One down, eleven to go

Good morning and welcome to February! It’s crazy how fast January went! Or maybe it went slowly for you. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Some days go faster than others because of how busy we are, or how much fun we’re having (because time flies when we’re having fun :)). Then other days seem to drag on and never end because we don’t have as much to do, we’re bored, or because of something that happens and time seems to stand still.

With one month down and eleven left for this year, how are those resolutions holding up? When I was in college, February was the month that the gym would really go back to normal, I wouldn’t have to wait in line any more for a particular machine. Looking back, I thought it was nice when this time rolled around, but now I realize that it was because so many again hadn’t stuck with their New Year’s Resolutions. I wrote back on January 1 about resolutions, and how I think we should make them. I think they can be a huge benefit, but I also suggested reviewing them daily.

SO, a month in, where are we at? Don’t forget them! Keep going strong with your resolutions. What if this year you became the best you that you’ve ever seen? The best you that anyone has ever seen? It’s possible. You just have to reach for it. It’s never easy…improvement and growth and change never are. That’s why they’re called “growing pains.” It can hurt. But it’s so worth it!!

Goal without a planSo stop reading, go back, review today those resolutions you made. Have you forgotten all about them? Or failed to live up to them? Don’t get discouraged, remind yourself of them and move forward! We can’t change the past, but we can set ourselves up for a successful future. What can you do today to make those become a reality in your life? How can you keep that up going into tomorrow? I love the quote, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

Make a plan, or it will be so much more difficult to succeed!

Have you ever had one of those days?

Have you ever had everything just go wrong? Maybe you had a day where it seemed like you could do no right. Or a day where things kept breaking all around you. First your car wouldn’t start, then when it finally did, you were late, and your computer froze at work, and then you got pulled over and got a ticket, and you broke your phone because you were so mad you threw it and it busted on the ground even though it had an Otterbox on it. And all that happened before your lunch break.

That’s a pretty awful day. And for the most part, those days are rare, or maybe you’re blessed and you haven’t had a day like that! Either way, I think you can imagine that kind of emotion and just the awful discouragement.

There’s this guy in the Bible. His name used to be Jacob, but now it’s Israel. Yeah, that Israel, the one with the nation named after him. His story is in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Well anyway, he lives a kind of life that feels discouraging and full of negative emotion and loss. He lost one son years ago (Israel thought he had been torn apart by wild animals, but really his brothers sold him into slavery. Whoever said the Bible is boring has never read it!), another son is imprisoned in Egypt, and then Israel’s others sons come back and say a random ruler in Egypt wants them to bring his youngest son so he can be sure the brothers aren’t lying about him. So he sends this son, with much fear and trepidation, only to find out the random ruler in Egypt is his son that was sold into slavery whom he thought was dead!! This story is insane. You should go read it for yourself in Genesis chapters 37 through 50.

WHe Goes Before Mee pick up this story in Genesis 46. Israel is afraid and confused. He’s not sure what God is up to. He’s just learned his “dead son” is no longer dead, but is now second in command in Egypt. This is a weird situation with a lot of emotions wrapped up in it. Israel is leaving his home, all of his land, and much of his possessions to go to Egypt, where he is supposedly going to be given land and flocks and herds. God speaks to Israel and says this:

“Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:3-4 (ESV)

Whatever is going on in your life, take heart. Know that God is with those who are His. If you are a child of God, one who has placed trust and faith in Jesus Christ, God is with you. His Holy Spirit lives inside of you, guiding, convicting, giving understanding into the Bible.

Trust in God and know that whatever you face today, God Himself will go down with you, will bring you up, and will always be with you. Trust in Him. Lean on Him.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

‘Round and ’round we go

There is a question that came up a few weeks ago that got me to thinking. Here’s the question: “How can I be okay with continued struggles and suffering?”

This question is a tough one. So you have a new relationship with Jesus, you are starting to read your Bible, you think maybe this is it, maybe you’re done with sin and you can move on, move forward in your life. Until temptation comes and you sin again. Ever been there?

Being a Christian, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, does not guarantee or even promise perfection while still living on this earth. Instead, there will be continued struggles, continued suffering, and continued failure in the face of temptation. How is that possible? Is that normal? How can I be okay with this?

Thinking back to Christmastime, do you realize that Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process? The angel announced salvation to the shepherds, but what they saw in the manger was a normal baby boy—a baby who needed time to grow up. It would take 30 years for Jesus to begin the earthly ministry that He came to do. When considering the life of a Christian, patience and process are not things we enjoy hearing about.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ, in His forgiveness and grace and method, uses a patient process to make us new. We are transformed in an instant, into a new creation in Jesus Christ. We are reborn and receive the free gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit immediately comes to live in us, guiding and directing us. But, this is a new thing. It will take time to get used to, time to figure it out, and time to grow and heal and live out of the newness.

Wherever you are in your life, whether you have put your faith in Jesus or not, we are all in process. My prayer for you, if you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, is that as you move forward in the process of life, you are moving closer and closer to Jesus. I pray that you would come to know Him as your personal Lord and Savior. It is the most incredible thing you will ever experience, and the best and wisest decision you could ever make. If you already have put your faith in Jesus, I pray that you would be encouraged to know that the struggle is real, and doesn’t end until we reach heaven. Know that sin is temporary, God is forever. While on the earth, we will have trouble, we will face temptation, but God is good, God is full of forgiveness, and as time goes on, God continues to reform our hearts and minds, our desires and eventually our desire for sin decreases because of the increase in our desire for more of God.

Influence and Response

Every single one of us is a leader. In some way, we each lead where we are. We can be a leader with our friends, leader with our family, leader of our siblings, leader in a youth group or church ministry, leader by job description or title. Really, leadership, as John Maxwell describes it, is influence. We each influence others every day. Whether by our action or inaction, we are influencing the people in our lives every day.

This morning for our Tuesday Morning Encouragement I want to share a small, simple leadership principle. It is one that is often a struggle to live out, and yet if we live it out it can bring great blessing.

I really enjoy football. Whether watching an actual game, listening to it on the radio, watching highlights, or even watching or listening to people talk about football, I am a huge fan of the sport. It excites me. It is currently the postseason for the NFL, and recently I’ve seen a few postgame press conferences where players are blaming other people for their loss. Now, there may be some truth to what the players are saying, but blaming other people never solved anything. It never brings resolution and it really doesn’t help you to become any better of a player or person.

leadership-is-influence

The leadership principle I want to share today is this: “As you influence others, you cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your response.”

Blaming and complaining becomes easy when something unfortunate, unplanned, or negative happens to us. But the leadership principle is to control your response to whatever happens to you. It may be something you hate, something you don’t agree with, something that doesn’t make any sense. It could be someone else’s fault. The world may say that you are right to be angry and want retribution or retaliation. But the thing is, being a follower of Christ and someone who influences others every day, you are challenged to live different.

Today, when something happens to you, remember that you have the power to influence the people around you. When you control your response to whatever uncontrollable thing happens to you, people take notice. Your children take notice. Your friends take notice. Your boss or co-workers take notice. And you just became a great leader and a great example of a Christ-follower because you were self-controlled in the way that you responded.

My prayer for you from this morning on is that you would be able to control your responses and reactions from the first moment that something happens to you, and that this response would shine a light on the Name and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What’s the value of experience?

There are some things that I would rather read about than personally experience. For example, I recently read a very moving blog about a widower who had removed his ring, and the process of that. I don’t ever want to have to experience that.

Yet there are other things in life that I desperately want to experience. They are things for which mere words cannot describe well enough. I would love to climb a mountain, to take an Alaskan cruise, to write a book, maybe even run a marathon. These are things that reading about or seeing pictures of is not good enough. They are things I want to experience. They are things that I know today I need to take steps toward doing in my life, or else it may just be too late by the time I get around to it.

Here’s a quote I read recently about “experience”:

“Experience is more than a great teacher, it is a great resume that qualifies all of us to make judgments, decisions, and choices that we can trust and that others can trust. Even our failures can occur with passion and confidence because we know they are the fruit of our previous self, the evidence of our unknowing, the mistakes we need to make in order to know we’ve made a mistake, the necessary preface to new insights and awarenesses.”

What is something that you maybe have read about or seen pictures of that you want to experience? Why not start taking steps today to help that come true in your life? Obviously, these are not sinful experiences being talked about here, but experiences that glorify and honor God and help us to fully experience joy and fulfillment in life. Maybe it’s experiencing a new job, taking a trip, going skydiving, or giving more than 10% to your church and trusting God in that.

Experience as teacherWhatever it might be for you, experience is a great teacher. We learn things by doing that we can never learn by reading or hearing about. So go out and experience something, and learn from it. Do something out of your comfort zone. Share Christ. Stop someone and pray for them right then and there. Add value to someone’s life by going out of your way to be kind and caring. Give a listening ear.

Even in failure we can experience a learning moment and move forward to new insights and awarenesses. What experiences can you make happen today to better your life and someone else’s? Don’t let anything hold you back. Go and do!

What’s your goal for this new year?

Happy New Year! I hope you are having a good start to 2016 and had a good ending to 2015. Let’s make this a year of different. A year of intentionality. A year of doing what needs to be done, no matter how we feel.

I want to make this a year of encouragement. I have a passion for encouraging people toward growth–changing bad habits, developing new ones, strengthening what faith they have, and striving toward greatness every day. It’s something I try to do in my own life, preaching to myself, encouraging myself, driving myself forward.

New Year’s Resolutions are notorious; they are infamous. They are resolutions we make and keep for maybe a month, maybe two, even three if you’re really strong in willpower. But for some reason these new resolutions rarely make it into our daily habits, and eventually we grow tired of them and go back to our comfort zones of what we have always done.

This year, I don’t know if you made any resolutions, but I want to encourage you to set goals for 2016. Thinking ahead to 2017, what kind of person do you want to become? What do you want your health to look like? Goal setting 1What kind of shape do you want to be in, physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally? How would you want others to talk about you and your reputation? What kind of work do you want to be doing? What gets you excited and motivated in life, and how can you do more of that?

Set goals and don’t let them just stand by, forgotten and useless and never incorporated into your daily life. Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying this:

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing–that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Whatever your motivation is for New Year’s Resolutions, I want to challenge you to make some for this year. And then review those resolutions. DAILY. Every day, check back on yourself, challenge yourself, keep pushing forward. Evaluate yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it may be or how much you may not like the answer.

Do something each day to work toward becoming a better version of yourself than you are right now. Grow in your relationships. Grow in your faith in Jesus Christ. Grow in your understanding and knowledge of the Word of God. Become a harder worker. Improve your attitude. The goals are endless! Pick one and do it daily!

Underdog stories

There is something about an underdog story that gets everyone excited. I think of stories like Miracle, in the 1980 Winter Olympics defeating Russia in hockey in a huge upset. Or a story like Michael Oher, which you can read about or watch in The Blind Side, where he had no money, friends, family, or hope, and became a starting offensive linemen in the NFL. Maybe you, like me, love the story of the Spartans versus the Persians (300). A small band of incredibly insane warriors, the Spartans, took on the might of the entire Persian army. They did not survive, but they were basically the only reason the Persian empire was defeated as they tried to take over Athens and Greece, etc.

Whatever your favorite underdog story, there is a common thread that I think runs through all underdog, come-from-behind, comeback stories. That thread is a single word that packs a ton of power: RESILIENCE.

Resilience sign with a desert backgroundI was watching ESPN on Monday and the story that I heard about I felt like I just had to write something for. The Kansas City Chiefs are an underdog story. They are a come-from-behind tale that is making history. They started the NFL season with a record of 1-5. That is 1 win and 5 losses. Not a good start in any sport!

Since their horrible start, the Kansas City Chiefs have been undefeated. That’s right. They’ve won 9 games in a row! According to ESPN, there is only one other team since 1970 (Cincinnati Bengals) to start off so poorly and make it to the playoffs. As the Chiefs are making history, there is one thing (though I’m sure many more than just this one), that is helping them be successful. RESILIENCE.

re·sil·ience NOUN
“the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”
This is why underdogs are able to do what they do. This is how losing teams make a comeback. They recover quickly from difficulties and push forward. They don’t give up. They don’t get discouraged. They don’t let losing define them. Instead, they recover quickly from difficulties.
I don’t know what you may be going through right now, but the key to your comeback, the essential quality for your underdog victory, is to be resilient. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep pushing forward. Life gets hard. That’s just the way it is.
In life you’ll never regret moving forward toward learning and growth. Be resilient and move forward.

Well that was unexpected…

Have you ever had something odd happen to you? Something that you didn’t plan for, not necessarily good or bad, just unexpected? There have been times where I’ve been out to eat and when the bill came, the waiter or waitress came over and told us that our meal had been paid for (interestingly, this is almost always correlated with praying before our meal and someone commenting on the unexpected witness of that).
There have been other times when I’ve been given an unexpected gift. It wasn’t Christmas or a birthday, but someone simply wanted to be a blessing and gave an unexpected gift.
Then there was that time driving through Canada where I was driving like I would in America, following behind a semi, and I got pulled over unexpectedly for driving through a light that was very much yellow (I in fact never even saw it turn red, because I had already gotten through the intersection!). But this was an unexpectedly expensive experience.
The Christmas story itself is unexpected. Especially for Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. An angel came to her unexpectedly, and she was “greatly troubled,” as the Bible records. But then, Luke 1:30 records this:
“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”
It’s intriguing, isn’t it? An angel just showed up and started talking to you! What in the world?? It’s freaky and unexpected, of course we’d be afraid and nervous and uncertain of what to do!
The first thing we seem to do when something doesn’t make sense to us is to be afraid, or nervous, or overwhelmed… why is that?
God’s encouragement through the angel here to Mary is that even though she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t have the “why,” she has the “Who.” That is enoughWho.
We may not always know the why or the how of something, but we can always know the Who that is on our side, guiding and encouraging and shepherding us. So today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year, when the unexpected happens, don’t go right to fear, but instead go right to faith. God is in control. Rest in Him. Don’t get stuck on the why or the how, but put focus on the Who. It’s all about bringing glory and honor to God.

Take it!

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted about “365 Days Free From Fear,” but this morning continues that journey. We’ve gone through 58 days of freedom from fear, and today marks day 59! So here we go:

There is this story in Mark chapter 6 that describes a situation going on that would really be hard to put into words. I live in Michigan, near the lake, so imagine this going on:

You are on a boat, far from shore, and it’s night time. You aren’t in a fancy speed boat with lots of power and strength, but you are instead in a wooden sailboat. You are trying to get back to shore because it’s dark and time to go home. But the wind is going against you and you aren’t making any headway. You are having a very hard time getting anywhere. And remember, it’s night time. So you can only see by the light of the moon and stars. You forgot your flashlight in your car.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, someone is coming toward you. Not another boat, not an animal swimming through the water, but someone walking on top of the waves. Literally walking on the water.

This is what is happening when the disciples are in their boat on the water at night going against a strong wind.. Jesus comes, and here is what Mark records:

“…because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” – Mark 6:50

The disciples were in a difficult situation. They were trying to get to shore, but they were having a very hard time. The Bible says they were “making headway painfully.” Have you ever tried something that was largely unsuccessful? It was really hard on you, really hard to move forward, and the only thing you were able to do is “make headway painfully“?

Imagine, in the middle of your situation, Jesus is walking past and He says to you, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The thing is, Jesus does say that to you. Wherever you are. Take courage! Jesus is with us! The Holy Spirit lives in those who belong to the Lord, and they have no reason to fear!

You have no reason to fear. Why? Because Jesus is with you in every situation, good or bad. The thing is, you have to take that courage. It doesn’t naturally come, it isn’t always easy to come by. You have to take it.

So don’t be afraid, and forcibly take the courage that is necessary to get through your difficulty. Take it, because it is yours through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. Take courage and rest in the power and presence of God.

Life Lessons from Creed, Part 3

“Time beats everyone. It’s undefeated.” — Rocky Balboa

Nothing like a depressing quote to encourage you this morning, right? But really, the truth of this quote is what makes it hit so hard. Time does beat everyone. One out of every one person dies. That’s an unbeatable fact (unless we’re talking about Jesus, who came back from the dead and didn’t die again…but that’s a different story).time-passes-quickly

When we consider this, that time beats everyone, there really is an encouragement we can take. We all have the same amount of time in every day. Everyone gets the same 24 hours. But not everyone uses it the same.

The encouragement today is to know that your days are numbered, so make the most of today. There’s that cliche statement, “Live every day like it’s your last.” And yet, it’s true. If we live each day like our last day, we will probably not be afraid to say certain things, we will probably want to leave a good impression and be kind to others; ultimately we will live with more purpose.

Whatever you have today, whatever is going on in your life, live it on purpose. Time may be undefeated, but it cannot stop you from living a good life. Choose today to live kind, to be hard working, to speak boldly, to love well, and to add value to everyone around you. What’s holding you back? If today was your last day, nothing should hold you back.