work at a church and our vision is to be a healing place for a hurting world. We want every person that comes into contact with our church to Know God, Find Freedom, Discover Purpose, and Make a Difference.

With that in mind, the decisions we make and the plans we make are done through that filter. A vision needs to be simple, but compelling. Easy to understand, yet inspiring to the people.

We really believe that the world we live in is broken, and a lot of people are hurting and struggling. The church should be a place of healing and hope. A place where no matter what your background or experiences you can come and feel welcomed and safe. We also believe that God can transform any life and every person has a soul that will live forever somewhere, that’s why we do what we do.

If you are leading a family, a business, a department, a team, or a group, think about what the vision is. What needs to be done in order to get there. These are such important conversations to have with your team, or family, but before you can do that it has to be clear in your own mind. So write it down, find someone to work with you to ask the right questions and draw out of you what the vision is for yourself and your organization or family.

Every day the leader has to think about the vision and keep it front and center to the people they lead. Vision is the first priority in leadership. Vision lifts, expands and brings oxygen to the organization, the family, the group. So start with vision and dream big.

A Tribute to my Dad

Loyal Stutzman 1944-2021

Growing up with a dad is so important. I was blessed to have a dad for most of my life. There are so many things we learn from our parents about how to live life, and be successful. Parents help to shape their children and guide them to know right and wrong, to make good decisions and to learn skills, habits and abilities.

Children also can learn negative things at home and can experience lifelong damage as a result of a parents actions, inactions, words or beliefs. Being in ministry I’m constantly reminded about the many hurting broken families in this world. The real hardships and struggles that many people go through. Growing up without a dad or a mom is very hard.

Having a dad that has faith in Jesus and lives his life for Him first is a precious gift to his children. I was blessed to grow up in such a home. My dad loved the Lord and and taught us to do the same through his actions and words.

My dad passed away a few days ago and it’s caused me to think back to my early years at home and my memories of my dad. I have to say I’ve actually smiled more than I’ve cried so far. Looking at the many pictures has triggered some great memories about my dad. The times of gathering as a family, eating Sunday dinners together (meatloaf made a regular appearance). I also remember going to church as a family, doing family devotions together and praying for our extended family together. I remember the Christmas gatherings with food and presents, and dad would always read the Christmas story about Jesus.

As I grew older we still got together on a fairly regular basis. For a while we went to dad & moms place every Tuesday night for supper. We would eat and laugh and talk about what was going on in our lives.

As I and my brothers got married and started families these gathering times were less frequent but always special when we did get together.

As I think about my dad there are so many lessons I learned by simply watching him and listening to him over the years. Here are a few that are special to me and that I have taken on as his son.

  • Work hard and Provide for your family – My dad drove truck for most of his life. He worked hard and gave his best at all the jobs he had. He learned to drive and loved the open road and seeing the country. The people that worked with my dad saw how reliable, honest and trustworthy he was. My dad’s CB handle was the Wood Chopper, I don’t know why, maybe because he snored so loud or maybe because he worked so hard. He logged over a million miles and rarely complained, steady and reliable. Because he drove long distance sometimes we was not home a lot during the week. That is what made the weekends so special for us boys.
  • Eat good food and enjoy life – My dad liked to eat! I get my shape from him. He liked most kinds of food and really enjoyed my moms cooking. He called my moms cooking eating at Susie’s Diner. He loved sandwiches and soup. He also loved breakfast, eating eggs and bacon. I am the same way. Dad also liked to laugh and joke. He loved to share a good joke and laugh.
  • Be a Man of Integrity – My dad was a man of character and integrity. If he said he was going to do something he did it. If he made a mistake he would admit it. If he needed help he would ask for it. He told the truth and expected us boys to also be truthful. I was a bit of a challenge as a kid growing up. Dad was always gentle but firm. I don’t ever remember him saying a bad word or putting me down or even yelling at us. He would punish us when we where bad, but he also showed love and compassion.
  • Serve God and other people – My Dad was very active in his local church, serving in many different capacities. He was a song leader, something he learned growing up. He sang in a men’s quartet for a number of years and then used that gift to serve his local church. He also taught the adult Sunday School classes many times over the years. He also served in leadership at his church as the Administrator and then as an Elder. He used his influence to encourage people and mentor people over the years as well.
  • Be Humble – My Dad was very humble and did not want to be the center of attention. He was content to work in the background, but was willing to step up when he had to. Anyone that knew my dad knew that he was a kind, gentle, wise man.
  • Be a man of Faith – The best thing about my dad was that he was a follower of Jesus Christ. He loved the Lord and had a personal relationship with Jesus. That was the most important part of his life. His faith guided every other part of his life. His faith impacted his marriage of 55 years. It impacted the way he raised his three boys. It impacted how he worked and how he served. What I saw in my dad was an unswerving faith. He loved to talk about end times and read prophesy books. It makes me smile to know that he is in heaven and with Jesus and knows exactly what that is like. I love to think about how he is seeing many family and loved ones that are also there and that some day I will get to see him again.

Because of his faith in Jesus, we do not need to be troubled.  Yes we hurt and are sad, but what a tremendous gift he has given to our family.  To know that he is now in heaven, because of his relationship with Jesus.

In John Chapter 14 Jesus said these words to His disciples after he told them he was going to die.  

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the place where I am going.”

One of his disciples named Thomas asked the question many of us would ask.  We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Because of my dad’s faith we do not need to be troubled, we know he is in a much better place and is serving God in heaven as we speak.  

Jesus made it very clear that there is only one way to heaven and that is by believing and receiving Jesus Christ.

You see, there are two things that are going to last forever, One is your spirit.  The Bible says that God placed eternity in hearts of men.  That means we will live forever somewhere; either in the presence of a loving God or separated from Him forever and ever.  We were made to last forever, our brains do not know how to process death and that is why we must go through the grieving process.  Our brains were not wired for death.

It all depends on what you do with the person of Jesus Christ.  

The second thing that will last forever is the Word of God.  The Bible says that the grass will wither and the flower will die, but the Word of God will stand forever.

I believe that Dad would want me to share the four things that God wants you to know from His word.  Because he loved his family and friends he would be very concerned about all of you following him to heaven to be reunited again some day.  He would want all of you to know what he knows.

First, God wants you to know that He wants you to experience Peace and have eternal life.  God loves you, and He wants you to experience His peace as a way of life.  The Bible says, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

The second thing God wants you to know is that you are separated from God by your Sin.

Sin means missing the mark.  Sin is also the selfish attitude of ignoring or rejecting God and going our own way.  Our sin causes a gap between us and God.

God did not make us to be robots and force us to serve Him.  He gave us free will and freedom to choose.  We often choose to disobey and go our own way.  When you disobey God, you and I sin, and that separates us from God.  The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.  That puts all of us in the same boat.  

Many times we try to overcome this issue of sin by doing good things.  If I could just do some good works then maybe I could tip the scales and God will let me in.  “I am basically a good person, I haven’t hurt anyone and I try to do the right thing most of the time.”  So we work hard at being good, but how good is good enough?  We can ever know for sure if we have done enough good to make the cut.  So we try to bridge that gap between us and God with good works, never knowing if I am good enough.

The third thing that God wants us to know is that the answer to this problem of sin and separation from God is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problem of separation from God.  God knew we could never be good enough on our own.  He had a plan all along, He sent his perfect son to take our place, to stand in that gap for us.  Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty our sins require.  It has been paid in full.  Jesus has bridged that gap that separates you from God.  The Bible says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  And in the book of John Jesus said “ I tell you the truth, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

The last thing that God wants you to know is that you can receive Christ.  You can receive Christ as your Savior and Lord when you believe in His word and trust in only Him to save you.  The Bible says:  “To all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  What an amazing gift.

To receive Christ you need to admit you have missed the mark, be willing to turn from your sin, believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross as the sacrifice, covering all your sins, and rose from the grave, defeating Satan and death and finally through prayer, invite Jesus to come in to your life and receive Him as your Savior.

Maybe you have never really accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.  Maybe you don’t know if you would go to heaven if you died today.  By sincerely praying a simple prayer and believing it with all your heart you can have that assurance today.  

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I have sinned against you.  I know I can’t pay you back and make it right.  I believe that you paid for my sins by dying on the cross.  I am truly sorry for all my sins.  Right now I open the door of my heart and ask you to come in and forgive me.  I want to follow you as best I can.  Thank you for giving me the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  Thank you for saving me right now.  In Jesus name Amen.

My last memory of my dad was him slowly standing up giving me a hug and saying I love you. I’ll treasure that the rest of my life.

I

Four Tips on Dealing with Change

There is one thing you can be sure of, and that is things will change. We are all facing changes, some big and some small. Our bodies are changing because of the aging process, our eating and exercising habits. Our finances are changing based on choices and decisions we make.

The world around us is also changing. People are pushing for their agenda, their beliefs, their values, their convictions. The way we communicate is changing and the way we interact is changing. Technology is changing rapidly. Even what is viewed as right and wrong is changing.

With all this change happening, how do we cope with or manage the changes in our lives? Here are some thoughts I hope will help.

  1. Seek Wise Counsel – This is a biblical principle that helps a lot. For me the first place I go for wise counsel is God. If I’m facing a change, or have to make a decision because of change, I start by praying and talking to God about it. I also read God’s Word. I will also talk to trusted friends and family about the change, ask them questions and even ideas on what to do. For big changes that are causing stress, seeking out a counselor, pastor or mentor can be a big help. The key here is to humble yourself and talk to God and wise people to help you navigate some of life’s biggest changes.
  2. Focus on what you can control – There are so many things that are out of our control. When we start to think about the things we can control it really comes back to us. We can control the words that we speak, the emails or social media posts we write. We can control the way we respond to change and conflict. We can control what read, who we listen to, and the choices we make. Emotions can be hard to control, but we can be aware of what emotions we are feeling. When we do respond in a bad way, we do have control of what we do after that. We can ask for forgiveness, we can bring clarity and ask questions to try to better understand.
  3. Remember what you’re grateful for – Grateful people are much better at handling change. It helps to think about the good things in our lives instead of focusing on the negative and whats out of our control. It’s very helpful to actually write down things you are grateful for on a regular basis. We all need to keep the right perspective when it comes to change. Change can be hard, but it can also be helpful and good in the long run. Remembering what we are grateful for is vital to working through changes.
  4. Get back up – When change hits us and knocks us down, don’t stay down there. Get back up and keep moving forward. Maybe you go talk to someone about what just happened. Maybe you go spend some time with God. Maybe you go on a walk or a run or exercise. Maybe you list out 10 things you’re grateful for. Maybe you go do some research on what happened to better understand what is going on. This is about being resilient, it’s the quality that keeps us going, growing and making a difference.

Change is going to happen, but it doesn’t have to make your life miserable unless you choose to let it. You don’t have to embrace change, but you do need to deal with it, and choose to get better as a result of whatever happens to you.

Ten Principles for Healthy Leaders and Healthy Cultures

Healthy leadership is rare these days. Healthy cultures are a hard to find. Leaders set the tone for the culture of their organization. Therefore, the health of the leader determines the health of the organization. Healthy things grow and thrive. For an organization to grow, thrive, adapt and change it must be healthy. As I think about some of the key principles of healthy leaders and cultures these rose to the top.

  1. Healthy Vision – When it comes to any kind of leadership it starts with vision. A leader that has a vision will lead much better than one who doesn’t have a vision or is uncertain of the vision. A clear vision brings focus to the leader and the organization. A vision points people to a better future. A healthy leader has a vision for a better future and what could be or should be. The vision cannot be about the leader, but about the organization and why they exist. Getting the vision right means getting the leadership right.
  2. Healthy Values – Once you have a vision you also need to understand your values. It starts with personal values and then organizational values. What are those key foundational things that the vision sits on. A healthy leader has a good sense of the values that have shaped his or her character and that will influence the values of the organization. A healthy culture will have clear, and well known values that everyone can agree on, and live out.
  3. Healthy Heart – Your heart is your inner being, what you believe and what you value. It’s where everything flows out of. Having a healthy heart means dealing with the hurts, trauma and struggles that can get lodged in your heart. Healthy leaders do regular heart checks to make sure there is nothing growing in there that could become a problem. Practicing forgiveness and confession are two ways to keep your heart healthy. Our character comes from our heart, so a healthy heart leads to a strong, positive character.
  4. Healthy Emotions – The emotional health of a leader is one of the key indicators of success. The ability to also develop emotionally healthy people in the organization goes a long way to a healthy thriving culture. Just like a healthy heart, it takes self-awareness and an understanding of where you might be unhealthy emotionally. Sometimes it is easier to see how we respond in unhealthy ways like avoidance, anger, and defensiveness. Unhealthy emotions are like warning signs that tell us something is wrong, so understanding those emotions goes a long way to leading people well.
  5. Healthy Thinking – The thought life a leader is one of the most important things about them. That self talk that happens throughout the day tends to drive behavior and actions. Healthy leaders think more positive thoughts than negative. It’s also important to guard what and who you are listening to. The things that you feed your mind affect your thinking. Guarding your mind also helps to guard your heart.
  6. Healthy Humility – A big part of leadership is thinking about others and the organization more than yourself. A healthy, self-aware leader knows what his strengths are, and what his weaknesses are. A humble leader is always looking for the best ideas, not confirmation for his ideas. Healthy humility also means having confidence in your own abilities, and your teams abilities. Not being over confident and not being negative or passive. It’s important to find the right balance.
  7. Healthy Conflict – In leadership there will always be conflict. People disagree, things get misunderstood, people can be selfish and often don’t listen. Healthy conflict is going directly to the person, and asking clarifying questions. Going into those conversations with the mindset of trying to understand the other person. The leader that addresses things quickly avoids the deadly drip of a toxic culture. Listening is vital to make sure you are understanding the other person, and then being clear on where you stand and what you expect.
  8. Healthy Communication – A leader must be able to clearly communicate with the people they lead, and the the community around them. Healthy communication means you are clear, concise and that those hearing understand. Healthy communication is two way, back and forth, so listening well is a huge part of healthy communication. The ability to communicate both verbally and in writing are important skills for healthy leaders to constantly be improving. Not communicating is actually communicating, and people will fill in the blanks if you don’t communicate.
  9. Healthy Systems – A healthy vision and a healthy leader must have healthy systems in order to get anything done. Healthy communication must lead to healthy systems to guide people to execute the vision. A culture that lacks clear, helpful systems will soon slip into mediocrity and chaos. System should be constantly reviewed and tested to ensure they are working as intended.
  10. Healthy Faith – Leaders that have faith in God have an extra advantage. They have access to the creator of the universe, the all powerful, all knowing, compassionate and loving God. Prayer, and time in God’s Word build a solid foundation for a healthy leader. Plugging into God helps the leader in all other areas I mentioned before this. The most important thing about a healthy leader is what they believe about God. In today’s dark world a leader with faith shines brightly.

One last bonus principle is Healthy Failure. The way you handle failure will speak volumes about how healthy you are as a leader and organization. Failure should always be looked at as an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure means you are trying to do something. It’s a chance to ask good questions, make key changes and build better systems.

Lead On and get Healthy!