Feeling Stuck? – Part Three

Once you consider what’s best and set your priorities you are well on your way to being unstuck. Once you’ve understood the significance of priorities, the next step to getting unstuck is actually to determine the most important things in your life. To do that you need the clarity to know what’s best. So, step two to getting unstuck and away from feeling overwhelmed is to “clarify what’s best.”

To do this you should start be asking what’s most important to God. And ask, What isn’t important to God? This will help you to determine what you need to focus on in your life right now and what you can start deleting. And, of course, deleting some things in your life will help to reclaim the calm that you have lost and then remove that feeling of being overwhelmed.

To regain forward movement in your journey of life and remove that feeling of life overwhelming you, evaluate your activities. Delete things of less importance to keep things of greater worth. I can’t give you an itemized list of what should be important to you. Each of us is unique and so each of us has different things we are dealing with that need to be eliminated and other aspects of our busy life that need more attention and greater effort. However, in Mark, Chapter 12, Jesus gives us three principles that should be central to everyone’s life. 

These three principles are the subject of today and tomorrow’s blogs. 

In that passage, a Jewish temple scribe approached Jesus asking advice on how to organize life. How to set priorities (Part Two in this series). How to live a full life without feeling overwhelmed. His specific question was, “Which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28)

The Great Commandment! The one above all others. The ultimate priority. In effect, the scribe was asking Jesus, “What is truly important in life? From God’s perspective, what one thing is indispensable?” “What should my priority be?”

This scribe came from a Jewish tradition boasting a multitude of commands and obligations. Jewish rabbis divided the Old Testament commandments into positive and negative laws and into major and minor laws. According to the calculations, the Old Testament contained 613 commandments. Of those, 248 tell us to do something positive and 365 prohibit us from doing something negative. This scribe was asking Jesus which of these 613 commandments was most important from God’s perspective.

Jesus answered without hesitation: “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

What an answer! Jesus boiled down the contents of the entire Old Testament into one overarching, overwhelming priority: love. And He ascribed to that priority three applications. All three to be priorities in a life well-lived and unstuck. Without understanding this, it’s impossible to move forward and live life without feeling overwhelmed. Love — as God defines love — is life’s ultimate priority.

The priority of loving God … Highest priority

First is the priority of loving God. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

More than anything else, this is what we’re made for — a passionate, practical embracing of God with all His attributes, all His virtues, all His grace, embracing Him with an overflowing heart of burning devotion and passionate enjoyment. That affects everything else we think, do and say.

But what does it mean to love God?

In his book, Do I Love God?, professor Rod Culbertson says the greatest question is: “Do you have emotions and passion for, and devotion to, the one living and true God, as well as a settled commitment that He is the Lord of your life and everything to you?”

Culbertson also asks, “What keeps you from loving God with a devoted, heartfelt love? Work, play, leisure, family, poor time management, technology, laziness, sin, or personal failure? The excuses and reasons are numerous and somehow allow us to ignore or underdeveloped our relationship with God, the most important relationship in life. So, I conclude with one more question: Are you growing in your love for God?”

Elizabeth Elliot likewise said, “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord putting all my energy and strength into it.”

That is the first of three things we need to consider as we clarify what’s best.

So, we have seen that we need to continue our journey with Jesus as we live our daily life. And, often we tend to get stuck and simply exist and not really live. And, in the midst of being stuck we feel totally overwhelmed by all the things that need our attention. Some of the solution to feeling overwhelmed include:

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

Next time we will look at the priority of loving people as we continue to “clarify what’s best.”

Sometimes I Suck At Handling Criticism

The truth is, I suck at handling criticism — especially nitpicking, ignorance-based, selfishly motivated, unjustified criticism. 

Alright, I admit it — Sometimes I suck at handling any kind of criticism. 

At my age you would think I should be able to rise above it. 

I hate the way it always gets to me. 

This confession reveals one of my greatest character flaws: I probably care too much about what people think. 

I know I should be consumed with pleasing God, but I’m often consumed with the impossible – trying to please other people. 

I know it’s wrong, but it’s the truth. 

When people take their shots at me, I find myself wanting to defend my actions, justify my behaviour, or even criticize back. 

As I struggle with this …

I have learned that the more insecure we are, the harder it is to take criticism. 

Because we are insecure in many ways we have a hard time ignoring harsh criticism and those who express them

We are already questioning ourselves, so having someone else apparently find fault with us is pretty hard to take. 

I have also learned that the more secure I am in my relationship with the Lord

The more I am aware of who I am “in Christ” and thus living in the assurance of His love and the confidence that comes with knowing I am loved unconditionally

The more secure I am the less other people’s criticisms bother me and the better I handle them

I can handle them in a more constructive manner

I can pull the truths out of the criticism, adjust my life accordingly, and treat my critic with respect and dignity

There is at least 10% truth in every criticism

One pastor writes:

Years ago, one church member’s dog died of old age. Sugar, the fourteen-year-old mutt, went to wherever dog go when they die. I’m very aware that for many people their pets are a vital part of their family, and the loss can be traumatic. So I sent Sugar’s human a card – the only card I’ve ever sent for the death of an animal — intending to follow up with a phone call. In my mind I was displaying exceptional pastoral care.

To my shock, he called me first, extremely upset. At the top of his lungs he shouted, “HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A PASTOR? YOU …DIDN’T EVEN VISIT ME IN MY HOME AFTER I LOST A FAMILY MEMBER!”

The pastor goes on to write: A house call for a dead dog? It never occurred to me.

It is a little unlucky for me that tolerating critical people is part of my job description as someone in full-time ministry

Article 7, paragraph 19.2 – if you want to look it up

And, believe me, people can be and are critical … often over the smallest things

Here is one of life’s difficult realities:

Negative people simply won’t go away

They have been around since the beginning of time — Even godly people in the Bible faced constant criticism

Moses married a foreigner, and for that, his siblings Aaron and Miriam criticized him sharply

The man who wrote two-third of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, was called a hypocrite and criticized for being a lousy speaker

Even Jesus Christ, the Messiah, took heat for healing on the Day of Rest, eating with there wrong crowd, and claiming to be the Son of God

And, I am sure you often face critical people

It could be someone where you work

A family member – even your spouse

Someone you respect who jumps on you and is critical – they think that your clothes, your hair, your attitude are all wrong

You don’t measure up

You are criticized coming and going

You are just never good enough

I battle two wrong desires when I’m criticized 

Depending on the day, I’m tempted towards either fight or flight

Both responses are useless and wrong for the believer and follower of Jesus

Most often, my first reaction is to fight — to defend myself and silence the accusers

I feel bitter and I want to retaliate

Experience has taught me that this method usually backfires

My fallback reaction comes when I’m tired for whatever reason … especially tired of the constant battle

When I don’t feel like another fight — I resort to flight

I want to hide

I want to pretend that the criticism isn’t real

I want to quit and move somewhere – anywhere

I want to stick my head in the sand and hope it all just goes away

God’s method is, by the way, better than either of these options

So, I am hoping to give you some useful strategies for dealing with critical people

It is never fun or easy — But it is necessary as critical people are everywhere and in everyone’s life

And we need to learn to handle criticism and critical people if we are going to make any sort of difference in this world

I learned a valuable lesson from one of my mentors — a valuable principle about criticism

They taught me to simply “Consider the source”

In other words, before I focus too much on what’s being said, I should ask myself who’s saying it

The who is often more important than the what

Why is that important?

Well, the who helps me determine my most appropriate response

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

To choose the best of these three in any given situation, we need to know who’s offering the criticism and why

So here are a few pointers in the art of diagnosing, and dealing with, a critic

LISTEN to criticism when it is appropriate

Proverbs 15:31-32 (NLT) says, If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself.”

In other words, some criticism is actually useful and important

Sometimes it’s given by people who care enough about you to risk offending you

Their criticism is constructive

They offer suggestions to help you improve yourself

And, remember:

In any criticism there is at least 10% truth

I try to LISTEN to others when I believe their motives are pure – constructive criticism

When someone you love and trust offers advice, you’re wise to LISTEN and take it to heart

And, this is important, occasionally, someone outside your inner circle may also offer constructive criticism

Outside criticism is hard to receive, but it may help you if you will only LISTEN

So, as my mentor taught me — consider the source

If the source is a mature Christian — someone you can learn from — pay attention

When someone cares deeply about you, the Bible says you’re wise to listen, even if the truth hurts

Even when the criticism is from someone outside your trusted circle – Listen

If you don’t, you are only hurting yourself

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

Let’s look at the second way: ANSWER

Other times, someone may criticize you without the goal of helping

They simply want to voice dislike for you or something that you said or did

We might call this destructive criticism

In this case, you should answer the criticism and the critic

Question: When it it wise to answer the critic and speak to the criticism?

Whenever you think that offering a response can help the critic understand you and your position

BUT, watch your attitude — simply answering can easily turn into defensiveness

Consider answering critics when they are missing important information that could change their perception

Of course, this is assuming they are open to listening and are not simply dumping and running

Maybe they only know part of the story

Perhaps tactfully providing one or two missing detail could transform a critic into a someone who can support you in fighting the rumour and righting the situation

Gideon, one of Israel’s national leaders, gave us a great model for answering criticism

The delegation from the tribe of Ephraim was upset that Gideon didn’t seem to be paying them enough attention

Judges 8:1-2 recounts the story: “The Ephraimites asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us like this?’ … And they criticized him sharply. But he answered them…”

Gideon acts wisely

He gave them more information — in this case, information about the high regard in which he held them

He built up the Ephraimites with encouraging and positive words, and his answer helped them understand his heart and his thinking

“When the men of Ephraim heard Gideon’s answer, they were no longer angry” (Judges 8:3 NLT).

Sometimes a soft and wise answer can silence the critics

Try to choose an opportune time for your response

Think out your answer carefully

Prepare your heart to present your explanation in an appropriate way

Gentle, thoughtful and helpful answers sometimes make sense to the person with an open mind

If they are honestly seeking clarification or are simply confused, it is a pleasure to offer understanding

BUT, if my critic is obviously not going to listen, I have to approach them in a different – and very difficult way

Instead of fight or flight, the Bible provides three better responses:

        • Listen
        • Answer
        • Dismiss

The third appropriate response to criticism when it is not a valid criticism may be simply to DISMISS it

I am convinced that some people see only the bad side of everything

All of their silver linings have clouds

These horribly miserable individuals have the gift of dragging people down — especially themselves

They are what I call “VDP” people – Very Draining People

I have chosen not to let them do that to me

And, if you face someone who can’t be pleased, dismiss their invalid criticism 

Here’s a thought:

Someone said that praise and criticism are windows to the heart

What a person praises and what he or she criticizes tells us a lot about that person

What we praise often reveals what we value the most

If I say that you have a beautiful car, chances are I value nice cars

If I go crazy over your yard, then I value a well maintained flower garden

At the same time, the topics of our criticism often reveal our deepest insecurities

If I criticize you for being overly confident, chances are good they I have a self-esteem problem

If I judge you for living in a nice home, I may battle with materialism or jealousy

When dealing with overly critical people, try to see past the arrows to the struggles that launched them

A striking example of this would be:

A young guy who threw a fit because his roommate was looking at pornography on his computer

With apparently righteous passion, Steve went to his pastor and ranted about his roommate’s lustful sins. He was really critical and wanted to know if he should evict his roommate immediately. 

The pastor was able to cool Steve down a few degrees. They prayed for his roommate and then the appointment ended. However, Steve was still boiling about his friend’s sin

The next day the pastor learned some tragic news

Steve had been having a three-year affair with a married woman

Steve’s anger at and criticism of his roommate was really a manifestation of his shame over his own sin and transgression

As I mentioned: Criticism can be a window into the critic’s soul

Perhaps that is why Jesus asked in Luke 6:41-42

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Is someone picking you apart, finding fault with everything you do?

You may simply need to take the third option and DISMISS the criticism and love the critic

However, as you do that you should work at understanding who the critic is and why they are bitter and critical

The person may be emotionally unhealthy or wounded

And it is a fact that “hurt people hurt people”

They usually dislike themselves and criticize others in a misguided effort to validate themselves

If one of these injured souls lobs a criticism grenade in your direction, defuse it with understanding

Part of considering the source (my mentor’s advice years ago) is seeking awareness of what that person may be going through

          • Your critic may be struggling at work
          • He may be facing a midlife crisis
          • She may be several years into a painful marriage
          • Weathering some family problem,
          • They may have a dying parent or a sick child

You just got lucky — you were the closest target

Dismiss the criticism and love the person through their pain

A pastor writes:

One time I was praying during worship, a few moments before preaching. Eyes closed, focusing on God, I felt someone slip a note into my hand.

I never saw who it was, but the note was marked “Personal”

I thought to myself, Someone probably wrote a nice note to encourage me before I preach. A warm, loving feeling settled over me as I unfolded the paper

A moment later, I lost that loving feeling.

Evidently, the note was from a woman who had tried to see me on Friday, my day off. She took offense to my absence and blasted me with hateful accusations

This happened literally seconds before I was to stand up to preach

In that moment, I had a choice.

I could internalize the offense and become demoralized and discouraged.

Or I could ask myself, I wonder what she’s experiencing that caused her to lash out?

I chose compassion over depression.

My heart hurt for her

I knew that such a disproportionate reaction must indicate deep pain, so I didn’t take her note personally

My point: Consider the source

And consider that the jab may come from an injured heart

Dismiss it and move on 

Okay … 

      • Sometimes you should listen to your critics
      • Sometimes you answer your critics
      • Sometimes you dismiss the criticism and love the critic

But what if you can’t ignore them?

What do you do you do when people say things about you that are not true and you try to dismiss them (#3)

But, they resurface again and again and again?

There is a forth response to criticism

And it is not, in any way, an easy thing to do

When critical people just won’t go away, I can only tell you one thing to do: endure

Endurance is critical if you want to succeed at anything that God sets before you

Whenever you veer off the beaten path

Whenever you blaze a new trail

You will be criticized — and sometimes it will be relentless

You must endure

In the church world, I’m grateful for the spiritual trail-blazers 

Ten of the twelve original disciples died a martyr’s death spreading the Gospel so that one day I’d hear and believe

The Church Fathers of the first three centuries endured over-whelming persecution for their faith

Martin Luther faced a life-and-death trial for defending God’s Word

Wesley, Finney, Moody, and Spurgeon patiently held up under criticism during the great historical revivals

Modern-day pioneers have endured battles to reshape and renew the church

Someone said you can always tell a pioneer by the arrows in his back

I hope you are a pioneer

Maybe in the business realm, in your family, in your faith, or even in missions

I pray God uses you to break new ground and make an eternal difference

However, when He does, you must brace yourself for more criticism and pain than you might imagine

To move forward in your faith

To succeed at any new venture

To continue to grow spiritually and follow Jesus more fully

To take a stand for righteousness at home or at work

To risk telling a loved one about Jesus

To do whatever it is God is asking you to do

Any area where you need to step out and take a risk will result in someone being critical as you rock the boat or question the status quo

One of the most common pains obedient risk-takers face is the pain of criticism and so we must learn to endure (#4)

Jesus is our greatest model

He was willing to obey His father’s voice no matter what the cost

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”

It’s for the joy and reward set before you that you will often have to endure the critics and the harsh criticism as you move forward in obedience to God

Listen

Answer

Dismiss

(Harder still) Endure

Above all else, never forget

Never forget that you can’t please all people, but you can please God

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never please everyone

It’s an impossible goal

Give up trying to please the unpleasable, and live first of all for God, your Father, who always has a smile ready for you

I love the way Paul says it in 1 Thessalonians 2:4: “Our purpose is the please God, not people” (NLT).

If, like me, you hate being criticized, recognize that the root problem is that we are people pleasers

Once we find freedom from our need for people’s approval, we can focus on the eternal goal of bringing pleasure to God

How do we shake the desire to satisfy and please every human?

The answer is simple: Know who you are in Christ

In Christ we are forgiven

In Christ we are loved

In Christ we are accepted

In Christ we are secure

In Christ we are free to be ourselves

You are who God says you are, not who people say you are

Don’t try to base your life on the unstable foundation of human opinions

Instead, build on the unshakable truth of God

If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Saviour, the Bible tells you who you are “in Him.”

No matter what anyone else thinks, you are forgiven, loved, accepted, secure, and free

When someone says, 

    • You’re not good enough. 
    • You don’t measure up. 
    • You made a stupid decision. 
    • I don’t like your leadership, 
    • You don’t belong here

God’s Word says that just the opposite …

And knowing and living the truth will allow you to rise above the criticis

 

 

Extra material:

Constructive and Destructive Feedback

ConstructiveDestructive

PrivatePublic

Addresses behaviourAddresses personal characteristics

SpecificGeneral

PromptDelayed

PositiveNegative

Suggests actions to solve the problemNo solutions offered

 

Deference between constructive and destructive criticism

Constructive: Focuses on what the problem is and not the receiving person

Destructive: Lacks specific details about the problem or situation one is unhappy about

Constructive: Explains why the problem or situation is not good

Destructive: Focuses on the individual at fault and not the problem or the situation

Constructive:  Suggests ways in which the problem or situation can be improved

Destructive: Does not offer any suggestions about ho the problem or situation can be improved 

Constructive: Is done with the intention to help with the situation or to solve the problem

Destructive: Aimed at hurting the feelings, self-esteem, and confidence of the receiving person

Constructive: Intends to educate

Destructive:  Intends to embarrass

Constructive: Related to work 

Destructive: Feels like a personal attack

Constructive: Helps build on an idea and encourage a person

Destructive: Tears down an idea or a person 

Constructive: Makes outcome better

Destructive: Makes the person feel down and discouraged

Constructive: Comes along to help

Destructive: Tries to take over

 

Five Tips for Handling Criticism:

1> It usually contains a bit of truth

As for the grace to see and admit it, even if it makes you made

2> Don’t let the negative eat you up

We tend to keep negative feedback rather than positive remarks

3> Say a quick prayer for your critice3

It is difficult, but Jesus asks us to pray for those who hurt us

4> The only opinion that real matters is God’s

He is the One who truly knows us and loves us without limits

5> Criticism might be a sign of your fidelity and faithfulness

Often criticism is part of a life rooted in Christ

Feeling Stuck? – Part Two

Yesterday we started looking at choosing to move forward in life. A great topic after being “on hold” for a year due to Covid-19. So, how do you get free of the sandbar and back to sailing in open water? Today … the first of a number of suggestions that will help you to do just that. 

Start be accepting that everything is not equally important. Let me repeat that: everything in your life is not equally important. Almost every adult struggles with this today. We become so distracted by molehills that we can’t charge up the mountain.

In February 2020, Dan Cain of Twinsburg, Ohio, came home to find postal workers hauling seventy-nine large bins of letters to his house. In one day he received 55,000 letters, all of them the same. They were duplicate letters from a student loan company. Somehow the company made an error in its mailing system, inundating Cain with enough mail to last a lifetime.

Now think of this. What if somewhere among those fifty-five thousand letters was a vital communication — a small package mixed among the bins? What if it was a letter from God? What if a small copy of the Bible, the message of hope and heaven, was jumbled among the letters in those seventy-nine bins of mail?

Your cluttered world bombards you with thousands of bits of data every day. No wonder you’re distracted! It’s easy for the most important things to be lost. That’s why you must acknowledge that not everything is a priority. Not every activity is vital. Not every situation is eternal.

In His parable of the sower, Jesus said, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

Can you relate to that? I can. The Lord has sown the seed of His Word into our hearts, but it’s not as productive or fruitful as He wants. Somehow His work in and through us is chocked by “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.”

Often times out inability to get unstuck and move forward is due to a lack of priorities — we fail to even consider that some things are more important than others. Without understanding the nature of priorities, you can’t sort through the cares of this world, but you can become paralyzed by burdens, business, and busyness. In trying to do everything you end up doing nothing. This “paralysis by analysis” can devastate your morale and your emotional health.

In a book called Essentialism, the author writes:

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things. People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of his experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually nothing was.

Understanding that not al things are equally important is an essential part of getting unstuck in daily life and moving forward. Priorities keep you focused and help you to accomplish what really matters, because the best way to move forward in your life journey is to remove the clutter and then focus on what is of prime importance. We need to learn to major on the majors. 

Next time … Part Three: Clarify What’s Best

Feeling Stuck? – Part One

Authors call it writer’s block. Athletes call it a slump. Economists call it stagnation. Pastors call it burnout. Swimmers call it treading water. Off-roaders call it spinning their wheels. Retailers call it sluggishness. Scientists call it inertia. Retirees call it the “every day is Saturday” syndrome. Sailors call it the doldrums.

But I have good news. This is not God’s intention for your life. The Bible says, “He who has begun a good work in you will compete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

You see, our mighty God has a plan for your life, and He doesn’t intend to stop in mid-design! The One who composed the songs of the birds, fashioned the orbits of the planets, formed the cycles of history, and plotted the pathways of the great whales — that One has a unique design for your life. Nothing is more important than fulfilling it.

At certain points in life, you’ll feel incapacitates and stuck, unable to gain forward momentum. Some of the greatest characters in the Bible were immobilized for a time:

      • Moses was stuck on the backside of the desert for years, unaware of God’s future for him (Exodus 3:1)
      • Naomi was trapped in Moab after the deaths of her husband and sons (Ruth 1:5)
      • Elijah was stuck in the wilderness, feeling sorry for himself after his failure to bring about the revival he’d hoped for Israel (1 Kings 19:10)
      • Ezekiel was stranded in Babylon at age thirty, frustrated he couldn’t enter his priestly service in Jerusalem at the temple (Ezekiel 1:1)
      • Peter was caught in a dark, depressive cycle on the Saturday before Easter ( Matthew 26:75)
      • Thomas was cast into faithless despondency when he missed the Saviour’s appearance on Easter Sunday (John 20:24)
      • Paul was stuck in Troas where a great door of evangelism was open for him, but he had no peace of mind because of anxiety about problems in the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2:12-13)
      • The apostle John was exiled on the Island of Patmos, lonely and unable to continue his ministry — or so he thought (Revelation 1:9)

But wait! God has a design for every situation and every person. Look at that list again. By God’s grace, each of these people managed to get themselves unstuck and they went forward, onto their greatest days of usefulness for the Lord.

You were created for an ever-fruitful, flourishing, thriving life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Bible says, “Never be lacking in Zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11 NIV).

In 1 Corinthians 15:58 the apostle Paul proclaimed, “Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

You can’t be stuck and live abundantly at the same time. You can’t be despondent while keeping your spiritual fervour in God’s service. You can’t be immobilized and give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.

So, how do you get free of the sandbar and back to sailing in open water? Tomorrow we will look at the first of a number of suggestions that will help you to do just that. 

I’m Getting Older

Just read the book Keep Moving by Dick Van Dyke. He is an ageless optimist that always sees tomorrow as fresh and new and a gift to embrace as he moves forward into whatever the day may have for him. He is 94 years old, but he doesn’t know it. In the book he recalled filming a Disney movie. He was performing a dance scene when he suddenly felt the back of his leg snap like a rubber band. His injury grew worse, and he saw a doctor who took a bunch of X-rays.

After studying them intensely, the doctor looked at Van Dyke and said, “You’re covered with arthritis from head to foot. I’m surprised you could dance. I’ve never seen so much arthritis in a single person.”

“What about a married person?” Asked Dick, ever the comedian.

“Married or single, you’re literally suffused with arthritis,” said the doctor.

“What about the pain in my leg?”

“It’s the arthritis,” the doctor answered, chiding him and telling him it was no joking matter. The doctor predicted Van Dyke would be using a walker if not a wheelchair within five years.

Dick was scared so badly he did something rash. He stood up in the examining room and started tapping his toes, then shuffling around, then dancing, “as if proving to myself I could still order my body to do a soft shoe anytime I wanted.”

The doctor looked at him in shock.

“That was 1967,” said Dick. “I was forty years old. And I have not stopped moving ever since. Nor do I plan to hit the stop button anytime soon…As a card-carrying the-glass-is-half-full optimist, I’m going to … declare that old age doesn’t have to be a dreary weather report. In 99.9 percent of the stories I have heard it is better than the alternative, if only because you get to see what happens next. How can you not be curious?”

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am ready to die and willing to live, but in either case I can’t wait to see what God will do next. How can you not be curious? The Bible says, “For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be” (Romans 5:2 TLB).

As I finish off my 73 year of life and look forward to a fantastic 74th year and beyond – way beyond, God willing – I recognize that I need to keep moving forward. I need to remain enthusiastic about life, excited about what God is doing, and anticipating what He is planning to do tomorrow and the next day and the next… I believe that I must be constantly growing and changing, moving forward into what could be, who I will be. The fullness of God’s plan and purpose for my life – my whole life. I am curious about what the future will bring as God continues to move and I continue to enjoy today and reach out for tomorrow.

Every morning I remind myself that “this is the day that the Lord has made” and that He gives this day to me as a gift to be embraced and lived to its fullest. 

Every morning I pray that the Lord would use me to glorify His Name and make His love known to someone during the day.

Every morning I read His Word to feed my spirit so I can enter the day having spent time with the Lord and having heard Him speak through the Word or directly to my spirit.

Every day I do my best to not waste time or simply spend time. I want to invest the time that He has so graciously gifted me with.

Every day I enjoy what I have to do and all that needs to be accomplished and am thankful to be working with Him in His Kingdom even when I am in the world doing regular life. 

And, every day, I dream of what is to come and plan how to take the first steps toward the future He has laid out for me. 

Yup! I am getting older. But inside I am still just 19.

Spreading the Word of God

A true story…

Have you heard of Jack Murphy? He was one of the most notorious jewel thieves in the history of the united States. He was a gifted man on many levels — a musician, an actor, an artist, a surfer. He was born in Oceanside, California: then his family moved to Pittsburgh, where he played violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and also won a tennis scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.

Unknown to everyone, he was also a cat burglar. On October 29, 1964, he pulled off one of the greatest heists in American history, stealing twenty-four precious gens from J.P. Morgan’s prized collection at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The stolen gems included the Star of India, the Eagle Diamond, and the DeLong Star Ruby.

Three days later, Murphy and his accomplices were arrested. The story goes from bad to worse, and Murphy ended up sentenced to 2,244 years in prison. One day some men came to minister to the prisoners. Football stars All Glass and Roger Staubach shared the gospel with Murph the Surf, as he was known, and he was intrigued.

Later a Christian worker who faithfully visited the prison followed up with a personal message from Scripture, and Murphy gave his life to Christ. Murphy was eventually released, and in the years since he’s visited hundreds of prisons with the message of the gospel. His story was written up as part of a book called God’s Prison Gang.

The story doesn’t end there. In California, a man named Mike Larson grew up in an abusive home, which led to an unstable life. He became enslaved to raging drug abuse. He lost every job and every meaningful relationship. One day he broke into a doctor’s house looking for drugs, and he was arrested and thrown into prison.

While Mike was in solitary confinement, a prison guard handed him a book entitled God’s Prison Gang, featuring stories of prisoners who came to Christ while behind bars. As Mike read Jack Murphy’s story, he decided to leave his life of crime forever.

Upon his release, Mike decided to get a tattoo. The artist drawing the tattoo invited Mike to church with him and also urged Mike to join his motorcycle gang — but there was an unusual requirement. You had to bring along a biker vest with a notepad, a pen, and a pocket Bible.

When Mike lost his Bible, he tried to hide the fact that he didn’t have one. But it bothered him so much that one day he literally yelled out to God to give him a Bible.

Later that day Mike drove to a pizza restaurant where a man got out of his car, came over, and gave him a Bible — just like that, and then drove away. The man was a Gideon, and then and there Mike broke down in tears. He couldn’t believe God had answered his prayer, and that led to his giving his heart totally to Jesus Christ. 

Today Mike is a California pastor leading his church to invest itself in winning others to Christ.

Think of the chain reaction: from famous athletes, to a diamond thief, to a prison guard, to a tattoo artist, to a nameless Gideon — all leading to a man now preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and winning others to the Lord as well as training and releasing his church to do the same.

God is truly amazing. Truly amazing. His ways are far above and beyond our ways. Amazing. Simply amazing!

 

Focus On Your One Thing

As I get older I have been narrowing my focus bit-by-bit. At one time I had the energy, interest, and the time to jump in to a large number of things, learning as I went along. It was fun. It was exciting. It was fulfilling. And, much was accomplished and learned along the way. 

I learned a lot about God’s purpose for my life. I gained a Kingdom perspective – His perspective on life, ministry, and the world. I became away of His plan for the Kingdom, His Church, and my own life within the Kingdom and the Church. Once in a while, I got a glance at the prize the faithful will receive when all is said and done. But, only recently have I come to realize that there is one other thing that pulls all of these — purpose, perspective, plan, prize — together. To move forward in all of these, regardless of what season of life you are in, you must find your passion and then give your life to that one thing; the thing you are seriously and deeply passionate about.

An old Russian proverb puts it this way, “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll not catch either one.” So focus on one thing and then pursue it and don’t lose focus as life happens around you each day.

I like someone who has focus — someone who never loses focus, who runs to win (to quote Paul the apostle), whose life is defined by one thing. You see this kind of focus often in the Bible, because the writers of the Bible knew something about focusing on one thing.

      • David said, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD…” (Psalm 27:4).
      • Jesus said to the rich young ruler, ““You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (mark 10:21)
      • He told the distracted homemaker, Martha: “One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part” (Luke 10:42).
      • The man healed by Jesus said, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
      • And the apostle Paul said, “I focus on this one thing” (Philippians 3:13)

The phrase one thing implies consecration  — a word meaning to dedicate yourself and your every day to the wonderful will of God.

At the core of Paul’s life was one motivating principle: he focused on Christ. He concentrated on his walk with Jesus. He said in effect, “Lord, Your will be done — today and every remaining day I have on earth. Not my will, but Yours be done!”

Kent Hughes (an author whose books I have read over the years) wrote:

“Single-mindedness, the ability to focus, to shut everything out when necessary, is the key to success in virtually every area of life. It is the essential ingredient of the manic virtue of basketball heroes Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, or the golf great Jack Nicklaus, or the creative musical genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But here the focus is not a basketball rim, a flag fluttering on a distant green, or a musical score — it is Christ Himself and how to please Him. The single-minded disciple is in the world but he does not get ‘entangled’ in the world. He avoids anything that will hinder single-minded dedication to his Master.”

And the secret of a focused life? — Staying committed to your passion … to your one thing. 

The older I get the more narrow my focus. This is a good thing. I am putting all of my effort, time, energy, thought, work, and emotion into my now one thing … bringing the Church worldwide (yes, a big vision – why not, I have a big God) into biblical order and seeing the Church built according to the plan Jesus has for its construction as outlined in the Scriptures. There are many parts to this one vision, one task, one focus. But I am focused and am saying “no” to a lot of things that are good but that no longer fit into ’this one thing.’ 

In my life, and in yours as well, the passion for ‘this one thing’ will slowly pull together His purpose for you in this season of life, His perspective, His plan and His reward for you when it is all done. The key is to focus on this one thing and maintain the passion. 

Risk-Taker

Most of us think of risk as a negative situation we should avoid. But risk is a part of life, and it’s a big part of faith. Not every risk is worth taking, but if you’re too overwhelmed by fear to correctly assess a situation, you’ll miss many opportunities for growth, increased strength, deeper faith, and success.

Have you been playing it safe? Too safe? If forward is the direction you choose in your journey of faith, be prepared to take some faith-based risks. Being a follower and disciple of Christ in today’s world its not safe. And it isn’t intended to be.

In his 2002 book, Seizing Your Divine Moment, Erwin McManus wrote, “I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will in not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.”

Think of the people in Scripture who took great risks.

    • Moses wasn’t playing it safe when he returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh – Exodus 5:1
    • Gideon wasn’t playing it safe then he dismissed most of his army – Judges 7:7
    • David wasn’t playing it safe when he strode up to Goliath – 1 Samuel 17:31
    • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t playing it safe when they refused to bow to the image Nebuchadnezzar had erected in the Babylonian plains – Daniel 3:16-18
    • Esther wasn’t playing it safe when she put her life on the line to save her people, telling Mordecai, “If I perish, I perish” – Esther 4:1
    • Peter wasn’t playing it safe when he stepped out of the fishing boat to walk across the water to Jesus – Matthew 14:29
    • Paul wasn’t playing it safe when he preached to Governor Felix about “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” – Acts 24:25
    • The apostle John wasn’t playing it safe in his old age when he sent a book from Patmos filled with images of dragons, beasts, and coming days of wrath and judgment.

You can’t play it safe either. Not if you want to seize tomorrow and accomplish the dreams God places in your heart. You will need to be a risk taker.

The best example of a risk-taker in my mind is Caleb. We were speaking about him yesterday. Many people don’t know a great deal about Caleb, because he only occupies thirty verses in the Bible. But what verses they are! What a man of faith! He is a powerful and wonderful example of risk-taking, future-grabbing grace.

In the book of Numbers, Moses sent twelve men – Joshua, Caleb, and ten others — as an advance party to reconnoiter the Promised Land. These men left the safety of their encampment, forded the Jordon River, and slipped into Canaan. Their mission: to make notes of the land, observe the enemy, study the fortification, estimate the population, and bring back enough intelligence to aid Moses in planning the coming invasion of the land God had promised the Israelites. 

The Bible tells the story this way: “So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin … Going north, they passed through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—all descendants of Anak—lived” (Numbers 13:21-22 NLT)

The city of Hebron had been the ancestral home of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now it was inhabited by an evil tribe of huge warriors known as the descendants of Anak. The sight of these warriors terrified some of the scouts.

The scouts quickly harvested some pomegranates and figs from the orchards of Canaan, and two of them lugged back an enormous cluster of grapes, carrying it on a pole between them. Imagine the excitement when the spies returned to Kadesh Barnea! Their mission had taken forty days, during which no one knew if they had survived or perished. Day after day, sentries on Israel’s parameters watched for them. Now that were back — all of them safe and sound.

But they were not united. Ten of the twelve had the fear of failure. The were not risk-takers.

Have you ever heard these names: Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, and Geuel? No? These are the names of the ten spies who risked their lives on an espionage mission only to lose heart, doubt God’s power, and miss Good’s will (Numbers 13:4-15). They came back so discouraged they disheartened the people of Israel. And God determined that because they were not risk-takers and would not believe Him that they would not enter the Promised Land. In fact, they would all need to die in the wilderness before their decendants could cross the Jordan and take Canaan. All must die except Caleb and Joshua. 

Two of the spies had risked their lives to go into Canaan and report to the people what they had seen and encountered. Joshua and Caleb gave a positive report because they believed God when He said to Israel that this would be their land and they would defeat those who currently occupied the land. The other ten saw the same things but from a perspective of fear and not risk-taking and faith. 

Remember, Paul wrote to young Timothy and said, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

To be a risk-taker, stepping out in faith, we must remember that we do not need to fear. That God has given to us everything we need to fulfill His will for our lives. That we walk in Power, love, and have self-discipline. No matter what our age we need to overcome our hesitancy and defeat fear so we can carry on and fulfill the plan and purpose of God for our life.

He calls everyone of us to be risk-takers.  

Thirty Verses That Changed My Life

There are 31,102 verses in the English language Bible. Of all those verses there are thirty of them that changed my life in a very deep, foundational way. They were and are life-changing. And the older I get the louder they are speaking to me.

It is important to keep moving forward in our walk with the Lord. As a disciple there is no reverse or park – simply forward. And, each day we should be moving forward into greater intimacy with the Lord as well as pursuing – barreling forward – into the remainder of God’s will for our lives.

One of the Bible characters that encourage me to do just that as well as lending insight into how to do that is Caleb, a friend of Joshua and one of the two spies who came back from the Promised Land with a positive report as to what was there and how Israel would certainly be able to take the land as God had spoken to them to do. The story of Caleb’s life is told in thirty verses in the Bible. But six times in those verses we are given the secret of his forward motion and his risk-filled and risk-taking life as he pursued the plan and purpose of God for his life.

Numbers 14:24a “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully…”

Numbers 32:11b-12 “… they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 1:36 “… Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!”

Joshua 14:8b-9 “… I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.

Joshua 14:14 “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Caleb wholly followed … wholly followed … wholly followed …. Wholly followed! But the time he was eighty-five most of his generation had given up hope and died. But Caleb still had a bright fire burning. He still wanted to risk his life on the greatest possible task God could give him.

Maybe, like me, you are in your mid-seventies. Or maybe you are just graduating from college and want to establish yourself in your career and all that comes with that – a car, a house, recognition, authority, power, wealth. Whatever your age and stage of life you are in — fulfillment will only come as you seek God and His Kingdom. Satisfaction will only be found as you discover God’s plan and purpose for your life and then pursue it with your whole heart as Caleb did. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks … but take each step in faith knowing that God’s plan and purpose for your life is unfolding before you as you walk with Him into your divine destiny. And, keep walking with Him and pursuing your unique, God-given purpose with your whole heart no matter how how old you are or become …

What risk is God leading you to take as you go forward in your walk and journey with Him? His will for you is not earthly comfort but divine courage. Courage in the face of opposition. Courage in the face of cultural change. Courage when confronted with the unknown. Courage in the midst of a pandemic. God will never choose safety for us if it will cost significance. God created us to count, not to be counted.

This is your time to move forward, out of the safe zone and into the faith zone. 

Knowing and Experiencing God’s Love

With Covid-19 continuing now into its second year we are seeing more signs of people losing hope. The loss of hope around us today is rampant, and it’s lethal. It touches families all around the globe in ways hard to comprehend; and I believe it stems for a growing ignorance or even rejection of God’s love.

We need, even as believers, to revisit Romans 8: 38-39 which says, 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Consider the reasons for having hope packed into this passage. Not only is God real but He loves us. And not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience can separate us from His love. Country music singer Carrie Underwood commented on this passage: “I love all the commas in these verses — neither death, nor life, not angels, nor demons. It’s so powerful.”

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God. But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love.  That should bring us hope!

The powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offers toward the end of that same book. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Take a moment to say that verse aloud but make one little change. Turn it into a prayer that’s personal to you: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It might be good for you to pray those words aloud every morning, every noontime, and every evening until you know them by heart. That prayer can adjust your mindset in any given season of life, deepen your core convictions, and strengthen your belief. Might even permanently change your life.

I encourage you to make this a regular prayer — maybe for the next month or maybe for years to come: “Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may about in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism! Never forget that. Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being.

In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday. Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there is silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him., Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in Heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart. And he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? Do you know what it means to overflow with hope and optimism? Paul, did, and you can too. Hope and optimism can become your habitual attitude because you have encountered and experienced the love that God has for you and as a result you live with tremendous hope.