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Who are You Thankful For?

Who are You Thankful For?

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.
Romans 1:8

I have been thinking a lot lately about the people who have influenced me the most. When I was a senior in high school, our youth group had a big rally one Friday and brought in a guest speaker for the event. I can remember meeting with a group of my friends, our youth pastor, and the guest to pray the night before the rally. I was overwhelmed by the compassion of the guest speaker for the students who would be sitting in those same seats the next night. We prayed until well after midnight and as a young man, this left an incredible impression on me. Our preparation was much more than organizational, it was spiritual.

I am thankful for moments like these when true discipleship took place. I saw faith in action. When I look back on my life, I see this happening time and time again. God keeps putting people in my life to continually point me toward Him. I am humbled to think that I am this person for someone else.

If you are struggling today, look around and see who God has placed in your life to encourage your faith. Spend a few moments to thank God for these incredible people. These friends, mentors, and moments of discipleship are equipping us for the plan and purpose that God has for us.

God continues to bring people alongside to stoke the fires of faith. Recently, I have had a group of five men that meet at my house every week. These guys are “all in” and the depth of their faith inspires me. I am praying and thanking God for them today. They add so much to this journey and I am blessed.

I am also praying for you. My prayer is that God will continually bless you with the kind of people that strengthen your faith and encourage you to press on.

Take a minute and forward this to someone you are thankful for.

Be the One That Brightens the Day

Be the One That Brightens the Day

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – I Thess 5:11

Do you want to live and work in an environment that encourages you to be the best that you can be? I’m talking about the kind of place that builds you up and enables you to reach incredible heights of achievement in the plan that God has for you. This is the kind of place that picks you up when you are down and celebrates without jealousy when you are up.

I think that most of us want to find ourselves in this kind of atmosphere. A majority of the people you interact with today desire the same kind of encouragement. Sadly, many do not experience this. Instead, they battle through adverse and sometimes harmful circumstances just to make it through the day. While many factors can add to an adverse situation, the most substantial by far is the relationships within that context. Negative people doing negative things create an exceptionally negative place.

You have the power to make a difference. You may not be able to overturn your environment in a day, but you can be the one who brightens the day of someone who desperately needs encouragement. Impact the lives of the people who cross your path. Choose to be a difference maker. Choose to be an encourager. Here are a couple steps to get started:

Eliminate negative talk

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. – Eph 4:29

Your words can build up or tear down. How will you choose to use them? Practice handing out compliments and being pleasant in word and tone. Filter out jealousy, gossip, and backbiting and focus on build up those around you.

Engage with a Positive Attitude

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  – I Cor 10:31

Seek to look for the good first. God is always at work, so even in the midst of troubling times, we can have faith that something good in on the horizon. Keep the focus on God’s plan for your life and don’t let external circumstances control your emotions. Once your attitude is secure in God’s love for you, then reach out and engage others.

Encourage in the area of Strength

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,  – Rom 12:4

We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all need each other. It is easy to criticize someone for the areas in which they are weak. Instead, become intentional about pointing to the strengths they possess. Show gratitude for what they contribute. Encourage others when they use their strengths appropriately and show your trust in them to continue to use those strengths.

Like a flashlight in the dark, be the one that brightens someone’s day.

2 Rules of Influence

2 Rules of Influence

 

In Acts chapter 16 we find a story of unbelievable influence. The Apostle Paul and Silas boldly broadcasted the incredible message of the gospel throughout the streets of Philippi. As they ministered, they met a young slave girl who was dominated by darkness, possessed by a malicious spirit. Paul sets this girl free from oppression in an amazing display of God’s ultimate authority and power over all creation.

This does not make her owners happy. Her oppression was their profit. The malicious spirit told fortunes and people paid to hear their future from this foul influence. Now their income had been severed. Now Paul and Silas had become an unwanted nuisance.

They are beaten severely and thrown into the inner parts of the dungeon. This is the part of the story that amazes me. They have only been in the prison for hours and yet Paul and Silas have a profound impact on those around them.

As they sit bloodied, bruised, and chained they praise God. God responds in a supernatural fashion. The earth itself shakes as if in percussion to their worship. This was not a normal earthquake. Every door was opened and every chain fell off.

All the prisoners were free, not one left behind. This is the part where everyone runs and become free men once again. Except no one flees. Each one stays his ground as if the jail were still closed up tight.

Surely some of these men were guilty and deserved the punishment they had received. Given the opportunity to escape justice and continue living the same lifestyle, why would they stay? In just a few hours, Paul and Silas had such an impact that they all followed their lead and remained in the midst of the dungeon no longer by compulsion but now by choice.

God’s plan was to change the jailer’s eternity and that started with saving his life. If even one of those men had fled, the jailer would have paid the price. Instead surrounded by a group of wrongdoers, reprobates, and prisoners he asks “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Influence is a powerful thing. How do we have the kind of influence that resonates through eternity?

2 Rules of Influence

Rule #1 We All Have Influence

No matter where you find yourself on the org chart or in your social circles, you have influence. It may be great or small, but anytime we interact with others we gain the ability to affect their lives.

The power of your words and the inspiration of your actions will have an effect on those you spend time with. We know this from experience. How many habits or phrases have you picked up from people close to you?

The question is not if we are influencers. The question is what kind of influencers do we want to become.

Rule #2 You Can Influence how you Influence

The good news is that you have the ability to choose the type of influence you will have. We have all been in situations where we have no control of the outcome; where it feels like all the power has been taken out of our hands. Even in the midst of tough situations we never lose our capacity to impact others. Paul and Silas had no control over their environment or the actions of others in their situation. It was their response that made the difference. Their influence peaked in how they reacted to the dungeon.

Maximizing Your Influence

Start from the Right Place

Influence is infinitely more effective when your motivation comes from something bigger than yourself. People do not respond well to selfish ambition, instead, Paul and Silas had a righteous motivation. They possessed a confidence in God and in His plan for their lives. It was during their prayer and praise that the other prisoners were listening.

As you continue to practically exercise your faith, people will listen. Godly influence begins in your heart with a real love for God and a confidence in His plan for you.

Challenge Assumptions

The jailer assumed that the prisoners had done what anyone else would have done and fled. He was unaware that Paul and Silas had a higher calling. Don’t let culture or circumstance dictate your actions. Instead of asking what normal people would do in this situation, ask what God would have you do. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and respond.

Because Paul and Silas stayed, the other prisoners stayed and the jailer’s life was changed forever. The story doesn’t end there. The jailer takes Paul and Silas home and his entire household hears the message of God’s love and their story is changed as well. We may never see how far out our actions reach but God takes little and makes much out of it.

Be encouraged today to keep doing what is right, people are listening.

Associating with Divinity

Associating with Divinity

 

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Ephesians 6:18

The potential of prayer is immeasurable. Many faith traditions incorporate this concept in one form or another, but for the believer in Christ, prayer becomes an irreplaceable lifeline. It is vital to growth and maturity. It is intensely relational and moves us from the rigor of religiosity.  It is how a child talks to their Father.

Prayer is a beautifully intimate connection to Divinity – mere man reaching out to an infinite God. Some might find this ridiculous that such a God could exist or that if He did, He would be so accessible. God as He describes Himself, however, not only allows for such a connection, He desires it.  Over and over throughout the pages of His Word, He calls for us to reach out to Him.

God is Here

When the perception that God is “out there somewhere” frames our mindset, we limit the conversation to a periodic, formalized religious duty. God is not just out there, He is here. I have been the person that felt ignored in the room. Maybe you have too. It is a horrible feeling to be physically present but relationally invisible. God is ever present. Prayer is an expression of the truth that God is here and seeks to recognize that His presence is not a trivial thing.

The Real Battle is Spiritual

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail.

Luke 22:31-32

We are engaged in an epic conflict. The real battle is spiritual and to prevail, we must do more than exert effort. We have been given an arsenal to engage in the fight (Ephesians 6). Each of these things is a gift from God and prayer keeps us connected to the Source of our victory. We were never meant to fight alone. God is present even when it looks the darkest. He never fails. He never leaves us stranded.

Reach out to the Almighty. Let us not neglect such an amazing opportunity, but instead fully embrace our relationship with Christ.

How to Defuse Tough Situations.

How to Defuse Tough Situations.

No matter how good we are at avoiding it, from time to time, all of us will find ourselves right in the middle of a conflict. Some enjoy these times while most find them extremely uncomfortable. Either way, you view conflict, we know that if not resolved, it can have a huge negative impact on our relationships and on our emotional wellbeing.

Unfortunately, the answer is not to completely avoid conflict. We can’t always turn and run the other way. There are times when clashes are necessary and even appropriate. You cannot sacrifice your integrity or risk the wellbeing of someone else in order to avoid an uncomfortable situation. The key is to engage in conflict when appropriate and then work hard to resolve the issue.

When a negative engagement occurs, here are 4 things you can do to work through the issues to find a resolution:

Find the Pride

Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise. Proverbs 13:10 (NLT)

In each conflict, you will find pride. It is usually easy to spot when looking at the other person, but it’s a little harder to see in ourselves. Conflict challenges us. It challenges our intellect, resolve, or emotional commitment. We don’t want to be perceive as weak in any of these areas so it is natural for us to push back. Sometimes we are in the right, sometimes we are not. We must recognize our portion of the responsibility no matter how big or small it is. Once we have zeroed in on the pride that fills the conflict, then we must bring it to light to rob it of its power. I have often had to say something like: “I really don’t like to be wrong, but let’s talk through this and let me see it from your point of view.” A statement like that exposes the pride component that fuels the conflict and provides a step in the direction of resolution. Honestly, listen to each perspective. Then, once you have listened, you have created a space where you can now share your point of view as well.

Focus on the Vertical Relationship

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Proverbs 16:7 (NASB)

Start preparing for tough situations well before they even begin. Take time every day and focus on your relationship with God. This will do two things during a conflict. The first is that the more time you spend with someone, the more mannerisms and patterns of speech you pick up from them. This happens as you spend time with God as well. The more time you spend relationally with God, the more His character rubs off on you. Everything about how you handle a tough situation is improved when you have a vibrant vertical relationship. Secondly, it will give you motivation during a conflict to seek an appropriate resolution. There is a lot more at stake once we realize that we are ambassadors of God’s grace and mercy to those who need to see it displayed.

Freeze Negative Comments

A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 (NASB)

We all know that words have power and this is especially true during a conflict. As situations get heated, our speech begins to mimic our emotional energy. If we pour out our frustrations through our words, it will fuel all the wrong elements of a tough situation and soon a little spark will turn into an inferno of negative emotion. Instead, as the situation gets more heated, we must intentional freeze our comments. Keep cool and under control at all times. Instead of raising our voices, we must purposely keep them at a normal tone and pace. Keep your end goal in mind as you choose your words. Choose language that will help you achieve resolution. Stay on topic and don’t drag irrelevant issues into the current conversation. There are times when the other person in the conflict will continue to rage, but a majority of the time, people respond to kind conversation. It defuses the emotional content and allows for an honest discussion.

Fuel your Humility

An arrogant man stirs up strife, But he who trusts in the LORD will prosper. Proverbs 28:25 (NASB)

Humility is a characteristic with huge implications for our lives. In the context of conflict, humility requires us to take the focus off of ourselves and ask the question: “what is the best outcome.” We constantly feel this pressure to look out for ourselves. Humility trusts that God knows what is best and then we sacrifice our will for His will. What we find in doing this is that we serve an amazing God. God’s best is much better than we could ever imagine on our own. He understands what we need on an internal level and we trust Him to meet those needs. Instead of causing or increasing conflict by focusing on what we want, we become sensitive to what God is doing and become part of His plan.

Sometimes conflict is inevitable. When you have to engage in it, fight fair and become a peacemaker.

3 Ways to Develop Great Character

3 Ways to Develop Great Character

It’s always at the top of the list. If you were an employer, what would be the things you looked for in a great employee? What qualities would make someone a trusted friend? How about a great leader? What would you look for before following someone into the unknown?

At the top of all of these lists is integrity and character. As we actively look for these traits in those around us, we can see how important they are. Others are looking for the same qualities in us. If you want to have any kind of influence, you must be a person of the highest character.

Here are 3 practical ways you can begin to develop a great character:

Do the Right Thing. Repeat.

Character in its simplest form is habitually doing the right thing. Character says that you choose right even if it costs you something. Far too many people are willing to do the right thing if they get something out of it. When things get hard or when no one is watching, is when your character is put to the test.

Do not envy the oppressor, And choose none of his ways; Proverbs 3:31

Choose ahead of time that you are going to be righteous. Then when situations get tough, follow through with your decision. Each time you choose right, you add a brick to the foundation of your character. 

Count the Real Cost

Not every action has equal weight. Every time you do the right thing, you add slightly to your character and reputation. It takes a good track record of continuous positive action before people will place their trust in you. It only takes one negative action to bring it all crashing down. If you have ever broken a trust, you know how long it takes to rebuild. Some relationships are permanently scarred.

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Luke 14:28

Most of the time we make bad choices by ignoring the consequences or implications of those actions. Before you decide to make an unwise decision, stop and count the real cost. Make sure to quantify all the things you will lose when you choose the wrong path.

Choose Long-Term over Short Term

Character development is a long-term endeavor. When we settle for short term gains instead, we steal from our own future. Keep eternity in mind as you are tempted to sacrifice your integrity.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. Galatians 6:9

When you begin to value your character more than what you will gain by breaking it, it will fuel your decisions and allow you to view the long term impact.

Make a commitment to make better choices, be honest when thinking about the consequences, and play to win the long game. Each step will bring you closer to the kind of trustworthy person that you want to become.

Kinetic Love

Kinetic Love

It is no secret that a defining characteristic of following Christ should be the demonstration of love, but I believe that it goes way beyond this. God is love. It is greater than just a quality that He possesses. The only way we comprehend the concept of love is because God is love and He demonstrated that love toward us. He facilitates our comprehension. We are then capable of love because God originally designed us with the incredible capacity to pour ourselves out, reflecting His character in us. He facilitates our participation. We can now receive love because God has created us to be loved by Him and also to experience that love through others. He facilitates our reception.

The follower of Christ is in a unique position to love the world around them. Let’s talk about two things that are necessary for a dynamic, kinetic love that has the potential to change our surroundings.

I John 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Love is Action-Oriented

Words are important. They can make a huge difference in the life of somebody in your circle of influence. When it comes to love, however, words are not enough. Empty phrases can keep a heart on life support for a short amount of time, but eventually, we need something more substantial. Real love has an action component. We must show our love for others through our behavior and our willingness to sacrifice our own selfishness. We should pause and ponder how to exhibit our love for others in practical ways each day.

Love Flows from Our Beliefs

This kind of love begins deep inside our beliefs. When we align our views with God’s truth, we begin to see the world as He sees it. Truth changes the way that we think and the way we make our choices. The truth is that God has loved us – even when we were unlovely. He has provided unmeasurable grace and mercy in a practical demonstration of that love. Once that truth settles into our spirit, we have the capacity to reflect that same love outward to those who need it desperately. It is no longer an obligation or religious necessity. It is part of who we are. We were created by God to be loved by God and to express that love outwardly.

Know the truth and act on it. Engage your world with the love of Christ Jesus. You will be amazed at the difference it makes. One act of love can change everything.

Thriving in the Struggle

Thriving in the Struggle

Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. John 19:1-3

 

Jesus is always in control

Even when events seem to have spiraled downward into darkness, Jesus maintains control. Imagine the scene in heaven as the host of God’s armies sit at the edge watching these events unfold. The Creator being physically assaulted by His creation. The King of power being struck by the subjects of weakness. I can imagine the angels bearing witness to this cosmic injustice. Each slap causing them to flinch in response, straining against the desire to intervene. Just one of these angelic beings could annihilate the entire Roman cohort (2 Kings 19:35.) Each one could uphold the honor due Jesus, but instead they were rendered inactive, held in check solely by the will of God. Heaven was quiet, but Jesus is still in control.

You have value

All of these events are playing out according to His plan and for His purpose. Jesus planned for our redemption. He endured all of the shame and the pain that this world had to offer. He was beaten and broken for each of our sins and He passed through death and conquered it once and for all. He did all of this because, in His infinite grace and mercy, He has placed value on you. You are worth it.

When Heaven is quiet

When Heaven is quiet, remember that there is nothing outside the sovereignty of Jesus. He is still the ultimate authority. When you can’t see what the outcome will be, know that there is a plan in place. Submit to God’s will, endure the struggle, and know that this is not the end. Jesus has placed value on you, He has sacrificed for you and He will fight for you. Each struggle produces a victory. We may not always see the victory first hand, but we must trust that Jesus wins in every situation.

If you are in a struggle right now take a deep breath – in and out. That breath proves that God is not done with you yet. His purposes are alive and well. Resolve to make it through the present darkness and see the beautiful sunrise on the other side.

Lord God, I pray right now for all of those who are under the weight of this world and the oppression of sin. I ask that You make Your presence known to them in their darkest times and that they might understand the depth of Your love for them.

Forgive like a Pro

Forgive like a Pro

My son has had a great opportunity this year to play basketball on his middle school team. A few days ago, they asked if would do the voice overs for the 8th grade night festivities and I was happy to do so. I got a list from each student that had all the things they wanted the audience to know about them. I read out loud the names of their parents, their favorite basketball team and the best memories of the season. Each of them had listed their current goals in life and it was great to see the aspirations of these young men. I was not surprised to see that a majority of them wanted to play basketball in high school and college. Many wanted to take it to the next level and “go pro.” How great is the dream to find something that you love to do and become a professional at it?

As a follower of Jesus we try to resonate the things that are close to the heart of God. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could “go pro” in our pursuit of God’s character? One of the things that is incredible about the character of God is His unfathomable capacity to forgive. It is absolutely unbelievable the depth of God’s love and compassion for us. Forgiveness is so close to the heart of God that we should desire its presence as a sign of a healthy relationship with Him.

Here are a few ways that we can begin to forgive like a pro:

Be Forgiven

Forgiveness always has a foundation. God’s forgiveness of our sin stands on Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Our ability to forgive comes from God’s forgiveness in our lives. I believe that true forgiveness is the result of God’s divine influence in and through us. Once we have fully experienced the forgiveness of God, we can then begin to express that forgiveness outward to others.

Be Forgetting

When someone does something wrong that affects us, we begin to focus a huge amount of mental energy to that event. How many imaginary conversations have you had in your mind with the person that has wronged you? How many times have you gone over all the things that you wished you had said? When we do this, we prevent ourselves from embracing the forgiveness that God wants to facilitate through us. Instead of dwelling in the land of wrongs, spend time focusing on real needs outside of ourselves. Once we have made the choice to forgive, we must begin to let go. Whenever the wrongs committed against you begin to dominate your mind, remember those outside of your circle of influence who are hurting and suffering. Take the time you would normally stew in negativity and spend it in prayer instead. Pray for those who are in need and for those who are hurting. By taking the focus off our problems and investing that time in prayer, we give space for God to work within us.

Be Forward Thinking

A lot of the things that I get upset over are so small in comparison to things of eternal value. Most of the time, I just need a change in perspective. What are the things that really matter? How can your act of forgiveness give someone a better picture of Christ’s love for them and for the world? Use this opportunity to demonstrate God’s character to those who only see Him through you.

Forgiveness starts with a choice. Is there someone you need to choose to forgive today?