Are Excuses Keeping You From Your Potential?

I-cantWe humans are creatures of comfort and ease. When given a choice, we will usually take the short cut, the easy road, the comfortable way. We tend to complain when life is difficult, things don’t turn out as we planned, or we encounter setbacks. Rather than becoming more determined to accomplish what we desire, resolving to do whatever it takes, we begin to make excuses for why we can’t do it. It has been said that if something is important to you, you will absolutely find a way. If not, you will find an excuse. This is so true. Those who are desperate are willing to do what it takes, no matter how hard it may be, how long it may take, or how much it will cost. As the old adage goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The best illustration I can think of is someone who is physically impaired in some way, yet trains for years, taxing their strength, draining their emotions, and pushing beyond their limits to achieve what most would have deemed impossible. Yet they refused to accept that because somewhere deep inside them they believed it could be done, and that they could somehow accomplish it. Why is it that some have that kind of determination, while others seem content to just give up and accept defeat? I don’t know about you, but I have often pondered that question.

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I believe the core difference is that some people seem to have an innate sense of destiny, purpose, and greatness. Not necessarily that they will be famous one day, or publicly applauded for some great achievement, but that they are capable of so much more than they have yet to attain. Trials, difficulties, and setbacks only seem to spur them on even more. The thought of quitting or settling for less is reprehensible to them. We often call such people overachievers, driven, overcomers, as if their behavior is abnormal; they tend to overdo too much, are too extreme, or don’t know when to quit. Those kinds of people make the rest of us look bad, because if they can do it, that means it can be done. Which leaves the rest of us without a real excuse. We then have to face the truth – why am I not reaching my full potential?

The truth, I believe, is that most of us don’t see ourselves as worthy of achieving great things. After all, we’re all just ordinary, run of the mill folks just trying to get through each day and pay our bills, raise our families, do our jobs…right? We are content to live mediocre lives, believing that’s the best we can hope for, and to do that is better than most peoples’ lives. Besides, if we get our hopes up too much, we may be disappointed. Then we would know that we are nobody special. And therein lies the root of our excuses.

You were created for greatness by the all-powerful, all-loving Creator of the universe. You have been given destiny and purpose far beyond surviving each day. If you are a believer in Jesus, He lives within you, enabling you to do ALL things. He is with you, for you, and in you, therefore nothing and no one that matters can be against you. I encourage you to dare to believe Him. Dare to believe that what is impossible for you is possible for Him, working in and through you. When you live a life without excuses, you glorify the One who does all things well.

The Knowledge that Leads to Mature Faith

summer_landscape_with_forest_lane_path_pathway_way_going_cg1p52762453c_thA favorite passage of mine is found in John 6. To give a little background, the chapter begins with Jesus feeding 5,000 people with fish and bread. Afterwards, His disciples are crossing the lake, a storm comes and Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Later, He discusses with the crowd who He is as the Bread of Heaven, and the Bread of Life. Many doubt and question Him, and He then speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Many of His listeners became offended and because of that, many turned away from following Him. At this point, Jesus turns to the twelve. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (verses 67-69)

Peter and the others undoubtedly did not understand what Jesus meant in speaking about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Yet they did not become offended like the others. Why is that? He answers this question by saying, “We have come to believe and to know…”  The Greek word translated “believe” literally means, “to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit; to place confidence in.” It can also mean “mere acknowledgement of some fact or event; intellectual faith.”

The word translated “know” means “get a knowledge of, perceive; feel; to know, understand; to become acquainted with.” “It is a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.” In other words, it speaks of experiential knowledge. Peter is, in essence, saying, “We have thought you are truly who You say You are; we have even been confident in what we believe, but more than that, we have come to know You personally. We have been in relationship with You, and we now know without a doubt, that You are the Messiah.”  

Many say they believe in God, in Jesus, yet they get offended with Him when He doesn’t do things the way they think He should, or the way they would like Him to. Deep down, they still believe they know what is right, they are capable of determining what is best in their situations. Rather than searching their own hearts, they decide to turn away from following Him. At some point in our lives, we’ve all done this. Some people will turn back while others will not.

If we are going to grow into a place of mature faith, however, we must truly come to know Him, just as we would get to know someone face to face. Spending time with Him, in worship, prayer, meditating on His Word and entering into His presence enable us to really know His heart. Then, like Peter and the other disciples, we may encounter situations that we do not understand, but knowing His heart will enable us to remain steadfast. Others will doubt and question Him, but we will say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? There is no one besides You. You alone are life, abundant, eternal life.” 

 

Are Your Choices Taking You Where You Want to Go?

choices-1We hear a lot these days about fulfilling our destiny. It seems to be a topic that resonates with many, and for good reason. God created us, and as with everything He created, He did so with a purpose in mind. Nothing and no one is here by chance or accident. God is extremely intentional in all that He does. If we have a purpose, and we do, that means we have a destiny. Our purpose is to fulfill our destiny, and our destiny is reached by achieving our purpose; the two are pretty much one and the same. At least that’s the way I see it.

I’ve written on this topic before, but am doing so again because of something the Lord impressed upon me a week or so ago. As I was meditating upon His Word and journaling, I sensed Him saying, “A destiny is never decided by just one choice, rather, it is a series of choices that leads one in a direction they may, or may not, have ever intended to go.”  Well, that made me stop and think for a few minutes. Just because our lives have purpose and destiny doesn’t mean they will automatically be realized, at least not to the fullest extent God intended.

God has given us free choice, and because of that, our choices really matter. Every single one of them. There are countless numbers of people, I’m sure, whose choices led them in directions they never intended to go. Too often, we make choices without thinking about the consequences, whether short or long-term. If we want to fulfill our purpose and destiny, we too, must be intentional. In an earlier article, I talked about how to discover your purpose. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. Once we have an idea what our purpose is, we can come up with goals and plans to help us achieve it. Then we can decide what steps need to be taken to reach those goals and begin working toward them. For example, if we feel called into vocational ministry, there may be credentials we need to have in order to qualify. We would look at the education and training we must complete in order to achieve those credentials, which will help us fulfill our purpose and destiny. We would then begin taking steps toward gaining those credentials by taking specific classes, internships, etc.

If you have discovered your purpose and destiny, what goals do you need to have to achieve it? What steps do you need to take in order to reach those goals? What are you doing each day to take the necessary steps? Every choice matters. What may seem unattainable right now is possible if you just break it down into small steps that you can take each day.  Focusing on the finish line can seem overwhelming, but no runner ever won a race without the necessary training needed to get their body in shape by slowly increasing their runs and speed, stretching their muscles properly, eating right, getting proper rest, etc.

Fulfilling your purpose and destiny takes a lifetime, a lifetime of making the right choices to get you where you want to go. It doesn’t mean mistakes aren’t allowed; we all make them. They too, serve a purpose in teaching you how not to do things. If you don’t have a plan to reach your goals, don’t wait another day. Time is passing quickly, and your time is your life. You can do whatever you set your mind to do by God’s enabling grace. He is our Helper; we cannot do it without Him. He is glorified and we are most fulfilled when we choose to achieve the purpose and destiny for which He made us.

 

3 Keys to Finding Contentment

Peaceful-WomanIt seems to me that finding contentment is one of the greatest challenges of the human race. I know it often is a huge challenge for me, and I see the effects of discontentment all around me every day. Some days I feel more content than others; what about you? On those days when everything seems to be going well; I’m not struggling with some major crisis; I have what I need, and even many things that I want – those are the times I feel the most content. But is that true contentment? I’m not sure if I can honestly say that it is.

According to the dictionary, the word means, the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.” One synonym that comes to mind is peace. To be at peace is to be content, and to be content is to be at peace. A familiar passage of Scripture that speaks of this is Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”  Paul had learned that being content had nothing to do with his external circumstances. 

For me, finding contentment when circumstances are not in my favor does not come naturally. I would guess that most of us are the same way. After all, we are human and we still have a body of flesh to contend with. Flesh wants what it wants, when it wants it, much like a small child. It is self, therefore it is selfish and greedy. Our flesh is never satisfied, never content, never at peace. And it never will be. Paul had learned this after facing many trials and troubles along his journey. In the verses above the ones quoted here, we see how he arrived at this place of contentment no matter what. Beginning in verse 4, he outlines it for us.

First, we must rejoice in the Lord – always. This means to be glad, to take delight, and make joyful. We do this as we focus upon Him and His goodness and nature, which leads us to worship, thank, and praise Him for who He is.

Second, we must display gentleness, or patience, and be fair and mild tempered with everyone. This is not something you can fake, at least not for long. This is the nature of Christ who was meek and humble. His nature must be displayed in and through us. We are to be peacemakers, just as He was.

Third, instead of worrying and being anxious, we are to pray, give our cares to God and thank Him for answering and taking care of us and our needs.

The result of these three activities will be that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. We will have peace that doesn’t make sense to the world, or even to us at times. Paul then goes on to say that we must think about, or meditate upon, those things that are good. Focus on the positive, not the negative. Train your mind to look for the good in everything and everyone. I have been learning this for the past year or so, and it has made a huge difference in my attitude! You can do it too, just try it and see!

This was Paul’s secret to finding contentment no matter what. He also acknowledged that it was God’s grace that enabled him to do this. Elsewhere, he spoke of crucifying his flesh daily. This is something we all have to do if we want to be at peace. Our flesh and spirit are constantly at war, but the spirit, in union with God’s Spirit, must rule and subdue the flesh. Everyone wants to be content and at peace in the depths of their being. God created us that way, and His all-sufficient grace that enabled Paul to do this, can, and will, enable us as well!

Are God’s Dreams Your Dreams?

Door-to-Better-WorldThe topic of this article has come to my mind on several occasions over the years, and again recently. For some time, I’ve been fascinated by the reality of the emotions of God. Many in the Church have believed for far too long that the main emotion God feels is anger – mostly toward us when we fail. Thankfully, that has been and is changing in recent years and this is good news. God is very much an emotional being, just as we are, for we are made in His image. He feels joy, sorrow, sadness, anger, happiness, and other typical emotions. But have you ever considered that God also has dreams? Not the kind of dreams we have when we sleep, for He never slumbers. Dreams for us, for His bride, for His kingdom, for what He intends to accomplish on the earth. He has given us dreams as well; desires that we long to experience and accomplish.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a familiar verse, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The word “plans” used there literally means, “purpose, invention, imaginations, and thoughts.”  Those words are mostly synonymous with dreams. What parent doesn’t have dreams for their children? They want to see them prosper, succeed, and become mature, healthy adults. As broken humans, we sometimes project our unfulfilled dreams on our children, but God isn’t like that. He knows and wants what is best for every one of us.

Religion has lied to us and told us that our dreams are selfish and ungodly. Many believers feel guilty when they experience the desires of their heart being fulfilled. But God said, ‘Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4) It is not wrong to desire or dream, as long as those desires don’t replace Him. I believe this verse is also saying that the dreams and desires that are in our hearts are not our own, but His, especially when we are following Him, by His grace. He loves to bless His children, even more so when we are living for Him. As a parent, I always loved my kids when they were young, and wanted to give them whatever they wanted (within reason, of course!) Yet when they went out of their way to do something special for me, it made me want to do so even more. This is just a small example of how God feels toward us.

I believe it pleases Him greatly when we acknowledge and passionately pursue the dreams He has put in our hearts. With no fear of failure, no guilt, shame, or condemnation from religious people who try to tell us we are being selfish or greedy, or living for ourselves. One of a parent’s greatest pleasures is when the dreams they have for their kids are embraced and pursued with joy by their kids. If we feel that way, how much more does God? Of course, we still love them even if they choose to go a different way, and so does He. We should at least consider the possibility that those desires and dreams in our heart may actually be His. Ask Him for a new perspective and pray for the courage to follow those dreams, trusting His grace to lead and empower you. What dreams has God put in your heart? Are you pursuing them? If not, why not? Talk to Him about it.

Truth is a Refuge

He will rescue you from the trap of the hunter and from the plague of calamities; He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge: His truth is a shield and protection. – Psalm 91:3-4

Psalm 91 is a favorite psalm of many believers. In it, God has given us a powerful picture oftruth the protection that is ours when we take refuge in Him. This doesn’t mean we are exempt from suffering, however. More important than just physical safety, God is able to keep our soul from eternal destruction. Nothing can snatch us from His hand. Nothing can separate us from His love. He will deliver us from the schemes of the enemy when we put our trust in Him.

The enemy, who prowls around hunting for his next victim, cannot find me when I am hidden in the secret place of the Most High. I am also safe from the plague of calamities – circumstances that test, hinder, and try to defeat me; that steal my peace and joy. I am oblivious to them when I am hidden in Him, for He is all I see and am aware of. When trials come, keeping my eyes fixed on Him instead of my problems will enable me to stay at peace.

He will rescue me though it may often appear as if I will be overtaken. He will come and snatch me out before I am overcome. He is my God, in whom I trust. I must trust Him no matter what is going on around me or how things may appear. He will rescue me, for that is His promise and He cannot lie.

Pinion is another word for wing or feather. His wings and feathers cover me. His truth is a shield and protection; a covering and refuge. His truth is His Word, His name, His nature, and His character, for He is the truth. Truth is a person, and His name is Jesus. Truth is my covering, my shield and protection; it is my refuge where I am safe. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are kept safe.

When I live, walk, and speak truth I have nothing to fear from God or from man, for the truth sets me free. The enemy has no place in me when I walk in agreement with God, so I don’t fear what he could do to me either. Truth is the belt that holds all the other parts of the armor of God in place. To live in truth is to live in Him, and to live in Him is to live in truth. There is no darkness or deception in Him.

 

3 Reforms Needed in the Church

2944813f856f876da02e15e0a5f5083bIn these tumultuous days in which we live, it seems the importance of having good character is becoming a thing of the past. Character is defined as, “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing; qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity.” Integrity adds another nuance to character: “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” Perhaps the reason character seems to be lacking is because there are fewer people who are whole. It’s pretty obvious that our culture is broken in many ways; families and relationships are broken because people are broken. Brokenness is the result of sin in our lives.

Those of us who are Jesus followers should be the most whole people on the planet. After all, the unblemished, unbroken One lives within us. But even within the Church, many are broken as well. Something is missing. After over 2,000 years of Church history, we aren’t really much different from the rest of the world. There’s too many things to list in this short article that are still rampant in the Church. Sexual immorality, addictions, deception, abuse, divorce, rebellion, depression are just the tip of the iceberg. Why is this? What are we doing wrong? Undoubtedly, books could be written on this topic, but a few things seem obvious.

  1. Wounded leaders produce wounded followers. This is a big one. You reproduce what’s inside you. Too many leaders have unhealed issues and are ministering out of their woundedness. Education and training are not enough to lead God’s people well. Leaders must be committed to wholeness, first in themselves. Then they can minister more effectively to their congregations, leading them into wholeness.
  2. Church structure is unbiblical. Another big one. When one or two people are the main leaders everyone suffers. The leaders burn out; the leaders and people become codependent. Immaturity is fostered in the body. People are not taught, equipped or challenged to grow up apart from a balanced leadership team of five-fold ministers. Leaders should be raised up continually so the body expands, matures, and unifies, to further spread the kingdom, not the Church. This means going out into the culture to reform it according to kingdom principles. Many churches focus on their own needs, their own issues and ministering continually to one another. This is not what Jesus taught or modeled with His disciples.
  3. Incomplete theology. I would venture to say that the majority of teaching in the Church is based on head knowledge, not experiential knowledge. Those who have been taught “about God” rather than led into experiencing Him personally, are easily dissuaded when faced with objections, opposition, or persecution. By contrast, those who have had genuine God encounters will generally stand firm and immovable in their faith when shakings occur. Rather than learning the art and discipline of meditating in the Word, wrestling in prayer, and waiting on God, most believers are spoon fed each week, relying on their pastors to “hear from God.” Instead of persevering in prayer, many give up and decide it must not have been “God’s will,” or that God has abandoned or is angry with them. In our instantaneous gratification society, we often take matters into our own hands rather than waiting for God to move.

There are undoubtedly many other reasons for our current condition. But these three keys, I believe, are vital to reforming the Church so that we can do what Jesus commanded us – to make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:19-20) It is time for a new wineskin, a new perspective. The old ways have not and are not working. It is time for the body to become whole; to reflect the true nature and character of Christ. It is time to be the salt and light, transformational elements in our culture. This is what it truly means when we pray, “…on earth, as it is in heaven.”