Unconditional Love Can Change the World

This is a guest post by my good friend Ben Stroup. Ben is a writer and consultant. His latest project with former American Idol finalist Danny Gokey will be released by NavPress in October 2013. Ben and his wife, Brooke, have two boys, Carter and Caden, and live just outside Nashville, Tennessee.

Unconditional Love Can Change the World

Unconditional love is not necessarily the first topic that comes up for ministry leaders. There are much more important things to do. Events to plan. Bible studies to lead. Sermons to preach. Staff to lead. Yet for a topic many are quick to comment on from the platform, we rarely give much thought to its significance in the ultimate juggling act we call ministry leadership.

Love without condition may be the most impossible thing we can imagine. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. And some might even question whether or not it even exists.

But we must believe that it does.

If it doesn’t exist, then we must also question our own motives and intentions. If nothing can be done out of self-less care for another human being, then everything is done for our own gain.

That means our life commitment to ministry leadership is nothing more than a hat tip to the people we claim to serve and an all-consuming act of self-directed worship of ourselves and our talents, skills, and abilities.

I choose to believe that love without condition exists because I can’t live in a world without it.

Unconditional love is one of the most powerful forces of change given to God’s people to carry out through God’s church. It is the fuel that will bring about not only revival but also total transformation.

Unconditional love heals the broken, empowers the timid, affirms the hesitant, and elevates those who have been overlooked, forgotten, and silenced. There is a power that comes to those who show and to those who receive unconditional love. Those who show this love are released from being consumed with themselves. Those who receive this love are released from limitations others have placed on them.

The challenge for those who lead God’s church is to find ways for Christ-followers to show and receive the kind of love that exists without condition. This is hard to do in a world full of broken promises and shattered dreams.

But this is the gift we have been given and the role we have been called to play.

Too often we excuse ourselves from opportunities to embody unconditional love because we are convinced we aren’t smart enough, mature enough, experienced enough, or rich enough to make a significant impact. That simply isn’t true. You have everything you need right now to show unconditional love toward someone else

Unconditional Love is not a challenge for the future but now. It is not something we can wait to do but is something we must initiate right now. You can be an agent of change.

Choosing to recklessly share unconditional love with others in the same way God has done for us will change you and the people you reach.

How can you help the people in your church discover love without condition?

Buy the book HERE. Read a sample chapter of the book HERE.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE TRAILER from LifeWay Films on Vimeo.

2 Things I’ve Learned about Failure

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It won’t break you -

Unless you allow it to do so. You may feel it has, but failure doesn’t have to define you. The choice of how you respond to failure is always up to you.

It might just make you -

You will learn more from failure than from everything going right for you. Guaranteed. Every time. I promise. The best principles I’ve learned in life came from times of failure in my life.

What have you learned about failure?

Is Work a Blessing or a Curse?

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Is work a curse or a blessing?

I have heard that question all my life. And the various opinions associated with the answers. Even for those who have careers in ministry…is it a blessing or a curse?

During such discussions, some who answer “blessing” have even told me that ministry is not work, since it is a blessing. I completely agree that ministry is a blessing, but isn’t it also work? If I can’t call it work, then I’m in trouble with 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and other passages. (And I need a real job :) ) Even though it is a blessing to serve, ministry can be hard too. I don’t know of a pastor who wouldn’t agree that the work of ministry is difficult and messy; even as rewarding as it can be to help others.

Now back to the original question.

Is the work a blessing or a curse?

Many people answer that question as to whether or not they like their job, but the question isn’t whether or not you enjoy your work, but simply is work a curse or a blessing?

As I read Genesis 3, after the fall of man, work appears to be cursed. Consider this: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:18-19) Sounds cursed.

At the same time,the ability to work and the income, production and opportunities it provides is a blessing. In a day when many are looking for work, I’m very thankful to have a job. There are those during this economy who have learned how much of a blessing any job is, just to be able to eat and provide for shelter.

God created work and I actually enjoy it. Ministry is my work…my job. God has called me to the vocational work of ministry and when I am doing the will of God I have an inner peace I can’t get any other way, so I love my work. Sounds like a blessing.

So, I’m thinking it could be a little of both.

I don’t think work is bad. Maybe the curse isn’t work, but on the enjoyment of the work we do. Somedays work is hard. Many days. Sometimes achieving the blessings from work come with sweat and labor. One of the reasons we often dread Mondays, for example, is because of the curse upon work, but, if we were honest, most of us are glad we have a job to go to on Mondays.

It shouldn’t surprise us that something God created as a blessing falls under a curse. Other areas of our life became more difficult at the fall of man, didn’t they? God created marriage. Marriage is wonderful. God created marriage before the fall, but would anyone who is married say that a great marriage never happens without a lot of hard “work”?

Here’s a final thought. If work is a blessing that falls under a curse, then it seems to me that even when our work is hard, the goal should still be to enjoy it. It’s a blessing.

We are blessed to work. Even if its subject to a curse.

What do you think?

How I Battled Claustrophobia (and other life applications)

airplane

Cheryl and I were recently on an airplane flight for 2 1/2 hours. It wasn’t the longest flight we’ve been on by far, but it seemed longer than it was. We managed to get the last seat in the back corner of the plane. There was no window. No reclining to the seat and limited leg room. I realize that’s typical these days for most seats, but trust me when I say this was the worst seat I’ve ever had on an airplane and I’ve flown a bunch.

To make matters worse…The guy in front of me reclined his full 3 inches and wouldn’t sit still the entire flight.

I knew I was semi claustrophobic, but on this flight I thought I would die. I allowed myself to be psyched into a frizzy of miserableness. Cheryl tried to calm me, but I was restless.

I know it sounds extreme, and like I am a big baby, but it became that big of a deal for me at the time. I had to do something.

So, how did I survive?

Well, the way I turned an uncomfortable situation into a manageable situation was a lesson for me for other life situations. Real life situations. The kind that last longer than a 2 1/2 hour airplane flight. (Even funnier was that I read a book about a WWII POW survivor on this vacation…talk about surviving…I am a sissy! But, still…)

Here’s what I did:

Thought about destination. We were getting out of town. Somewhere exciting. Vacation. Better times ahead.

Reminded myself this was temporary. These things too shall pass.

Redirected my thoughts to something that I enjoyed thinking about. (Such as writing a blog post.) And planning a new strategy. And studying my Bible.

It made the trip more pleasant and helped me arrive in a better mood. Cheryl was happy about that.

But, as I said, it helped me process how I respond in other claustrophobic times of life.

When you feel stuck. The walls feel like they are closing in around you. You are miserable in your current circumstances.

Here’s what you do:

Destination – Think about where you’re going. Better days ahead. If you’re a believer…a follower of Christ…you are living with some promises. (If you’re not on the right path…redirect here.)

Temporary – Remember life has ups and downs. These days shall pass. And, as Paul said, even if troubles last a lifetime, these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs” anything of this world.

Redirect – Change your thought process. Many times what we think about determines how we feel. Again, Paul said, “whatever is pure, whatever is noble, if anything is excellent or praise worthy…think about such things”. Maybe we need to think better thoughts.

When you have a proper perspective you can sit back, relax and better enjoy the flight.

Just for fun, what’s the most miserable flight you’ve ever been on and what made it so?

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?

The Elasticity of the Heart

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.

The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.

Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But, in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.

You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.

You felt a call to ministry at some point in your life, but you ignored it. Or something happened. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.

And, it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.

You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.

But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.

Above all else…guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)

7 Things Forgiveness IS NOT…

(I’m on vacation this coming week, and so for the next couple weeks I’m posting again some of my most read posts, but also ones I think are actually helpful. These are my “favorite top posts”. Some posts had more hits, but they simply do well in the search engines. I’m actually proud of these. :) None of these were posted this year. All are older than that. Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share these on Twitter, and Google Plus to get them circulated. I won’t be doing much of that while I’m gone.)

We get confused about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Maybe we don’t really know sometimes.

Forgiveness is not an option for the believer. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. For most of us (all of us if we will admit it), that’s a whole lot of forgiveness. Understanding forgiveness doesn’t make it easier to forgive, but it does make it more meaningful…perhaps even tolerable…but I believe understanding the process could make us more likely to offer the forgiveness we are commanded to give.

With that in mind, in two posts, I want to share what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

Here are 7 things forgiveness IS NOT:

Forgetting - When you forgive someone your memory isn’t suddenly wiped clean of the offense. I know God could do that, but it seems that would be the easy way. I suspect God wants forgiveness to be more intentional than that.

Regaining automatic trust - You don’t immediately trust the person who injured you when you forgive them. That wouldn’t even be logical. Trust is earned, and they must earn trust again.

Removal of consequences – Even though you forgive someone, they may still have consequences to face because of their actions.

Ignoring the offense – You don’t have to pretend nothing happened when you forgive. The reality is an offense was made. Acting like it never occurred only builds resentment and anger.

Instant emotional healing – Emotions heal with time. Some pain runs deep and takes longer to heal.

Restoring the same relationship – The relationship may be closer than before or not, but most likely it will never be the same.

A leverage of powerGranting forgiveness does not give a person power over the person being forgiven. That would violate the entire principle and purpose of forgiveness.

Here is the companion post….7 Things that Forgiveness Is… Just a note before you get there: This post may have seemed easy, even freeing, but the next one may be more difficult.

What would you add to my list of things forgiveness is NOT?

7 Things Forgiveness IS…(Repost)

(I’m on vacation this coming week, and so for the next couple weeks I’m posting again some of my most read posts, but also ones I think are actually helpful. These are my “favorite top posts”. Some posts had more hits, but they simply do well in the search engines. I’m actually proud of these. :) None of these were posted this year. All are older than that. Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share these on Twitter, and Google Plus to get them circulated. I won’t be doing much of that while I’m gone.)

I often wonder if the reason we don’t forgive as we should is because we don’t understand the subject well enough.

Yesterday I posted 7 Things that Forgiveness is NOT. It seems appropriate to also post 7 things that forgiveness IS.

Here are 7 things that forgiveness IS:

Letting go of a right to get even – You give up the right for revenge when you forgive someone.

Moving forward – Forgiveness is like saying, “It hurt. I didn’t like it, but I’m moving forward with my life in spite of the pain.”

Dropping resentment and grudge – Forgiveness releases the angst towards the person who did the injury.

A choice – Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s a conscious decision made by the injured party.

A step towards healing – Forgiveness releases a weight from the shoulders of the injured, opening the door for emotions to heal.

An opportunity to display grace – There is no greater picture of God’s forgiveness of us than for us to forgive one another.

The removal of a roadblock – Forgiveness removes the barrier between us and living at peace again with ourselves, others, and God.

I know these are difficult. I know some of the pain runs deep. I can’t describe it for you adequately, but I can tell you that forgiveness IS all it’s claims to be. If you truly want to be free of the hold the injury has on your heart, forgive the one who injured you.

What would you add to my list of 7 things forgiveness IS?

What is the most difficult situation you’ve had to forgive? Do you have a story that could encourage us?