Living Stones

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Being described as a “living stone” seems odd. After all, stones are hard, dead and cold, and not alive. Builders use stones, sure, but that connection to our spiritual lives is difficult to grasp.

Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience). They were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. So, his original readers understood this analogy at a deeper level since they were unable to even go to the temple because of persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Peter’s words presented a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple provided a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. Then Christ came replaced this system.

Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make that shift in thinking. They could go from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices became unnecessary.

Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones creating the temple building. They held an immense reverence for the temple building itself as well as an understanding for what Peter’s analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)

Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way.

“The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.”

Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to our Christian walk.

  1. You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.
  2. You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value. They give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
  3. You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
  4. Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15)
  5. Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. This happens as we realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we instead offer what we have…

“…with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

Note: This post was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

The word “upgrade” leaped to a whole new level in the world of marketing over the past several of years. When you go on a cruise to the Caribbean, you’re encouraged to “upgrade your diamonds.” At pretty much any time after you’ve purchased a cell phone, you have the opportunity to “upgrade your device.” Fashion magazines also constantly encourage you to “upgrade your look” in one way or another.

Everywhere we look, we have the opportunity to go to the next level, to upgrade in some way. The question that I find myself asking is, “Am I spending my efforts going to the next level in the areas that truly matter?”

At some point, we all feel the need for a new direction or even a new beginning. Whether we’ve become overwhelmed by overload, saturated with stress or defeated by disaster, we sometimes simply feel like a whole new start or even a remodel of some area of our lives will give us the renewal we need to finally make progress instead of constantly spinning our wheels.

Yet most of the upgrades offered serve only to give us that “fresh” feeling temporarily. In time, the new becomes old, and we find ourselves once again in need of another upgrade. Fortunately, one area exists where an upgrade comes guaranteed to positively impact all of life.

An attitude upgrade brings a fresh start to those who feel stale and defeated. An attitude upgrade, if developed and maintained in a deliberate an intentional way, brings renewal to anyone’s outlook.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Attitude

Developing and maintaining a godly attitude could be the upgrade that changes your life permanently.

  1. Let yourself be renewed. (Ephesians 4:22) Be teachable, flexible and willing to change. Allow yourself to be renewed by staying open to others speaking into your life and to new ideas and approaches for growth.
  2. Acknowledge and repent of bad attitudes. (Acts 8:22; Genesis 4:6-7; Numbers 14:1-4) Let go of pride and admit areas of struggle. Confess the areas your attitude slides, and open yourself to renewal.
  3. Discipline your thought life. (2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:8; Philippians 1:20-25) Choose positive input and allow it to push out the negative. Remember that a key in any discipline involves constant, deliberate and intentional effort.
  4. Understand the relationship between attitude and emotions. (Habakkuk 3:17-19) Nothing derails a positive attitude more easily and more often than emotions. The Bible tells us we are to choose to rejoice no matter our circumstances. That choice may need made place every minute at times, but we allow our emotions to only exist as gauges and not pilots.
  5. Consider how your attitude affects others. This area of attitude adjustment provides tremendous motivation when we realize that our kids, co-workers, family, friends, spouse, and other Christians as well as non-Christians pay attention to our attitudes. We are setting examples and sending messages through our attitude, action and words.

When you’re tired, hungry or sick, what happens to your attitude? When your day (or week or month or year) is particularly stressful with little (if any) relief, is it okay to let your attitude slip?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)

We all need attitude upgrades. We all must choose to get to the root cause, which generally originates in the heart where our intentions lie. We must intentionally take steps, such as the ones listed above, to improve the aroma of our hearts (our attitudes). Doing serves to upgrade our attitudes, which in turn upgrades our lives in increasingly significant and probably unpredictable and uncountable ways.

For a scripture study on attitude, check out Everyday Attitude.

DISCUSSION: What is the aroma of your heart? What changes can you make to create a better scent?

Going Backward So You Can Move Forward

MistakesUnfortunately, my history with backing up a vehicle is somewhat embarrassing. Here’s the rather humbling list:

  • Backing into the school van during driver’s training while learning to parallel park (another driving challenge for me).
  • Backing into my brother’s car early one morning when I was 16 (never told him about that).
  • Backing a rental car over a huge boulder and needing several large men to lift it off (never told my husband about  that one… he knows now though).
  • Breaking the passenger rear view mirror on my husband’s truck when I hit the side of the garage backing out (he definitely knows about that one).
  • Scraping the back passenger side of my Jeep when I backed into a trailer parked in our driveway.
  • Backing into a moving car in a Barnes & Noble parking lot.
  • Hitting a car parked in my own driveway when I backed out of my garage.

While I haven’t had any auto accidents while driving forward, backing up obviously causes me problems. As God does so often in my life, He’s using this physical pattern to show me a spiritual truth.

dodinksy

5 Principles for Moving Forward

The same mistakes causing my backward vehicular accidents mirror those I struggle with spiritually and mentally. For example, my lifelong struggle with depression continues to haunt me, though less so as the years roll by.

Out of this realization comes five principles I must regularly and deliberately apply to prevent my backing up from delaying forward progress.

  1. Don’t let hurry motivate. I backed into my brother’s car because I couldn’t see through the frost on my window, which I failed to clean off because I was in a hurry. Failing to plan ahead led to this mistake. A little planning ahead can prevent many of life’s blunders.
  2. Be sure to see when looking. The Barnes & Noble incident happened simply because I did not see the car when I looked before backing up. This is akin to my kids not seeing the milk right in front of them in the refrigerator. Sometimes we get so into the routines of life that we fail to see the obvious. Slowing down and taking time to really look helps prevent mistakes.
  3. Realize that others are often hurt by our mistakes. Backing into a car in my own driveway left me with a lot of guilt over the inconvenience I caused others. Realizing that our mistakes hurt others hopefully motivates us to develop habits that put us in a place of helping them instead.
  4. Take ownership. When I backed into the trailer in our driveway, it of course wasn’t my fault. I mean, the trailer isn’t usually there, and it was below my view enough that I couldn’t see it when I looked. In this and many of my backing-up incidences, my first instinct involved blaming someone else for the mistake. Yet, because I know I can only control me, I must take ownership and admit my mistakes and their root causes if I am to break the negative patterns in my life.
  5. Let go of pride & embarrassment. Each of these backing-up incidences caused me embarrassment. In my pride, I worried too much about what others thought of me. I had to humble myself by going through the above process in order to get out from under the weight of my mistakes.

I love the parallel parking technology in newer vehicles today, and I would really like it on my next vehicle. However, if someone came up with a vehicle that backed up all by itself, that would be necessity.

Unfortunately, there really aren’t any workarounds for backing up. We must look behind us from time to time in order to learn from our past and then move forward in a way that allows  the past with its mistakes to positively shape the future. In other words, we each need to learn how to Put Your Behind in the Past. If we don’t, we’ll continually make the same mistakes and essentially relive our pasts instead of grow beyond them.

DISCUSSION: What patterns of mistakes do you have in your life? How can you learn from them in order to move forward?

The Babel of Unity

Babel

Most Christians know that God desires unity. We’ve also likely experienced the effects of disunity on individual as well as group effectiveness. So we get the basic concept that unity is good, and disunity is bad. Right?

Then enters the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. The people build this tower, working together in unity with one language, only to discover that God is displeased. Why? What about their unity upset God?

Here’s the point… While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him.

To help understand this truth, let’s consider the following points from the story:

  1. The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
  2. The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
  3. Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
  4. The people were led astray by ungodly leaders.

In that basic outline of the story, I see my own struggle with remembering what God desires of me and with keeping His will as my focus at all times. And this struggle is not because God’s directives are too big or overwhelming. It’s because I’m an imperfect human being with a part of me that wants to go and do and be all on my own. I want to say and do what I want when I want, and I sometimes balk at this idea of obedience to anyone else’s way.

Reading stories like the Tower of Babel, along with the many others in the Old Testament, I realize how much human nature does not change. In these stories, I see how my life might play out should I continue to settle where I want, build a name for myself, and focus inwardly. So it helps me tremendously to think through these stories, ones I’ve heard and read many times during and since my childhood days in Sunday school, and draw lessons to help me avoid the same mistakes others have made.

With that, consider the following application points drawn from the Old Testament story of The Tower of Babel.

  1. Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
  2. Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
  3. Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
  4. Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
  5. God will step in to diffuse rebellion. (Genesis 11:5-9)

When I think of the times in my life when I lost my focus on God, I usually (always?) replaced that focus with selfishness and independence. I also stopped moving forward, and I planted my feet in order to establish myself. I looked to my own wisdom and ability to achieve success, and I simply followed the whims of my fickle emotions.

Let’s be clear on one point, though: God always intervenes when his people head down the path of disobedience. The problem is, we don’t always notice his activity because we’re too inwardly focused. And the more we ignore Him, the less sensitive we become to His voice, and the more blind we are to our arrant ways. Eventually, God simply leaves us to our own devices (Romans 1:24).

BUT, if we listen to His still, small voice, and if we acknowledge our wrong ways and simply, as Bob Newhart says, “Stop it!”, we can avoid the confusion that comes into our lives when we take the path lined with arrogance, pride and rebellion. When we turn our focus back toward God, we’ll experience a rushing return of his grace and mercy, and his blessings once again will begin to flow in our lives.

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional application from the story of the Tower of Babel?

 For another take on the story of The Tower of Babel, see Loren Pinilis’ post “Why God May Oppose Your New Year’s Resolutions.”

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Struggling with Humility

You remember the song, right? While I haven’t heard it since I was a kid, the words came immediately to mind when I decided to study pride and humility. Go ahead & sing it… you know you want to.

Humble song But seriously…

Defining Pride & Humility

The NASB Life Application Study Bible defines humility as:

“Usually, an honest self-appraisal, characterized by the knowledge that one is merely human and by the absence of pride.”

The NASB Life Application Study Bible defines pride simply as

“exaggerated self-esteem.”

Both pride and humility begin in a person’s mind and eventually become visible in their conduct. Where humility shows through in an absence of pride and arrogance and instead involves being unpretentious and unassuming, pride shows through in a lofty and often arrogant assumption of superiority.

Moving from Pride to Humility

Scripture provides many examples of God both causing and expecting humility.

  • God humbles to reveal the condition of our hearts and to test our obedience. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
  • God promises forgiveness and healing to the humble even after grave sin. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • God leads toward and teaches humbleness. (Psalm 25:9)
  • God humbles those who don’t fear Him. (Psalm 55:19)
  • God opposes the proud. (1 Peter 5:5)

Resistance is futile. Resistance to humility, that is. Either we choose to let go of pride and to humble ourselves before a Holy God, or we choose to suffer the consequences of opposing God. Willingly choosing humbleness is a much better option that being humbled by God. Just read the Old Testament for proof of that fact.

Choosing Humility

Choosing humility involves taking the road to the cross. It requires following Jesus in attitude, action and word. It requires dying to self. While we may all truly believe that Christ died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead in defeat of sin, death and the devil (See 25 Verses About The Defeat of Satan), do we actually live that belief in the same spirit in which Christ made His way to the cross, the spirit of humility?

“Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have, but admitting that the gifting is from God and the power comes through you and not from you.” (Unknown)

Choosing humility involves realizing your value as a redeemed child of God, value from Him and not in any way earned or created by you. It means focusing on what God did for your redemption and then choosing to live that out in obedience by serving Him in whatever way He asks using the abilities, talents and gifts he gives.

Practical Humility True humility comes to us exemplified perfectly in the life of Christ. Applied to Jesus, the NASB Life Application Study Bible defines humility as:

“[Jesus’s] attitude of service to others and His willingness to forego the rights and exaltation that are properly His as the Son of God.”

Jesus’s one focus – to seek and to save the lost – led Him down a path of obedience to the Father all the way to the cross. This involved serving others, being criticized for associating with “lesser” sorts, and submitting to God’s will over His own. With every right for exaltation, Christ chose humbleness. At the very least, with no right at all for exaltation, we can choose to live lives of practical humility as we follow His example by:

  1. Humbling ourselves regularly before God. (James 4:10; Luke 18:9-14)
  2. Being humble in our dealings with others. (Philippians 2:1-11; James 3:2; James 5:16)
  3. Bearing affliction and wrong with patience. (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  4. Submitting to authority. (1 Peter 2:18)
  5. Staying teachable. (Proverbs 10:17, 12:1)
  6. Forgiving endlessly. (Philippians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 23:11)
  7. Staying grateful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  8. Always being willing to work toward trust.

We must, like Christ, be willing to serve others with no thought for what we’ll get in return, never considering ourselves too good for association with anyone as we realize Jesus came to save everyone, not just the socially acceptable.

We must also be willing to give up our own wants and desires to pursue God’s will. Choosing humility does not, unfortunately, mean pride remains forever absent from our lives. We will still continue Struggling with Pride. We will still have moments where pride rears its ugly head, but those are the moments where we can once again choose humility.

DISCUSSION: What does practical humility look like in the life of a believer today?

Struggling with Pride

Pride

“The Great Sin”

In one episode of the Big Bang Theory, Raj accuses Sheldon of arrogance. While funny, the clip aptly illustrates the pride and arrogance constantly oozing out of Sheldon. Perhaps, like me, you find Sheldon’s arrogance amusing because, well, you can relate yet remain certain your own arrogance pales in comparison.

While we can laugh at others prideful antics on television, we also must admit to the reality of pride’s severe impact on culture. And it’s not at all funny.

Consider the following all-to-real examples of pride:

  • Politicians pursuing personal agendas.
  • Business and financial catastrophes like WorldCom and Enron.
  • Attention-seeking TV & music entertainers.

Pride exists abundantly within Christianity too. Stories of pastors living in extravagance and debauchery along with the many examples throughout Scripture tell the tale well.

Pride touches every aspect of life and culture throughout history. And while the widespread preoccupation with self continues making light of pride and even seemingly promoting it, as Christians we cannot consider pride humorous at all. In fact, we must consider it, as C.S. Lewis did, “the great sin.”

An “Anti-God State of Mind”

Seeing pride in others is easy, but seeing it in ourselves… not so much. Consider what Lewis says to ask yourself to find out if pride is a problem for you:

“How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?”

Our annoyance and frustration with others too often points to our own problem with pride by revealing a desire to elevate ourselves in some way above others. Pride is very much a struggle of the competitive nature within every one of us.

Lewis describes the struggle it this way:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

Pride, as Lewis describes it, creates an “anti-God state of mind,” living within us as a “spiritual cancer.”

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

The story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector proves Lewis’ point well. Please take a minute to reacquaint yourself with the passage found in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisees words and actions show that pride involves:

  1. Thinking we have any merit in our own abilities.
  2. Seeing others with contempt and disrespect.
  3. Placing ourselves above others.

Lewis’s describes this “anti-God state of mind” with these words:

“In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

The words and actions of the tax collector, however, give us a needed view of humility. The tax collector stands at a distance and shows that he knows he is a sinner and in need of God’s mercy and grace. He can’t even look at God because of the contrast between God’s holiness and the man’s own sin.

Identifying Pride

Fortunately, Scripture provides the necessary instruction for identifying pride in our lives.

  1. Ask God to reveal your pride. We must ask God to show us our pride, because we likely won’t see it otherwise.
  2. Earnestly seek God. And remember, eradicating pride is not a one and done deal.
  3. Seek accountability. God encourages us to seek others help in eliminating sin.
  4. View humility as essential. Christ’s example of humility sets the standard.
  5. Look in the mirror of Scripture. The Redeemer Church of Dubai offers a list of “30 Biblical Indicators of Pride in Our Lives” and gives a great way to use Scripture as a mirror for identifying pride.

Pride blocks our ability to see God (Deuteronomy 8:14). Humbleness, on the other hand, involves awareness of the heart’s true condition, one of sinfulness, hopelessness and utter depravity without the redeeming work of Christ. We’ll look at humility in detail In a couple of weeks.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on pride?

Two resources in addition to Scripture played a tremendous role in this very personal study on pride: Pride & Humility by Thomas A Tarrants & The Great Sin by C.S. Lewis.

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Staying Out of the Pit

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

pit

Staying Out of the Pit

What you read on Struggle to Victory covers my main approach to keep from falling back into the pit of depression. I get into the details of topics I am struggling with, find out what Scripture says about them, and process them by writing about them. Doing this helps tremendously in capturing thoughts and not letting them hold me captive, which is what happened when I didn’t know how process feelings. At some point, I just determined not to let my thinking exist without boundaries and structure anymore, and writing gives me a way to establish the boundaries and structure I need to keep well away from the pit.

But writing isn’t all I do. I’ve discovered that one thing rarely does exactly what you need in any area, at least not for very long. Writing simply provides an outlet for my very busy inner life. Being an introvert, my inner life is as busy as the outer life of most extroverts. Writing gives me a way to order that world and to deal with it in a healthy way.

In addition to, or rather alongside and within writing, there are various ways I keep from going in the direction of pit dwelling. First and most importantly, I maintain a daily, consistent relationship with God through Bible study and prayer. I’m not saying this as a high and mighty “look how spiritual I am” statement; instead, it’s meant to simply say that I know I am completely and utterly unable to stay out of the pit of depression without Him. Without the Holy Spirit working in my life, and without God’s mighty power active in and through me, I would not be alive today.

I also make staying physically healthy a priority by eating healthy, exercising and getting plenty of adequate rest. I’m willing to try different approaches to health and wellness because I’ve learned that limiting yourself to the approach of traditional, Western medicine only limits and may even inhibit your ability to overcome depression and become healthy. My approach is along the lines of integrative medicine.

Staying aware of personal triggers is important too. I know the signs of my getting overwhelmed (digestion issues, sleep problems, anxiety & general grumpiness, for example), and I make adjustments as soon as I realize what’s happening to prevent any more veering off into bumpy territory.

While I need routine and structure to some extent, I must balance them with flexibility and variety. Otherwise, I get into a rut of boredom that also leads to depression. Fortunately, my husband and sons help tremendously with this area not just with their busy schedules but also with their zest for discovery and adventure.

Knowing what to avoid is also key (examples for me include sugar, romance novels, and television shows in general). One area of thought that I need to be extra careful with is absolutes. Saying “I never…” or “I can’t…” or “I always…” usually takes me down a very narrow and precarious path. I’ve learned to leave the absolutes up to God who has the capacity to follow through with them simply because He doesn’t change and I do.

As you can see, I have a variety of ways I keep from falling back into the pit. All of them are negotiable except my reliance on God.

sooner quoteIn Retrospect

Some ask what I would have done differently now that I am able to look back on depression with some objectivity. Let me simply say that I just would have done all of this sooner. I would have taken the small steps needed to get out of the pit sooner. I would have asked God to help me sooner. I would have let others help sooner. I would have let my pride go sooner. Nothing really done differently since all were necessary parts of the journey. They just all could have happened sooner.

So much (most really) of what caused my depression was outside of my control, so I don’t think I personally could have prevented it. I could have just taken the steps to get out of it sooner. That’s all on me.

DISCUSSION: How can someone not suffering from depression help those who do struggle stay out of the pit?

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When Dreams Feel Just Out of Reach

The following is a guest post from Dave Arnold. Dave is an an author, speaker, and coach who loves helping people thrive in life and be all that God has called them to be.

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dreamsFor years I’ve had the dream of becoming a full-time public speaker. As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved to speak. As a young child, people would tell my mom, “Wow, your son is so verbal.” – a polite way of saying I talk too much.

After I gave my first speech in college, my world changed.

My professor confirmed this and said, “Dave, I think you have a real gift.” From that day on, I loved speaking. In fact, I had many opportunities to speak in college: at chapel, on mission trips, at a summer camp – and I loved it.

In 2002, just two years after my wife and I married, I got a job at a big church as the College and Young Adult Pastor, and I spoke every Saturday night to about 200 twenty-something’s. As great as this was, my sights were set on the big stage – the weekend services where about 10,000 people attended.

My goal was to speak in the main church auditorium, and I was certain the lead pastor, once he discovered my gift, would be knocking on my door for me to speak. After a couple of years, I began to wonder what was taking so long.

That knock never came. Only silence. And then one day I heard a knock on the office door next to mine. It was the lead pastor and he was there to see John, the new Singles Pastor, who started two months back.

I overheard the conversation, and my heart sank when I heard the pastor say, “John, I would like you to speak at a weekend service.”

What!?” I thought. “s only been here two months and I have been here four years!”

And then my chest tightened, I gritted my teeth, and the tears started to flow… I mean, it was Niagara Falls. I couldn’t control it.

Although I was devastated, this experience taught me some valuable lessons. Here’s what I learned.

More work Needed

The truth was, I felt entitled to speak, like I had earned it – or so I thought. But honestly that is pride, and pride is blinding and often isn’t exposed until we are forced to change.

We live in a culture of instants: instant pleasure, instant connections, instant information. And when things don’t work out the way we’d thought or hoped, we are prone to meltdown, or to cry (like I did).

Living out your dream is not instantaneous. It takes time and work and struggle. There are days we feel closer than ever, and other days like throwing in the towel.

Pain and Discomfort Are a Part of Dream-Chasing

dreams 2

“A general rule in creating stories,” writes Donald Miller, “is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change.”

Ouch! But so true. I needed to change. My perspective was off. I needed a good ol’ dose of humility.

Just because we have a natural talent for something – writing, speaking, music, whatever – doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on it. And often working on it means having to face rejection and discomfort.

Great art, I believe, is often forged through pain and discomfort.

You’re Closer Than You Realize 

A closed door does not mean your dream won’t come true or is unattainable; it just means there’s more work to be done, more preparation, more transformation.

After I cried my face off for a bit in my office, I picked myself up and got back to work. And I can honestly say something changed within me that day. I no longer tried to prove myself and get noticed. I no longer measured my value in whether I would speak or not.

I decided to just be myself and do what I needed to do.

Ten years and two kids later, my dream is starting to take shape. I’ve made tons of mistakes, I’ve wanted to give up numerous times… but I’ve kept moving forward. I guess you could say I haven’t given up hope.

And isn’t that the point? To not give up, to keep moving, to keep hope alive. You’re closer than you think. Allow pain and discomfort to make you stronger. Keep believing.

DISCUSSION: How have you dealt with a closed door on your dream? Please share I the comments.

Refined by Waiting

Christian Powerpoint Religious BulletinFour years ago, I crashed and burned physically, mentally and spiritually, I couldn’t work, and I barely functioned at home. Socially, I ceased to exist. Spiritually, only getting by.

A big part of my crash and burn involved adrenal fatigue. Essentially, healing from adrenal fatigue requires a lot of waiting. My body, mind and spirit needed replenished after years of stress, continual drain and constant overload. Only waiting and resting could make that happen.

Life as a whole involves a lot of waiting, small and big pockets of time spent waiting for what’s next.  All too often, I try ending the waiting on my own by forcing “things” to happen. Never works out all that well.

Who likes to wait, after all? Not me! Yet, so much of our lives require waiting. Lines. Arrivals. Departures. Growth. Maturity.

Since life involves so much waiting, we’re all experts, right? Again, not me. Just put another car in front of me going a bit slower than I want to go to illustrate how easily I get frustrated with waiting, with life moving slower than I think it should. Can you relate?

Focused WaitingGod-Or-My-Agenda

Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers calls waiting “the hottest flame” because it reveals the depths of our hearts. He also notes that God “is capable of applying as much heat as it takes to surface the garbage in our hearts.”

Garbage? The arrogance that makes me need to get ahead of others in line. The pride that refuses to admit mistakes. The lack of peace that leads me to force immediate answers rather than waiting for well-thought out responses.

Sometimes, pure selfishness fuels my inability to wait. But equally, and perhaps even more so, I simply give up on the waiting. I give up on God’s way and pursue life on my own terms.

Depth takes time to develop. This is true of one’s character as much as it is of one’s relationships. God wants to develop that depth, and He knows that waiting is often the best tool for making that happen.

A focus on Him in our waiting reveals opportunities from Him to cultivate depth. A focus on Him in our waiting leads us to pray for the mother of four in front of us at the checkout counter and to spend time with Him in prayer and Bible study as we allow our bodies the physical rest needed to recover from stress overload.

But a focus on the waiting itself and how much we dislike it turns our gaze toward pushing ahead and ending the wait, which causes us to miss out on God’s refining of our character. Instead of pushing and forcing and moving to get rid of the waiting, consider what Sorge says about how to wait.

“Run after Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Waiting is aggressive repose. Waiting is a stationary pursuit. Waiting is intense stillness. Waiting is vigilant listening.”

Be someone willing to wait for God, no matter the length of time. Be willing to give Him both your small moments and your seasons of waiting. Be aggressive in your rest, extreme in your stillness and vigilant as you listen for Him.

DISCUSSION: What does waiting for God mean in a practical sense? How do we live life and wait for God at the same time? Also, how does our ability to wait on God impact our relationships?

This post is a part of a weekly book discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge hosted by Jason Stasyszen of Connecting to Impact and Sarah Salter of Living Between the Lines. Be sure to check out their posts!

Words Matter

Pr 18 20

During my teens and twenties, I said whatever came to mind. And since depression reigned during those years, what I said often failed to benefit anyone. A habit of careless words indicated a much larger problem within the atmosphere of my inner self.

While raising a toddler, the impact of my words on myself and others suddenly jumped out in stark contrast to the person I wanted to be. The desire to change went well beyond what others thought of me – my reputation – and straight to the heart of the person I truly was – my character.

My character displeased God. Nothing else mattered. And if I failed to control my words, I knew the consequences would be significant. My careless words indicated a problem deep within, and the solution came first through conviction (Matthew 28:12:36-37), then through accepting grace (Romans 4:7-8), and then through obedience.

You see, confessing the problem and accepting forgiveness started the process. Following the path of obedience – conforming my likeness to His – needed to follow in order for my life to truly please my Heavenly Father.Pr 18 21

In this still-ongoing process, many lessons stand out regarding the significance of the words I say.

  1. Careless words reveal unchecked emotions.
  2. Careless words mean a lack of self-control over my influences.
  3. Careless words say more about the speaker than the receiver.
  4. Careless words indicate an out-of-balance inner atmosphere.
  5. The more I try to control situations and people, the more careless words I say.
  6. The more I talk, the less others (especially my kids) seem to listen.
  7. Admitting to careless words means admitting to a deeper problem, usually pride.
  8. Fear of being misunderstood often causes me to say too much.
  9. Lack of sleep and proper nourishment impact the ability to control my words.
  10. Writing slows thoughts down and causes careful consideration of my words.

Careless words now exist as an indicator that some aspect of my inner self needs aligned. And, the sooner I make the necessary adjustments, the less impact the consequences have on myself and others.

DISCUSSION: What might your careless words be trying to tell you?