7 Leadership Lessons from the Olympics

Here are 7 Leadership Lessons from the Olympics focused upon the United States athletes.  Whether you’re an athlete or not we can all learn leadership lessons from high-achievers in any field.

1.   Success Comes from Hard Work, There is No Short-Cut

“We’re confident because of the hard work.  We’re consistent because of the hard work.” – U.S. female gymnastics team captain Aly Raisman

Yes, Olympic athletes must win the gene pool to have some God-given talent to start but then they also out-work their peers.

2.   Don’t Confuse Effort with Achievement

No participation trophies here. Yes, there’s pride in simply making it to the Olympics because so few people ever do.  However, they don’t give Gold Medals to the person who ‘tried hard’.  In an era where people want to treat all players as the same, not keep score and give both teams a trophy, the Olympics stand as a stark difference.  “Oh, you’re the 2nd greatest in the world at this sport?  You get a silver medal.  Please stand one step down from the person with the gold.”

I think we set our children up for disappointment and confusion in life when we tell them they can do anything they want.  It’s simply not true.  Success takes talent and hard work.

The balance between points one and two are important.  You must work hard IN AN AREA WHERE YOU ALSO HAVE TALENT. People spend far too much time working to improve their weakness instead of working on their strengths to make them great.

If Michael Phelps spent all his time trying to be a better runner because he was terrible at it, we’d have never heard of him.  Delegate your weaknesses, enhance your strengths.

3.   Expectation Drives Preparation

A mentor of mine, Nelson Searcy teaches the ‘Law of Spiritual Readiness’ to churches.  He says, “If you prepare for guests, you’ll receive more guests.”  Guess what?  We bought more bibles, made more guest bags and began to pray for more guests and doubled the number of guests coming to our church!

There’s an old saying in boxing, “The fight is won in the gym.”  Champions train like champions. When you’re throwing things together at the last minute it shows.  Do the work.  Prepare like a champion.

4.   Take the Time to Begin Well

When you look at any racer, sprinters like Usain Bolt, swimmers like Michael Phelps etc. they understand the importance of beginning well.  They spend time practicing the start.  They make sure their feet are set perfectly.

My dad used to tell me when building anything, “Measure twice, cut once.”  This goes along with lesson #3, there is no substitute for proper preparation.  I’d rather spend extra time planning a project then rush into unforeseen mistakes.  Sometimes 5 extra minutes preparing saves you an hour down the road.

5.   Leaders Don’t Quit

“I just knew I had to really dig deep.  That’s the closest I’ve ever come to throwing up in the middle of a race.” – U.S. Gold Medal Olympic Swimmer Katie Ledecky

We often hear about ‘heart’ or ‘digging deep’ for champion athletes.  What does that mean?  At means when competing at a very high level, at some point we all want to quit. To get an easier job, to move to a better city, a spouse that will treat me better…everyone faces that moment where they just want to give up.  When it gets really hard, the great ones push harder.  No one ever got a gold medal for quitting.

6.   Leaders Make Their Teams Better

I’ve always detested the athlete that pads their personal statistics at the cost of the team victory. The Olympics seem to build such team unity that I can never remember seeing that.

“My job is to win the game for the U.S., and I’m going to do everything possible to do that.” – basketball player Kyrie Irving

7.   Leaders Don’t Do it for the Cheers

Kim Rhode becomes first woman to medal at six straight Olympic Games. Wow!  You would think that would be a huge story even with the great US gymnastics team and the crazy Michael Phelps gold rush.  Actually it’s one of the least covered stories.  Why?  Shooting isn’t that popular as an Olympic sport and guns are a controversial subject in US.

The point is this, if you wait for the cheers you’ll be disappointed.  For all the medals won in the Olympics we will only read stories on a small number of the gold medal winners. So why do all the other Olympians do it?  Not for fame but to achieve the goals that are important to them.

A proverb from the bible says, “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth.” Proverbs 27:2

Don’t seek fame as a leader, seek success.

 

Please comment below on which leadership lesson from these Olympic athletes impacted you the most or share something else you learned watching the Olympics.

 

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New U

New U_PP SCREEN-JUST THE EMBLEM-02

Welcome to the New You.  We hear this talked about every January.  The gyms become full, people make new promises to themselves (or sometimes the same ones as last year) and ‘resolve’ to change.

Here’s the truth, half us don’t even make New Year’s resolutions anymore.  After years of not keeping them, we give up.

  • Of the people that do make resolutions, 1 out of 4 quit within two weeks!

The majority of 40+ year olds don’t even bother anymore.  Maybe we’re happier with ourselves.  If you’re over 40 like me, we don’t need a new job, we’ve found our career.  We don’t have to find love, we’ve loved, we’re on our second marriage. We don’t need to get healthier because we’re not trying to impress anyone.  Ok, even I didn’t believe that one.

Yes, most people in their 20s still make New Year resolutions but maybe it’s because they are still optimistic. You believe in true love. You believe you can find a career you’re passionate about. And yes, you can get in shape. 30 somethings…you’re split, half will-half won’t.

Here are the…

Top Three New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Lose weight/get healthy
  2. Get organized
  3. Improve finances.

These are good goals, life-improving things.

Why we should all believe we can change and make New Year’s Resolutions.

  • Of the people who DO make New Year’s resolutions only 17% keep them all year.

Pretty bleak. Why even try?…because 17 out of 100 people do actually make life changes and they’re no better than you and me.  What do these people who keep their resolutions have that most people don’t?  A plan.  Plain and simple, a plan to change.

Success is built by making a few right-decisions, daily.

My wife Joanne and daughter Christy made a simple resolution to not drink soda for a whole year. Their plan was simple. First, get soda out of the house.  Second, decide on alternatives now before going to restaurants (iced tea or water). Bring water or flavored water when you go to friends’ houses. Last, keep each other accountable.  Don’t underestimate the power of someone helping.  For fun, I provided an incentive. $100 on New Year’s Day when you complete it.

Here’s the thing, they both can drink soda now, but really don’t desire it any more.  One year gave them a good health change.

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:1-3

It’s not too late. If you’ve never been successful with a resolution (or any other goal) try again.  If you made a  New Year’s Resolution and already broke it, it’s just a date on the calendar. Start again, but with a solid plan this time.

1. Write Your Resolution Down

2. Make a Plan

3. Get an Accountability Partner

4. Make the Decision Daily

Don’t think about the whole year, one-day-at-a-time works. I’m going to work out today. I’m going to organize my inbox today. I’m going to put money into savings today.

If you say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” tomorrow never comes.  It turns into a new today where we say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  Think about today and before you know it, a year will go by.

And before you know it, you’ll be a New You.

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.

4 Things Avengers 2: Age of Ultron Taught Me About Effective Teamwork

Avengers Age of Ultron, A Lesson In Teamwork

Avengers Age of Ultron, A Lesson In Teamwork

I just saw Avengers: Age of Ultron (View the Trailer HERE.) for a second time! When watching this film, as multiplied millions have, one can’t help but notice the effective teamwork.  The reason the Avengers exist is to “fight the foes no single super hero can withstand.”

As a comic book geek I know that an ever-changing team roster becomes a theme in the comic book Avengers but teamwork was always emphasized.  This comes through in Age of Ultron and is an important lesson for us.

Don’t click away! You don’t have to like comic books or even Marvel movies to read this blog. This film contained some important lessons about effective teamwork.  Here are a few:

1. Effective Teams: Meld Together Diverse Personalities.

The team is made up of wildly different individuals: a billionaire arms manufacturer, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); a fabled Norse god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth); a raging monster/mad scientist (a modern-day Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); a WWII war hero, Captain America (Chris Evans), a cold-war, Russian spy, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); and expert marksman who was a former thief, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They are under the authority of a mysterious leader Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who is the director of a government covert ops organization. Wow, how could they ever get along?

Any team needs people with diverse personalities and skill sets.  The key to being an effective team, is melding those individuals into a unit whose skills compliment each other.

In order to do this, creating a team identity is paramount. When a sports team for example shouts “Wildcats!” as they break their pre game huddle, they’re reminding themselves that they win or lose as a team. The effective team player may pass on personal glory or accomplishment for the better of the team. Any effective team must learn that we win or lose as a team.  A great player knows it doesn’t matter if I get my points if we lose the game.  An effective team member realizes it isn’t just about me doing my job but about all of us pulling to accomplish our team goals. As the old cliché says, “There’s no I in team.”

Leaders cast vision for the team and create situations where we win together. [Leader read Servant Leadership to learn more.]

2. Have a Clear Chain of Command

Tony Stark (Iron Man) at one point says, “I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.” A  shield agent had called Tony ‘boss’. Tony points to Captain America saying “He’s the Boss.”  While there is resentment in his voice there is something more important for effective teamwork, CLARITY.

There is no doubt about who has final decision.  I believe in the synergy or group input and discussion but in the heat of battle, someone has to make the final call. Have a clear team leader and give then the authority to make decisions.

Side note: That leader must have humility as a dominant character trait or the team will become discouraged.  A good leader shares the credit for success and motivates their team to work harder.

3. Give the Team the Information They Need to Succeed 

Tony Stark (Iron Man) is trying to create an artificial intelligence that will protect the world from alien attacks.  He accidentally creates Ultron who decides after some brief contemplation, that the Avengers (and humanity) are the problem with the earth. “I know you’re good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn’t think it through. There is only one path to peace… your extinction.”  Ultron becomes the Avengers greatest foe.

(Geek note: In the comics Henry Pym aka, Ant Man creates Ultron.)

Here’s where it all went wrong.  Tony Stark decides to work on the ‘Ultron project’ with Dr Bruce Banner but decides not to tell the rest of the team.  He didn’t want to hear their objections to this dangerous project.

An effective team communicates with each other to avoid their projects and activities hindering or harming the other team members!  Over communicate.

4. Take Time to Celebrate the Cool Things and Have Fun

As Tony Stark is searching the Hydra base (a terrorist organization) he mutters, “Please be a secret door. Please be a secret door.” and yells, “YES!” when the wall moves and he discovers one. This billionaire inventor gets excited about a secret passage hidden in an old stone wall.

We begin every meeting with “What went well this week.”  We take time to celebrate the good things, the fun stories, the lives being impacted and the successful executions.  Celebrating team success is an important key to being an effective team for the long-term.

I sincerely hope 4 fun facts about being an effective team taken from the Avengers: Age of Ultron will help your team become a super team!

_________________

Read the first two installments in the Avengers inspired blogs: 5 Marvel Marketing Tips, and 5 Leadership Lessons from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

5 Leadership Lessons from Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron

I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron (View the Trailer HERE.) Friday at the IMAX in 3D.  Wow, I was instantly 12 again.  I haven’t enjoyed a movie this much since the first Avengers. It was so well-written, a modern-day twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

As I viewed this special effect wonder, it occurred to me how many great one-liners were in this picture.  However, you don’t have to like Marvel movies to read this blog. Most interesting about this film was it contained some great truths about leadership and life.  Here they are:

1. “You never have to recover from a good start.” In the opening scene the Avengers are attacking the Hydra base and this line was uttered touted the importance of beginning well.

Church planters have learned that successful church plants start well.  If a church can ‘launch’ big and start with a healthy culture (see Nelson Searcy’s book Launch) they are far more likely to exist 5 years down the road.  A general leadership principle is proper planning saves pain during implementation.

[also read Someday Syndrome to avoid procrastination]

2. “Teams are only as strong as their weakest link.” – During the battle with Hydra, the evil Baron ordered, “target the weak ones.”  His strategy to distract the others. They shot Hawkeye, the super-accurate archer who has no super strength or other power.  The others stopped to care for their fallen comrade and to evacuate him.

Any organization can come to a grinding halt when there is a weak staff member, leader, or team member. I experienced this when we had a staff member who was mistreating people and needed constant monitoring.  This led to many meetings, hours of discussion, and increased stress. The result was our church didn’t grow for the first time in years.

Plan ahead, put more time into your hiring and promotion processes to make sure you have the right team members. Don’t settle for people who have talent but character flaws, they’ll distract the whole team.

3. “Everyone creates the thing they dread.”  Ultron quoted this as he mused about people attempting to avoid destruction by make greater weapons of destruction.

We must be fearless when leading.  If we fear failure, we will surely fail.  For example the more I’ve tried not to offend people the more people seem to be offended. When I simply lead, explaining the vision, there are actually less roadblocks from people.

4. “I tried to create a suit of armour around the world but I created something terrible.” As leaders we must realize that our actions affect others.  We can’t make decisions in a vacuum.  It’s important to take a moment and think worst case scenario. This is hard for me as a positive, glass is overflowing kind of guy, but we must remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  In our haste to help others we may actually hurt them.  Ultron told Stark, “I know you meant well but you didn’t think it through.”

[Ever felt this way? Read this devotional on regrets.]

5. “Sometimes exactly what I want to hear is exactly what I don’t want to hear.” Bruce Banner (Hulk’s mild-mannered, scientist side) said this quote.  It is a great contrast to prideful attitude of Tony Stark (Iron Man) who isolated from his friends when creating Ultron.  Stark didn’t want to hear the ‘what ifs’  from the ‘caution crowd’.  His lack of accountability lead to creating a monster. The Bible says in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

Have people on your team that will tell you what you don’t want to hear.  I don’t mean negative people who stop progress but honest people who aren’t impressed by you. People who ask the question, “Have you considered this?”  We all need those people.

BONUS QUOTE: “I just pay for everything and design everything, make everyone look cooler.” Tony Stark (Iron Man) corrected the shield agent who called him ‘boss’ pointing to Captain America. “He’s the Boss.”

The person who is the leader isn’t always the most talented or even the most valuable. Every person on the team has a critical function. The caution is, team members must be willing to follow the leader and their vision, even if their pride says, “I’m more talented (or smarter, harder working, etc.) than the leader is.”

I sincerely hope these leadership quotes from the Avengers: Age of Ultron will inspire your team to heroic accomplishments!

3 Reasons to Read Your Bible Today

As we’ve been studying the Book of Acts this summer, we’ve learned how good actions can cause a great chain-reaction. During this series, many people have told me they enjoyed reading an entire book of the Bible. This made me decide to write to you today.

I’ll be straight with you – I want to challenge you into doing something. My powers of persuasion rarely work to talk my kids into cleaning their rooms, but I’m hoping for better results with you today.

I’m hoping to convince you to read the Bible every day this week. 7 days in a row. Here are three reasons I think you should:

1. There’s interesting stuff in the Bible.
Don’t ever let someone tell you the Bible is boring. If someone says that, they aren’t reading it right. A fish vomiting up Jonah, all the animals on Noah’s Ark, David and sling vs. Goliath, Samson and Delilah, wars and conquest, love and marriage, miracles, oh, and a dead man coming back to life…I could go on and on. There are some incredible stories in the Bible.

2. The Bible is not like any other book.
This might surprise you, but the Bible isn’t really a book at all. It’s a collection of 66 small books and letters. It was written by 40 different authors across a couple of continents, spread over thousands of years, and in three languages. It’s been collected, organized and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit and God’s servants.

3. The Bible has influenced the world like no other book.
The Bible has shaped more lives than any single thing ever! – It’s influenced Presidents and Kings as well as shaping nations.  Before I was a Christ follower I wanted to read the Bible because of it being the most widely read book every written.  Now, I read it because I know it’s the word of the Living God.

I know reading the Bible seems overwhelming…but did you know if you read just 15 minutes a day, you can read the whole Bible in about a year. If you read God’s Word for just 15 minutes a day, I think you will benefit.

SO, WHERE DO I START?

I know this sounds weird, but if you want to start reading the Bible, I don’t recommend starting from the beginning. (I told you the Bible wasn’t like other books…can you imagine starting a novel from the middle?)

If I were you, I would start with the New Testament, specifically the Gospel of John. It’s all about the love of Jesus, and it was written by one of his best friends.

So what do you say? Will you give it a try?

God Bless,
Pastor Lon

P.S. If you want to read online, or on your tablet, try youversion.com. It’s free and you can follow one of their reading plans or just dive in to the Book of John.

Repetition (part two): 7 Biblical Truths That Need to Be Repeated

1. Jesus Christ is the only Savior.

Pastor and leaders, keep telling the church — over and over again because the lie of “there are many roads to heaven” is creeping into the Western Church.

Parents and guardians, keep telling your kids that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  They spend most of their time away from you in a world that teaches them the opposite.

Christians, keep telling the world Jesus Christ is Lord.  He’s their only hope of salvation.

Always stay focused on The Lord Jesus with people.  People aren’t offended by the word “God” but use the name of Jesus Christ and many are.  Why? It’s because there are many gods, but only one true and live God!

2. The church is an essential part of the Lord’s plan, for all followers of Jesus.

I am referring to your local congregation. The church of Jesus Christ is more than our local assembly, I know.  However, it is impossible for world-wide church or universal church to carry out God’s will without strong local churches.  In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells His followers to go and make disciples.  This includes baptisms and teaching them to obey God’s word.  The most effective place of discipleship is a local church.

Many people claim to be able to live for Christ better without the church but I’ve never known it to be true.  Left alone, nature always moves towards the wilderness.  To produce much fruit a tree needs to be pruned, watered, fertilized etc.  The local church is the means Jesus created to disciple us.

NO ONE who followed Christ in the New Testament church stayed on their own.  They were “added daily” to the local church (Acts 2).  When you read the New Testament 90% of verses that talk about the church refer to a local gathering.  All the Epistles of Paul were written to a local assembly.  The word church itself means “those called out to assemble.”  There is a move today to make it unimportant to be part of a local church and the result is carnal, weak, immature believers who have not been properly discipled.

3. The Bible is the inspired word of God.

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” David said the godly man’s “delight is in the Word of God and in that Word (law) doth he meditate day and night.”

We must combat the lies that the Bible is a collection of good stories or that the things in the Bible didn’t really happen but as simply allegories.  When it says Jonah was swallowed by a big fish or Peter walked on water, those things really happened to real people!

People have tried for years to disprove scripture, even the history of the Old Testament, to disprove that is was divinely written.  No one ever has disproved on verse.  A great book on this subject is Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.  It’s not easy reading but the facts are great. Josh set out to disprove the Bible and became a preacher after realizing he couldn’t!

As far as the Bible itself.  Repeat verses to yourself and your kids.  Memorize passages. Repetition is a great teacher. In fact, it may be the best teacher on the planet.  If the Bible is the Word of God then let’s do our best to learn it.

I know you’re thinking “WHAT?  There are only 3 truths here!”  Well, it was getting long so the rest will come next blog.  Follow me so you’ll be notified!

Repetition: The Frustrating Father of Learning

A few days ago I spoke to my daughters basketball coach after a loss in a tournament.  (Being a Syracuse University alumni and fan I can sympathize.)  He bemoaned, “The things we just went over in practice two days ago they completely forgot!”  As a coach, I know that frustration, when you practice and practice a play then the players don’t do it in the game.  Any leader runs into this in any area of life.

I recently spoke to someone who asked me for advice about the very topic I had preached upon only two weeks before.  I asked him if he’d missed that Sunday but he replied that he was in that service. I repeated the instruction I had given while preaching and he said, “Wow, that’s really good.  It helps a lot, thanks.”  I stopped him as he began to walk away and asked, “Did you listen when I said those exact words only Sundays ago?” He looked at me bewildered.

In truth, he had heard, but the lesson had not penetrated. Maybe he was distracted or didn’t take notes but more likely he just needed to hear it again.

This is the thing most pastors, leaders and teachers…and dare I say parents, are most frustrated with.  “I teach a great lesson but they don’t remember it two weeks later.”

I remind teachers and leaders often that teaching someone an important truth once is never enough.  The only way to change their behavior is for you to say it over and over again.

Repetition.  No one enjoys it. Some students  will check out, “I’ve heard this before.”  The teacher is bored because they have taught the information before. The problem is repetition is the single best way to invoke change.  If you lift a weight once, nothing changes (except maybe a hernia) but lift that same weight 100 times a day, every day, and you will see great changes over time.

Repetition is the Frustrating Father of Learning but better to endure some frustration than to miss an important truth that should be learned.

“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift that is in you … ” (II Timothy 1:6).

“Of these things put them in remembrance … ” (II Timothy 2:14).

I understand we can’t repeat everything but here are something that need to be repeated over and over and over…well you get the point, ad infinitum.  In part 2 of this blog tomorrow, I will give 7 Biblical Truths we pastors, leaders and parents need to keep repeating in the hope that eventually we will get it.

The A-B-Cs of Faith

People often ask about faith.  Faith is often mentioned in the Bible but it is one of those subjective topics that people have various opinions on.
What are the basics about faith that we can learn from scripture?

It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6[1]

We see that faith is important to God.  In fact, it’s impossible to please Him without it.  Hebrews chapter 11 is filled with people who received God’s blessing through faith.  What is faith exactly?

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. – Hebrews 11:1

Faith believes confidently that what we are hoping for will exactly happen for us!  It’s more than a wish or a dream.  It’s a confident assurance in an expected answer.  We have faith in things all the time.  We have faith that when we sit the chair will hold us up.  (Unless you struggle with a fat-guy fear.)  We expect a certain behavior.  Biblically God expects us to have faith in Him to behave in a way that He promised He would.

It’s not about GREAT faith, but child-like, mustard-seed-size faith.  We have all been given a measure of faith and it only takes faith the size of a small seed, to move mountains.  Therefore, it’s not about how great your faith is, just if you have any.

How can we exercise faith?  Here’s a simply A-B-C how to guide:

Always Agree with the Word of God.

Don’t worry about not having enough faith, simply agree with God’s word.  The old bumper sticker said it best “God said it.  I believe it, and that settles it!”

If you’re not going to agree with God’s word what are you going to agree with? The negative reports?  The nay-sayers?

We have faith that if we accept Christ’s work as our salvation we shall get to heaven.  Then we should also believe all the other promises He makes us in His word.

Boldly Believe that God rewards those who seek Him.

We have a wrong belief that God is aloof or uncaring.  He loves us and desires to bless us. If we agree with God’s word and we believe He loves us then we will expect His blessing when we seek Him!

If you believe something, you have to act like it.  Be a doer of the word, not a hearer only (James 1:22).  When God told Noah there was going to be a flood and to build an Ark, Noah believed Him.  How do we know?  We know because Noah spent the next 100 years building a giant boat in the desert!!

Side note:  This doesn’t mean be foolish.  The devil ask Jesus to prove His belief in God’s word by jumping off a building (Matthew 4:1-11) but Jesus replied “not to teat God.”  Don’t let the devil get you to take a ‘leap of foolishness’ thinking it’s a ‘leap of faith’.

Confidently Confess the Word of God aloud.

The tongue is like a rudder steering you to where you will go.  Eventually what keep saying will come to pass in your life.  If continually tell yourself you can’t do something, you can be sure you won’t.

Note: Speaking something isn’t all that take to get somewhere, there is also obedience, aligning with God’s will and more but you can be sure that if you confess you won’t, you won’t.

In John chapter 1 people ask John the Baptist who he is.  John’s responds in humility (not worthy to unstrap the Lord’s sandle) and confidence in God working through Him (I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.)  It’s not arrogance to confidently confess that God is going to do for you and through you, exactly what He said He would do…it’s faith!

It’s my hope that this simple ABCs of Faith will bless you an


[1] All scripture references are quoted from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.

Best Easter Ever

This year at our church (House of Praise) we set out to make Easter the best Easter we’ve ever had.  We produced a 15 minute CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) style drama with professionally done video and scenery as a background.  The sermon followed the theme by investigating the scripture on the resurrection. The music team brought excellence and creativity to the service. The Children’s Department set up a cafe style setting and had fun things like a bouncy room.  Our volunteers were on point, greeting, seating and treating people well.  We gave gifts to guests and then we did everything we could to get people to come. We mailed out 12,000 oversize post cards, we challenged our members to invite 10 people each, and the outreach team handed out hundreds of invites at the local Wal*Mart.  The results?  Best Easter Ever!  Why do I say that?

  • 0ver 430 people attended (Our highest ever!)
  • At least 10 people accepted Christ for the 1st time (filled out a card to tell us)
  • At least 7 people rededicated their lives to following Christ
  • Many people returned to church
  • Many stories of life change already coming in

What this means is all of us didn’t just have a great service but lives were changed and the Kingdom of God advanced!

You can still make it your best Easter ever by committing to let the resurrected Savior run your life.  You can decide to live differently that before Easter, to expect God to be present in your life. You can expect God to flow through you to help others meet the risen Lord.

Make this the best Easter ever in your life by taking the power of the Resurrection with you into the rest of the year…expect new life ahead.  Best Easter ever…

Whose Smile Are You Looking For?

In a recent tender moment with my youngest daughter Alayna, I looked at her and said, “You make me smile.” “Why Dad?” she inquired curiously.

“Well, I always smile when I see you just because I love you but what I mean right now is because you do nice things for Daddy. That shows me your heart.”

“Like what Dad?” she quickly retorted. “Well… like bring me my shoes or pick up my plate, when I don’t even ask.” She smiled and went about her day. Our conversation made me think of how we should be serving simply for our Father’s smile. Not rewards on this earth or in heaven, not for recognition from people, certainly not for position or power, but simply the make the Father smile.

Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:19

Paul had decided whose smile he wanted. He was ‘performing’ for an audience of one.

That night after dinner Alayna grabbed my dirty dish and brought it to the dishwasher. No one else noticed, but me. Across the dinner room I mouthed “thank you” and gave her a big smile. I believe her smile back to me was bigger.

#makeGodsmile

Do you know you’re at war?

ImageThere is a battle raging around you right now…a battle for souls. There are two opposing forces fighting over your soul and the souls of all the people you love.  There is no neutral ground. We can’t decide not to be in the war because WE are what the war is over!

Then the dragon became angry at the woman, and he declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and confess that they belong to Jesus.
– Revelation 12:17

The devil has made it his purpose to destroy you.  Really Lon?  We’re going to talk about the devil?  Well, think of it this way.  There is a force that works daily against you wanting to follow God.  Some of my Christian friends will say “It’s the flesh.”  According to Galatians 5:16-17 that’s true.  We have a fallen nature that is at war with our spirits.  Our old sinful nature wants to do evil and our new nature from God want to do right.

Other less “churchy” friends might say, “Well, it’s really the influence of culture, society and peer pressure.”  It is true, the message of the Christianity has always been counter-culture and the moral relevantism of our culture today is completely against what scripture teaches.

So why choose to talk about the devil?  It seems so medieval.  The reason is because the devil doesn’t want people to think he’s real or at least active in the earth today.  The truth is satan is real, he’s active in the earth today, he hates you and has declared war on you.

His weapons are espionage, stealth warfare.  He engages in a propaganda warfare.  Satan tries to get us to believe he’s mythical, a fairy tale. Then we let our guards down and he begins to question all of scripture, because if satan isn’t real, then the Bible is just a book.

How do we win this war?  We win by

  1. Not believing the lies of the enemy – this is accomplished by learning the truth  (Eph 5:25-26) and not dwelling on thoughts we know aren’t true (2 Cor 10:5)
  2. Not seeing people as our enemies – Our battle is with the devil not the people he’s deceived (Eph 6:12).  We must forgive all sins against ourselves to keep the devil from having control of out lives.  (Matt 6:15)
  3. Take the fight to the devil – No war was ever one being defensive only.  At some point we must do damage to the enemies forces.  There is no greater damage then saving a soul from hell.  By bringing the truth to those deceived we rescue them from satan’s power but we also diminish the amount of people he controls.

 

A Night of Hope

It was a great experience to be part of A Night of Hope. It was amazing to see 12,000 people pack a stadium to hear about Jesus and sings songs to Him.

Part of the message that Pastor Joel Osteen shared was on “Being a Now Person“, which was about the trouble procrastination brings.  I was convicted.  I have allowed the “Tyranny of the Urgent” to keep me from the important and the enjoyable.  I like to blog.  Some people actually like to read them…(go figure).  So I decided to stop making excuses and just start blogging again.

Don’t get too excited, this is it! Ha ha.  But if the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then I’ve at least begun again.

More blogging to come soon.

God bless,

Pastor Lon

A Letter of Gratitiude

A few weeks ago (during our “Go Fish!” I asked the entire church to write a letter to thank the person who “hooked” you for Jesus.  I know, corny, but the lesson is great. Even if you never send the letter or the person is deceased, the exercise of writing it will help you remember how much you were impacted by that person sharing their faith.  That fact will in turn help you to share your faith with others, brilliant.  Thank you Andy Stanley for the idea.

If have never done this…DO IT TODAY.  Here’s my letter to a young lady who simply invited me to church.

Dear Annie,

I am writing to thank you. It was 24 years ago this month that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

I remember it started with me asking what I could get you for your birthday and you said, “I just want you to go to church with me.”  It took you continually asking me until October when I finally went!  I said, “If I go with you ONE time, will never ask me again?” and you agreed.  You told me years later how you had people pray because you were nervous this would be the only time I would go.

We went to Agape Christian Fellowship for a Sunday service. (You told me later you didn’t want to bring me to your dad’s church for my first time because he might embarrass you.)  You and Joanne picked me up so I couldn’t back out.

Before I left my parent’s house, my father told me how to know if it was a cult. He said if the people had beady eyes and there were guards at the doors, it was a cult.  I laughed but when I got there, the preacher, Jason Peebles from Tulsa, had beady eyes!  I looked around and there were guards at the door.  (They called them ushers but I know what they were!) I started to panic, my dad wasn’t joking. This is a cult.  There are no statues of saints, not even a cross!  It’s a warehouse with some chairs and a stage!

People were raising their hands and swaying to the music, I heard some of them give this weird chant in another language!  I thought, “What was that, Latin or Wiccan?  I started to plan which “usher” I could knock over to run out an exit when everyone sat to hear the preacher.  I couldn’t tell you one thing he said, but at the end I found myself answering an altar call and asking Jesus to forgive my sins and take control of my life.

Although I was raised in a traditional church, I felt the presence of God’s Spirit for the first time in my life that day. I just began to say, “This is real.  He’s real.”  I had believed God was real before but had never met Him.  I started to cry for no reason.  I never cried!  I was a tough guy.  I prayed, “Lord I wan to always be this way, tender before you.” I still cry today when I feel God’s Spirit moving.

My life today is wonderful.  I lead a growing church with a wonderful group of people who actually want the reality of God in their everyday lives.  I wouldn’t be in the ministry today if you hadn’t prayed for me and invited me to church. Hundreds of peoples lives would have never been impacted by Joanne & myself in ministry.

I been privaledged to travel the world bringing the gospel to Brazil, Argentina, Curacao, Mexico, Kenya, England, Wales and Canada.  I have watched God heal many people including blind and deaf as I prayed for them.  I have watched God set hundreds of people free as we cast our demons and many, many salvations.  None of which would have happened if you didn’t share Christ with me.

My proudest achievement is as a godly husband ad father.  We have a great home and our four daughters all serve God.  Each has seen friends turn their lives over to Christ.  You also introduced me to Joanne.  We wouldn’t be married nor these girls be here, if you didn’t share Christ with both of us.

Like the image painted by the words of the old Ray Boltz song “Thank You”, only when you get to heaven will you understand the impact you have had on thousands of lives because you invited Joanne and myself to meet God.  Thank you.

Write your letter today.  It will help you to remember how important sharing your faith is.  If Anna had never invited me to church, none of the great things God has done in my life would have happened.

Gratitude for Salvation Letter

Hello Everyone,

Two weeks ago as we began the Go Fish! series  I asked you all to do something important.  We called it “homework”.  I asked that each of us write a letter to the person who helped us Connect to God or “hooked us”.  Perhaps you met the Lord as a kid and the reconnected later, write to the person who helped you reconnect.

This is an important exercise.  I believe that as we write these letters, God will help us answer the question, why we should share our faith.  This homework will also help us focus our attention on the eternal things God has done in our life.

Don’t know what to say?  Here’s a few tips for guidelines but remember, it’s about what you want to say, not some formula.

  • Begin with gratitude, something like “I am writing to say thank you for helping me connect to Christ as my Savior.”
  • Recount something God has done in your life: “God delivered me from fear or addiction” or “I now know God loves me.”
  • Remember the benefits of sserving God: “I know have a wonderful family.”   “I’m blessed with a great church.”
  • Encourage them: “If you had never shared Jesus with me, I would have a very different life.”

Remember, write the letter like you’re going to send it, but you don’t have to.  it might not be appropriate to send and for some of us, the person who influenced you to Christ might not still be alive.  It’s an exercise for you.  If you choose to send the letter to encourage the person you’re writing to, that’s a sweet bonus.

I hope you will write your letter by this Sunday.  I shared part of mine last week.  Think about sharing parts of the letter in Connect Groups to encourage eachother.

I wouldn’t be here leading this wonderful church if a girl named Annie hadn’t shared Jesus with me.

See you all Sunday.

Love,

Pastor Lon

 

Laughter is NOT Optional

The joy of the Lord is your strength. – Nehemiah 8:10

We’ve been laughing a little more lately. Why? Because our new Children’s Pastor (J Travis Montoya) has worked as a stand up comedian and he makes us laugh. Had a hard day? You know what helps? Laughing about it.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. – Proverbs 17:22

My wife Joanne and I have had our share of people betraying us, lying to us, lying about us, fighting against us as leaders, or just plain hating on us, in the last twenty years. How do you through it? We get through it by laughing with friends and kids. Laughing refreshes us. Have you ever noticed that people that never laugh have trouble forgiving others? They become so focused on the problem, that life happens around them without them noticing.

One time someone came up to me and said that four years before they had left our church over some offense. To their credit, they felt bad about it and wanted to make it right. They stated, “I know this has been a thing between us for years.” The sad fact, I didn’t know who they were or what they were talking about. Have you wasted precious time stewing over someone who isn’t thinking about you? Move on.

Allow your spirit to be lifted by laughter. It will improve your responses to people, it will make your faith walk sweeter, and it will change your church. There are good, clean comedians, funny sitcoms and movies…laugh, forget, heal.

King David knew how to have fun.

But as the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with joy, she was filled with contempt for him. – 1 Chronicles 15:29

Like Michal, a lot of people can’t even enjoy the presence of God because they are too worried about what others think. (More on that in a minute.)

I smile as I read this story of David because I recently tried to skip. You heard me right. We watched an episode of a little known TV show called the Middle starring Patricia Heaton (Deborah from Everybody Loves Raymond) and Neil Flynn (Janitor from Scrubs). It’s kind of a Malcolm in the Middle rip off but I still like it. But I’m on a tangent…back to topic.

In an episode of the Middle, the mom has a thought “Why do we ever stop skipping?” She muses that we were all happier as children and it’s because we skipped. She decides to skip everyday and she, in fact, felt happier. The dad in the show would not skip. “Too girly.” My children commented that I would not skip either but mom would. I was insulted! “I’m a fun guy.” I objected. They didn’t believe me so I got up to skip.

I could not skip.

That’s right. I don’t mean I wasn’t willing or was too embarrassed to. I was physically unable to. It was pathetic. I tried over and over but it was more like a gallop. All my daughters howled and shrieked with uncontrolled laughter. Joanne (my wife) wept actual tears as she fell out of the chair laughing. (I don’t believe I have ever actually seen someone ROFL before.) It was an unbelievable melee for twenty minutes.

My name is Lon Dean. I possess a high IQ and advanced degrees. I won the Presidential Physical Fitness award in High School and played several varsity sports. I have spoken to thousands of people around the world, AND I AM SKIP CHALLENGED.

Instead of being embarrassed about this fact, it became our little “pick me up” in the Dean household. If Joanne had a hard day or the girls wanted a laugh with friends over…”Watch this. Skip for us Dad.” would be the request whispered through already growing giggles of anticipation. I skip, or gallop, whichever you wish to call it. It still gets big laughs months later and refreshes us all.

Some final thoughts:

When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”

David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” – 2 Samuel 6:20-22

When David came back from skipping and praising God, he wanted to bless his family but his own wife mocked him. If you’ve got a skipper, leaper, laugher in your house, encourage them. Don’t dampen their joy. I might just become your joy too.

If you are enjoying life and laughing don’t let haters get you down. Find other gigglers to skip with and U B U.

++++

A post-blog update: My 7 year old wants me to have the fun of skipping in my life. Even though she thinks, “It’s hysterical, whatever it is I’m doing.”…she is secretly giving me skipping lessons. As of the time of this blog I can skip short distances with her, if she holds my hand. No success on my own but I am hopeful.

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

Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death

Like most American’s I was interesting in the news on May 1st that Bin Laden was finally dead. My first feeling was one of relief. I remember thinking “finally.” That feeling was later mixed with skepticism when hearing the circumstances surrounding the body (no photos of corpse, hurry up burial at sea etc.) but this is not a blog about conspiracy theories.

As a Christian, the more I more I saw people celebrate the more convicted I became. I thought, “What is the appropriate response for me as a pastor and even more importantly as a follower of Jesus?”

I’m not presuming to tell you how you should feel. I’m just trying to make us all take a breath and think for moment.  A little WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) time.  Doesn’t God sorrow even when evil men die?

Now I understand the concept of a just war.  The Bible is filled with people being put to death for rejecting God or attacking Israel. There must be the concept of a just war in society to defend the weak or stop those committing evil. My questions come because I also Jesus weeping over the people who have rejected His salvation. (Matthew 23:37)

Look at this warning from the Bible…

Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble. For the Lord will be displeased with you and will turn his anger away from them. – Proverbs 24:17-18

This verse teaches us to be careful not to rejoice in death. I would think, especially not to rejoice that someone was sent to an eternal hell.  I celebrate our troops who serve selflessly to preserve our freedom and safety.  I even celebrate that fact that Bin Laden’s death will probably save many other lives.  I can even feel a sense of satisfaction that justice has been served. I just question the celebration.

Psalm 37:28 says, “The Lord loves Justice.” I know you’re thinking, “This terrorist finally got what he deserved.” and it’s true.  However, I don’t want God to give me what I deserve because we all deserve hell. (Romans 3:10-23)

The Apostle Paul was a murderer, so was King David. When they repented God forgave them.  I have had the privilege of ministering to murders before and the main message I bring is always grace and forgiveness for all we’ve done.

The question that bring this situation into focus is this…Would we have celebrated as much if Bin Laden had repented and accepted Christ?

Now again, I’m not pointing fingers and trying to tell you what to feel or that your feelings are wrong.  I’m just asking myself…”Should I celebrate the death of anyone, no matter what good comes from it?”

It’s just a simple question.

7 Principles for Sharing Christ this Summer

I don’t normally share other people’s articles but this said everything I would like to say in a better way…
The summer months provide excellent opportunities to cultivate relationships with unbelievers and tell them about our Savior. However, finding time to do so can be a challenge. After all, our summers are often filled with vacations, outdoor events, children’s activities, etc.

How do we take advantage of the summer months to impact the lost for Christ even in the midst of a busy schedule? Here are some principles to remember and put into practice:

  1. Be balanced – How balanced is your life between non-Christians and Christians? There is nothing Biblical about spending all your time with believers.  Jesus Christ spent time with sinners. He was even known as their friend (Matt. 11:19). We cannot have personal evangelism without personal contact.
  2. Be proactive— View relationships with the intent to see the unbelievers come to have the greatest relationship there is – an eternal relationship with Christ. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Consider the broad base of non-Christian contacts you already have including:
    • Immediate friends and family
    • Neighbors, co-workers, employees, landlords
    • Newspaper carrier, mailman, barber or hairstylist, grocery store checker, waiter or waitress
    • Car dealer, insurance agent, accountant, attorney, banker
    • Doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist
    • Plumber, electrician, mechanic
    • Teacher, professor, coach, classmate
  3. Be intentional—Take the initiative. Look at everything you are doing this summer. Then ask, “Could this be done with a non-Christian included?”
  4. Be sensitive—People that take time to listen are rare in our fast paced culture. Take the time to give someone your undivided attention. Letting them know you care may provide an opportunity to tell them about Christ.
  5. Be prayerful – We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. Pray that the Lord will provide opportunities, give you the sensitivity to recognize them, and give you boldness to share the gospel.
  6. Be prepared—Move into the gospel presentation as God gives you the opportunity. If you don’t know what to say, EvanTell offers free on-line evangelism training at www.act111.org. Get trained so that when God gives you the opportunity, you’ll be ready.
  7. Be creative – For practical tips on how to develop relationships with non-Christians during the summer check out this blog series (Summer Evangelism IdeasMore Summer Evangelism IdeasAnd More Summer Evangelism Ideas).

Do you have any strategies to add to this list?  Send them to me.

God bless

Pastor Lon

Breaking Religious Taboos

Did you know that Jesus didn’t follow all the religious rules of His day? His methods weren’t welcomed in the established places of worship.  He hung out with the wrong crowd.  He overcame social and cultural barriers to reach people.  Jesus had to break many religions taboos to make a way to the Father for all of us.

In John 4:1-30, there is a story of the brief interaction between Jesus and a Samaritan Woman at the town well.

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”  He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. (v7-9)

Samaria was conquered Assyria 722 BC. The Samaritans intermarried with the foreigners. Therefore they were not regarded as fully Jewish. At the time of Jesus there was a lot of hatred between them. Jesus’ dealings with this woman illustrates His ministry breaking down barriers between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus broke several taboos with this meeting.  He broke the racial prejudice that Jews had against Samaritans.  He broke the religious bias towards the Samaritans as being inferior Jews or ‘unclean’.  Last Jesus tackled the chauvinist view of women that was prominent in His culture.  Jesus often broke taboo as to how women should be treated.

Mary Magdalene; Joanna, the wife Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and other women traveled with Jesus contributing their own resources to support Him and His disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) This was scandalous for a woman to leave her homes and travel with a rabbi.  Unheard of!  Unthinkable!  Yet Jesus had several woman travel with Him throughout His ministry time.  In the orthodox, first century temples women and men were separated by a screen.  Jesus was one of the world’s first feminists treating woman as ‘joint-heirs’ of salvation.

Why is this important to us today?  Because to truly follow Jesus we must break down the social, cultural and even religious taboos we have been taught.  These things keep people from following God.  More next blog.

Lent and Self Examination

I was raised Catholic and always participated in Lent growing up.  I would give up candy, not eat meat on Fridays etc. While I know longer participate in the ritualistic practices of Lent, I appreciate the idea behind the Catholic Sacrament that takes place during the season. Abstaining from certain pleasures and foods for the purpose of getting closer to God is a biblical practice I often do called fasting & prayer. In the Catholic Sacrament of Lent, they also set aside time for mourning ones sin.  I’m not advocating that part because we don’t need to mourn sin that God has forgiven. If we’ve repented we’re clean (1 John 1:9).

There is Biblical reference for Lent, I do however think the practice of examining our lives and praying with fasting during the days prior to Easter is a good habit to get into.

We are fasting and praying for people to accept God’s gift of salvation this Easter.  Our church is fasting and gathering the Wednesday before Easter to pray together. I cancelled our satellite TV subscription for a while to spend more time reading and praying.  (Extra bonus, the kids are actually playing outside.  No joke, really, it’s true.)

I encourage you to turn of the T.V., skip a meal and pray more between now and Easter.  You may find yourself ‘mourning’ for  someone who hasn’t yet accepted God’s grace or maybe even ‘mourning’ and repenting a sin in your own life you didn’t even know was there.  I know I will.

Gates: Directions and Decisions

For those of you who asked for it, here’s the gates from Nehemiah 3.  Each gate had a purpose for Israel and I would like to say they have and application for us today and even the order is interesting.

Sheep Gate – We need to become part of the sheep fold.  First build relationships Christ through slavation then with other believers who will strengthen our faith. – 1st gate rebuilt: Connecting to God & Church. Decide to follow Christ and connect with other sheep.

Fish Gate – After salvation we need to become fishers of men. – 2nd  gate rebuilt: Reaching Others. Make a decision to be actively sharing Christ with others.

Old Gate – it means, Long remaining. To me a symbol of remembering the ancient ways taught in scripture.  It also makes me think of returning to our  first love. Rebuild the gate of making decisions based on scripture and God’s will.

City Gate – This is the place of commerce.  The caravans would stop and trade at the city gates.  It was also where the town meeting happened, the government help public meetings at the city gate. We need to be involved in our city and have God involved in our Financial Decisions.

Valley GateHumbleness, Jesus was the “Lily of the Valley”. This is a picture of  prayer, illustrating our dependence upon God.  Don’t make any major decisions without prayer.

The valley gate was the one I forgot last Sunday, sorry.

Dung Gate – The place of the removing of refuse, throwing away the useless things.  What’s taking up your time, wasting your energy or distracting you from you destiny?  Decide to eliminate waste.

Fountain GateHoly Spirit; Springs of Living Water, refreshing.  We need to be led by The Spirit. Listen to the still, small voice and follow God’s leading in our decisions.  

Water Gate – This reminds me of the washing of word. This was the only part of wall that was still standing when Nehemiah went back to rebuild.  The word is eternal build your life on it.

East Gate – Adam & Eve we put in a garden called Eden in East.  When they were cast out, they were sent East of Eden. They were sent out because of their sin but sent with a prophesy of hope. Eve was told that her offspring would crush the serpent’s head.  Even when we sin, as sun rises in the East, His mercy is new every morning – It’s a Gate of Hope. Decide to go on when you sin because there is hope.

Horse Gate – Horses many times in scripture are used as symbols of war. This is the Gate of Spiritual Warfare. After rebuilding all the other things in our lives we can’t neglect spiritual warfare.  We are in a battle whether we want to be or not.

Inspection Gate – After the other gates are all rebuilt in our lives we understand how to inspect things to make good decisions. – Gate of Wisdom

Get started building these gates in your life today!

Enduring Excellence

Excellence isn’t really excellence unless it endures until the end.  Think about it.  I can be the fastest guy off the blocks in a race, clear the first few hurdles with ease but if I trip over the last hurdle or slow down before the finish line and other runners pass me, was it an excellent race?  Of course it wasn’t.  To be truly excellent at anything we must finish as strong as we begin.

Paul said this near the end of his life:

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.  And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

The prize that awaits is worth running this race with excellence, but how do we do that?

Begin with Duplication and Delegation

Exodus 18:13-26 – Moses & Jethro

Jethro decides to check on his son-in-law Moses and see how his life as a leader is going.  He sees Moses handling every minor dispute that arises for a whole nation!  He tells him this isn’t good. You won’t have enduring excellence, you’ll wear out!  He instructs Moses on duplication and delegation.

Moses you teach the people and delegate the smaller decision to faithful, honest people. Then delegate the authority to make decisions.  Leaders make mistakes by delegating tasks and not authority because of fear or control issues. Moses sets up leaders over 1,ooo; 100, 50, and 10.  Each according to their ability.

There were good people standing around Moses all day learning by watching him make decisions.  they just needed a change to be able to help.  Duplicate yourself in faithful, honest people then give them a chance.  The help you need is already around you, waiting.

Jesus went beyond Delegation to Discipleship

Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” – Matthew 4:19

Jesus kicked it up a notch by saying in effect, I’ll mentor you.  I’ll teach you how to do what I do.  Jesus fed 5,000 but He duplicated Himself in 11 men and then He delegated the care of the Kingdom of God on this earth to them!

If Jesus can trust the care of His word and the eternal destiny of billions of souls to some uneducated fishermen, don’t you think you can delegate some task to those you are training?  Of course they will make mistakes, after all that’s how you learned.

If the people around you are willing to follow you, put your DNA into them and turn them loose!  After 3 years of discipling thieves, liars, uneducated fisherman and trouble makers Jesus was frustrated too.  He asked how long He had to put up with them and why they had such little faith but He entrusted His ministry to them.  Wow. Don’t make those you disciple wait until their perfect before you trust them because they never will be.

What’s this have to do with enduring excellence?  Jesus did the work better than His disciples. You can always do it better yourself. However, Jesus understood that excellence would come from the disciples eventually.  More importantly He knew that enduring excellence means building something that lasts beyond yourself. How long will the excellence you strive for today last?  Until you get tired? Even if it’s until you die, it’s not truly enduring.

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

Excellence is an attitude not an ability

I walk into an unusually tidy bedroom to see one of my daughters.  “Wow, you’re room looks great.” I commented surprisingly.  She explained that mom had said she couldn’t leave her room until it was clean.  “How long have you been up here working?” I inquired.  “Oh, not long.” she replied.  The Sherlock Holmes in me became instantly interested.  “Not long” I thought.  “Not long!  I’ve seen this room.” I investigated the closet.  The door was pushed out off the track and it was nearly impossible to open, even for me.  I then noticed several items of close and toys protruding from under her bed.  You know what happened next. I proceeded to explain that stuffing piles into the closet and under the bed wasn’t what her mother had in mind when she used the word ‘cleaning’.  Over the whines and objections I calmly and loving instructed about doing your best, doing things with excellence.  I don’t think she got it but neither did I, the first hundred times my mom explained it to me.  “Sometimes you do the right thing just because it’s the right thing.” my mother with exclaim in response to my “But Whyyyyyyyy?”

Doing things with excellence is an attitude.  It’s about personal pride in a job well done.  It’s about knowing you answer to a higher standard than most. “I don’t care what others kids do…” my mom would teach, “we don’t behave that way.”

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Colossians 3:23

When you’re on your job, in you school, or serving at church.  Do you best because you are working for God and because it’s the right thing.

My daughter can’t clean her room as well as adult and we don’t expect her to.  We do however, expect her to give her best effort. God doesn’t say we have to BE the best; we just have to give God our best.  He’ll make up the lack to multiply it.  After all, He’s never been impressed with our ability, but He is keenly concerned about our attitude.

This Sunday at House of Praise, (www.NoPerfectPeopleHERE.com) we’ll look at Giving God Your Best.  I hope to see you there.

 

Jesus’ Prayer Model

In response to the inquiries of His disciples Jesus teaches them how to pray.  He offers up a prayer model when He says to them, “Pray like this…”

Matthew 6:9-13 (nlt)

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us today the food we need for today, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

This isn’t meant to be a prayer to be memorized and mindlessly repeated.  In fact, right before these verses Jesus tells us not to repeat the same prayer over and over like the heathen, who think they will be heard because of their much talking.  It’s a model.

The prayer is broken down into a sequential order that will help Christ’s followers pray more effectively.  6 requests to God the Father are featured.

First 3 requests are about God:

1. May your name be holy,
2. May your kingdom come,
3. May your will be done

This structure addresses all parts of the Trinity; Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  God the Father, whose name is holy; Jesus, who brought God’s Kingdom to earth; and The Holy Spirit, who leads us into God’s will today.

Next 3 requests are about Us:

1. Give us our daily food,
2. Forgive our sins,
3. Keep us from temptation, which rescues us from the evil one.

Again the Trinity is addressed in these petitions for God’s help. The Father supplies our needs, Jesus paid the price for our sins to be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit leads us away from temptation and into righteousness.  The point?When we pray we should involve all three parts of God.

Another huge lesson here is to begin with God and then move to our needs. The first three requests are great.  They are about God: His holiness, His Kingdom, and His will…huge, monumental topics.  The second set of requests is small, ordinary, and everyday.  They’re about us, normal, everyday people.  We NEED food, we NEED forgiveness (and to give forgiveness) and we NEED God’s help with temptation and the devil everyday.  “Lord help me not to fall into that old sin habit again today.“

There is such a huge truth hidden in these four little verses.  We must first rehearse the immensity of God’s nature but then remember He cares for my little needs because of who He is.  Pray that His name would be hallowed or revered in my life, that His Kingdom would dominate me, and that His will would be performed.  If that happens, the three requests for my needs are easy.

Another truth revealed in the passage, is that we should begin praying about the eternal, the Kingdom stuff, and then turn our attention to our needs. Oh, let’s not be falsely religious, we’re not beggars, we’re His children, we need to pray for our needs. Jesus used the word Father so we wouldn’t be afraid to go to Him who loves us.  My point is, let’s put God’s Kingdom first in our prayers, then our needs.  Let’s focus on the eternal more, the temporary less.

In heaven with a holy name gives us the balanced view. Yes, He’s your daddy but please don’t forget He is also the Almighty One.  The angels around the throne of God in heaven don’t cry love, love, love. They cry “holy, holy, holy!”  That is His dominant characteristic.  It is our job to make sure we reverence His name.  His name, refers to who He is, His character, His personhood. Before anything else we pray, we need to declare His holiness in us and in the world.  The beginning of the book Ephesians echos this process.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…v3

God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. v5

All the praise should go to The Father because He cared enough for us to save us.  After we’ve hallowed His name (separated it as unique, lifted it above all others), prayed for His Kingdom and His will to come, then we can run to Him with our problems!

At some point, your whole life shrinks down to your problem.  Financial pressure, “God I need bread!”…”Lord I messed up my life with sin!”…”Or God I’m overwhelmed with this struggle.”  We try to focus on God but the sickness, death, relationship problem, abuse, sin or other worry pulls our attention back to what’s right in front of us.  It’s not wrong to cast your cares to God, He tells us to but there is an additional prayer strategy here.

Draw your attention first, to the first three requests of the Lord’s Model Prayer.  Lift your prayer up to heaven, to the glory of God, to the greatness of who He is.  When we forget to start there, that’s when we lose our ability to stand in the face of our issue.

There is more strength, more forgiveness, and more provision in praying for God’s name would be made holy, that His Kingdom would come and that His will would be accomplished than any request for a specific situation we could pray.  We need to do both, but let’s keep the order correct for the power to be released.

Before closing, I would like to change focus for a moment. It sticks out like a single tree in a vast, open field. Forgiveness is the only request that is listed conditionally.  If we don’t forgive sins against us our sins won’t be forgiven.  Later Jesus would explain that His shed blood purchases forgiveness for all.  If we say we don’t want this person forgiven we say don’t apply the blood!  If the blood isn’t applied to one, it’s not applied to any.  Remember as you pray for forgiveness that you choose to forgive those that have hurt you.  If we don’t, then we are putting ourselves on God’s throne and saying we want to be the their judge and that He never tolerates.

It is my prayer that this blog helped you to organize your prayer time and pray more effectively by following the pattern Jesus gave us.  God Bless

Stress Reducing Tips

As I think about stress it occurs to me that most of my stress is caused by not responding properly to unpleasant situations.  I eat.  Some people need a drink or cigarette to calm down.  These coping strategies may temporarily make us feel better, but they cause more damage in the long run and therefore ADD to our stress longterm:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol (needing one glass to relax is still dependency)
  • Overeating or under eating
  • Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer (a screen’s a screen)
  • Withdrawing from church, friends, family, and activities
  • Using pills or drugs to relax
  • Sleeping too much
  • Procrastinating
  • Filling up every minute of the day with busyness to avoid facing problems
  • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, violence)

So what are proper responses?  Well teacher says you can get an A+ for these healthy steps to reduce stress:

Absolve – Forgive. It’s that simple. Let go of the hurts of the past and move on.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15

Unforgiveness is like strapping the person to you back and carrying them with you forever, letting them hurt you again and again. Forgive someone is for YOU.  It puts you back in right standing with God.

Not forgiving yourself for a failure or sin is just as destructive.  God forgives you, don’t call unclean what god calls clean, you.

Adapt– Most stress can be reduced responding properly. Adapt your strategies in a hostile environment.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare. – Proverbs 15:1

When one of my kids says, “I hit them because they made me mad.”  I respond that no one can make you mad…you choose to respond in anger.

Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.

Adjust–  Make reasonable goals. Perfectionism is a major source of stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, by learning to accept “good enough.” I’m not talking about not doing your best and making excuses, I’m talking about not obsessing over every detail.

The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing. – Proverbs 10:28

Admire–  Choose to be an optimist.  That glass is half full! When feeling stressed, reflect on all the things you’re thankful for.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise His name. Psalm 100:4

Avoid– I’m not talking about procrastination. Putting off unavoidable stress such as studying or confronting a difficult person actually increases your stress level. I mean avoid unhealthy situations or relationships.  Example: “Every time I hang with my old friends I drink again.”  Then don’t hang out with them!

Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.

I hope these simple five simple “A’s” help you have less stress in the New Year.

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 27: We Are Ambassadors

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. – 2 Corinthians 5:11

A “fearful responsibility to the Lord” Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.  Words to take notice of.  We have a responsibility that we should fear not fulfilling!  What is this awesome responsibility that is so important the Holy Spirit would choose those words to record it for all eternity?  Persuading others to follow Christ.  I know, you’re thinking “We know, we’re supposed to share the good news with people.”  It’s more than that.  If you were in your last 30 days to live and asked “What should I do to make sure I’m right with God?” We might talk about forgiving others or repenting of sins but probably not “go tell someone about God’s love.”  Yet this is exactly what this verse is saying.

Later in the same chapter the Holy Spirit (through Paul) reminds us of our purpose on this planet.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

We love to quote the verse 17, “We are new!  The old life is gone.” but WHY? So that we can be Ambassadors for Christ.

An ambassador is an official representative of something. Paul tells the Church in Corinth that We Christians are Christ’s ambassadors. His official representatives. Christ has sent His message to us and through us for the world to hear and see. We are sent with Christ’s message of reconciliation. So your title is “Ambassador of Reconciliation.” Now that is a calling. So what is reconciliation? Reconciliation according to the Encarta Dictionary is a “renewing.” The “ending of conflict.” So Christ came to reconcile us with God….. renew us with God, so we would not be condemned to death. And as Christ’s ambassador we are called to encourage other to become renewed…. In faith, and focus on God.

If the time we had left on this planet was less than 30 days we should spend them representing the one who is calling us home to His heavenly country.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 26: Overcoming Doubt

I apologize for falling behind with these devotionals.  Between going to Syracuse to see my mother-in-law and being home sick for a couple days myself it couldn’t be helped.  I will try to catch up…let’s talk about doubt.

Some people have the wrong idea about faith.  Faith isn’t the absence of doubt but real faith overcomes doubt to believe in something yet unseen.  Thomas needed to see Jesus to believe but Jesus told Him “blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.”

As a person faces the last 30 Days to Live, sometimes they will have doubts about God.  That’s ok. Real faith overcomes those doubts to focus on their faith.  It was like that for James the brother of Jesus.

James didn’t believe his brother could be God.  “MY big brother?  No way!”  He didn’t believe that the Son of God had grown up right in his own house.

Jesus’ brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even His brothers didn’t believe in Him. – John 7:3-5

James had his doubts, we all do.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe, it’s ok.  We just can’t STAY there.  We have to remember we have met the Risen Lord who we can trust in.  James saw Jesus after the resurrection and then He believed. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Mary had doubt about Jesus even being born.  As the angel told her she would conceive and bear the Messiah, she had a question.  “How can this be since I am a virgin.”  As the angel explained that all things are possible with God and that the miracle birth would happen via the Holy Spirit, Mary’s response shows her faith.

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” – Luke 1:38

It wasn’t that Mary didn’t have questions or even doubts, it that she overcame them by focusing on the word that God had given her.

In conclusion, James and Mary show us the keys to overcoming doubt and walking in faith, meeting the Risen Lord and believing His word.  You may be facing overwhelming obstacles or even a crisis of faith, remember when you met Jesus and rehearse His words to you.

Prayer

Lord, I admit that I sometimes doubt. I know you love me but sometimes I doubt that you’ll protect me or that you’ll provide for me.  Help me to remember the way I felt when I first accepted you as Savior.  Remind me of the scriptures you’ve shown me.  I choose to trust you and help me to believe your promises more than what I see.  In your name I ask, Amen.

Thoughts

  • Do I doubt that God will protect me?
  • Have I come under condemnation during times when I doubted?

Action

  • Memorize 1 promise from the bible.

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 e-Devotional Day – 23: Assessing Your Finances

As we looked at assessing our life yesterday we focused on general happiness and career.  In this blog we’ll look at how our finances and our relationships affect our emotional health.

As we’ve looked how we would respond if we had 30 Days to Live we discovered that finances are looked at differently.  Money is no longer a goal but a tool.  If you missed that e-Devotional please review it.  When departing from this world the only financial worry people may have is not leaving bills for their loved ones.  In assessing our lives, financial pressure can play a huge role.

1. Do my finances cause stress in my life?

Really Pastor Lon?  Doesn’t finances cause stress in everyone’s life unless their rich?  No, they don’t.  There are people out there who live within their means including a budget.  I know we’ve done it.

Financial pressure is a major cause of divorce, suicide, domestic violence, heart disease and much more.  My wife and I had periods of our life where the financial pressure was overwhelming (either because of sickness, unemployment or poor financial decisions).  We had to make some hard decisions to change our lives.  First, I decided to go back to school and change careers. Second, we began to adjust our spending.

Now before you give me “you don’t understand” comments.  I went back to school when I was 30, married and had a kid.  I worked, volunteered 15 hours a week in my church and carried a 3.9 gpa in college.  I’m not saying that to brag, simply to say stop making excuses!!  I should have gone to school two years earlier but kept talking myself out of it.  “We can’t afford it.”  “I don’t have time.”  Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.  Once I got fed up with my situation, I sucked it up and did what I HAD to do to be happier.

Having said that, a new career or more money isn’t always the answer to financial pressure.  It has been my experience that people with poor spending habits will always stretch the finances to the max not matter how much they make.  I have counseled people making over $100,000 a year that were in worse shape than couples making $18,000.

2. Do I have a budget I FOLLOW?

Solving financial pressure is NOT about getting more money.  It is about having a spending plan.

A budget is a dirty word to some people.  They think of it as restraining and rules to make them unhappy.  I don’t agree.  It’s simply a spending plan.  There’s guilt free freedom when you go out to dinner and know it’s in your entertainment budget.

A budget needs to plan for monthly expenses, emergencies, debt reduction and savings.  You need a plan no matter how much you make.  Usually people wait until they are so far in debt they feel hopeless before trying a budget.  Don’t wait!  There isn’t time in a blog to explain a budget but here’s a good resource.

Crown Financial is a ministry with great articles and lots of free resources including a budget sheet. (http://www.crown.org/GettingStarted/)

3. Do I tithe?

People will say, “I’ve prayed and asked God help me with my financial problems but nothing happened.”  If you don’t acknowledge God in your finances then you have no right to ask Him to help you.

“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.  You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:8-10

If we call ourselves believers but don’t tithe then we have put a curse on ourselves.  the good news is this, as with any sin, we can repent and be forgiven.

Did you notice the last two sentences in this bible passage?  It is the ONLY place in all scripture where we are told to test or try God!  Any other time putting God to the test is a sin. God tells us tithing is so very important that actually tells us to give it a try and see how big His blessing will be.  Seven different times I’ve challenge people I was counseling to try tithing for 90 days.  I told them if God didn’t bless, I would give their money back.  That’s right a money back guarantee on God!  You know what?  Not one person asked for their money back.  Every one was amazed at what God did.  One man got a promotion, another a new job. One lady paid a huge debt off with less than half what she owed! A different lady got an unexpected inheritance.  God doesn’t lie and His scripture is the key to success in your finances.

Prayer

Lord, help me to live within my finances.  I know you provide for all my needs as I put you first in my finances through tithing.  I ask in faith for your help and thank you now that you will answer.  I am confident in your provision and refuse the pressure financial issue can bring by trusting in you.  In your name I pray, amen.

Thoughts

  • Do I tithe in faith, expecting God to provide?
  • Do I know what I spend?

Action

  • Create a budget this week.
  • If you’re not tithing, commit to for the next 90 days.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 22: Assessing Your Life & Career

When people have 30 Days to Live they normally assess their life.  They either are content saying they have had a good life or they are full of regrets at unfulfilled dreams.  Today, I’d like to give you simple questions to help you assess your life and determine if there are changes you need to make now.  Let’s live like we’re dying.

Here are a few questions organized by the different areas of your life to help you get started.

Emotional Health

1. Do I generally feel happy? – I know “happiness” is a relevant term but be honest with yourself…do you feel happy most days?

If the answer is no, or I’m not sure then you must find out why and fix it.  If you are truly depressed first seek prayer and healing and then please find out if there’s a medical condition causing it.  If you’re depressed because you’re physically sick in some other way, then do the same, prayer and medicine. Yes, while you’re waiting for a miracle God uses medicine too.

Most often happiness is a choice.  You have to choose not to sweat the small stuff.  Usually we get upset over silly little things that won’t mean anything 1,000 years from now. Sometimes the issue may financial pressure or relationship problems.  I’ll cover those tomorrow.

2. What do you do to bring fun and joy into your life?

We all need activities and people that refresh us and bring joy to us.  Spend extra time playing with the kids, see the new movie, read a book, pray longer, go for a walk outside, exercise…what works for you?  Take the time to recharge your emotional battery.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. – Proverbs 17:22

3. Do I feel fulfilled and motivated by my career? (School if you’re a student.)

I’ve had those jobs where I dreaded getting up to go to work.  The people were difficult, there was no room for promotion, the money wasn’t good etc.  It drove me to go back to school at 30 years old.  Education and training is a key to greater career fulfillment.

A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense. Through knowledge its rooms are filled with all sorts of precious riches and valuables. – Proverbs 24:3-4

Occasionally you have the degree and that’s not the issue. I still say studying a new field or getting training for a promotion may be the answer but…

If you hate your job, do something about it. I know you need to pay the bills, keep the job you have now and start looking for another.  It’s always easier to look while you have a job so you won’t settle again for new job you’ll hate in a year.  Networking with people you know is key.  Tell them what you’re interested in and see if they know someone in that field.

For 10 years I worked in the technology field in graphic design and the Internet (when it was first starting.)  I loved it for 9 years!  Then it began to seem meaningless to me.  I realized that I wanted to be in ministry to help people and began to move towards that goal.

If you like your career or company but feel capped because there is no advancement or your bored doing the same thing for years, education can break that cycle also.  It could be a simple as more in-house training or taking an on-line certification.

The best advice I can give someone is to do something you feel passionately about.  You will spend a third of your life at you job so make sure it’s fulfilling.

If you’re a student then school IS your career.  Put your effort into it.  If you don’t like your major, change.  The discipline you learn in school will to a large degree, determine how successful you will be in your career.  Now I know some people aren’t book people, then do vocational training and learn a trade.

Whether you are a student, a supervisor, a business owner, a public servant or a long-time employee, where you are right now is your mission field.  That’s right we can feel much more fulfilled when we look through eternal eyes to see that God has us there for a reason…to CONNECT OTHERS to Christ!

More assessments tomorrow.

Prayer

Lord, help me to be honest with myself about life.  Help me to not be so negative or worried about small issues.  Remind me to do activities that recharge me emotionally and spiritually.  Give me the courage to make the career changes I need to make.  Help me to see where I am as a mission field you sent me to and give me the boldness to speak when you open opportunities.  Lord make me the person you created me to be. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Thoughts

  • Am I in the job the Lord wants me in?
  • Do I feel challenged and fulfilled by my career choice?

Action

  • Do one activity that bring you joy this week.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional Day – 21: Traveling Light

We just returned from an eventful trip to Los Angeles, CA.  I took my wonderful daughter Moriah to check out a challenging college program at the Dream Center called ‘The Movement’ but that’s not what this blog is about.

Have you ever noticed that experienced travelers travel light?  You don’t hear them say, “I should have brought more.”  No they have only brought the necessities.  Experiences travelers realize that there is a cost for ever bag and a weight limit also.  It’s the same way in this journey we call life.  We don’t need heavy baggage slowing us down, delaying us from getting to where we want go.

When someone has 30 Days to Live, they readily drop the heavy bags as they prepare to depart for their final destination.  The emotional and spiritual baggage holds us back from living for the eternal.  Take ONLY the things that help you get to heaven.  Those essentials are the people, things and decisions that equip you to face the challenges ahead or push farther on your journey.  You want to leave behind the people, things and decisions that slow you down, offer no return on investment or even harm you.  How do you know what or who to take with you and what/who leave behind?

Three E’s to Take

  1. Energize – Keep the things that motive you or foster an atmosphere of creativity, people that are enthusiastic for life, and then renew your energy by doing things that refresh you.
  2. Excite – Keep the things that make you happy even if they seem silly or sentimental to others.  You know that special someone who makes your heart skip a beat or that friend you can’t think about without smiling?  Spend more time with them.  Do what you are passionate about.  Why waste your time in a career you hate?
  3. Empower – I know…it’s an annoying word but educate didn’t seem to cover it fully.   Keep thing that challenge and teach you.  Spend time with people who are willing to share their knowledge, experience, and skills and THEN challenge you to go farther with that knowledge. Take the actions that will catapult you further in your relationship with the Lord and others or in your career.

Three D’s to Leave Behind

  1. Drains – You know what they are.  Those things, people and actions that when you are done with them make you feel like a video game warrior who has taken too many body blows and whose life force is depleted.   Don’t let them suck the life out of you until it’s gone!
  2. Depleters – Things, people, and action that aren’t necessarily hurting you but they don’t help either.  These are the time wasters that deplete your resources (time, talent and treasure) without giving a return-on-investment.  You only have so many resources to give, put them where there is the greatest return.
  3. Destroyers – These are the things, people and actions/decisions that can damage us physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially or in our reputation.  There isn’t much to say, run away!

I know some of my faithful readers are thinking, “Can you be more specific?”  No, I can’t.  These lists are very personal and yours are yours, mine are mine.  What energizes you may deplete me and visa-versa.  If you will honestly evaluate the three E’s and 3 D’s for yourself you make great leaps towards the person you want to be.

Prayer

Dear Jesus help me to travel light.  Help me to take with me things and people and make decisions that energize, excite and empower me.  Help me to make the hard decision to walk away from the things, people and actions that drain, deplete or destroy me.  I thank you for giving me the ability to make these changes in my life to become the person you created me to be.

Thoughts

  • Am I happy?  If not, what are the Three D’s I need to remove?
  • Am I productive?  If nor, what can I do to better leverage the Three E’s?

Action

  • Dump one D and begin one E this week.

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 18: 30 Days to Glorify God

Bill Morgan gives us a glimpse of what he’ll be teaching this Sunday.

Isaiah 43:7 – Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory.

When one is facing the end of their life their entire perspective changes. One of the questions that comes up is “Did my life count?” For those of us who know Christ, given 30 Days to Live we can make our life count.

First we must recognize that God makes it simple. It is man who complicates the gospel for his own gain. The prophet Isaiah spoke the words of God plainly, “I have made them for my Glory.” Who is the “them” in this verse it’s those who “Claim Jesus as their God”. I have asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and I “Claim” Jesus as my God therefore I was made for God’s Glory.  If I was made for His glory then how do I give glory to God?

There are many answers to that question, many ways to glorify God. Anything that I do to further, promote, or expand the Kingdom of God brings Glory to God. When I read the bible and begin to change my thinking into the thinking of God, I give God Glory. When I love like 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, I give God Glory. When I feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give a cup of water in Jesus name, I give God glory. I know understand that the list is endless.

If I were to sum it up it would be this;

Matthew 6:33 – But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

If the question is, “Did my life count?” I could say, “Yes it did.” Why? Because I talked to someone about Christ and I lifted up a brother in need. I helped the poor whenever I could.

In the Song of Solomon it says, “Catch us the little foxes who spoil the young buds on the vine”. The buds become flowers and the flowers become the fruit of the vine. It’s not the big things that spoil the entire vineyard; it’s the small things. Likewise, Jesus says that if we are faithful in the small things we are worthy of bigger things. Giving God glory is not about the big things it’s about the little things. Offering to pray with someone who is down, inviting someone to church and even simply stopping in the middle of your day and thanking Jesus for being a part of your life. All of this brings glory to Him who made you.

When we give God Glory we are fulfilling the purpose of why we are here, we are making our life count.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, show me how to glorify you today.  Make me aware of the opportunities I pass by daily unaware.  I want to glorify you in every way.

Thoughts for Today

  • What did I do to bring glory to God yesterday?
  • Do I put God’s Kingdom first?

Action List

  • Ask one person if you can pray for them 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 15: What’s My Life All About?

As a person looks at the last 30 Days of their life they often wonder what their purpose for living was.  Searching for answers some people may think “Maybe it’s about family.”  Others may think they made a difference in the planet by helping the environment but we all search for meaning at the end of our life.  What’s my life all about?  I submit to you this thought, only that which will live on in eternity matters.  Of the eternal things there is nothing more important than a soul saved from hell.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. – John 3:16-17

This is the most quoted verse ever but do we really understand it?  God doesn’t want anyone to perish and go to hell.  In fact, this is such an important concept that He was willing to separate the Trinity and send the Son to earth…to earth to suffer and die.  That’s how important the salvation of each and every person is the Lord.

Then he (the thief on the cross) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:26-43

Even in His very last moments on earth Jesus was still reaching out to others, saving them from damnation.  He was clear on what His purpose in life was, ‘to seek and save those that are lost.’  We need to understand that the very reason we are still on this planet is to help connect others to Christ and to help them gain heaven.

Worshiping God is very important, but worship is better in heaven.  Studying the word of God is a key to our lives but Jesus is the Word made flesh and will spend all of eternity revealing new facets of Himself to us.  Fellowship with the saints (church) is important for our spiritual growth but we will be fellowshipping forever with all the saints in heaven.  There is only one thing we can do here on earth that we can not do in heaven, win a convert for Christ.

Our very purpose here on this planet, the reason we are still taking in breath is to make Christ known to others.  So why don’t we think about it more?  Why don’t we do anything we can to reach people for Christ, every day?

Prayer

Dear Jesus, please forgive me for not sharing the gospel more.  Forgive me for fearing what people would think more than them going to hell. Jesus help me to follow YOUR example. Even on the cross you were saving a soul from hell.  Cause me to have compassion for people that are far from you, even if they are difficult people to be around.  Give me opportunity to tell them the good news of salvation and give me the boldness to speak. Amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • Do I believe that saving souls from heaven is the call of every believer?
  • When was the last time I saw someone I prayed for or shared Christ with become a disciple of Jesus?  (A disciple is not someone who says a prayer but someone who leaves there old life and follows Jesus.)

Action List

  • Write down and pray for 3 people that do not follow Christ, for the next week.
  • Pick at least one of those people and spend time with them within the next week.  (Look for divine opportunities to talk about God or pray for them but don’t force it.  Build relationship first.)

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 11: Love Requires Forgiveness

When people face their last 30 Days to Live, they often turn to forgive those that have hurt them or ask forgiveness from those they have harmed. Why do we wait?  Jesus was very clear that regarding our need to forgive others.

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15

This may seem qute harsh but when we understand how the Kingdom of God works, it makes complete sense.  The Lord has told us He alone is the judge. When we refuse to forgive someone, we make ourselves that person’s judge.  In effect we are saying that we want God’s job.  He never has tolerated that, just ask an angel named Lucifer.  If we want God to forgive us, we must forgive others, otherwise we must rely on our own righteousness for forgiveness.  As we know, that won’t work.

When someone has 30 Days to Live there are two motivating factors to fogive. First, the need to be right with God before facing Him.  As the verses we just read in Matthew teach us, we have to forgive to be ready to face the Father.  Second, as people prepare to leave loved ones they realize that life is too short to not forgive.  Suddenly they remember that love is the highest goal of humanity.

Let love e your highest goal. – 1 Corinthians 14:1

The ability to forgive is the ability to love.  If we are making love our highest goal, forgiveness is required.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  – Colossians 3:13-14

Pauil is telling the Colossian church, that clothing ourselves in love is the highest goal.  He tells us how to do this, overlook people’s faults and forgive them when they hurt you.  I have to laugh when Christians say, “I’m not offended, just hurt.”  Is there a difference?

Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. – 1 Corinthians 13:5

When I’m counsling someone and I ask them if they have any unforgiveness towards people they will say no.  When I ask them who has hurt you?  Well, then I get a list.  We must be honest with ourselves if we want to be right with God.  if you have been keeping a record of of how they have hurt you then you are not walking in love.  If you have been hurt by someone, choose to forgive them today.

The person who is devoid of the power to forgive
is devoid of the power to love. – Martin Luther King Jr.

We can’t truly love without forgiving.  If we don’t love then, we don’t know God.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, you see the people that have hurt me.  I choose today to forgive them and ask you to supernaturally give me the ability to completely forgive them.  I ask you to forigve me for having offenses and unforgiveness.  Cleanse me in your precious blood and forgive my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.  In your name I pray, amen.

Thoughts for Today

  • Who has hurt me?  Does it still hurt to think about it now?  If so, have I really forgiven them?
  • Is there anyone I need to ask to forgive me?

Action List

  • Ask a person you know you’ve hurt to forgive you.
  • Forgive one person this week that you never thought you could forgive.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional – Day 10: Why Should I Love?

As a person approaches death, facing their final 30 days, they usually turn towards those they love.  Most people don’t ask to work extra hours, or even take one more trip.  They certainly don’t wish for more TV or screen time.  They ask to see their loved ones.  They even reach out to relatives and friends they haven’t talked to in years.  Dying people try to mend broken relationships with their last breaths. Look at this verse:

Let love be your highest goal! – 1 Corinthians 14:1

As people face their last thirty days it all suddenly becomes crystal clear.  Like the morning sun breaking through a cloud bank, they see for the maybe the first time, what’s most important…LOVE.  Why wait?  If love is the highest goal, the most important thing, we should love now.

Another reason we should we love like we’re dying is because love is one of the few things in this world that actually is eternal.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

Of these few eternal things, love is the greatest. Faith in the living God will be carried into the next life.  Hope in the eternal bliss of heaven carries us through our last 30 days to live but the one thing we can aspire to that is the greatest is love.  Poets have mused about it, song-writers have sang its praises but how many people truly understand love.  To begin to understand why we should love, we must start by understanding that love is eternal.

Jesus thought it was so important to love that He made it a commandment.

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. – John 15:12

Jesus commands us to give that same kind of unchanging, self-sacrificing love He gave us to others.  We CAN love like Him or He wouldn’t command us to.  He’s not a cruel prankster, giving His followers a command that He won’t give them the ability to carry out.  No.  We can love like Jesus because He lives in us by His Spirit.

Today, love someone the way Christ loved you.  Looking past the sin, their harshness, even their rejection of the gospel to love them.  If you do, you’ll be a little close to Christ then when you started the day.

Prayer:

Lord help me to love as you have loved me, not looking at people’s faults and sins but at their potential.  Father I choose to forgive them for how they have hurt me because you forgave me all the times I’ve hurt you.  Fill me with your love right now that I my love as you do.

Thoughts for Today:

  • Do I show the love of Christ on a daily basis to people I’m around?
  • if love were the only measurement of Christianity would my neighbors know I’m a Christian?

Action List:

  • Do a random act of kindness to someone today to show God’s love.

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.

30 Days to Live, Day 7: Do you want a good life?

Do you want a good life?

I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! – Deuteronomy 30:19

It sound silly but we have to choose to have a better life.  He wasn’t saying choose between “suicide and breathing.”  The Lord made it clearer by saying choose between blessing and cursing, between having a good life and terrible one.  Choose between hope for the future (That’s what He was talking about when He mentioned your descendants.) and hopelessness.

Do you want a good life?  It seems like a silly question but it’s not.  Our choices play a huge part in determining how good are life is.  God says choose life or death and then just in case we can’t get it, He say “OH!!!! That you would choose life!”  He’s yelling louder than any coach, “Please! Choose right! I love you and want you to have a good life.”

So, do you want a good life? Then choose to follow the ways that will bring God’s blessing, not the devil’s curses.

These 30 days can be the greatest spiritual growth of your entire life, if you’ll choose to do the work, to learn, to change, to have a good life.  I’m choosing change, I’m choosing LIFE.

Prayer

Dear Jesus, help me to choose life today.  Help me to avoid that patterns that cause me to make poor choices. I give you my fears that may keep me from making good and Godly choices.

Thoughts for Today

  • What choices do I make that make my life harder?
  • How can I choose blessing instead of cursing today?

Action List

  • Make a good choice today that you have been putting off!
  • Choose to put God first today by spending 15 minutes with Him.

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.

————-
* 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.

30 Days of Putting God First – Part 2

If we only had 30 days to live an important change would be to put God first in every area of our lives as we prepare to spend eternity with Him.  Yesterday we discussed giving God the first day of every week and the first part of every day.  Today we look at two very practical ways to put God first.

Give God the First Part of My Income

As a person faces eternity, somehow money loses its importance.  The last 30 days of a person’s life they become extremely generous, realizing that you can’t take it with you.  Jesus told us to store up treasure in heaven, not here on earth.  The best way to do that is to give to God first, before everything else.

Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first part of everything your land produces. Then He will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with the finest wine. – Proverbs 3:9-10

As we honor the Lord by returning the first 10% of everything He has given us back to Him, He then increases our blessings.  If we wait until after the bills, after home repairs etc. there’s usually little left to give.  If we give to God first, He multiplies what’s left supernaturally.

“I never would have been able to tithe on the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” — JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, SR.

As we are faithful in the temporary things He can trust us with eternal things.

Give God the First Consideration of Every Decision

People will ask, “Does God really care where we work or where we live?”  YES, He does. He cares about the smallest details of our lives because He loves us.  (The very hairs on your head are all numbered. – Matthew 10:30)  There is nothing to small for Him to care and nothing to big for Him to handle.

If we had 30 days to live we would ask God to heal us.  In the grand scheme of the countless years of eternity and the vastness of the universe, whether one person lives 100 years of 30 years is meaningless.  What I’m trying to say is, to God all our requests are little things so don’t be afraid to ask.

Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:6

By asking God what His will is the various parts of our lives we involve Him in our day-to-day lives.  If He’s involved, then we have His wisdom, His presence and His blessing.

Remember, Give God…

  • The First Day of Every Week
  • The First Part of Every Day
  • The First Portion of My Income
  • The First Consideration of Every Decision

And you will soon find yourself living for eternity.

Born to Die

We’re all dying from the moment we are born. The difference between us and Jesus is this, He came to this earth knowing His time here was short.  He lived with great purpose because He knew how limited His time was.  As we celebrated His Resurrection on Easter we learned how to make the most of this life, remembering how short it can be.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

Do you believe in the eternal?  The majority of Americans do yet we spend so little time thinking about eternal things.

In the book Miracle on the River Kwai ther was a powerful seen involving allied soldiers who were captured by the Japanese during the World War II. These Prisoners of War (POW) were forced to work as slaves on a railway through the jungle.

One afternoon, a shovel was missing. The Japanese officer in charge lost his temper. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. No-one moved. No-one said anything. The officer got out his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious that he meant what he said.

One prisoner stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. The soldiers picked up his body, and carried it away.

There was a second tool count where is was found that no shovel was missing. There has been a mistake at the first count.

Why did this man step forward and say he had stolen a shovel then? This innocent man had sacrificed his life to save the prisoners. Jesus did the same thing.  He sacrificed His life to save the lives of those enslaved by sin.

Why was Jesus born on this earth?  To die.  His whole existence was for the purpose of dying for you and me.

He asks us today to die to ourselves and put His kingdom first (Matt 6:33).  Why?  Because we are all ding from the moment we’re born and only that which is done for God will last.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless, as it would be if there were no resurrection. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

God Bless, Pastor Lon

Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you that you have given me assurance of eternal life.  Help me today to think about eternity.  Help me to live today in such a way that I will draw people closer to you.  Give me opportunities to love and serve you by loving and serving others.

Thoughts for Today

  • What would you do differently if you were going to face eternity in 30 Days?
  • Have you ever thought about the fact that our lives a but a moment compared to eternity?

Action List

  • Do one thing that has eternity attached to it.  i.e. Pray for someone, share Jesus with someone, forgive someone, do a random act of kindness for a stranger, serve God by doing something practical to build His kingdom…etc.
  • Write down one thing you did today that will still be important 1,000 years from now.
  • Tell me your ideas for eternal actions.

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.

30 Days to Live e-Devotional

What would I do differently if I only had 30 Days to live? That’s quite a concept.  Most people give a flippant answer such as “quit my job and max out my credit cards”.  I don’t think that is what most people who really have one month left on this earth.  Take the 30 Day challenge to become the person you want to be in eternity.

Introduction

I’m so glad you decided to take this 30 day challenge to change they way we live.  It is my prayer that this resource will help us to Connect to God in a significant way.

This e-devotional is meant only as a tool, it doesn’t contain the answers to life’s big questions BUT God can use it to communicate to you.

If you will take these four simple steps I believe God will greatly impact your life in a powerfully positive way.

  1. Every morning, ask yourself what you would do if you had one month to live—then live that way.
  2. Each day read this e-devotional, pray 5 minutes about its contents and act on the changes you wish to make.
  3. Each day read scripture for 5 minutes. I also recommend the One Month to Live book as a reading resource
  4. Write down the top 3 changes you would make if you had One Month to Live.  At the end of these 30 days, evaluate where you are in making those changes.

Sound good?  Then let’s get started!!

Pastor Lon

Someday Syndrome

Are you suffering from the “Someday Syndrome”? Someday, I’ll go to college, someday, I’ll quit smoking, someday, I’ll clean the clutter off my desk, someday, I’ll get healthier, someday, I’ll live for God, someday, I’ll spend more time with family, someday, I’ll get my finances in order, when I have more time, when the kids are older, when I feel better, when work isn’t so crazy, someday, someday…someday never comes.

This Easter we will begin a journey called 30 Days to Live. This journey will focus on helping us to stop waiting for “someday” and make the most of our lives.

When Christ came to this earth He had a purpose in mind, saving you and me.  He kept that purpose in the forefront of His mind because He knew His time on earth was short.

“Why did you need to search for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know that I must about my Father’s business?” – Luke 2:49

He kept focused on the task with the urgency of a builder facing a deadline.  Have you ever had a school paper or a work project due tomorrow that you scrambled to finish on time?  We all have.  Starting Sunday we’re gonna live like we’re dying, to quote the lyrics of Kris Allen.

What if you only had 30 Days to Live?  How would you live differently?  What’s keeping you from doing that now?