How to Revitalize Your Life!

The other day I noticed a flowering hedge next to my house that was looking sort of sickly. My wife also noticed and took a few minutes to prune away the dead flowers and leaves that were just hanging on. It wasn’t long until that hedge was flourishing with bright, beautiful and healthy flowers. It was totally revitalized!

If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself in a season of life that seems as if you’re just standing still – making no progress – being unproductive. You could say that you’re simply not being fruitful. You don’t know how you got here, but you’re here. One minute everything was good and the next minute you suddenly realized your energy is zapped and your mind is in a fog. Two questions come to mind; how did I get here and how do I get out?

1. Practice The Principle of Pruning

First, you’ve allowed yourself to take on more than you can maintain. Like the flowering hedge, you have too many things in your life hanging around that are zapping your time and energy, but are not adding value to your life. Maybe it’s trying to please the wrong people, doing too many projects, planning too much activity, or never saying no. In order to flourish again, you need to prune (cut the unnecessary things out of your life). The principle of pruning says that when you cut away the unnecessary out of your life, your energy and passion can be redirected to those things that really matter, thereby restoring you to fruitful living!

The Bible says…

John 15:2 (ESV)
2  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

So, evaluate your life. What is necessary and fruitful and what seems to be hanging around sucking the life out of you? Keep what you need and prune away everything that is stealing substance from you.

2. Stay Connected to Jesus

The second thing that has happened, most likely as a result of number one above, is that you’ve become disconnected from Jesus, the true source of life and fruitfulness. When we allow the busy-ness of life to steal us away from time with Jesus and his word, we find ourselves being unfruitful. Here’s why…

John 15:4 (ESV)
4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

If you are a Christian and you don’t have time for prayer and reading the word of God, you simply have too much going on. Again, evaluate what needs to go and prune. Then, put Jesus back into your life consistently because apart from him you can do nothing.

I believe if you will live by these two principles, the fog will clear, you will find fresh energy and joy, and your life will suddenly be revitalized.

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

Comments welcome and encouraged!

 

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!

When Life is Confusing!

confusion

Have you ever ended up here?

Do you ever become preoccupied with the things in life you just don’t understand? Do you ever find yourself in a state of confusion looking to God wondering why something is or isn’t happening? The truth is all of us have experienced this multiple times because it is a part of life. The question is not if, when or why these confusing moments or seasons in life will happen; the question that we’re all asking in these intense moments is…

“What do I do now?”

It’s a matter of perspective and how we see ourselves. We have to know and believe in our hearts that God is God and we are not, and there are things that are simply beyond our control. Nevertheless, we can find comfort, strength and direction from the Lord when we find ourselves in the midst of this fog. Here are a few tips to help get you through confusing seasons in life.

Psalm 131: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”

1. Know that God hasn’t forgotten you.

The Psalmist knows that he is not alone. Although he is in the midst of a confusing time in life, he knows deep down that God will not leave him nor forsake him.

2. Accept what you can neither understand nor control.

The Psalmist gives up trying to control everything that is beyond his ability. He says “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” In other words, there are things in our own lives that belong to God and are too great for us to try and figure out. We must not become preoccupied with things too great for us!

3. Place your hope in The Lord…always!

The one thing that will give us proper perspective and get us through is to “hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” When we hope in the Lord, in the good times and the bad, we find rest for our souls knowing that God is our source.

Keep REACHING FORWARD when life is confusing and filled with a fog. God has not forgotten you, nor has he left you to yourself to get through. His grace is being extended toward you!

 

How do I Give “IT” to God?

ImageEarly in my life as a Christian I would hear people say “you just have to give it to God!” I often wondered what it meant to “give it to God” and exactly how I should go about it. I can’t blame others since I’m guilty of telling people the same thing. Most people are sincere when they give us advice such as this with a heart that’s saying “only God can resolve your situation.” However, our sincerity doesn’t change the fact that we often give people advice using our “christianese” without ensuring that they really understand what that means.

As a pastor, I often talk to people who say they have tried to give “it” to God, but they just don’t know how. What we’re ultimately talking about is surrendering something to God that we have allowed to take his place. That could be anything from blatant sin to trying to control our circumstances and outcomes without trusting God as we should. Before we can know how to give “IT” to God, we first have to define what “IT” is that we need to give up.

Just What Exactly is “IT?”

Most people are trying to give their struggle, their heartache, their problems, or their pain over to God. The problem with this humanistic viewpoint is that we are still the ones in control. In order for us to obtain the power to give “IT” over to God, we have to relinquish control and embrace God’s grace. We have to first give up the need to control whatever “IT” is and allow God’s grace to enter our hearts. In other words, the “IT” that we need to give to God is not the “IT” that’s bothering us; rather, the “IT” we need to surrender to God is our own efforts to control “IT.” The problem with humanity from the beginning has been our own ideas and efforts of how to control everything in our lives. In other words, we make ourselves God. Therefore, in order to give “IT” to God, we have to relinquish control and do it God’s way.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

1. Repent

First we must repent and return to the Lord. Repent means to turn from our way of thinking and turn to the Lord’s way. The Lord’s way always begins with repentance. We repent (turn from) our attempt to control everything in our lives. We repent (turn from) doing things our way and allow God’s grace to fill our hearts. When we are struggling the most, repentance is the one thing that God promises will bring his presence and times of refreshing (see Acts 3:19-20).

2. Trust

Once we have repented and relinquished our attempts to control our circumstances, then we can trust God to catch us! We can trust God to catch us when we let go and venture into the unknown. Once we repent and experience His grace, we can freely trust His timing, provision, and direction for our lives. The one thing we can completely trust God with is our future because He wrote it!

If you need to give “IT” to God today, I encourage you to start with repentance and allow Him to fill you and empower you by His grace! You will experience the presence of the Lord, a time of refreshing and the ability to trust Him with your life!

Keep REACHING FORWARD in your journey and allow Him to be in the driver’s seat! Trust Him! You’ll never regret it!

Feel free to share!

Something to Live For!

somethingtoliveforAs a pastor, I have the privilege of doing life with people as they invite me in to their world. Sometimes that world consists of great joy and celebration; other times it consists of pain, sorrow, confusion, and loss of direction. Recently, I was helping a person process their current season of life, which is one of transition, financial strain and uncertainty. They shared how they have begun reaching out to a neighbor and a friend who need a level of expertise that they have regarding a particular quality of life issue. What they have discovered is a principle that gives us something to live for every day regardless of our personal circumstances. The principle is very simple to learn and with little effort can be incorporated into your daily life.

Sharing your gift, talent, knowledge, or resources with others gives you something to live for!

Everyone has something to offer others; a gift, talent, skill, information, or simply a listening ear. When you and I can focus on offering what we have to help others our lives suddenly have meaning. Our own problems that seemed to be huge are suddenly reduced to manageable life-circumstances rather than overwhelming odds that are stacked against us. Here are a few steps to help you find that ‘something to live for’ every day of your life.

1. Identify what you have to offer.

Perhaps you understand fitness, eating healthy, financial management, leadership, or any other area of life that someone might benefit from. Don’t discredit yourself. Trust me when I say you have something the world around you needs!

2. Look for a need.

I have learned that all you have to do to find a need is to look for it. Needs are all around us every day. I would say that a need is tied to every person in one way or another. One of the best ways to look for a need is to simply listen to what people are saying. The need they have will eventually be revealed.

3. Share with sincerity and compassion.

Once you identify someone that has a need in an area where you know you can help, approach them with all sincerity (not in a haughty fashion telling them what they “need to do”) with an offer to help by providing what you have.

I believe this principle is the one that keeps people REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in their lives. All we have to do is be willing to add value to others with what God has given us. When we learn to do this daily, we find renewed purpose and vision for our lives that will keep us moving forward in the midst of our own struggles.

Make a difference in someone’s life today!

Share your comments of how you found something to life for!

The Spiritual Leader’s #1 Responsibility!

spiritualleadershipSpiritual leadership is a lot of things. It is first a privilege to be involved in the spiritual growth of the precious people that God has brought into our lives. Spiritual leadership is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly, for people look to us for direction and guidance regarding the most significant questions of our existence as human beings. Spiritual leadership is a mandate to make disciples through baptism, teaching of the word, love, and fellowship (Matt 28:19-20, John 13:35, Acts 2:42). Spiritual leadership is carried out by setting an appropriate example for others to follow (John 13:15, Phil 3:17, 1 Tim 4:12). However, there is one thing that all spiritual leaders must understand.

Spiritual leaders are NOT the source of fruit in a disciple’s life!

Spiritual leaders who think that they are responsible for producing fruit in a disciple’s life find themselves living in a state of constant frustration. I must say I have been guilty of thinking this way in the past. My heart was to do everything in my power to help people change and become fruit-bearing Christians. My heart is still there, but my perspective on who is responsible for the outcome is different. There is a long list of things that spiritual leaders do such as feed, care, tend, protect, teach, preach; however, not among that list is producing fruit in a person’s life. Scripture points out in multiple places that a person is responsible for his or her own fruit (Mt. 3:8, Mt. 7:17, Jn 15:16, Rom 7:4) and that Jesus is their source (John 15).

Our job as spiritual leaders is to point them to Jesus in everything we do!

Young believers become attached to their pastors and spiritual leaders and if not instructed properly will believe that the spiritual leader is their source of life. Many leaders and pastors allow themselves to be that source because it gives them significance or helps them feel important. Our job is not to be the source of fruit in a person’s life. Jesus said plainly in John 15:5 “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.Jesus is the only source of fruit in a person’s life; not the pastor, not the Sunday school teacher, and not the small group leader. Our job is to point them to Jesus. If we allow people to abide in us as their source, we are doing them a disservice by withholding the very Gospel that is found only in Jesus.

All spiritual leaders I know have a deep desire to see growth in those they are trying to disciple. This desire is why we do what we do. I encourage you today to evaluate how you see the outcome of your efforts and where you place responsibility for a person’s growth. I pray the Lord will set you free from taking on a role that belongs to him and his sheep. Keep REACHING FORWARD for as many as the Lord would give you to disciple! There’s no greater calling!

Comments are encouraged!

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!