Being A Self Starter

Change cannot happen until you start something new. Repeating the same old behaviors will get you the same results.

There only two ways that these new beginnings happen, of which I am aware. One way they occur is through forced situations. A job loss, an injury, a doctor’s instruction or else, a spouse’s ultimatum are just a few of the ways we are forced into starting a new venture.

The other way that we come to new beginnings is through the power of the will. We decided deep within the recesses of our heart and soul that things are going to be different. These internally motivated changes are hard to capture and harder to explain.

One possible reason we have stopped attempting new projects is that we fear failure. Another reason is because we know that new things will make us uncomfortable for some time. Still, others push back from the conflict that will inevitably come with different actions. The result is that we keep repeating the same behaviors, even when we hate the results.

The challenge for every new day and every new month is to say deep within ourselves, “Today is the day that things are going to be different. Today is the day I am going to start a new chapter in my life.” Self-starting is difficult, but it is rewarding. The first step is to stop blaming others for your situation and believe you can take control of your future. I know God has a better future planned for you. As a believer, place your life in God’s hands, then step up and step out. The only thing holding you back is you.

Empathy Over Advice

After a lifetime of listening, learning, and reflecting, we have accumulated lots of good advice to offer people. If anyone is having a problem, we have one or two bits of useful information to help them get straightened out. Let me know your troubles and allow me to fix them with my wisdom.

Empathy is different. It is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” When you are empathic, you are trying to connect on an emotional level rather than offering advice. You listen to their feelings, sympathize, share, and allow them space to feel the moment more than analyze it.

Know this fact about life: People want empathy over advice.

Most of the time, we know what to do. We even know how we should proceed. The emotions are what are holding us back. We need to share those feelings, and then we are ready to move forward.

So when your parents, spouse, kids, sibling, or friend is struggling. Keep the advice to yourself and allow them to share their emotions. It will help to build strong relationships in a world where advice is only a google search away.

An Illustration to Help Us Understand Forgiveness

Imagine a husband and a wife disagree one day. (This is not a hard concept for any married couple to grasp.) This difference of opinion makes the man mad. He can feel the anger building up inside of him, and even though he knows better, he says a string of words and phrases the hurt her and drive a wedge in their relationship.

She goes to one room, and he goes to the garage to cool off. After some time passes, several things could happen.

First, he might not even acknowledge he did anything wrong. He doesn’t have to live by her rules. If she cares that much, then she needs to come to him. It is her problem, not his.

Second, he can come back and grovel. He can fall to his knees and plead with her to forgive him with tears. She then must weigh his sincerity. Is he really sorry? If she believes his emotions, then she can forget what happened and try to move forward together.

Third, he can try to make it right with her through his actions. He can start trying to be the best husband on the planet. He can make her dinner and wash the dishes. He can give her pick the shows they watch on TV. He can clean the house and make the bed. He can do one thing after another to show her that he is sorry. Once she feels he has done enough, then she can tell him everything is good, and they can go back to normal.

Finally, he could just walk back in the room and say, “I am so sorry for what I said, will you forgive me?” She could look at him, and out of her love, say, “Yes, all is forgiven.” Their relationship can be restored, and they can move forward in love together.

Which of these describes your relationship with God? Some people deny they need God’s forgiveness. Others try to earn forgiveness through emotions, good works, and penance. The Bible teaches that God so loved the world that he took care of our sin through Jesus. All we need to do is come to him and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. He will forgive us, and our relationship can be healed.

God offers us forgiveness through Jesus Christ. You can stop trying to earn his love, just come and accept what he offers. Once you have received, make sure that other people understand how this thing works.

Get Over Yourself

It is easy to become obsessed with yourself.  We take selfies because we like to look at ourselves.  We buy things we think we want because we are selfish and self-centered.  Often our conversations scream out, “I want to talk about me, me, me!”  Live like this long enough, and you can have an over-inflated ego that believes you are the center of the universe, and everything else revolves around you.  We might not use those exact words, but our actions, conversations, and social media tell the true story of obsession with ourselves. 

That is what makes this statement by the Apostle Paul so shocking in his letter to the believers in Philippi.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (4) not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (5) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5 – NIV 2011) 

One of the projects of a follower of Jesus is to elevate others and get over our selfish inclinations. We are to seek the interest of others above our own.  This was modeled by Jesus with his words but primarily with his life.  The passage that follows this one in Philippians is a song about Jesus sacrificing himself for us.  He gave of himself for our benefit.  This is the very definition of selfless living. 

The concept is easy to grasp but difficult to implement.  Maybe the best way to start is with small expressions of selflessness and grow from there.  Today, take the time to say a kind word about the work of other people.  Praise them for their efforts no matter how small.  Ask about their thoughts and feelings, then sit quietly and listen to their response without interrupting.  Open doors for people and let others go ahead of you in line.  Let someone else have the best parking spot or the seat that you feel is the most desirable.  Share.  Post pictures of other people that will bring them joy.  Offer a helping hand.  Do something that lifts other people to a higher level. 

As you start making these little words and actions part of your routine, it won’t be long until you are willing to sacrifice more for others.  With each new day, you will begin to value other people in the way that Jesus did.  Soon, all those words that start with “self” will not apply to you, and Christ will be seen in you. 

New Chapters in Life

For many people, this is a random Tuesday with no special meaning. Here in the community where I live, it is the first day of the school year. At our house, that means my youngest son is starting his Senior year. We are beginning a new chapter in his book that will end with graduation from High School.

Humans like to have fresh starts. We enjoy the opportunity to lie a blank page in front of us and write the next chapter. We celebrate birthdays, school beginnings, and the first day of new adventures. We have New Year’s Day, new months, and Sunday every seven days to start a new week. These are moments when we can pause and start a fresh story that will bring us joy and glory to God.

Today you might not be sending your child off to their final year of school, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be special. What if today was the day you decided to make a change? What if this was the first day of a new life? What if you forgot the past and started writing a new chapter in your life today?

This could be the day you stop doing something destructive. Determine that you will not be angry about everything, or put down the bottle and takes steps to freedom. This could be the day you start doing something new. The exercise you have been putting off could start tonight. You could read your Bible and pray for the very first time. The possibilities are unlimited.

Some new chapters in life are forced on us while others we choose. Today is an excellent time to decide to change. In fact, there has never been a better time to become the person you have always wanted. Just mark the day and call it the first day of the rest of your life.

Four Layers of a Believers Self-Worth

Over the past month, I have been preaching a series of sermons called “The Masterpiece.” Each one added another layer of value and self-worth for those who are believers in God. I think it is significant enough information to repeat here before I move on to my next topic on Sunday mornings.

  1. We are created in the image of God. According to Genesis 1:26-27, every single human being, no matter their gender or ethnic background, is made in the image of God. We bear the mark of our God on our bodies and souls. We are above all of creation and unique in our identity, making us “very good” in the eyes of God.
  2. We are formed by the hands of God. Seven times in the Bible, there is the image that God is the potter, and we are the clay. He is molding our life from its conception (in our mother’s womb) into a one of a kind masterpiece. When he encounters issues with the clay, he reforms it to make it even more special.
  3. We are loved by God. God displayed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us on the cross. He is the atonement that brings us back into a right relationship with God through his death. He paid the ultimate price for our adoption. Anytime we question our value, we need to look at the cross and be reminded of the father’s love.
  4. We are continually restored through the cross. Once you are a follower of Jesus, the goal is for us to live like Christ. But when we fall short, if we throw ourselves on God’s mercy and confess our sins, he cleans us off and keeps loving us. God gives us grace upon grace. Like a person who restores fine art, God’s grace makes you clean when you have failed as a believer.

Each of these statements is a declaration of God’s work in your life and the value of your life. They are true as you come to know God and walk with him over a lifetime. Nothing can take away your significance. When your world seems dark, and you wonder if anyone cares about you, know that God does, and you have great worth to him.

The Church is In the Building

There has been a phrase I have heard in ministry for the past 25 years that has recently become extremely popular. With all the COVID issues and Churches unable to meet on Sundays, I see it on my social media posts almost daily. It is this: “The Church has left the building.”

In some places, there is an explanation about the Church being people and not a building. There is usually some spiritual lesson on the people of God taking the message of Jesus to the streets. While I understand the sentiment, I do find the concept flawed.

The Church I lead has two worship programs over three hours on Sunday morning. Some people come to serve in one and worship in the other. Other people have a small group time during one and worship during the other one. Another group serves both programs as part of our worship program. These groups are in the building for three hours total on Sunday. The vast majority come to one program and worship and then go home. They are giving a total of one hour in the Church building.

The community of believers has no problem going out into the world. Our most committed believers will spend 165 hours of their week out in the world. The average person will spend 167 hours outside of the building. The overwhelming majority of their time will be spent outside of the building. The issue has never been getting people to go out into the world.

The most difficult part of the Church is getting people to gather in the building together. The challenge is to get the people of God to leave the world and set aside time for corporate worship. The writer of Hebrews tells the people “not to give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing (Hebrews 10:25).” Missing worship is so easy; it can be habit-forming.

I agree that the Church is not a building, and living out your faith “in the real world” is essential. Don’t forget that one of the things God desires of us is to form a new community of faith with the people who follow Jesus. We are a “one another” people who spend time in worship as we invest, encourage, challenge, teach, rebuke, correct, love, and connect with each other.

My phrase of “The Church is meeting for worship, and you should be there” will never be as famous because it will require everyone to make an effort to be at worship. Just because it is not popular does not make it any less accurate.

Not Finished But Improving

No one is expecting you to be perfect in your faith. Yet, I am hoping and praying that you are becoming more like Jesus every single day.

That may mean there is one word that is no longer a part of your vocabulary. Perhaps your Bible reading goes from 5 minutes a day to 6 minutes. Possibly you go from having a mean look on your face with that one coworker to making it a smile. The list is exceptionally long of the little changes you can make to become more of what God desires.

Too often, we write of these small changes as inconsequential, but they are an essential part of the journey of faith. One small step forward each day and every week will slowly transform you into a person of enormous faith.

The old illustration is, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer, “One bite at a time.” The application is simple, “How do you become like Jesus?” The answer, “One small change at a time.”

No one expects you to be perfect, but I hope you keep growing today in some small way.

Hearing it for the 1000th Time

One of the challenges with being a preacher or teacher is saying the same thing over and over. Repetition is one of the trademarks of an excellent ministry. The Apostle Paul shared his testimony three times in the book of Acts. He told the Church at Corinth that his only message was Christ and him crucified. Even Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5-7 and then delivered a similar sermon called the Sermon on the Plain in Luke chapter 6.

I am sure some people grow weary of repeatedly hearing the same things, but for the most part, it is a necessary part of the ministry. I say this for at least four reasons.

  1. Some people may have never heard. Every week our Church has people visiting with us during our worship program. At least monthly someone new arrives who has never been to a Church worship program. We repeat ourselves so that everyone has a chance to hear the basics of the faith.
  2. Some people may not have paid attention the first time. It is easy to get distracted. This can be from outside sources like a child or a noisy adult. This can also come from internal sources. Many times, I have been listening to a sermon, and the preacher said something that made my mind run off to other places and passages of scripture. I missed what was said next as my mind was off in a distant thought.
  3. Some people need reminding. Even if you heard the message a few months ago, it is easy to forget what you learned. When I am preparing a sermon on a familiar topic, I usually look up my old sermons because even I have forgotten what I said. If I forget, I am sure other people have done the same.
  4. Some teachers offer a fresh perspective on an old truth. Some of the best sermons I have listened to were ones where I already knew all the content, but it was unfolded uniquely. This process opened my eyes to long-forgotten material in a new and exciting way.

The recognition of a preacher or teacher delivering familiar content is not to be feared but instead embraced. There are truths of the gospel that never change, and this week, that one old lesson might change someone’s life.

Changing the World One Person at a Time

Jesus was asked about the greatest commandments in the law. He tells them they are to “love God” and “love your neighbor.” The question is then, “Who is my neighbor?” He responds with a parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” The point of the parable is to explain, “who is my neighbor,” but it also reveals what our love looks like as a follower of Jesus.

If you remember the story, a man is jumped, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest comes by and ignores the man. Then a Levite does the same thing. Finally, there comes a Samaritan. This man comes upon the injured fellow and stops to help him. He bandages his wounds, takes him to an inn, and leaves money to nurse him back to health. It is a compelling picture of what it means for a follower of Jesus to love his neighbor.

I also notice what the Samaritan did not do. He did not form a protest of the Roman soldiers, telling them that they should be more diligent in protecting people. He did not put together a silent march to walk through the streets of Jerusalem to raise awareness of the violence. He did not take to the media to promote one politician or political agenda that might bring about change. He did not attempt any of the modern methods to bring about change.

This man’s focus was not on changing society or the world. His purpose was to help this one man he encountered that day. His proximity made him a neighbor. In this story, I don’t think Jesus called us to change the world. I think he invited me to change MY world.

I wonder what would happen if we all took that approach. Instead of trying to change the world as a whole, we focused on improving the world around us. What if we try to help the people we encounter every day? What if we each one of us went into the world as a servant of God in our work and on our street?

Too often, we step over the needs of people in an effort to make significant sweeping changes. We neglect the immediate for the national issues. Maybe there is a place for that as corruption and evil exist in the current system. I fear that the man lies in the ditch while we grandstand the cause we think needs addressed.

Helping the one person that my life passes is not very glorious or media worthy, but it changes the world, one person at a time. When each one of us takes our call seriously to change our world, together, we will change the world.