How Introverts Can Easily Start Conversation

Left out of Group discussion

How can an introvert be involved in group conversation?

One of the most difficult things for an introvert is to begin a conversation with a group of people they don’t know. In this article I will give you tips on how to do just that comfortably…without sweating or hyperventilating.

I’m an extrovert, I freely admit that.  My four daughters joke that I “could make friends in an elevator.”  I was going to object but in fact I have made friends in an elevator on more than one occasion.  What I mean is, learning about their family, their name, occupation and sometimes even exchanging contact info, in a 3 floor ride!  I enjoy it.  If you don’t, let me help.

My goal is NOT to make you like me. My wife is an introvert.  It’s part of her charm.  She won’t raise her hand for a free gift or make eye contact with strangers. After 24 years of marriage still whispers “Don’t embarrass me or draw attention to me.” as we enter parties or group settings.  I understand how introverts think and how anxious group situations can be and have some practical conversation guides you can easily use.

Let’s talk about how you can OWN a group conversation.

1. Don’t Use a Greeting Alone, 

Don’t say: Hi, Hello or some other greeting.

Don’t use a greeting alone because the person doesn’t really need to respond, and if they do choose to respond it will most likely be a one word answer.

“Hi”     —     “Hello”

“Good morning”     —     “Good morning”

Yawn…I can hear the boredom already.  Feel your palms starting to sweat as you slowly try to find a reason to walk away?

2. Don’t Ask Simple Questions

“How are you?”     —     “Good”

“Where are you from?”     —     “Dayton, Ohio”

“What do you do?”     —     “I’m a computer analyst”

Gosh!  This guy just doesn’t want to talk!  I’ve asked several questions and nothing. Simple questions, solicit simple answers. Simple answers leads to awkward conversations.

Remember: Complex Questions =
More Comfortable Conversations

3. The SECRET is… Ask For Stories, Not Facts

Instead of asking…

“Where are you from?”         ask…
“What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?”

Instead of asking…

“What do you do for work?”         ask…
“How did you get into your line of work?”

They will tell you, “I’m an air traffic controller. I got into that because I was trained to do that in the Navy.”

Response: “Wow, tell me what you liked best about the Navy.”

Instead of asking…

“How was your weekend?”         ask…
“If you could go anywhere, where would you go and why?”

Stories develop better connections.

BONUS: Want to be a Black Belt in Conversation?

4. Give Unexpected Responses

If someone says, “How was your flight?” instead of responding, “Fine.” try this:

I would pay extra to fly on an airline where the seating was based on IQ!

or for the very brave…

“I read about a Continental flight in 2007 where the airplane bathroom reversed its pressure! There was a 3″ deep stream of waste water running down the aisle in coach!  So I guess compared to that, mine was pretty good.”

If someone says, “Isn’t it nice weather today?” instead of responding, “It sure is.” try this:

“This is the same weather it was during the moon landing, if that actually happened.”

Now you’ve provoked someone into taking a stance on the subject or running away screaming, but they’re not bored!

Try some of these techniques and come back to comment on how they worked please.

I look forward to hearing your stories.

The First Tool for Life

I’m reading a book called The Ultimate Checklist for Life and it causes me to ask a question.  Are you prepared for life’s unexpected turns?

Life is a journey of twists and turns that take you around blind curves not knowing what’s around the bend. There are perils and pleasures, advances and set backs, obstacles and opportunities (sometimes the obstacles are the opportunities!) Fear if the unknown or fear of failure could paralyze a traveler on this journey called life.  How can we minimize anxiety and maximize success?

As any seasoned adventurer will tell you, it’s best to adopt the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared.”  To be prepared one must know the right tools to take.  Campers take things like tents, compasses, matches, water, bug spray, first aid kits, even things like emergency flares or a gun for protection. What are the right tools to take along the journey with you?  How can we be prepared?

The most important tool is the word of God, the Holy Bible.

I know it sound cliche but it’s true.  And I know, it is God’s love letter to humanity, and it is the story of God’s relationship to us, but it is also a guide book.  It is the instruction manual written by the creator of life on how this whole thing operates!

Your laws are always right; help me to understand them so I may live. – Psalm 119:144

His word helps us to understand this life He’s given us so that we may live.  Scripture talks about almost any topic you need, relationships, work, money, sickness, heartache, forgiveness, education, family, love, lust, even interest rates and cosigning a loan! (Bet you didn’t know that was in there!)

To be prepared for life, start with God’s instructions for how to live.

Life is God’s novel. Let Him write it. – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Next Week: Tool #2

Did Jesus Talk about Hell?

I have never liked fire and brimstone preaching.  It is His kindness that causes us to turn to Him.  I believe that when people understand the love of God, that is the fact that draws us to Him.  However, if we read the rest of this verse there is a warning of the dangers of rejecting Christ.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:4-5

Talking about Hell isn’t pleasant. No one should enjoy it, but it is important.  In over a dozen years of preaching I’ve never devoted a sermon to the reality of Hell.  So we decided that it was time to address the reality of Hell.

As an introduction our media team did “on the street” interviews in Albany.  In over an hour during the First Friday celebration, they could not find one person who believed in Hell.  Our Youth Director Michael commented in his blog that it saddened him. A friend of his then publicly rebuked him on Facebook for his condemning people.   She was doing what she accused him of, condemning Michael for his views.  Here’s my problem with it…it’s not Michael’s view.  It’s a biblical fact.

Described in many places in scripture as a place of fire (Mark 9:43-45, & 13:49-51) and torment (Revelation 14:10-11) Hell wasn’t meant for us.  It was created for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41).  God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell (John 3:16). It is our rejection of Christ that causes us to go to Hell.

It’s like this, light can’t exist in the darkness.  You turn a light bulb on in the room darkness is expelled.  God is light. He is holy.  Sin or darkness can’t exist in His presence. It’s expelled.  We are all sinners (Romans 3:22-23) and therefore can’t enter heaven on our own.

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. 48 When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. 49That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, 50throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Do you understand all these things?” – Matthew 13:47-51

We are all wicked but some are made righteous by the blood of Jesus.

The response to a discussion on Hell is sometimes, “But Jesus taught about love and forgiveness, not hell.”  Actually, the quote above from Matthew 13 is Jesus talking.  He never wanted anyone to go to Hell, that’s why He came to make a way for us to heaven.

Keep It Simple

God’s plan for us is to give us an abundant, full life but He never said a full calendar. So many people bound by perfectionism and unreasonable expectations, it makes it hard to enjoy life!

The original law consisted of 10 commandments, but by they wrote more until there were 613! There seems to be something in our human nature that just likes to make things more complicated.

Jesus made it more simple:  “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, and on these two commandments, everything is based.

People take 10 commandments and come up with 613, Jesus says “Well if you do things the rest is taken care of.” (paraphrasing)

Now this is a very difficult concept for me to grasp. I analyze everything – people, life, situations, you name it and I analyze it. I was a statistician for nearly a decade so I’m always looking for the “hidden meaning” in things.  I love “Mensa moments” and discussing “deep” things…but over-thinking LIFE gives us undo stress. God doesn’t want us to have feelings of inadequacy, stress or anxiety. He wants us FREE of all burdens. Don’t spend time on the “What ifs” and the “I wish I never…”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:30

Can we reduce stress? Yes, we have to simplify, but God will remove unneccessary burdens.

  • STOP – In all the busyness of your day don’t forget to stop, breath for a moment and pray.
  • LESS is MORE – Learn to say no is hard but simpler means les stress.
  • UBEU – You be you, be yourself.  Life is too short to try to please everyone.
  • INCLUDE GOD – When we pray, we are acknowledging that we need Him.
  • FORGIVE – When we hold onto hurts we carry that person with us and let them continue to hurt us.  When we don’t forgive ourselves we trap ourselves in the past.  Let it go!

We must become simple to become great in God.

Looking for more on this topic?  Go to http://www.NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com and listen to Simple Christmas or Simple Life series.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 25: Enduring Trials

As a person is told they have 30 Days to Live, they face a trial few living today can identify with.  It would be the ultimate testing of one’s faith, facing eternity.  How we endure a trial like this ultimately clears up any questions about whether our faith is real or not.

This Mother’s Day was a difficult one.  It was the first Mother’s Day without my mom (see Facing Forever) and we went to see my mother-in-law who is in the hospital losing her battle with cancer.  What happens to your faith when real trials come?  My mother-in-law, while always having been a religious person, has turned to reading the Bible daily and praying more.  Is she afraid? Sure, but her faith has increased through this trial and she is actually being brought closer to God through it.

My wife and I are asking God for a miracle for her mother, but if one doesn’t come, our faith will not be shaken.  Why? Because we trust in God’s word that when a love one faces 30 Days to Live, the Lord is there.

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

Our faith is not real if it cracks in a trial.  Good time faith isn’t really faith at all.  Even death can’t separate real faith from the believer.  Death is just another trial to endure and conquer.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and He never tempts anyone else. – James 1:12-14

No one sells books on “patient endurance” and it wouldn’t be a most popular sermon download on YouTube but it’s a key to God’s plan.  When we close our eyes on this planet for a final time, the crown of eternal life is given to those who have endured through their trial and still have faith in Christ in the end.

The last words I ever spoke to my father as he laid dying in a hospital bed were “Keep the faith.” and those are my last words to you today.  Even if the trial you face is death itself, keep the faith.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter what the trial is, you haven’t left me.  Help to remember also that you didn’t send me this trail but you will bring good things out of it, even if the trial is death.  I will patiently endure all hardship because I know you will carry me through it.  I love you.  Amen.

Thoughts

  • Have I lost faith during past trials?
  • If I were to face the death of a loved one would I blame God?

Action

  • Pray this week for those whom you know are in trails that they may not lose faith.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live – Day 24: Reality

Today the reality of 30 Days to Live hit us in a very personal way.  My wife (Pastor Joanne) found out that her mom (Fran) has terminal cancer.  As Joanne sat in the hospital room with her mom and other family members, the doctor told Fran to “get her affairs in order.”  Her response was, “So this is a death sentence.”  It is one thing to be writing about facing your final days on this earth it’s another when death actually is right in front of you with someone you care about.

While we are praying and asking for God to do a miracle, first responsibility is to make sure your loved one is ready for life after death.  Fran has believed in God and has been attended church regularly so there was no need to convince her of her need for God’s forgiveness.  Instead Joanne focused on forgiving others.

The truth is we are all under a death sentence.  Maybe not as brutal and short as the one my mother-in-law just received, but this life is short and we are not promised tomorrow.  We must all “get our affairs in order” to make sure we are ready to meet our Savior.  One place people usually overlook is forgiving those who have hurt you.

As we prepare for the next life we want our sins to be forgiven and if we want to be forgiven for our sins we must forgive others. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He gave us an example that has become called The Lord’s Prayer.  In it Jesus prays this:

Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. – Matthew 6:12

As Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray effectively He knew that our prayers are useless if we refuse to forgive others.

Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37

Why is this such a big deal to God?  Because HE is the Righteous Judge.  If we decide to judge others we are in effect saying we want to sit on God’s throne and do His job.  He has never tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.

Prayer

Pray this 3 Step Forgiveness Process:

  1. I take back any authority I gave the devil in my life through unforgiveness, especially towards ______ for what they did to me.
  2. I choose to forgive this person for what they did to me.
  3. I ask you God to help me to forgive this person, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thoughts

  • Who has hurt me?
  • Have I chosen to forgiven them?

Action

  • Forgive all the people who have hurt you, now.

___________________________________________________

Written May 2010: prayers for Fran and our family gratefully accepted.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 20: A Risk-Taking Church

We heard a challenging word from Pastor Matthew Barnett this morning.  He spoke one becoming a Risk-Taking Church.  I found that amusing since I had written on taking risks that morning.  Today’s blog is based off the notes I took during that sermon.

Churches start out as Risk-Taking Churches.  The word to describe them would be DARING.  We’ve heard the stories. They left the comfort of jobs, friends, and families to run after a dream God gave them.  The focus is vision or calling.

Matthew Barnett did that.  He left one of the largest churches in America that his father led in Arizona to start the Dreamcenter in downtown Los Angeles. He was 20 years old and had 7 people with them.  Then when they were still small but growing, they purchased a 4 million dollar hospital when their weekly income was $1,500.
Everyone told him it was foolish.

There will always be well-intentioned people telling you why you can’t do what God has told you to do during the daring phase.

Then the church gets buildings, salaries…there is more to lose.  This the Care-Taking Church.  The word that best describes this is the word DUTY.   This church focuses on maintaining property and programs.  They care most about meting the needs of its members. The problem is if you’re not going forward in God you are in fact backsliding.  You can’t maintain.

The Care-Taking Church becomes the Under-Taking Church.  It becomes a dying memorial to what God had done.  They talk more about what God did in the past than what He has called us to do in the future. They study history and work to amass the knowledge of scripture. The word that best describes this is the word DEAD.

Here’s what will blow your mind.  The Under-Taking Church isn’t always a dead church meaning; no miracles, no presence of God.  Under-Taking is a death of vision a death of the Great Commission.  Sometimes this church focuses on the ‘next experience’ with God but the gift is emphasized over the giver.  It’s not about what God wants us to do when we leave His presence but simply the next experience I can have personally.

Reading Hebrews chapter 11 we see the ‘Heroes of Faith’, God’s Hall of Fame.  They were all Risk-Takers!  Noah had no support when he responded to God’s word.  Noone believed He had heard God.

You can’t walk by faith and walk safe.

“How to” becomes the question of safe walkers, trying to manage miracles.  You can’t manage miracles.  You leap into the unknown and pray God catches you.

Jesus risked the salvation of all mankind on 12 fearful, dysfunctional, difficult underachievers and one of them was a traitor!  That’s taking a risk.  What if they didn’t do what they were called to do?

Our problem is that we want security more than glory.  You can never be great without taking a risk.

In closing let me say this, failing to take a risk is a sin.  If we care more about our image than advancing the Kingdom of God, it’s a sin.  God’s plan for you is bigger than your potential!  God’s vision for our church is greater than we can even comprehend.  We certainly can’t make it happen without Him.  Give God the chance to do great things through you.

Don’t be afraid to go where God has already gone.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Help me to fear missing your destiny more than what others will think if I fail.  I choose to take a leap of faith rather than playing it safe.

Thoughts

  • Is our church playing it safe or taking a risk?
  • How can I support my friends in their Risk-Taking adventures?

Action

  • Take a risk by praying for a stranger who need a miracle.
  • Start a ministry for God that needs His supernatural touch to succeed.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day 19: Taking a Risk

Taking a Risk

As a person faces death they often regret certain things in their life.  They may regret the hurt they caused a loved one or not spending more time with their family.  Yes, moral failures or relationship failure are regretted but not usually the adventure tried and failed. What do I mean?

You don’t usually hear people say, “I regret trying a new business or trying to make a difference in ministry.”  No, it’s usually the adventure NEVER tried that is a regret.  “Wish a wrote that book.”  “I should have gone back to school so my family would have a better life.”  “I should have tried that business idea.”  “I should have tried to save my marriage.” “I wish I would have done more for God.”  Those are some more common ones.

At the end of their life people regret risks not taken. Often it is the fear of losing something that keeps us from taking risks.  God wants us to trust Him enough to live like that now.  To live like we have nothing to lose. There is story of 4 men in scripture who had nothing to lose, so they took a risk.  They found that God’s blessing often lives on the other side of a risk taken.

In 2 Kings chapter 7 is a story of 4 leprous men.  They have shunned by society because of their contagious skin disease and because they are considered cursed by God, religiously unclean.  (The closest thing we would have in our society today is a homosexual person with full blown AIDS.)

Now there were four men with leprosy sitting at the entrance of the city gates. “Why should we sit here waiting to die?” they asked each other.  “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.”

So at twilight they set out for the camp of the Arameans. But when they came to the edge of the camp, no one was there!  For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. “The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another.  So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. When the lepers arrived at the edge of the camp, they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:3-8

As the 4 lepers took a risk to change their situation God intervened for them!  If they had done nothing they would have died where they were wondering why God had never helped them!!

Have you ever wondered why God usually shows up right at the end when we can’t make it?  I don’t think it’s because He likes to make us wait.  I believe most times it’s because we wait until we’re desperate to take a risk and make a move.

When God blesses it usually more than expected.  The lepers were hoping to survive but God gave them more than they could carry.  This abundance caused them to think of others.  (Usually when you’re hurting it’s hard to think of blessing others.)

Be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  Risk-takers fail more but they also achieve more.  Noone ever gained ground in a battle by watching from the sidelines.  You have to get in there, fight, bleed and risk it all!

Finally, they said to each other, “This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” So they went back to the city and told the gatekeepers what had happened.- 2 Kings 7:9-10

The reward to the risk taker is meant to be shared with others.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Don’t wait until your last 30 Days to take that life-changing risk. Risk takers accomplish more for God and also take others around them to new levels in God, thereby gaining bigger blessings themselves in the process.  To fulfill your destiny on this planet you can’t play it safe.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to be a risk-taker not an excuse-maker.  My desire is to fulfill your destiny for me on this planet and I know I can’t do that by playing it Safe.  I give my fear of failure, my insecurity about what others may think of me and yes even the lack of trust I have in you.  Point me in the right direction and I will take a leap of faith knowing you’ll be there to catch me if I fall.

Thoughts

  • When is the last time risked failure to achieve a life goal?
  • When is the last time I took a risk to accomplish something BIG for God.

Action

  • Ask God for a vision that is too big for you to accomplish on your own
  • Take one step towards your impossible dream today.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 17: Dying Young

Hi everyone.  While I’m on the road, Randy Hartwig is filling in with these profound thoughts on dying young.

During Isaiah the prophet’s lifetime, God’s chosen people, Israel, were backsliding. In other words, they were not living for God and were far from Him. Their value system and the things they were concerned about were so messed up that they didn’t care or even ask, “Why?” when good people died before their time.  Here’s the direct quote from the prophet: (Isaiah 57:1)  Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why.

In our culture, when someone good dies “before their time” it can cause a lot of people to struggle and question God. As we consider death in this series we have to ask ourselves, what is my attitude concerning death in this type of  situation? The fact is good people DO die young. Even some godly people die seemingly before their time…..preachers, parents, young children, famous church leaders. What if you find out you will die young or if it happens to someone you love dearly? How will you respond to God

Read the rest of what Isaiah said in this verse! “No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” That is really interesting. Does God take people BEFORE their time to protect them from evil? Well, if we believe the Word to be true, that’s exactly what it says. That can shed a whole new perspective on death. It doesn’t necessarily bring instant healing of the grief you feel when you lose someone young or godly, but it sure can give you something positive to focus on. My loved one will NOT suffer the evil that is to come.

In the next verse Isaiah gives this promise: (Isaiah 57:2)  For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die.  The paths we should choose while we live should be those that cause us to act godly – like God. We need to ask ourselves, “If God was in the same situation I am in, what would He do?” Then we determine to do the right thing, the biblical thing, the thing HE would do. The result is godliness and that brings peace.

So as you face death everyday, choose those things that will keep you on the godly path that leads to peace. Death is not something to be feared. It is rest. It is an exit from a world full of evil to an eternity of joy in the physical presence of the Lord.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, I don’t always understand why somethings happen, especially why some people have to die when they’re young.  Help me to give my grief and questions to you.  I choose to trust you even when I don’t understand.

Thoughts for Today

  • Have I ever thought about how death can be a relief from suffering?
  • Do I have questions and grief over the death of a loved one I need to give to the Lord?

Action List

  • Begin to live like I have 30 Days to Live because we are not promised tomorrow.
  • Share Christ with those I care about before it’s too late, even if they are younger.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 14: A Godly Perspective

God’s View of Life is Different Than Ours

The Lord doesn’t view our lives the way we do.  His perspective is as different from ours as ours is from an ant we are watching.  As we look down on the ground from our chair we can see where the ant will walk if he keeps going forward, where a good food source may be and even potential predators. God understands our live as He looks on as the one who sees all time and space instantly.  He knows the best path to take through life.

Consider this conversation between Peter and Jesus.  First, let me give you the background.  Peter just told Jesus He is the Messiah, Jesus tells Peter that only God could have revealed that to you.  The rest of the boys are slapping Peter on the back.  He’s feeling pretty good about himself then something funny happens.

From then on Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, and that He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day He would be raised from the dead.

But Peter took Him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”  Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”  – Matthew 16:21-23

Jesus knew it was necessary for Him to die.  Peter didn’t.  Jesus had the eternal perspective that his death, however brutal and painful would lead to His resurrection and ultimately our salvation.  To Peter it was unthinkable!  He’s thinking, “We just found out for sure that you’re the Messiah.  There’s no way God would want you to suffer and certainly won’t let them kill you!”  We don’t see things from God’s perspective; therefore we don’t always understand the way life goes.

Through it all we must trust that God has a plan.  We must understand that He sees things differently from us.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

It reminds me of a story I read. There was a picture-perfect small town in Maine.  You know the kind you would see immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting.  The government informed the townsfolk that it would be building a hydroelectric dam nearby.  The dam would cause the town to flood. The officials told the town’s people that they would be paid and relocated to new homes. The town was scheduled to be demolished in less than 3 years just before the dam was finished. During those 3 years the town stopped repairing the roads, no one painted their house, they even stopped cutting their lawns.  The quaint town became terribly rundown. When a reporter enquired as to why this had happened, it was explained this way, “When there’s no faith in the future, there’s no power in the present.”

We must live our lives with faith that God will give us a future and a hope for eternity in heaven. Without this eternal perspective on the future we become hopeless and we allow our ‘spiritual houses’ to fall apart.  You may not understand everything you go through in life but trust the one who does.  Keep up your spiritual disciplines to stay connected to Christ and HIS plan for you.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that no matter how severe the trial I am in today, that it is temporary. Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • Have I let my ‘spiritual house’ fall apart?
  • Do I trust God with my decisions or do I have to keep control of my life?

Action List

  • Do a ‘spiritual house cleaning’ by repenting of any sins.
  • Continue the cleaning by forgiving anyone who has hurt you.
  • Begin to repair the house by reading and praying daily as well as going to church weekly.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional: Day 13 – What do You Believe about the End?

As we are examining how we would live if we had 30 Days to Live, it occurs to me that there has been an increasing emphasis on the end of life lately.  The world has been discussing the end of the earth, as we know it, with the 2012 hysteria and even the Left Behind series.  I have always avoided looking at the end times controversies until this year because I felt it was more important to look at how to live today.  I now realize that what you believe about the end of your life will influence how you live today.  Also…

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16

Therefore, then even the book of Revelation will affect how we would live our last month on this earth.  Are we searching for deeper understanding or are just receiving whatever the latest fictional novel tells us? It’s really the whole fear-based and defeatist approaches I object to.  It is because of this that some times I gloss over end-time passages of scriptures. I used to believe that they were not relevant to today.   I’ve even made jokes like, “I’m a pan-millennialist.  It’ll all pan out in the end.”  Ok, enough with the collective groan.  It was funny in the 1990s.

So, when my many people in our church wanted to do a study on the Book of Revelation in regards to the 2012 Predictions in the news, I reluctantly agreed.   One of the things we learned was, HOW a person approaches the end of life, greatly influences HOW they live their time on the earth.

If a follower of Jesus has an “escape mentality” that God won’t let us suffer then if they face a 30 Days to Live death sentence from a doctor their faith may be rocked. An example of this happened in China. Mao Zedong and his regime slaughtered over a million people with over 50 million people dying under his dictatorship eventually. I am told that when the communist dictator took over and began to kill all Christians who wouldn’t denounce Christ, locals believed him to the Anti-Christ of the Book or Revelation.  Hundreds of thousands of believers backslid. They denounced their faith not just because of the threat of death but because they actually lost their faith.  Why?  Because they believed God would catch them away in rapture before this kind of persecution.  The thought, “If we were wrong about that maybe we were wrong about everything.” became the attack on their faith.

The attitude that “the end of the world doesn’t matter” can also be damaging.  How?  If a follower of Jesus never considers how their life will end they may live for the present only instead of eternity.  We should live like we only have 30 Days Left to Live.

Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. – Revelation 1:17-18

We don’t need to fear the death, the grave or even the end of the world because they One who created it all in the beginning will be there to bring us home in the end.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that we will all stand before your holy throne of judgment someday. Help me to live today with eternity in mind, thinking of your holiness as I make decisions. Help me not to compromise with sin.  Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • If God were to ask you why should He let you into heaven what would you say?
  • What would you say to a person searching for truth who asked you about the end times?

Action List

  • If there is a sin you’re struggling with, confess it to your Small Group Leader or a trusted Christian friend.
  • Live today with eternity influencing your decisions.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 9: What Good is Suffering?

God works in every circumstance for those that are His children. We see good or bad but God sees opportunity in either.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

So, if God works good in everything for those who follow Him, then why do we suffer?  We are never closer to God then when we suffer.  Yes, we may get mad at Him during loss or unjust treatment but ultimately we end up with nowhere else to go.

Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  – John 6:67-68

When things go bad we realize like at no other time that there is nowhere else to turn but Him.  When it’s really bad, people can’t help.  It has to be God.

If God works good for me in all things what’s the good in this horrible situation?  Well if nothing else we turn to God in a deeper way, and that is important indeed.  See God is more concerned with our character than He is our comfort.  He is more concerned about eternal treasure in heaven than temporary trials here on earth, more concerned about our relationship with Him than our success in this life. He’s not uncaring; He just has a different perspective on our lives than we do.

The words of King David give us hope if we’re in a trial of our own making.  David committed adultery and then murder to cover the affair, yet after that He was called a man after God’s own heart AFTER these sins.  Why because he repented and turned to God. (Read the story yourself in 2 Samuel 12.)

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. – Psalm 6:9

God heard David’s prayer and accepted them.  If you’re hurting because of your own sin, it’s ok.  God has already forgiven you and is waiting to use even that situation for the good I your life.  Talk to Him about it right now.

Prayer:

Lord help me to not wait until there’s a problem to turn to you but to seek you each day.  When I do fall into trails, help me to remember you are there, and to seek you immediately.  I will not to blame you for my problems or suffering because I know you love me.  I trust you Lord.  I know there’s nothing I can face today that you and I can’t handle together.

Thoughts for Today:

  • Am I serious about my prayer life or do I just call out God when I need Him?
  • Have I been afraid to turn to God for help because I thought He wouldn’t answer?

Action List:

  • Spend time with God today telling Him how you’re hurting and asking Him to help.

Live the Dash

The one thing we all have in common is death.  Rich, poor, hard worker, lazy, good person, criminal, Christian or Atheist, e will all die at some point

You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. –  James 4:14

Life is short and sometimes hard, yet most of us want to live as long as possible.  We are always trying to invent medicine that will cure terminal diseases, we try to eat healthier to cheat death a little longer, but in span of eternity, life is brief.

When I think of death I often think of cemeteries and gravestones.  On a person gravestone there is a name, maybe a picture or a cross, sometimes a one-line epitaph describing their life like “beloved mother” …different styles and sizes, but they usually all have a birth date and a date of death.  A simple, thin line called a dash separates these two important items. That dash represents our whole life!

We have no control over the date we were born and little control over the date when we die.  The only thing we can control is the dash! How we live and what we do with the brief time we have on this planet is all we can dictate.

The dash is an appropriate symbol because most of us dash through our lives and don’t stop to consider what our purpose is.  A few years back there was a movie called “The Bucket List.” In the movie, billionaire Edward Cole and working class mechanic Carter Chambers have nothing in common except for their terminal illnesses. While sharing a hospital room together, they decide to leave and do all the things they have ever wanted to do before they die, a list of things to do before they “kick the bucket”* hence the name, “The Bucket List.”

Maybe it’s not living longer that should be the goal but living FULLER.  Live the Dash, it’s all you’ve got.

Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10

God wants us to have a full, rich life.  Don’t waste time on temporary things that don’t matter.

Last, faith, hope and love will last forever.  Put your time and energy into these things that will follow you into eternity.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to remember that this life is brief.  Help me to remember that only that which is done for you will last and to prioritize my life with an eternal perspective. Help me today to live for eternal things.

Thoughts for Today

  • What did I do yesterday that helped make someone’s life better?
  • If I found out I had 30 days to live would I be happy with what I’ve done with my life?

Action List

  • Do one thing off your bucket list and enjoy!
  • Do one thing to enrich someone else’s life today.

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* Note: the term kick the bucket comes from England in the late 1700s where people who would commit suicide by hanging would often stand a bucket in their barn, tie a rope around the beam above and on their necks, then kick the bucket over to hang themselves.

Facing Our Fear of Forever

Facing Our Fear of Forever We Find Freedom

I’ve had the privilege of being with many people as they face their last 30 days on this earth.  People facing death receive a new freedom, a “license” to say what they really feel and to do what they really want.  What keeps us from doing that now?  Fear of what people think.

Jesus was free of the need to please people, to gain their approval.  He rebuked the influential pharisees and refused to be intimidated by the powerful authorities in the Roman government.  Jesus knew He would be dying soon and therefore what was there to fear from people?

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28

What would you do differently if you no longer had to worry about what other people thought?  If you only had one calendar page left to flip? Would you go to a mission field and not worry about having your own home?  Would you tell everyone knew about God’s grace because you now feared facing Him soon more than the rejection of others?  When you suddenly worry not hearing “well done good and faithful servant” nothing else matters.

Facing Our Fear of Forever We Find Faith

“Death is the thing most feared because it appears to be the end of everything.” – Aristotle

The fear of death comes from not knowing what happens when our eyes close for the last time on this earth.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

When we realize for the Christian that death is but a shadow of something passing that can’t touch us, we gain faith.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25

Do you believe this?  Then live like it.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, trust in the promise of heaven.  Help me today to not fear death nor fear what people think.  Help me today to live like I was dying.

Thoughts for Today

  • Do you fear death? If so why?  Aren’t you sure of heaven?
  • What would you say to someone if you knew you had 30 days to live?

Action List

  • Talk to one person that you’ve been avoiding and be honest.
  • If you’re not sure that you would go to heaven, ask Jesus to forgive you and save you right now.  Give Him your life and surrender control to Him as your Lord.

Day One: Trusting God

Before we can begin a journey to become the person we were always meant to be, we must begin by trusting the one who knows our future.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I have heard people say, “Trust is earned.” or “A person must show themselves to BE trustworthy before I’ll trust them.” I want to ask a question…Has the Jesus done enough to earn our trust?

As I look at His sacrifice on the cross to pay the price for my sin, I must answer a resounding YES! He gave everything to earn our trust. King David proclaimed God’s trustworthiness by attaching it to God’s character.

All He does is just and good, and all His commandments are trustworthy. – Psalm 111:7

If God is just and good then all He asks us to do must be just and good. Therefore, we can trust what He says. The commandments He gives us in scripture are worthy of us trusting and building our lives on. Often people make the mistake of not following the teaching of scripture because they don’t trust that is the best thing for them. It looks better to go another way…but if He is trustworthy, then what He asks us to do we can trust in also, even if we don’t understand why He asks.

What area of your life have you not surrendered to Him? What have you not trusted Him with? Maybe the issue is one of not trusting in His justice enough to forgive someone who has hurt you. Perhaps you have trouble trusting God to bring you all you need therefore you try to make it happen on your own and date someone who isn’t a disciple of Jesus. For many people it is not being able to trust in the supernatural. How can I make ends meet if I give God 10% of my money as He commands? All of these examples have logical, rationalizations for disobeying God, but when really you look at them, they are all trust issues.

Trust Him enough to surrender the next month to Him…

Prayer

Dear Jesus, trust is earned by love shown. You showed your love for me by dying for my sins on the cross. Help me to receive that love fully today and completely trust you.

Thoughts for Today

  • Write down what God has spoken to you or simply what you’re thinking.

Action List

  • At least one action I will do for the next 30 days or one change I will make.

Trust is Earned

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I have heard people say, “Trust is earned.” or “A person must show themselves to BE trustworthy before I’ll trust them.”  I want to ask a question…Has the Jesus done enough to earn our trust?

King David proclaimed God’s trustworthiness by attaching it to God’s character.

All He does is just and good, and all His commandments are trustworthy. – Psalm 111:7

If God is just and good then all He asks us to do must be just and good.  Therefore, we can trust what He says. The commandments He gives us in scripture are worthy of us trusting and building our lives on.

What are you building your life on?

I want to encourage you today, trust the Lord.  Trust Him with your hopes, your dreams, your future.  Trust Him with you relationships, your career, your present situations.  Trust Him with your past, your hurts, your disappointments,  your failures, your betrayals, your sins.

What part of your life have you not given to Him?

Facing Forever

We brought my mother home from the hospital, home to face forever.  The doctors say that she will leave this earth soon, leave it forever.  Nothing more they can do they say.  I know my God is a healer but somehow I know that’s not part of His plan here.  As we mournfully, painfully, watch her breathing slow we begrudgingly acknowledge that she will soon be facing forever.  Was she ready?

I prayed a week ago, “Lord either heal her or wake her to give me a chance to talk with her about forever.”  I know my mom had asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior, to forgive her sins.  she had attended church for almost two years with me while she was well enough and we would pray, talk scripture and take communion together at home when she could no longer go to church.  I had only one concern really, unforgiveness.  Had she forgiven all sins against her?

The Lord gave me my petition and she awoke, clear minded and able to talk for over a day.  She spoke that she had forgiven all who had hurt her.  Then I had the honor of leading her to pray asking God to forgive her sins again.

Mom told me she love me and that she was ready to face forever, knowing she would spend it with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Now I’m ready too.

What If…? Guarding Our Minds

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. –  2 Corinthians 10:4-5

There’s a battlefield raging.  A place where planes called unknown drop bombs of fear and paratroopers of worry bombard day and night looking for a place to land and dig in.  That place is our mind.

To set up a defense against this aerial assault we must capture these rebellious thoughts and make them obey Christ.  What if I lose my job? What if I get cancer?  What if I can’t get into a good college? What if I never get married? What if… What if?

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? – Matthew 6:27

Worry is a meaningless waste of time at best!  At it’s worst; left unchecked it can kill you.  Worry actually creates biochemical reactions in our bodies. Doctors tell us worry can lead to a variety of illness ranging from indigestion to heart attack!

How can we control worry, capture those random fearful thoughts?

1. Look at what we are thinking about.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  – Philippians 4:8

Think about good things.  It’s simple but profound.  When you find yourself thinking “What if…” change the channel!  We have the ability to tell ourselves, “That’s not a thought from God.” And think about something else.

2. Look at who are you listening to?

Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. – Mark 4:24

Why would you take advice from someone whose life is a mess?  First listen to the word of God and what it has to say about you.  Then let the Spirit of God speak to you in prayer but then get around godly men and women who will speak truth!

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for bad company corrupts good character. – 1 Corinthians 15:33

3. Look at where your focus is.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2

The Israelites were told to go into the Promised Land in Numbers 13.  They found what God had told them.  Grapes the size of basketballs!  A land flowing with milk and honey.  BUT they didn’t focus on the blessings, only the obstacles.  Yeah the fruit is awesome BUT there are giants.  Yeah it’s just like God said a good land BUT the cities are fortified and impossible to conquer!  BUT BUT BUT.  Don’t be a Butthead!  Don’t’ focus on the obstacles, focus on what God has promised you.

Capture the “What Ifs” before they paralyze in a quagmire of indecision, afraid to move.

Is Our God Safety?

When we allow fear to limit our actions we begin to serve safety instead of God.  Is risk-free living our ultimate goal?  Is being safe what the most important thing in life?

Think of this, a person who worships safety never accomplished anything note-worthy.  History is filled with the acts of the bold, the brave.  The fear filled don’t dream big dreams, risk-takers do.

When the disciples dropped their nets and walked away fro their jobs, neighborhoods, families…everything they knew, were they making the ‘safe’ choice?  How about Abraham when God told him to leave his people and everything he had ever known to go into a strange land?  God didn’t even tell Abraham where the destination of the journey was!

The worship of safety emasculates greatness.
– Max Lucado, Fearless

As a Christ-Follower you are called to greatness.  What is it that God is asking you to do that you’ve been afraid to try?  Well turn that computer off and go do it!

Fearless: Why Are You Afraid?

In Matthew chapter 8 there is an unusual story.  A story where Jesus seems harsh when He should have been understanding.  The disciples are out on a boat when SUDDENLY a storm arose, not just any storm a fierce storm.  The kind of storm that makes seasoned fisherman weak in the knees.  The kind of storm that would make a non-sailor like Matthew cry out for help.  Here’s the peculiar part though…Jesus was sleeping in the boat during this storm.

He seemed to be completely indifferent to their situation.  They are working the rigging frantically.  Maybe someone was bailing water as the waves spilled into the boat.  Jesus slept.

There are times when suddenly we fighting for our lives:  Cancer, bankruptcy, divorce, heart attack, unemployment, betrayal, addiction returning, child leaving the faith, jail, depression…and we call out “Help I’m being overwhelmed!  I’m going under!”  and there is no answer from heaven.  This storm was like that.  The sea raged. The boat rocked out of control. The men yelled in frantic fear. Jesus slept.

Mark’s version of the story includes and interesting twist…

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – Mark 4:38

Mark records what all of us think but most don’t dare speak. “Lord don’t you care that I’m suffering?”  There’s an accusation sometimes in our prayers because we wonder if He truly cares.

The rest of Matthew chapter 8 was filled with the miracles and compassion of Jesus.  A leper healed, a demon-possessed man set free, even Peter’s mother-in-law healed.  (A blessing Peter never asked for haha.)  Jesus taught them about faith with the Roman Centurian asked Jesus to “speak the word and my servant will be healed.”

In this context Jesus’ response makes perfect sense.  He asks them, “Why are you afraid? and “Why do you have too little faith?”  He must have thought: You’ve watch my miracles moments ago.  You’ve learned of my authority over the circumstances of life. AND you know I’m right here with you.  Why do you still doubt my love?

Max Lucado says that “Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia.” (Fearless pg. 10)  We forget how much God loves us and how He will never leave us or forsake us.  Faith comes through hearing God’s word and remembering His love.

We start a series this week entitled: Fearless: Living a Life Free from Fear, Worry & Anxiety. Come learn how to overcome fear with faith so you can stand through life’s sudden storms.