Shaped By Experience

Quite often, we convince ourselves something is true of us, and it is really based on our past experiences.

For example, I tell people I am an introvert. The truth is that I became introverted most of my life because of my best friend in high school. We shared everything and were closer than brothers for almost four full years. Then, he was tragically killed in an accident. After that, my life was not the same. I was hurt deeply and began to withdraw from people. Internally I vowed never to let anyone that close to my heart again as a friend. The longer I lived like that, the easier it became to stay that way.

I have seen this type of behavior in numerous other people as well. The list of issues I encounter could go on and on of people I have met who lived one way until something traumatic happened, and they changed their life. Now they have convinced themselves that this new behavior is part of their personality when the real issue might be handling something painful from their past or present. 

Everyone likes to think that they are “wired” in a certain way when perhaps their behavior results from outside forces that caused them to change. The good news is that if you were impacted by external issues one way, then you can swing your life in a different direction. If our experiences shape us, then with time, we can reshape our lives in any direction we want to go through new experiences, including the way God desires for us.

Your Cheering Section

Recently I was attending my son’s graduation from a local university. The leader would read each student’s name, and then they would walk across a stage to receive a diploma. Every name read would be accompanied by a little section in the gym that would clap and cheer. Some students had a large group; in others, only two or three shouted approval.

My question for today is, “Who is in your cheering section?”

Who celebrates your accomplishments with joy? What group of people will shout with excitement when you achieve something?

Keep those people close to you. Unfortunately, there are lots of critics and negative commentators in the world. You will find plenty of those on your journey, but you need a cheering section. The people who will travel just to sit in the stands and shout your name are rare and precious. Thank God for them and never let them go.

Reinventing Yourself and Your Ministry

Over the past few months, I have immersed myself in the world of disciple-making. I have been reading books and blogs, listening to lessons and podcasts, and having personal conversations with pastors who lead Churches that are genuinely making disciples of Jesus.

One thing has stood out to me in all the material I have consumed. There are a large number of preachers who decided to reinvent themselves and their Churches in the middle of their ministries. They were working away at making sermons, teaching lessons, working with people, and never really making disciples. Then God grabbed their heart somehow, and they stepped up and changed their whole approach.

This realization has reaffirmed my personal journey. I am inspired by people who are willing to change everything in the middle of their lives. They stood up and said, “I have been living by the information I had, but now I have new information.” Then they changed accordingly.

Following Jesus means we need to be willing to alter our course of action at any time. It is not about getting it right and doing the same things over and over for a lifetime. Instead, it is about learning, growing, and trying new things for God.

Numerous Godly people have reinvented themselves in the middle of life, and I know it can be done. The question is, “Are you and I willing to make the needed changes?” 

Three Types of Teaching

Within the Church, there are three types of sermons and lessons. They are educational, inspirational, and practical.

Educational teaching provides people with new information. Maybe you have never read this story or thought about its meaning. Here is a Bible passage; let me show you what that means.

Inspirational teaching is designed to trigger your emotions. Hearing this material will inspire you to take what you already know and use it. People become complacent or apathetic, and the goal is to motivate them into different behavior.

Practical instruction is focused on changing actions. They are not trying to teach us anything new but to take what we know and show us how to implement it into our lives. For example, the Bible teaches us to love our spouse, but practical teaching shows us how to do that daily with the dishes, money, and bedroom.

All three of these are needed in the Church. One is not better than another, and they serve a different purpose. Individually we may value one over the others and might even feel it is the only way to do it. This is simply not true. We need the correct information, motivation, and practical steps to make it happen. Education alone leaves us feeling smart but unchanged. Inspiration alone can move us to do anything we feel is right. Practical steps need a foundation of truth upon which to build.

Whenever you listen to a sermon or a lesson, it is worth asking, “What type of message is this?”

The Church needs a balance of all three; just because you prefer one does not mean the other ways are invalid. All three are required for transformation into Christlikeness.

Trying to Fix It

Whenever hard-working people encounter a problem in life, they tend to try and fix it through hard work.

As a Christian, one challenge is to stop relying on us and lean into our faith. We take our problems to God in prayer first and ask for his guidance and power to work. Then we are to ask the community of faith for help and support. If we don’t need their support, maybe we should ask who we can teach through this experience and have them stand beside us to learn through it.

This is not to discredit hard work in any way. But believers must relinquish self-reliance and trust God to guide and provide. We are to work within the boundaries of faith for us to grow along with those around us. 

You might be able to fix it yourself, but should you?

Watching People Fail

Standing back and allowing people to fail is one of the hardest things to do. Especially if you care about that person, so perhaps this is the most painful when it is your children.

Yet, failure is a vital part of learning. Frequently in life, I have gained more helpful information from my mistakes and disappointments than from victories. They have shown me my pride and lack of knowledge more than any other test. While we all hate to fail, we can admit that some failures have been helpful in the long term.

Do you remember the story of Peter denying that he even knew Jesus? It was predicted at the last supper, and Jesus knew it was coming, yet he let it happen anyway. Jesus could have given him a step-by-step guide to avoid this failure, but he only gave him a vague warning.

The Apostle Peter’s failure becomes the stepping stone for him to receive forgiveness through Jesus in John chapter 21. This would then catapult him through the power of the Holy Spirit to preach forgiveness in Jesus’ name into all the world. His mistake became his ministry.

The question that haunts me is, “Am I willing to let people fail?” Am I willing to stand back and let my kids fall flat on their faces? Would I let someone lead a ministry I know is doomed to fail? Do I have enough restraint to stay out of events and not run in and try to fix everything?

Jesus knew that failure could be a great teacher. Sometimes following him means that we need to allow people to grow through pain … even the people we love.

The Road Back

Many of us live with damaged relationships. Something was said or done that separated us from a person we cared about deeply. We despair over that lost connection every time we see or think about them.

The road to building back a relationship is found in one word: forgiveness. Some of us need to say we are sorry for what happened and ask for forgiveness. Others of us should offer the forgiveness required to make things right again.

No relationship is beyond the power of forgiveness when offered or accepted as a gift. Sure, actions need to accompany words and feelings, but the first step is always getting right with the past.

My guess as a pastor is that you could begin to rebuild a relationship right now if you were willing to try forgiveness. And I also guess you already have a name in your mind. The only thing stopping you is you. 

Giving Myself a Pep Talk

Every Sunday morning, I sit in my office quietly for a couple of minutes when people start to arrive. I close my eyes and whisper, “You can do this. God will give you the strength and power.”

Then I turn it into a prayer. “Dear Lord, help me to be the pastor and the person I need to be. Give me the right words to say and your Spirit to say them.”

Going out into the congregation and engaging people is not my strength. However, I also know God wants me to connect meaningfully with people. 

I know the right thing to do, but I am naturally inclined not to do it. So, every Sunday morning, I give myself a pep talk. My old coach would say that I “psyche myself up.”

There is power in realizing you have control over your actions. You can overpower your emotions. You can find strength through your faith. You can do the right thing by stepping out of your comfort zone and trusting God to work through you.

This is not just true for preachers. It is true for everyone. You have the power to do God’s will even when every fiber of your being says, “I don’t want to.” Maybe you just need to give yourself a little pep talk. 

Looking for a Reason

Suppose you want to find a reason to stay. You can find it. This can be your marriage, your job, your community, and even your Church.

Suppose you want to find a reason to leave. You can find it. This can be your marriage, your job, your community, and even your Church.

Most people decide what they want to do, and then they gather evidence to make their choice seem correct.  

There are all kinds of reasons out there for you to choose a particular path; the question is simply, “Which one are you looking for?”

The Opposite of Blessed

It was a feeling I had never experienced.

The person was telling a story, and they ended by saying, “I was so very blessed” because this happened to me.

They didn’t know that I had taken similar steps in my life. I had done nearly the same things but had a very different outcome.

My feeling was a sickness in my soul. If they got the results they desired and considered themselves blessed, then what does that make me? What does that mean for me if I did the same things and got a very different result?

Is the opposite of blessed defined as being cursed? Is it punished? Am I judged? What is it?

The feeling shook me to my core. All these years, I have referred to people in my sermons as blessed and never realized how that made other people feel.

For Christians, it is essential to say that we are all blessed; others may simply be blessed differently. The blessings in your life may not look like those in mine. In fact, even hardship can be a blessing if it teaches us to love God more along with other people. Every situation and outcome can be a way that God loves us, grows us, and makes us long for more of him.   

When a believer describes themselves as blessed, I think it is important to underline that the opposite is not true. Other people are not cursed. Instead, we are all blessed differently.