learning through challenges

I am sure every person, in one way or another can relate to this illustration…

Every one of us faces challenges. Some are big and some are small. Challenges that I face, might not be as difficult for you to navigate. Setbacks you encounter might derail you, where with another person, they are more easily managed. Some of us are magnificently equipped to handle a variety of challenges while others of us have to continually seek out help and leverage what resources, skills or talents we currently possess.

The way in which we respond to the challenges we are faced with in life speak powerfully about our character and the values of our heart.

And we could easily turn to a quick fix, or perhaps a quick search…

One could read all the “how to” books and articles and still not experience that change of the heart and mind that is required of someone to endure the challenges of…school or work, parenthood, anger or fear, floods and earthquakes, annoying neighbors, obnoxious friends, a lack of employment and financiers, sickness, disease, or even death. You name the challenge and it will always require perseverance on our part.

The reality we probably have to embrace is that the way in which the world around us responds to challenges, well it might not be our best model to pursue.

In fact, I believe there is a better model…

Jesus, and only Jesus should be our example that we look to as we face challenges. And, God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment

And perhaps you do. Perhaps you cry out to Him in prayer. Perhaps you turn to the Word of God for direction and hope. Perhaps when faced with a challenge you have a whole network of physical and emotional support that you can mobilize.

But when you’ve done this, when you’ve grieved, confessed, prayed and sought help, what have you learned as a result? What has God taught you about His character and your identity being rooted in Him, regardless of the challenge and its outcome?

Often we see our challenges as hurdles or road blocks preventing us from living, from loving and from doing all that God has placed within our reach. As we face challenges we need to build into our spiritual problem solving methodology the ability to stop and ask the right question.

Jesus had twelve disciples who followed Him and learned from what He had to say. The word ‘disciple’ literally means ‘learner’. It is a passion of mine to be a Disciple of Christ who makes Disciples for Christ who can go and make Disciples of Christ. That means that we should be very focused on learning how to listen to God and to seek to learn what He’s telling us in every experience, in every challenge.

To help us with this, you can use a tool called the “Learning Circle.” I have been using this in my journey with the Lord and it has profoundly impacted my life.

The “Learning Circle” helps us, especially in challenging time and during set-backs or loss, it helps us during those experiences and challenges to identify when God is speaking to us through a “kairos moment” – a moment in which God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment.

We all face challenges and we all make mistakes. We can either learn from them, or ignore them and watch them happen again and again. Using the “Learning Circle” has helped me move from observation to action.
learningcircleI have learned that most effective way to start applying the “Learning Circle” to our lives is to learn it from somebody else. I believe in this tool and I’d love to partner with you in apply it to your life. But for now, the next time you have a kairos moment, why not share it with somebody you trust. Ask them, “can you help me take this around the circle?”

To help you more now, here is a simple outline of each step of the circle…

FIRST – OBSERVE: To change our lives, we need to observe where we are. This means taking note of our reactions, emotions and thoughts.

SECONDLY – REFLECT: This means asking ourselves why we reacted or felt the way we did. If a real change is to take place, we must be honest with our answers. 

THIRD – DISCUSS: Through discussion, and by sharing our thoughts with a group of trusted friends, we begin to discover more clearly what God is doing in our life. It can be hard to share your thoughts and struggles with someone else but it will help you grow and change the way God wants you to. 

FOURTH – PLAN: After reflecting and discussing, the next step is to plan. This always involves considering the Kingdom of God first. Pray, discuss, and consider the best move or action that will glorify God. 

FIFTH – ACCOUNTABILITY: If your plan is going to happen, there needs to be at least one person holding you accountable. Ask someone to pray with you and keep them up to date with how you’re going. And pick a person who is the “real-deal” as well – someone who won’t sugarcoat their responses but who care enough about your growth and success that they will be honest.  

AND SIXTH – ACTION: Once a plan has been established and shared, the next step to take should be is to act on it. Real faith is courageous. Real faith trusts in God and what He has said. Real faith always surfaces as action. Thoughts and intentions that remain within the mind and are not acted upon, however fruitful, is not faith.

You can learn more – and I would HIGHLY encourage you do just that – you can learn more about the “Learning Circle” by connecting with me directly, or by reading “Building a Discipling Culture” by Mike Breen, or by visiting the 3DM website directly. The “Learning Circle” image is from a shared resource.

When we face challenges we can learn from them and we can look to Jesus with complete confidence that He wants us to learn and grow through all of life’s challenges.

God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment. How will you respond? And He is faithful, He will not waste any of the pain we face. He is with us in every season, and through every experience, looking for us to become more like Him and experience more of His peace.

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be genuine

While out at the store, I came across a wallet made of leather and stamped into the leather wallet was the word: genuine. For something to be genuine, it means it has to be real – to be pure, to not be counterfeit or fake in any way. I reached into my pocket to compare this wallet with my own, wondering how real my wallet was.

Both were black in color, both had a sleeve for cash and several sleeves for cards, etc. And both had a clear sleeve for a drivers license. Now both wallets looked like they were leather and yet here I was, holding my wallet and now also holding a wallet that was marked as genuine. How genuine was my wallet then, in this side-by-side comparison, with the new wallet marked as genuine?

As followers of Christ, we must be genuine and our lives must be stamped with this truth. We must understand though, that in order for our lives to bear witness to a true, genuine faith in the Lord, then we must be devoted to taking in the Word of God and then living it out. This is what we are to compare our lives to.

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James 1:26-27 says: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

This truth from James gives us three markers of what it means to be genuine in our pursuit of knowing God’s Word and then living it out. First, tame your tongue. Second, care for those in need. And third, avoid worldliness. When we do these things, we walk in God’s Word, we are more apt to have His stamp of “genuine” upon on our lives. When we know this truth and live out, we genuinely represent God to others.

We say we want to take in and live out God’s Word. We say we want those around us to know we belong to the Lord. And we say we desire to have a genuine faith. And yet, our “religion” is useless if it what we take in from God’s Word, if it does not tame our tongues, if it does not move our hearts to serve and and if it does not separate us, or distinguish us in word and deed, from the rest of the world.

Take time to consider what the Lord may be speaking to you through these verses in James. Reflect on your journey with God, because it is possible that you are looking to others and thinking you are genuine in your faith, but you may be far from that truth. We cannot compare ourselves to others. We must compare ourselves to God and His Word. So, when you look at your life – at what you think and believe, in what you say and do – are those actions and elements true, pure and genuine? One can compare wallets, and hope or think they are the same – both being genuine – but the truth is that only the one marked as genuine is the real deal. As a disciple of Christ, are you the real deal – or do you merely hope or simply think you are? Have you been deceived by your “religious” activities and busyness?

Controlling what we say, passionately caring for others, and remaining separate from the ways of the world – it will require that you know God’s truth and abide in His truth. It  requires of you to compare yourself to Christ and His Holy Word, not others. We cannot desire to influence the world around us if we are allowing the world to influence our thoughts, our words or our actions. May you make the time to reflect on this truth and then allow God to show you the condition of your heart.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – April 2015)

Mulligan

If you play or watch golf, you are probably familiar with a mulligan. It’s a action in golf that brings restoration from a bad swing. Often at fundraiser tournaments you can even buy a few – a mulligan gives a player a chance to re-do one play, to be restored.

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Our journey as disciples of Christ is full of mulligans. One of the disciples, Peter, he is a great example of this process. 

In Mark 8:27-33, Peter gets the identity of Jesus right, but he got the mission of Jesus wrong. He goes from one extreme to the next. He needed a mulligan. In Mark 10:17-31, with this shot, Peter made it back to rough for he understood that a sacrifice on his part was needed to follow Jesus. And yet, the rich young man that approached Jesus was not able to give up what he values on earth in order to be fully surrendered to Christ. In Mark 14:27-41, at first Peter nails it again, claiming his devotion to God at any cost but in the next few verses, Peter is with Jesus in the garden and he and a few other disciples, they could not keep watch like Jesus asked and they fell asleep. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Peter is about to slice it into the woods in Mark 14:66-72 when he does, in fact, disown Jesus, just like he had been told.

Peter was ready to give up on the mission and return to fishing. He was in a desperate need of a mulligan. Yet, a mulligan is not something he can give to himself. And despite what people say, it is not something we can buy either. Peter needed a mulligan, big time. Do you?

Do you constantly replay your failures? Or maybeyour problem is re-committing the same sin over and over again? While others around you are experiencing spiritual victory, you feel plagued with the same problem, the same temptation, the same sin. And after awhile, you give up on asking for a mulligan. You give up on becoming the Rock that Jesus said we would be.

We cannot give ourselves a mulligan. Mark 16:7 says: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Why was Peter singled out? For restoration, for a spiritual mulligan-experience He probably did not feel like he was worthy of and yet, just like that, Peter receives it when in Mark 16:15 when Jesus says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

We cannot give ourselves a mulligan, only God can do that. And some of you reading this article right now are in desperate need of a mulligan. You need something only God can give you. This is more important that Christmas shopping or holiday parties. You have looked for that restoration, that re-do, from so many other things and other people. You may have even thought you got one through some other route, but no, that was nota true spiritual mulligan because it did not last. When you really receive a true spiritual mulligan, it keeps you out of the woods.

Will you seek restoration with God now? Will you receive the mulligan He wants to offer you? Will you humble yourself and let God restore you into a right relationship with Him? Right now is the time to receive that much needed mulligan, just stop and go to our gracious Lord in prayer and seek His heart of forgiveness for your life. He will restore you, you are His prized possession, His beloved.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” in December 2014)

advocacy

One dictionary defines “advocacy” as “active help, especially of a cause.” And, in my opinion, one of the best advocacy efforts happens every October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – an annual campaign aimed to increase the awareness of this cancer. Pink is the color and we see it everywhere. My favorite football team has tones of pink this month in their uniform. You see pink and you think…well, we know what you think.

In late August 2014, many were blown away at how quickly the cause of ALS had spread. In such a short period of time, people from all over and from every walk of life were participating in the “ice bucket challenge” and donating to the cause. The ALS Association reported that they had “received $88.5 million in donations compared to $2.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 26). These donations have come from existing donors and 1.9 million new donors to the association.” This was a powerful advocacy effort – one that surprised everyone.

Breast cancer awareness month is very intentional. Events and activities are planned out. The ice bucket challenge grew faster and went farther than anyone could have planned for. Both have made a huge impact for their respective causes.

eggpictureRecently I went to the grocery store. I went to buy some fresh eggs. My favorite eggs right now are Egg-land’s Best. As I reached for my beloved egg and was a bit shocked, but then, I actually wasn’t. Why? Well, the labeling looked different. It was all shades of pink. And instead of their own company initials stamped on each egg, there was also a pink ribbon.

Apparently this company places a high value on advocating for the disease of breast cancer. I wonder why? I wonder what happened at HQ that caused them to say: “this is a cause worth promoting.” Perhaps it isn’t anything deep. Perhaps it has less to do with good intentions and more to do with corporate partnership and shared publicity. Regardless, they have joined in the promotion of this cause.

As I went to crack those eggs for a meal, I was reminded of something very valuable. As a disciple of Christ, advocating the mission of Jesus should be our chief aim. It should saturate every aspect of our lives – our thoughts, our actions, our schedules, and our choices. His cause, should be something that is marked by all that we do. And what is the mission, the cause of Christ? 1 John 2:1-3 says:I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the ]propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments…” His cause was to advocate on our behalf so that we would be able to experience eternal life. When this happens, it forever changes our future. And this change should produce within us a strong desire to see others experience the forgiveness of our loving and gracious God. His advocacy for us, is to be duplicated in our lives – as we too are to advocate for this cause in others.

Romans 1:16 says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Has His advocacy impacted your life? Have you taken on the cause of Christ to live out and proclaim His desire to restore and redeem a lost and broken world? What are the “causes” that you have been committing your time and energy to? Is being His disciple and making more disciples of Jesus Christ the greatest cause in your life? If not, then what is keeping you from being a fully devoted, fully committed advocate for the cause of Christ in your community?

In his book, “The Dangers of Shallow Faith,” A.W. Tower said: “Either God is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all.” Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and to show you were there needs to be less of yourself, and more of Him. May your advocacy of the cause of Christ represent your radical personal pursuit of true intimacy with our Heavenly Father. May you seek to grow daily in God’s grace and truth, while sharing with the world around you His plan for restoration. And may you be unashamed of your advocacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all that you say and in all that you do.

Be Unashamed

What truly matters to you?

What are you passionate about?

As followers of Christ, as fully devoted and fully committed disciples of Christ we are called to boldly proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ.

3d3b44d7ab943d5f5e60bbacf4938c00Romans 1:16-17 says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

The Apostle Paul was proclaiming a message about a Messiah who had reconciled humanity with the Lord through the cross – and this message, His allegiance, it was a scandalous offense to those around him. And even though the Jewish people of the day longed for the Messiah to come – they took offense with what He was proclaiming. The Jews, the Greeks and even the Romans had these things that truly mattered to them, items and people that they placed their hope and allegiance in for this is what they were devoted to. And all of it, was never a bold confession and devotion to the Lord. If any of them were to do what Paul did here in this truth, declaring that Jesus is Lord, it would be at the risk of their very lives and they could not comprehend that.

But Paul did – do you? As a disciple of Christ in our community, do you get what you are called to do with your life? And, are you actually doing it? If you believe you have been doing this – then what does the fruit of that work look like in your life? Paul boldly proclaims that he was not ashamed to declare that Jesus is Lord. He had been a leader to the Jews, an influencer in the world he was surrounded by and he even held Roman citizenship – but His journey as a disciple of Christ dramatically changed all of that and he radically, boldly and powerfully declared: I am not ashamed…!

Does a statement like this reflect your heart?

Does saying, believing and acting this out matter to you?

What Paul declared, also matched with what he was doing for God. This is very important for us to grasp. We must be fully surrendered to the Lord and fully devoted to doing God’s work. Stop thinking your busyness is the Lord’s work. If we are truly living as disciples of Christ, making more disciples of Christ then this community of believers we live among, it would be seeing more and more people coming to salvation in the Lord. We are called to be His disciples and to make more disciples for Christ and we do this when we are unashamed in what we proclaim about God and when we live out our faith in such an authentic way that it faithfully declares to those around us that we belong to God and that we long to see Him redeem and transform their lives.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ can hold its own against any challengers. Do not live in fear of what your friends or family might say or do when you boldly and faithfully live a Christ like life in this present moment. Clarence Bence said: “Although there are strategies for countering the criticisms of the skeptics, or compensating for the failures of less-than-perfect believers, or coping with spiritual adversaries, faith is the key to experiencing the good news of salvation in one’s life.”

Does your faith in the Lord reflect your belief and action as His beloved, as a truly devoted disciple of Christ?

Paul was fully committed to making sure that with the rest of his life, with all that he had, that those he encountered would know the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Does proclaiming this message, that Jesus saves, does it truly matter to you?

Are passionate about sharing with others God’s plan for Salvation – how God has saved you and how He has transformed your life? 

What has the impact of being unashamed for Christ’s on your life – on your family – your marriage or other relationships – what has that impact been and how has it changed you?

May you cultivate in your discipleship journey an overwhelming confidence in God’s power to redeem a lost and hurting world. May this motivate you to use every aspect of your life to share with others the gospel message that Jesus saves. And, may you be unashamed to proclaim, in your words and actions, that Jesus is Lord of your life and that you want others to surrender to His lordship for their lives!