15 Life Lessons

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The best principles we learn in life, apart from revelation in God’s Word, comes from life experience. Experience is a great teacher. Here are some of my favorites.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying I live by these always, just that I’ve lived long enough to know they are true.

15 life lessons:

Above all else guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life. – Proverbs 4:23, Eventually it all boils down to the heart of the matter.

God cares more about our character than He does many of the individual decisions we make – But if we are not careful we spend more of our prayer time focusing on those decisions. Being a good father is more important than buying the best house in town.

You’ve got to know when to fold them; know when to walk away; and know when to run. – Kenny Rogers was right. There are times to fight and times you know you can’t win and times when you shouldn’t be fighting anyway. Learning the difference is huge.

If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. – Thumper knew a truth that Scripture plays out too. There are times when we need to “shut up” and say (or email) nothing.

Once it is said, it’s much harder to take back. – Thumper didn’t say this one, but maybe the warning should have come after it, because we usually don’t listen to the first suggestion.

It takes time to mend a broken heart. – As believers we don’t grieve like a world without hope, but we still hurt. Healing wounds take time, prayer, and truth. Some marriages need to know this principle.

Letting people get credit for something I did is okay if the organization is moving forward. – In the end, if I’m leading, I’ll get all the credit I deserve and more.

Jesus came full of grace AND truth. – We tend to err in one direction or the other.

More of the same will not produce change. – You can’t keep doing the same things and expect to get different results.

Sometimes the greatest fear we have is the greatest opportunity God has to use us for His glory. – God seems to always call us to that which seems bigger than we are. That causes us to rely on Him more.

God is faithful; you can trust Him. – This one comes with test after test, but He has proven Himself every time.

We tend to end in the direction we are headed. – We shouldn’t be surprised if we end up in a bad situation, if that’s the direction we were aiming our life.

You get more bees with honey than vinegar. – Being nice to people usually gets better results than beating them into submission. (Bible truth: It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.

People are different from me. – I tend to want people to respond to life and me as I respond to life and others. They don’t.

Every life experience can be used of God for something that gives God glory. – Everything! Maybe even reading this post!

Any you would add?

5 Tips for Amateur Prayers Like Me

prayer

Lord, teach us to pray…

(Luke 11:1)

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the disciples. I am still learning to pray. The fact is I have more knowledge of prayer than I have substance and practice of prayer.

Just being honest.

Here are 5 suggestions for amateur prayers…like me:

Be respectful – You’re talking to the Creator God. He is worthy of all our praise. He’s the Holy Father. He puts stars in the sky. At the same time, He paints the belly of a Lady Bug. Never take for granted the privilege of prayer.

Be yourself – Along with being respectful, it is important to be who you are. Don’t attempt to make your words pretty as much as you attempt to make your heart pure. Just as you want your children to be respectful, yet still be themselves, I am convinced God wants that for His children. We are told to call Him “Daddy” (Abba). He wants us to fall in the comfy chair of home in His presence.

Be honest – God knows already, yet He loves to hear His children talk. Just like we do as parents. He wants to know what’s on our mind. We can tell Him if we are angry and still be respectful. Speak truthful when talking to God.

Be open to His voice – Spend intentional time listening, with your Bible open. God most often speaks through the already written Word. But He also speaks through the still small voice like the gentle breeze. Over time…and with lots of practice…you’ll begin to know and hear His voice.

Be consistent – Pray as much as you want and need God’s involvement in your life. How much is that? For me, that’s fairly constant. I pray far less than the need I have for Him. Have a daily routine. Start a prayer list. Do it daily. But mostly, do it as a part of lifestyle more than a part of routine. It’s a relationship. And He’s always with you, so take advantage of the closeness you can have through Christ. If you’re sitting at a stop light…pray. If you think of a friend…pray. If you begin to worry…pray. It can be a paragraph, sentence or a couple words. (I’ve prayed “Help me God!” many times.) Don’t overcomplicate it. Just pray. Talk to God. What a privilege that I can encourage you in this way. (Hebrews 4:16)

Of course, all this begins with a simple belief in Christ as your Savior. That is what makes you His child. If you’ve never believed in the One whom lived, died and rose again three days later…begin there.

What tips do you have for us amateur prayers?

7 Vital Components of Church Revitalization

Word cloud in puzzle shape with self development terms.

As you may know, I recently entered into a season of church revitalization. I’ve done something similar previously in ministry. My first church was similar.

Then I assisted in the planting of two churches (as a senior leader of both) and fell in love with the energy I saw in starting something new. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised. The church that has seen better days. I became more convinced that we need new energy in both.

So here I am again. And, this experience is giving me the opportunity, fueled by this platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process. I’m learning some things. There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.

Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. That can admittedly happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever that means :) ) there are components which need to be in place to see a church revitalize.

Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:

Admitting you need to revitalize – That’s hard isn’t it? Recently a senior member of our church visited another church that has undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to that level of understanding.

Letting go of right to control - This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung…or even the “but not that change”…on issues that aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.

A vision of something better – What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching that vision.

A history worth revitalizing – This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches that seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas and aren’t going to budge. (I realize that’s a cruel statement, but it’s a sad reality.)

Leadership willing to lead change – This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. I wrote recently the difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Read that post HERE and understand the difference. It’s what makes collective leadership that much more important, especially in the early days of revitalization.

The tenacity to weather storms – It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.

A few committed people – You need some people already established in the church who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are…and even with them as a primary focus…the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.

Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from hundreds of conversations with other pastors and personal experience.

What do you think?

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

I’ve been listening to Jadon Lavik’s version of the song below a lot lately. It’s speaking to me. What insight a pastor from 1757 who penned this hymn had even today into my heart.

I’ve made bold the parts which speak to me most (and made super bold the line which rocks my world).

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God

He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Which phrases speak to you most?

Rebuking Jesus

He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” (Mark 8:32)

I read this recently and laughed. LOL in fact.

The innocence of Peter here. The verses before tell us Jesus was teaching that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days.” (Mark 8:31)

Peter didn’t like what he heard. It wasn’t right. It didn’t seem fair. Or proper. Or probably even Biblical to him at the time.

So, Peter took him aside to rebuke him.

(As a side note, I’m glad Peter took him aside to rebuke him. I’m glad he didn’t blast Jesus in a group setting. I know some church people who could learn from Peter on that one.)

Imagine though. Peter rebuking Jesus.

He didn’t like what he was hearing…he didn’t like what Jesus was saying…the direction Jesus was leading…so he offered a bold rebuke.

Wow! That’s almost funny to me.

Peter, the disciple Jesus had recruited, the understudy…the former fisherman…rebuked Jesus. The Master. The Savior. The Creator. The King.

Following Peter’s rebuke, Jesus turned to rebuke Peter. Unknown to Peter…or at least not understood at the time…Jesus had a plan. Already. And, once again, Jesus had the final word

But then the focus of this post changes. Because then there is you. And me.

Have you ever rebuked Jesus?

Ever wanted to?

Be honest.

Has Jesus ever allowed something you thought was unfair? Or improper? Or maybe not even Biblical as you would determine it?

You expected more from Him. You thought, because of His love for you (which is greater than you can imagine) that He would use His power (which is greater than you can imagine) to interrupt time and intercede on your behalf. You thought after all you had done…for Him…as a person. (That hurts to say if it is true, doesn’t it?)

You thought He would write a better story with your life. You thought He would have responded differently than how He has responded.

So, you took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.

Or maybe you were afraid to be that honest. But, if you were honest…really honest…Jesus’ response to your life has disappointed you. Inside, if we could examine your heart…or mine…your reaction to Jesus’ plan was a rebuke. (Maybe you should be that honest. Peter was.)

Don’t be afraid to be honest with God.

As you offer your rebuke, however, learn from Peter’s experience. Remember you may not know or understand, but Jesus has things under control. He has a plan. Already.

As He did when talking to Peter, He will have the final word in your life.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

Join Me on a Free Lifeway Webcast, with Pete Wilson, Ronnie Floyd and Eric Geiger

I recently completed a Bible study for Lifeway on addressing conflict within relationships. (Not that any of us would need such a thing. :) ) Several other pastors are involved in this project, addressing other areas, but all in the newly designed Bible Studies for Life Series by Lifeway. I was honored to be a part, because I think it will be helpful, practical studies.

Along with the release of this project, Lifeway is providing a free webcast, Wednesday, May 8th, from 12:00 to 12:30 CST. I will be one of several prominent names, Eric Geiger, Pete Wilson, and Ronnie Floyd. (Again, I’m honored to be a part.) You can find more information and register for this at BibleStudiesforLife.com/webcast.

For a preview, here are a couple of videos about the webcast…one from me, and one from my much cooler friend, Pastor Pete Wilson.

Hope to have you online with us.