Setting the Example

Examples other people set these days discourage me. In all transparency, the example I set myself often discourages me too. Standards of character and quality seem so low sometimes, and so many people, myself included, seem to often settle for so much less than their best.

Just when I wonder if any solid examples exist, I recall the many people in the Bible who encourage me. In Philippians 2, for instance, Paul both tells us how to live and gives us examples of others to follow.

  • Timothy – Genuine friendship
  • Epaphroditus – Faithfulness and courage
  • Christ – Unity & humility

Paul’s letter encourages me to not only follow the examples set by Timothy, Epaphroditus, and especially Christ, but to also:

  1. Be humble.
  2. Be interested in others.
  3. Stop complaining about others.
  4. Have the attitude of Christ.
  5. Hold tightly to God’s word.
  6. Purpose to be a Godly example.

The Bible is filled with examples of those we can follow as we pursue holiness. Only one, Christ, gives a perfect example, but many others provide examples worthy of following.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Long-Term Prayer Request

My youngest son, Richard, (pictured on the left below) left for Navy boot camp today. He’ll be there for 8 weeks before going to training (military police) in San Antonio, TX. Please pray that he excels in both boot camp and MP training. Also, please pray that he finds the support and encouragement of Godly men in the military.

Also, the young man, Logan, on the right in the photo, leaves for Marine boot camp in August. Please keep him in your prayers as well. Thank you!

The Fellowship of the Church

What is Fellowship?

All too often, it seems like “fellowship” means the same in practice as “visiting.” “Fellowship” is simply used as justification to visit without making commitment to the relationship.

But are they really the same? Or, is “fellowship” something more than merely “visiting”?

One of the best ways I can think of to understand fellowship comes from my favorite movie and book series, Lord of the Rings. More specifically, the first in the series: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Beyond Visiting

This first book/movie in the series involves individuals bound to one another because they were working toward the same goal. Because of that journey, though, they developed deep bonds of friendship.

This exemplifies what fellowship is really meant to be. Beyond visiting, fellowship is a process of developing deep and lasting relationships.

A Threefold Cord

The Bible offers a description that while not using the word “fellowship” certainly describes this idea of deeply-developed companionship and the role it can play in a person’s life.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Fellowship gets at eradicating loneliness. It solidifies encouragement. And, it provides stability and strength for persevering when life become difficult.

Going Beyond Visiting

This better understanding of fellowship motivates me to move beyond only visiting with my fellow Christians, especially the ones with which I interact regularly. Fellowship leads me to efforts toward developing depth and moving well beyond, “Hi. How are you?”

I’m looking forward to developing depth in relationships and moving beyond just visiting. I’m looking forward to more fellowship. Won’t you join me?

Benefits of Membership

Cloud Membership

One of my current goals is to become more literate with technology. I’m actually pretty literate already for a middle-aged, almost empty-nester (at least that’s what my boys assure me), but I recognize some gaps that need closed to better prepare me for the next season of life.

One of those gaps involves better use of “the cloud.” Specifically, I want to make sure all my photos and documents are backed up regularly. In investigating my options, I discovered that one of my memberships provided unlimited storage for photos. Turns out, it offered much more than that too, and I wasn’t using hardly any of it.

Up to this point, I used my membership for free shipping and to watch the occasional movie or television show. I just hadn’t investigated this service for anything beyond those for some reason. In addition to these benefits, this membership also offers free music and books as well as magazines, newspapers, audio books and games.

Sure, I pay for the membership, but the benefits are worth it. This is especially true if I use more of what the service offers and of what I’m already paying for anyway.

I then got to thinking about my other memberships. Was I not getting the full benefit of those either?

Church Membership

I applied this line of thinking to the membership that I most consistently use, my church membership.

The benefits of being part of a body of believers includes:

  • Relationships, friendships & accountability
  • Being part of something transformational
  • Connection with multiple generations
  • Encouragement & stability
  • Supportive and Godly leadership
  • Being a part of spreading the Gospel

No church is perfect, but being a member of a full-Gospel church sure has some amazing benefits, ones I have not found anywhere else.

As I thought about my church membership, I tried to assess if I was missing out on any of the available benefits. I am. This happened partly because I hadn’t thought about the benefits in a while and partly because I’d started taking my membership for granted.

Like with my cloud membership, I needed to take an active role in accessing the benefits of my church membership. Not only does my church provide the backup system I need to stay secure in my faith walk, but it also provides a place where I can exercise my gifts and even stretch myself. With this realization, I am determined to be a better church member.

Won’t you join me?

Cultivating Perseverance

Recently, I’ve felt worn out both physically and mentally. I’ve also felt like I’m spinning my wheels spiritually. I believe in progress over perfection, but I’m struggling with keeping my energy and motivation up. In other words, I’m struggling with persevering.

Maybe that’s why the theme of cultivating perseverance stuck out to me during a recent read of Hebrews 12. Specifically, cultivating perseverance by once again resetting my focus.

Focus Determines Reality

Several verses brought my attention to thinking about my focus. Turns out, my thoughts were scattered and focused on the temporary. These verses together helped reset my focus.

Verses 1 & 2 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Verses 11, 12 & 13 – “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

I can’t help but picture a race like the one in the photo when I read these verses. When I get this visual, I am reminded of three important things that make for a successful race. These things apply to perseverance in any area of life, and I made this application to what I had been going through recently.

  1. Distractions are weighing me down.
  2. My goal is Jesus. Nothing else.
  3. Discipline brings strength.

Hebrews 12 ends by focusing us again on the “Why?” for continued perseverance.

Verses 28 & 29 – “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Through Jesus, we receive something that cannot fall apart. By letting go of distractions, focusing on Jesus, and learning from mistakes and failure, we cultivate perseverance that takes us to what we cannot lose. Let that truth encourage you today.

Decision Making

Many of us are overwhelmed by all the decisions we have to make day after day. Because that is often the case for me, I’ve written a lot about decision fatigue:

Let’s now take a different perspective on decision making by looking at “Why It’s Easier To Make Decisions For Someone Else.” Consider these results from a study completed by two Chinese researchers.

A couple of points of application come to mind for me when considering the results of this study.

  1. We’re harder on ourselves than on other people.
  2. We struggle looking at our own options in a positive way.
  3. We remember our failures too quickly.
  4. Perhaps we need to pull back on the risks we’re willing to let others take.
  5. We could consider being more adventurous in decisions for ourselves.

Though I never thought about it before, the study is ultimately right. Making decisions for other people is somehow easier than it is for myself. Maybe that’s the way it should be though. After all…

  • We don’t actually make decisions for others. We just encourage them in a certain direction.
  • We live more intimately with our own decisions than with the decisions others make.

I’m not sure where to go with these realizations, but I don’t want to ignore the chord they struck in me either. Your thoughts?

Battling Discouragement

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.

Keep It Simple

What does God want me to do on a day-to-day basis?

How does he want me to live?

What is His will for my life?

 

The Bible certainly provides much detail in answer to those questions. Sometimes, though, I just want (need) a simple answer.

Some days get so overloaded I feel overwhelmed and like I’m barely keeping up. On those days, I want a basic answer to help me refocus. Fortunately, we can find those in the Bible too.

“Always be joyful. Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This verse comes at the end of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. So, it’s part of his final instructions. I always look at the end of Biblical letters, verses like this one, as “if you remember nothing else of what I said, remember this.” Or, “if you want a starting point, here you go.” That’s how I usually take those instructions.

In other words, I see final words like these as ways to not over-complicate God’s will for us. Yes, there are more details we can and should delve into. At the same time, instructions like these help me keep a simple focus, something I need help with when life feels overwhelming.

Be joyful.

Keep praying.

Be thankful.

 

Even on my worst days, simple instructions like these serve to refocus me on God’s will. Even the slightest turn of my focus more fully on him serves to encourage my spirit and lessen the burden of overload.

What is Hope?

Fear vs. Hope

“The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.” (President Snow in The Hunger Games)

There was a time in my life when fear controlled me. Fear over what others thought. Fear of failure. Then hope took over.

Hope that what the Bible said about Jesus was true.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Hope that He would bring me out of the pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Hope that flourished as I returned again and again to grace and let God work in my life for His glory.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-15)

When I struggle still today and feel the pull of the pit, I remember the hope that saved me years ago. Hope always returns and encourages me.

Confident Hope

Hope has a forward focus. It is remembering what I have been through only to remember again what God has done for me. This refocuses me on what He’s going to do in my life in places, people and events where hope seems dim or even absent.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)