Getting Better In Everything We Do

 

I’m not a very good golfer _ usually more of a goofer than a golfer. I remember talking to a local pro one time and I said something like this, “I’m thinking about hiring you to spend a few hours on the course with me so you can tell me everything I’m doing wrong.”

His response surprised me, “That’s not how it works. The objective isn’t to tell you everything that you’re doing wrong. The objective is to get you to repeat everything you’re doing right. If I only tell you to stop doing something wrong, you’ll just replace one bad habit with another one. You’ve probably made great golf shots before. So, if I can just get you to repeat those steps your game will improve.”

Wow! Identify what you’re doing right _ then intensify your efforts. Folks, that is the best kept secret in so many areas of life _ whether it’s raising kids or having a good marriage or being a good employee or a good student or living a godly life.

Some of you are probably used to a different model, the one where you beat yourself up for every mistake _ where the focus is on not doing the bad stuff _ where people put you down for failing. Believe it or not, that isn’t a good formula for living a God-pleasing life.

Now, clearly, one part of becoming a godly person is to identify what is wrong and change. However, there’s a right way to go about it. The right way is not to direct all of your attention on what is wrong. It is to direct your attention to doing what is right then improve and strengthen those areas.

For instance: When I keep Jesus front and center _ when I keep his Word hidden in my heart _ when I have an ongoing conversation with God (that’s prayer) … my spiritual life thrives. Something else that helps is being in fellowship with other believers _ when I make it a point to talk about things that build up instead of tearing down _ when I seek out wisdom from people who know a lot more about life than I do … my spiritual life thrives.

Paul put it this way, “…we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

Finish this sentence: “I know God is pleased with me when I…” Many would say, “When I don’t sin.” That’s true but here’s another way, “I know God is pleased with me when I spend time in his Word… when I’m kind… when I give generously… when I pray regularly… when I spend time with my family. What would you say?  Fill in the blank, and then do it as often as possible.

That said, am I suggesting that we become laissez-faire in our attitude toward sin? A thousand times, no. I am saying the more you focus on doing what is right _ the more you strengthen your strengths the weaker sin becomes in your life _ the more Christ Jesus is glorified in all we do and say.

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Here Comes Trouble _ Now What?

Here in America we don’t experience persecution like early Christians did. No one will make sport of us by watching us try to fend off hungry lions. We’re not burned at the stake for our beliefs or imprisoned for professing faith in Christ. However, even though we don’t face that kind of persecution, being a Christian still comes with a price. There are people who don’t get hired because of their faith. There are salespeople who don’t get the order _ business people who don’t get the contract because their faith “got in the way.” There are students who get a lower grade because a professor is intolerant of a students’ belief. There are people excluded from a gathering _ ignored by the group because their faith prevents them from fitting in. Our struggles are certainly milder _ they can’t compare with what’s happening in the Middle East, for example _ but we do face struggles when living the Christian life.

Troubles are a fact of life. Jesus had a lot to say about the price that comes from following Him. In Matthew 10:22 He said, “All men will hate you because of me…” In John 16:33 He said, “In this world you will have trouble…”

There will be times when you’re discriminated against because of your beliefs. There will be times when people decide to dislike you for no good reason. There will be times when your health gives out and you struggle with sickness. There will be times when your money runs out and you struggle with being flat broke. There will be times when relationships go south, and you struggle with loneliness and rejection. When those things happen, you have a choice. Stay in the fight or turn tail and run. Before you decide, remember that your decision will lead to one of two things. You conquer it or it conquers you. It will be one way or the other.

Perhaps that is why Robert Schuller once said, “The most selfish thing you can do is quit when trouble shows up.” He has a point. Quitters aren’t thinking of others when they give up. They’re thinking only of themselves. Those who stay in the battle to the very end _ those who are willing to take the bumps and bruises and collect the scars along the way to help keep hope alive for others_ they understand what it means to love God and love people. That is why Paul wrote, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other…” (1 Thessalonians 3:12) He knew that the more we love others the more faithful we will be to Christ.

The truth about trouble is that it will hit every one of us. Every home, every family, every business, every believer will get its share of trouble. But there’s another truth about trouble _ it is no match for the believer determined to stay in the fight through the final round because it was no match for Jesus who came to earth _ was hung on a cross _ died _ was placed in a tomb _ and walked out of that tomb three days later. That my friends is the rest of the story centered around what Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble _ but take heart I have overcome the world.”

I close with the words from another letter that Paul wrote to another church that had more trouble than Carter has little liver pills. It’s a message we need for today: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

 

Church, Pursue Community

When you read 1st Thessalonians, you see that the people in that church weren’t just acquaintances, they were close friends. They weren’t just members of the same church family _ they pursued community _ they were like blood brothers and sisters.

If you think about it that’s the way Jesus designed the church. In John 13 Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) In John 15 He told us what that love is to be like, “… Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) It’s a John 3:16 kind of love. We show that love by sacrificially helping people _ especially in matters of faith. However, sometimes it may come across that we think people need to live a godly life on their own. I guess I would call that the “Cain Syndrome” of Cain and Abel fame. When asked about the location of his missing brother Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

Now we may not have murdered anyone but sometimes it may come across that we are unconcerned about people because we are so concerned about “numero-uno”. It may seem like we’re saying, “You are responsible for you and I’m responsible for me and that’s just the way it is.”  I suppose in one way that’s true. After all, parents or grandparents or siblings or friends can’t accept Jesus for you. No one can make you grow in the Christian life. You can’t blame anyone else for the sins you commit. It’s your responsibility to see to it that you grow in Christ, that you seek God, that you confront sin, that you accomplish something worthwhile with your life. However, this living a godly life thing is just too big for us to do on our own. We need help. That’s where the church _ the body of Christ comes into play. We are to strengthen one another by encouraging one another _ by helping one another _ by being our” brother’s keeper.” If we aren’t doing that then we are suffering from the dreaded “Cain syndrome”.

Now, I realize that some people are just hard to help. Over the years I’ve seen many people tend to swing to one extreme or the other. They either try to do everything on their own, without any help from anyone, or they try to dump responsibility for their lives being in turmoil on someone else. Of course, both are wrong. The proper balance is to understand that you are responsible for you, and so you make sure that you have the proper support systems set up in your life. Part B of that formula would be that since you are your “brother’s keeper” you become part of someone else’s support system.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul talks about the spirit of community in the church _ the kind that has a strong support system. The church is not designed to be a group of people sitting in a building, singing a few songs, listening to a sermon then going home to be alone in their faith walk until the next Sunday rolls around. Church is meant to be community _ a team _ a family _ a unified body. Our primary concern is for church to provide that environment so that those who gather find the strength and encouragement and support they need in order to be a rock-solid Christian.

Stick Around!

Today I am going to share one of the most challenging steps in the process of creating change in times like these. I’ll call today’s blog Stick Around. Sometimes the new leaf fails to become a new life – why – because we give up too soon. We tend to want immediate results, and when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we go back to our old way of life.

That applies to every part of our life _ physical, mental, emotional and of course spiritual. It affects our relationships, our finances, our business _ every area of life. For those who desperately want times to get better it will usually take some time _ maybe four or five or six weeks _ maybe four or five or six months _ maybe even several years.

The longer it takes the more you will find yourself tempted to think, “Why am I doing this _ things are still the same. I’m just wasting my time. I guess I may as well give up.” That’s what all too many people do. They say, “I gave it my best shot,” and then they quit, and their life stays the same.

On the other hand, for that select group of people who say, “I refuse to give up.” Eventually their lives get better. Why? Because they locked in on the right strategy _ they persevered __ they stayed with it until payday

Paul put it like this, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) I use that verse as a reminder in my life regularly. Right before Paul wrote those words, he explained the Law of the Harvest when he wrote: A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7) In other words, if you plant corn you harvest corn; if you plant daisies you harvest daisies. If you plant nothing _ you get nothing _ well maybe some weeds, but they seem to plant themselves. The idea here is that you will always harvest what you plant.

Today, in your financial life, in your emotional life, in your spiritual life, in your family life, in your business, in your physical health, you are reaping the harvest that you planted in the weeks and months and years past. If you want something different you must change what you plant.

Paul put it this way… The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8) There’s a lot at stake, that’s why he goes on to say… Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Here’s what he’s saying: If you will do what you ought to do day after day after day, eventually your ship will come in, your payday will arrive, and you’ll experience a windfall of blessings. So, church rather than giving up let’s stick around.

What’s Bothering You?

Which of God’s commandments would you say is the most difficult for you to obey? I’m sure some of you would say, “Well, the commandment not to lie is difficult because if I’m in a tight spot and I can twist the truth just a little, it’s hard not to lie.”

Some of you might say, “Well, in this materialistic society the commandment not to covet is really difficult to obey. If somebody I know comes into some money or they achieve a status that I want for myself, it’s hard not to be jealous of them.”

In such a sensual society some of you might point to Jesus’ command in the New Testament not to lust as one that is very difficult to obey. Or what about Paul’s commandment in Philippians 2: “Don’t complain about anything”? Sometimes it may seem like complaining is your spiritual gift. It’s hard to obey that one.

I think one of the hardest commandments to obey is this one: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” There’s so much to be troubled about with so many marriages in deep trouble, with the struggles our children or grandchildren face. I confess that I am often tempted to worry. I can be worn down by the “what if” syndrome. Maybe you’re troubled over potential problems in your life as well _ maybe there’s not much contentment for you today. Then Jesus words are just for you. And just what are they? “Don’t let your heart be troubled.”

Obeying that command is a lot easier when we are confident that Jesus is who claimed to be _ the Son of God. When we have confidence that He has risen from the grave it makes it a lot easier to not let troubles that come with life get us down. So, give your life to Christ and love the difference it will make for you.

Now I know it is easier said than done but what reason did Jesus give so that his followers wouldn’t have to be troubled? Well, He said it like this: “Trust in God; trust also in me.” Trust in Jesus, is it really that simple _ is it essential to a worry-free life? It certainly is! So, don’t let your heart be troubled; trust in Christ. Nothing is going to happen to you in the darkness that the two of you can’t handle together.

Follow the Leader Can Be a Very Dangerous Game

The Apostle Paul said something several times that surprised me a bit when I first encountered it. He said, “Imitate me.” He’s saying: Do what I do, say what I say, follow my example. That’s a bold thing for a person to say. I don’t always feel comfortable saying it, but the truth is that any leader might as well say it because it happens.

That said, if we are going to become rock solid Christians, something we need to do is carefully choose the right influencers _ decide who we’re going to be like, whose example we’re going to follow.

Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “You’re just following a man,” or “You’re just following a preacher,” and, of course, we need to be careful about that. Of course, first and foremost, we’re to be followers of Jesus Christ because he is Lord of lords and King of kings. But the simple truth is that in every area of life, especially the area of being a Christ-follower _ you’ll find yourself yielding to the influence of certain leaders and authority figures.

If you think about your parenting skills, your work ethic, the way you treat your spouse, the way you handle money, the way you relate to God are all the result of the examples you’ve chosen to follow.  That was Paul’s role with the people that he wrote a letter to… “You became imitators of us and the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 1: 6)

So be very careful when you choose those who influence you. If you choose crabby people, there’s a good chance you will become an old crab. If you choose people that constantly find fault, there’s a good chance you will become a grumbler. If you choose people that willingly serve, there’s a good chance you will become a faithful servant of Christ. If you choose a loving, kind, caring, godly person there’s a good chance you will become a rock-solid Christian.

 

Who Has the Final Say?

Babe Ruth was a great home run hitter. During one particular at-bat, the umpire, Babe Pinelli, called Ruth out on strikes. There was a stunned silence in the stands. Ruth turned to Pinelli and said, “There are 40,000 people here who know that last one was a ball.” Pinelli replied, “Maybe so, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

We live in a world of thousands of opinions but, whose opinion counts? Who has the authority that matters? There are experts in every field imaginable, some of whom say conflicting things. So, who will we look to as our authority?

Well, God’s word is the final word. It’s one thing to read about how Jesus affects people in the Bible but when it comes to us _ as we wrestle with the implications of that question, we find that we must come to our own conclusion: Are we prepared for this kind of authority in our lives? Are we ready for the authority that his word makes it true and his decision makes it happen?

Let’s bring it home. When our spouse has been unfaithful or deceived us or made a decision without us, and we have to decide how to act, is his Word our authority? My friend, it must be. God’s Word must be our authority. When we’re deciding which movies we’ll see or which TV programs we’ll watch or where we’ll go and what we’ll do on the weekend, does God’s word have clout? My friend, it must.

God’s Word must always be our authority. When we’re making decisions about how to grow a business or advance a career or handle a sticky situation at work, does our direction come from him whose word is true? It must. God’s Word must be our authority. When we turn on the internet and start surfing does God’s word dictate where we go? It must. God’s Word must be our authority.

My friends, you and I must come to grips with the power of Christ. His word makes it true. His decision makes it happen. His authority makes it so. When we hear him we must obey. That is how we represent Jesus well.

So, when Jesus says love God and love people what do you think we should do? When Jesus says forgive what do you think we should do? When Jesus says pray what do you think we should do? When Jesus says turn from a life of sin and self to a life of righteousness and godliness what do you think we should do? When Jesus says be baptized what do you think we should do? I think you know the answer. My advice is simple _ do it.