How to live in peace when there’s no escape!

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:4-9

Key Verse: Philippians 4:9 (NLT)
9  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. 

It’s interesting to me that the Apostle Paul ends the book on the joy of the Gospel by addressing anxiety among believers. Life can be hard sometimes. We can become anxious about our marriage being shaky, our kids going through growing pains, our careers being uncertain, and our finances running out. The truth is, there is no escape from the challenges of life and the effects they can have on us. Anxiety can steal your joy and peace and create unnecessary tension in your life.

Here’s the question: How do we live with joy and peace when there’s no escape from the challenges of life? 

Paul reminds us that we should always rejoice in the presence of the Lord in every circumstance. We should cultivate a praying and grateful heart by thinking about the right things. The wrong things to meditate on are the things that are negative, out of your control, weaknesses, failures and events of the past. The right things to think about are things that are of God; his abiding presence, his unconditional love, his unending strength and power in your life.

Here’s the problem: We stop doing what we know to do when life is good. 

When life is going great we pray less, read his word less, meditate on scripture less and spend less time taking care of ourselves. The result of our inconsistency is a blind-side when something goes wrong.

Here’s the solution: The thing that shapes our lives the most is what we do consistently every day. 

Paul says to keep putting these things into practice. We have to think on the right things consistently, every day. The thoughts you dwell on create your emotions and your emotions determine your actions and how you approach life. The key principle here is to shape your thinking in a way that lines up with God’s word, his character, his presence, his power, and his love for you! But it has to be done consistently – every day!

Keep REACHING FORWARD to God’s best in your life by developing a consistent habit of thinking on the right things. May the God of peace be with you today!

Feel free to share your thoughts.

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Ten Confessions of a Church Planter!

This is the first blog I’ve written since February when we launched LifeBridge Tyler. It has been quite a journey and continues to be the most thrilling, challenging, and yet joyful experience of my life! So, my first confession is to all of you faithful followers who have taken the time to read Reaching Forward: I’ve let you down. I’ve let you down for not writing and encouraging you to keep Reaching Forward in your life. Now let’s continue with today’s content.

I’ve known for 12 years that God has called me to plant a church! I have prayed, read the books and prepared. I reached a point about a year and half ago when I felt God was saying now is the time. I have the vision, I have the passion, I have the degree, I have the experience, I have the training; and now I’m ready! However, what I was not expecting was the experience that is unfolding as we speak. Instead, I’m learning a ton about myself and my relationship with God. Now I confess, but with each confession comes a fresh perspective and direction that God is taking me and I pray you can identify and learn from each one.

1. I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I’m still learning. Good ideas and proven methods are great and should be sought after, but context and application is everything. In other words, there are no cookie cutters when it comes to walking out your calling and mission with God. 

2. I wasn’t as mature as I thought I was. I’m still growing. I’ll admit it, I’ve lost my cool more than once; with my wife, my children, myself and even God. You will always discover what’s inside you when you get squeezed. Never stop growing. 

3. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. God is now my strength. The difference in strength for leaders is level of responsibility. When someone else is responsible it’s easier to be strong in the face of adversity. However, the lesson here is to know what responsibility is yours and what belongs to God. He and I still discuss this regularly! No matter what, I need Him!

4. I wasn’t as close to God as I thought I was. I’m passionately drawing near to Him. God is consistently drawing me nearer and nearer so that I can see things the way He sees them. Not that I’m getting it all, but He’s trying. 

5. I didn’t pray as much as I thought I did. I’m praying more intentionally and more fervently. The only one that ultimately has the wisdom, strength and direction you need is God. As an under-shepherd to Jesus, I’m more drawn to prayer now than ever before! When you think you pray enough, thing again!

6. I didn’t understand what I thought I knew. I’m relearning key lessons from a different perspective. It’s amazing how what you know changes based on your perspective. Knowledge is great, but without personal application it’s pretty much useless. There’s no greater teacher than experience. Oh, and don’t judge others based on knowledge until you’ve been there.

7. I didn’t expect a relationship vacuum. I’m connecting with others more intentionally. We need people around us who care about us, especially when going through the most challenging seasons of life. Don’t be caught short on friends. God will use them to get you through another day.

8. I didn’t expect the unexpected. I’m prepared for surprises. The best way to know this is to measure your immediate response to the unexpected. Is it failure, massive roadblocks, or opportunity for creativity and growth? Don’t let an obstacle stop you – keep going! Find a way and get past it.

9. I don’t have what it takes. I need God and other people. I’m amazed at how much I don’t know how to do! I could tell you but the list is entirely too long for this post. Surround yourself with ALL types of people, not just those like you. Make room at the table for creatives that can’t stay focused and the OCDers that focus too much! Put them at different tables but include them all! 

10. I never knew the joy that’s possible when faced with the impossible. I’m having the time of my life on this journey with God! I never knew the hardest season of my life would also be the most fulfilling. I’m experiencing God, other people, and even myself on a level that is crazy awesome! I wouldn’t change a minute of it! Well, maybe just one! 

Keep REACHING FORWARD even in the difficult realities that life hands you! Embrace your journey and your own confessions, but turn them into opportunities for growth. It’s all about God pruning and shaping you into the amazing person you are and are becoming!

Feel free to share a confession or two of your own!

Cultivating a Valentine’s Day Heart!

heartAs Valentine’s Day approaches there’s love in the air, so to speak. People are focused on how they are going to show love to that special someone in their lives. A person’s heart is usually oriented toward being kind, thoughtful and loving on this specific day of the year. However, true love is realized when we develop a heart that is oriented toward that special someone throughout the year not just on Valentine’s Day or birthdays. I was thinking, wouldn’t it really be special if we cultivated a Valentine’s Day heart every day so that we live our lives heart first toward those we love. Here are a few tips for those who desire to live every day with a Valentine’s Day heart.

1. Be quick to forgive.

Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” People who cultivate a Valentine’s Day heart are quick to forgive. While some things are very difficult to forgive and require a process, most of us hold on to grudges that keep us on edge and not very loving. The best tip to cultivate a heart that is quick to forgive is to pray for those who are close to you daily, especially those who have wronged you. Prayer softens the heart and allows God access to those hidden places in the heart that need healing. There is great freedom in living a grudge-free life!

2. Practice a grateful heart.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” People who develop a grateful heart are some of the most content people I know. Most people live with a sense of discontentment underneath the surface because of something we don’t have or something we have yet to accomplish. Find something everyday to be grateful for – and start with those people in your life that are important to you. After all, a Valentine’s Day heart is really about saying thank you for being you and sharing your life with me. The real blessings in life are those people we enjoy life with every day. Be grateful for them.

3. Be teachable.

Proverbs 13:18 says “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” The first problem with being teachable is that we feel like we have to qualify the person through whom the correction comes. It’s like we stay stuck in the adolescent mindset that people without the proper “authority” are not allowed to speak into our lives. However, people who are teachable develop a heart that hears the Lord through others and takes heed to instruction. It’s not about who does the correcting; it’s about acknowledging we’re not perfect but being willing to grow. This is the kind of heart that communicates love and mutual respect for one another.

The best Valentine’s Day gift we can give our special someone is a Valentine’s Day heart every day of the year!

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life!

Comments welcome!

What’s The Point of God’s Grace?

graceOur culture in America predominantly teaches us to live a performance-oriented life. We are rewarded for doing right and punished for doing wrong from the time that we start scooting around on the floor on our own . We enter school and the first thing we are handed is the school manual, which lays out all of the rules that we must abide by. We enter the working world and get promoted for performing well and reprimanded for performing poorly.

I’m a retired Army guy so I understand rules and performing to a given standard. In fact, I do well in a structured environment where the standards are clear. I’m not against rules or the expectation that we should live our lives as law-abiding citizens and serve with excellence by doing our best. There is certainly nothing wrong with performing at our best. Performance itself is not the matter in question, but the motive of the heart behind the performance.

I think one of the most difficult theological concepts to live out in our lives is God’s grace. It’s not necessarily that we lack understanding of God’s grace as much as we lack the application of His grace upon our lives. Most people who have genuinely put their faith in Christ know what it means to receive unmerited favor from God. I hear people say all the time, “I just don’t feel like I deserve the love and forgiveness that God has shown me.” I often respond, “you don’t, neither do I and that’s the point.”

The point of God’s grace is that we do not have to earn His favor!

In my work as a pastor, I often see an underlying motive resident in the hearts of Christians who have turned to God and put their faith in Christ. The underlying motive is that they must somehow live their lives in such a way that God will be pleased with them and bestow His favor upon them. In other words, many people receive salvation, but deep down they still don’t believe that they are 100% accepted and approved by God.

I read about this very same issue in the book of Galatians. They had begun to go back to the religious rituals (like circumcision and festivals) that they were bound to before they received Christ. The Apostle Paul addresses this issue head-on: “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal 4:9).

We grow up living our lives in a way that will bring favor upon us by people in our world. The motive of our hearts is to earn favor, to be pleasing, and to be accepted. It’s not surprising that we carry this idea into our relationship with God. Don’t get me wrong, God does want our obedience and expects us to live a life of faith based on the principles in his word. However, he is not watching over your every move waiting to punish you for doing wrong or reward you for doing something great. He loves you and accepts you not because of what you do or don’t do, but because of what Jesus did and did not do. Let’s run it down:

1. Jesus lived as a man tempted in every way.

2. Jesus did not sin.

3. Jesus shed his innocent blood for the remission of our sins.

4. Jesus rose from the grave.

You and I can rest in the fact that we are accepted and loved because we were chosen by his grace and justified by his son. Now we are sons and daughters adopted into God’s family as children of his own. There is no need to turn back to the principle of this world that says performance = acceptance. Rest in his grace and enjoy your journey!

The Key to Creating Your Desired Future.

ImageWhy do some people achieve their goals and others don’t? I spend a lot of time talking with people about how to move from where they are in life to where they desire to be. I find that most people are reaching for something that will make an aspect of their lives better; a better marriage, better health, a better leader, a better student, a better blogger, and so on. However, I have also learned from my own life that although knowledge might be the starting point, it will never empower you to achieve a better life. Knowledge will provide you with information, but it will not create your desired future.

The key to creating your desired future is self-discipline. Before you click out of this blog, keep reading for 3 minutes. Many people shudder at the thought of self-discipline because of the various connotations that accompany the term. Many people believe that self-discipline is a by-product of personality thereby disqualifying themselves. This is a myth that only prevents people from creating the future they desire. I uncover this myth and explain how anyone can develop self-discipline here.

According to thefreedictionary.com, self-discipline is the training and control of oneself usually for improvement. It has also been said that self-discipline is being able to do what you should do and stop doing what you shouldn’t do. Another way to look at it is this:

Self-discipline is taking control of your life in order to achieve a desired future.

Many people see self-discipline as giving up their freedoms and submitting to inflexible structure. This statement is partially true because of our natural tendency to do what feels good to us rather than what is beneficial for us. However, the truth about self-discipline is that it creates a pathway toward our desired future. Here’s how.

Self-discipline establishes healthy boundaries.

As I stated above, our natural tendency is to do what feels good; sleep as long as we want, eat anything we want, engage in immorality all we want, spend money we don’t have, etc. Self-discipline establishes natural boundaries in our lives that protect us from that which harms, delays, or prevents progress.

Self-discipline creates opportunities.

Knowledge that is never implemented is no good to you. If your goal is weight loss, self-discipline will create opportunities for you to eat healthy and exercise. The ability of one to implement what he or she has learned is dependent upon the opportunities available. Self-discipline creates those opportunities by creating time for the opportunities to exist.

Self-discipline provides direction.

Many people don’t know where to start so they do nothing. Self-discipline helps you take one step at a time to get to where you’re going. It’s the little things in life that provide direction. Self-discipline provides a track to run on so that you can know you are headed in the right direction.

Self-discipline is nothing more than taking control of your own life and not allowing life to take control of you! When you take your life back, you will see boundaries, opportunities, and clear direction unfold before you that are the ingredients to achieving the life you so desire.

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best! If he put the desire in you, he will give you the power and wisdom to get there. Your part is to make the choices that make it happen.

Comments welcome.

Tests That Precede the Promise!

What has God spoken to you about your future? I’ll bet you’re wondering why you have to wait. If things are not going well for you, you are probably asking why? Perhaps you are confused and confounded at the trials in the midst of your promise.

Maybe you are thinking, “what am I doing wrong…where is God in my life right now…why is He allowing this to happen…is God real…was His promise really from Him or just my wishful thinking?”

I’m reminded of the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-41) where his life was a mess between God’s promise to him and its fulfillment. Read it for yourself and compare your story to his. What was going on? Why did the events in Joseph’s life play out the way they did?

Perhaps this verse explains: “Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.” Psalm 105:19.

The very promise of what is to come will be preceded by various tests.

Here are a few tests that precede the promise:

1. Faithfulness regardless of circumstances. Faithfulness has nothing to do with others. It is a matter of character that must be forged in a person’s own heart. Blaming others or circumstances for lack of faithfulness is a fail. In order to get a passing grade, we must be faithful regardless of the circumstances.

How can you be faithful in circumstances you don’t like?

2. Responsibility regardless of position. Responsibility has nothing to do with position. Responsibility is applied to each and every person in their current position and circumstances. Authority can be delegated but you must own personal responsibility for what is yours. Your life is your responsibility!

What are you blaming others for that is yours to own?

3. Self-Control regardless of temptation. You will never be prepared for greater success without self-control. Temptations will come at every level; with $20, with $2,000,000; with leading two, with leading 2,000. Self-control is about establishing a way of life that honors God and builds biblical character.

What areas do you give in to temptation?

4. Care for others regardless of personal interests. Any promise of God for your future will always test your care for others.

Do you acknowledge and care about the needs, thoughts and feelings of those around you?

A final thought: Don’t be discouraged while waiting on God’s promise. Understand the promise is testing you. Be faithful, be responsible, exercise self-control and care for others. Above all, seek God daily and His favor will be upon you!

Keep REACHING FORWARD! His promise is awaiting you!

The Secret Ingredients to a Satisfying Life!

My wife and I recently had dinner at a German restaurant where the food was fabulous! After spending six years in Germany, we developed a taste for fine German cuisine. Now, if you know German food, you know that it is not fancy, nor is it expensive; however, as my wife says, “it will make your taste buds dance!” The key to great food is found in the recipe. You will never be able to prepare your favorite dish and achieve that satisfying taste unless you apply ALL of the right ingredients.

Have you ever stopped to think about what it really takes to live a life that is satisfying and enjoyable? Most people will say that achieving a satisfying life comes from working hard to earn lots of money, stewarding your money well, staying healthy, and enjoying the relationships in your life. All of these ingredients are certainly part of the recipe for a satisfying life.  If we stop there, however, our recipe is incomplete and the final product (our life) will be less than satisfying. We must ensure we add the most important ingredients. Let’s take a look:

Proverbs 22:4 (NLT)
4 True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.

Ingredients for a satisfying life

1. True Humility – The NLT uses the word “true” indicating that perhaps there is a “false” humility. Don’t be confused; humility is not giving up your rights or devaluing yourself. Humility is about heart and attitude. Humility is about positioning yourself for great satisfaction in life. Here’s how:

  • God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)
  • Humility comes before honor (Prov 18:12)
  • With humility we are to show tolerance for one another (Eph 4:2)
  • With humility we are to regard one another as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3)

2. Fear of the Lord – To fear the Lord means to reverence Him. In short, this means to walk in the righteousness that comes from Christ. In other words, it means to live right before God. It also means to walk through your decisions and actions with God in mind:

  • Start and end your day…with God in mind.
  • Do your job…with God in mind.
  • Relate to your spouse and children…with God in mind.
  • Make every choice…with God in mind.

When you and I add the ingredients of humility and fear of the Lord, we are setting ourselves up for a life that is satisfying and enjoyable to live.

Is your life not satisfying? Perhaps you’re missing a key ingredient.

Comments welcome!