Obstacle or Opportunity?

How is your tolerance level when it comes to obstacles? Some see obstacles as proof a wrong decision was made. When obstacles show up they give up.

Here’s the good news. When obstacles show up, you have a choice. You can choose to frame them differently, to give them a different meaning. You can choose to see each obstacle as an opportunity.

For example…The average daily commute in the Washington, DC area is 2 hours. You can see it as waste of your life, as a sentence to solitary confinement, as unfair, as a financial drain, as a source of aggravation and stress – as a larger than life obstacle.

Or, you can frame your obstacle as an opportunity. How? See it as a chance to learn. With your cell phone you can listen to the greatest books ever written, and grow your mind. There’s something now called iTunes University. You can listen to college lectures from Yale, Harvard, Oxford on almost any subject of interest.

When people ask you about your education, you could say, “I graduated form i66 University. I had a full ride.” See it as an opportunity to learn something new two hours each day.

Betthoven chose to frame the obstacle of being deaf as an opportunity and became one of the greatest composers in history. Thomas Edison chose to frame the obstacles of repeated failure in his desire to invent the light bulb differently. He saw each failure as a learning opportunity and eventually realized his dream.

Any time you try to reach for a better tomorrow there will be obstacles – big ones. Every obstacle is an opportunity. Without obstacles there would be no victories. Without victories there would be no growth. Without obstacles you would never know the power and greatness of God. In our obstacles God is blessing us with our own story to tell to future generations. He’s giving us a testimony.

Before the children of Israel entered the land of promise, God brought them face to face with a large obstacle – the flooded Jordan River. Why would God lead them to an impassable barrier?

Here’s what Joshua says in Joshua 3:10 – “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites…”

In other words, “You’ve heard of God’s power, but today you’re going to know it for yourself.”

So, don’t give up. Be encouraged. Your obstacle is a God-given opportunity.


God’s Desire to Work Through Us

Recently, my father told me how he built his first church. We were living in a little town called Belton, SC – population 5,000 in the late 70’s. The main attraction was….Hardees. It was for sure a small country town.

The church had land but no building. Dad found a company that sold metal buildings in a kit, kind of one size fits all. Excited about the ease of assembly and the price, a “kit building” was purchased.

He told me about the day it was delivered. The building came shrink wrapped right off a truck and onto the parking lot. There was only one problem. There were no instructions. He and the few volunteers that were there had no experience building. As they stood staring at the metal pile they were all thinking, “What did we get ourselves into?” Just then, a man pulled up in a truck and said, “Excuse me. I’m looking for work. Are you all putting up a metal building?” They said, “Yes.” He asked, “Do you know what you’re doing?” They humbly mumbled, “No.” He replied, “I’m a builder, and have built those all over the country.” This stranger knew exactly what to do, and stayed from the beginning to the end of the project. He then drove off and they never saw him again. When he left, they had their church home. God had provided.

I love to hear stories about God working in the previous generation. As that pervious generation stood up and stepped out, God showed up. I’m writing today about what God did through them.

Listen to what the Lord said to young Joshua, as he stepped out into his new ministry, leading the children of Israel. Joshua 1:5, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

Here’s the big idea… What God did for past generations he wants to do today through us, and even greater things.

I often will hear people talk about their old church. “You should have seen it. It was amazing. It was absolutely incredible.” They’re 10 to 20 years away still talking about their old church and their past experience. What God did for past generations he wants to do through us, and even greater things.

As God was with past generation, he’ll be with us today if we’ll believe.

Jesus said in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”


Setting Up Relational Boundaries

What are boundaries in life? Boundaries mark the edges of who we are, our territory, our personhood, our time, talents, and abilities. Our boundaries mark out our limits – what belongs to us, what we’re responsible for. A boundary says, “I’m not going past here, and you just can’t come in here and take stuff, and do what you want whenever you want.” A boundary says, “I’ll do this and that, but I’ll not do this. You can do this, but you can’t do that.”

You need to know your boundaries and communicate them. Enforce your boundaries with consequences. It’s important because there are those who will just roll in unannounced and take our stuff, our time, our resources, our energy, and use us to get what they want. We end up feeling burnt out and used.

Some Christians think we’re just supposed to say “yes” all the time. Many have a “Doormat theology.” You know, “I’m just a doormat for Jesus.” We’re just to lay down and let people walk over us. When a person who drives us crazy comes and makes demands on us, we’re supposed to roll over and give in. There is not one passage of Scripture that says, “Be a doormat.” God has not called us to be doormats for others to walk on.

Don’t be a pushover. Here are some examples of boundaries and how to enforce them.

If little Johnny sleeps in again and looses his job after you’ve told him time and again to get up for work, you enforce your boundary, and say, “This time there will be no money from us for gas or movies. You’ll have to get another job and get up on time.”

If your co-worker comes in and demands that you stay late and do his work again, you enforce your boundary, and say, “I’m sorry. This isn’t in my area of responsibility and I have too much to do already. You’ll have to take care of it yourself.”

Wives, if your husband is physically beating you, God doesn’t want you to sit there and be a doormat. You enforce your boundary, and kick him out or you move out, until you’ve seen sufficient change and you’re ready to trust him again.

If you have a kid smoking pot in your home, on your dime, and they won’t listen to you, you have to set a boundary and enforce it. “It’s either pot or a roof over your head. You decide.”

To some, this may sound unloving. Actually, setting and enforcing your God-given boundaries is the most loving thing you can do. To not enforce your boundaries is to enable dysfunction, preventing the other from ever feeling the need to grow or change. To have clearly communicated, healthy boundaries is a way to love God, love ourselves, and love others.

Here’s what the Bible says in Galatians 6:2; 5, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…For each will have to bear his own load.”

We know well verse 2, “bear one another’s burdens…” The Greek word for “burden” here literally means “boulder.” It’s a huge, back-breaking load, a person can’t carry on their own. Here’s an example of a burden – a divorce, a death in the family, sudden loss of a job, a sudden sickness. Christians are to come along side and give support when life drops a heavy load, until they’re able to recover and move on.

We don’t know verse 5 as well, but look at it again, “For each will have to bear his own load.” The Greek word here for “load” literally means “knapsack.” It’s manageable. It’s what’s required of us. It’s our responsibilities. The people who drive us crazy are the ones who always want us to carry their “knapsack” while we carry ours too. We need to say, “Here are my boundaries.” It’s the loving thing to do.

(For more on this read Dr. Henry Cloud’s seminal book “Boundaries.”)


What is Encouragement?

Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Life can be tough. Ever said, “Thank God it’s Friday”? For Christians, Sunday morning can be tough. Our thoughts can get into a negative loop, talking us out of our commitments, and our appointment to worship God.

The Bible says to encourage one another daily. Think about that word, “encourage.” It is made of two words “in” and “courage.” When we encourage one another we are putting in courage and displacing fear and defeat. Could you use some more courage and strength in life? Plant the seed of encouragement in another.

Today, let’s make a commitment to really, sincerely encourage 3 to 4 people. Fear is contagious, but so is courage. So, let’s encourage one another so that, “none of us may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”


Why It’s Important to Listen

There is so much noise in our world – phones, computers, radio, pets, screaming kids. Not to mentioned our minds that are crammed full of the many projects that are all calling for immediate attention. With all the noise we can miss out listening to others. We hear, but we don’t listen. And sometimes, if we’re honest, we don’t even hear. All we see is lips moving. Ever been there? My wife has caught me there a time or two.

Listening happens when we stop what we’re doing, and give our full energy and focus in an effort to understand another. We’re not trying to get “ammunition” to respond as they talk. We’re trying to simply understand. That’s what people really want in the long run. It’s not about being right, or about winning. They want to know they were understood. Understanding another is like relational sunshine. It clears the fog, warms the environment, and helps things grow.

Listening is also the way we learn. Left to ourselves, our own ideas get old and stale. The people God brings along our path, even those that bug us, will have a great idea now and again. If we’re not listening, we won’t learn, and we will never grow.

Dr. David Schwartz writes in The Magic of Thinking Big, “The bigger the person, the more apt he is to encourage you to talk; the smaller the person, the more apt he is to preach to you. Big people monopolize listening. Small people monopolize talking…Top level leaders in all walks of life spend much more time requesting advice than they do in giving it.”

The Bible says in James 1:19, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”


How to Handle Conflict

Conflict is a part of life unfortunately. I hate dealing with conflict. I’d rather chew on my finger nails. You’re probably the same way. So, we put it off. We hide, or pretend it’s not really there.

The problem is that conflict doesn’t disappear with time. The more we wait the worse it gets. It’s sad to see people in their 80′s and 90′s talking about a conflict that happened 30 years before, when they were in their prime. They ignored it, and like hiding a dead fish, it ended up spoiling their lives.

So, what should we do? Listen to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 from The Message, “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.”

You don’t get any brownie points for loving people who make you laugh. Any “Joe Shmoe” can do that. You get points when you love those who have made you cry. Jesus said take it to the next level. Love the unlovable. Help the ones who have not been helpful. Make peace with those who have not been peaceable.

How? Ask yourself, “How would I want them to treat me?” Then, take the initiative and start treating them that way. Don’t wait around and say, “I wish he…”, or “I wish she…”, or “If only they…” Start asking, “Where do I want this relationship to go, and what can I do to get it there?”

Here’s the thing with conflict. The ball is always in your court. It’s always your move. It’s always your turn.

Don’t let conflict hang around like dirty laundry. It makes everything smell weird. Do some spring cleaning. Make an appointment with that person. Yes, put it on your calendar. Pray and ask for the love of Jesus to fill your heart. Go, ready to speak the truth in love. Go with a listening ear. Life is too short to waste on unresolved conflict.


Why It’s Important to Grieve

IMG_2796 With life comes loss. I experienced loss just last week. I tried to take our over-sized SUV through a car wash. At the end a running board got snagged. I heard a loud grinding sound and my stomach sank. I pulled out and parked the car. Our new running board was new no longer. Our dentless car now had a dent. I felt a sense of loss.

That’s a little thing in comparison to the losses we can face in the course of our lives – the loss of health, mobility, a dream, career, marriage, or maybe a loved one. With each loss there is a sense of pain, hurt, and sadness. What are we to do?

We American’s like to “get on with the show.” Dealing with pain and loss takes too much time, and it makes us look weak. We’re also afraid to deal with loss because we think it may make us introspective and weird. So, we cover it with denial (“What’s that? That’s not a big deal. Nobody bothers me!”), busyness (“I don’t want to think about this. So, I’ll work myself silly.”), or engaging in destructive behaviors for needed relief, like drunkenness and pornography (“Let me try to dull the pain with a shot if this. Ahh, much better!”).

Probably, the most destructive result from covering over loss and pain, is that it produces anger. Underneath the activity of our life is a current of anger that shows up in our stares, glares, and verbal jabs we throw. The angry person takes private joy in secretly sabotaging the efforts of another. All of this only creates greater isolation and pain.

What does God say about handling loss? Instead of burying our loss and pain, the Bible tells us to carry our loss and pain to the Lord. Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Grieving is a way we can cast our burden on the Lord. The word “grieve” comes from the Latin word grevare, and literally means “to burden” or “to be heavy.” When we grieve, we take our burden, our heaviness to God in prayer. To grieve we share our emotions, feelings, pain, and loss with God. God wants more than our flattery. He wants us to share with him our feelings.

Most of the psalms in the Bible are these kinds of prayers – laments, and complaints. The psalter has been called the “school of prayer.” It’s where we see real prayer modeled. Most of these were written by David, a “man after God’s own heart.”

God wants to do something new in your life. But, for the new to happen we have to process the old. When we cast our burden on the Lord he will sustain us and keep us from falling.


One Great Remedy for the Blues

Feeling_blue.sized_ Are you feeling down? Are you discouraged about your progress toward your new goals and resolutions? Pushing and reaching can wear us down. If we let ourselves we can get really introspective. We stay locked up in our pity party.

One way to revive your joy is to reach out and focus on someone else in need. I experienced this last Saturday, as our church cooked and fed over 90 homeless. I received joy from serving, but from also talking and listening to those we served. I left feeling renewed and revived.

The Bible tells us that we were saved to serve. In Ephesians 2:10 it says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

It’s our goal to have one meaningful church outreach each month in 2014. I want to invite you to take part in our February outreach.

On Saturday, February 15th, from 2 to 3 PM, VC will have a special outreach at the Willow Oaks Assisted Living Center. On Valentines weekend we want to show some love to those living in this community.
We will hand out flowers, smiles, and homemade cards from the kids at VC. We will also sing, have devotions, and a time of prayer. To take part, sign up at the Information Table. Ages 3 are welcome. Children under 12 are to be accompanied by their parent or guardian.


Five Ways to Renew Your Mind

blog-friendship-mind-reading- Everything in life needs to be renewed from time to time. From our favorite shirt and pair of jeans, to the paint in our homes, to our computers that have been on for three months straight, to our physical bodies after a long week of work. Things in life need a reboot, a fresh start. The same is true for our thinking. In time, our thoughts can get worn out, sullied, old, negative, unwholesome, and toxic just from our daily interaction with a broken world.

When is the last time you’ve renewed your mind? I want to give you 5 ways to renew your mind.

1. Write your thoughts down. It’s not as weird as it sounds. Here’s why that’s important. We naturally develop unhealthy ways of thinking. Those unhealthy thought patterns have been there for so long we’re no longer aware of them. Writing down our thoughts takes them from the dark corners of our mind out into the open light. Those hidden thoughts create emotions, feelings, and eventually actions, so it’s important to be aware of them.

2. Ask yourself, “Is it true?” Sometimes our thoughts lie to us. For example, “You’ve always been a failure, and you always will be.” That’s not true, but that thought destroys faith and confidence. I have 5 daughters and occasionally they call each other names. This creates hurt feelings. When our kids come crying, saying they were called this and that, Wendy and I often ask,, “Is it true?” If it’s not true you don’t have to pay attention to it.

3. Pray it through. After you ask, “Is it true?” pray it through. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 Paul writes, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” In prayer we have divine power to pull down unwholesome ways of thinking, so God can build something new and beautiful. We could pray something like, “God, I want to think your thoughts. This old thought is not true. I’m asking you today to renew my mind. I chose to believe what your Word says about me.”

The Bible says we can, “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Our thoughts don’t have to run around like untamed, wild children, ruining the peace of our day. We can take them captive to obey Christ through prayer. As we continue to expose our thoughts to the light, and to God’s divine power in prayer, those old thoughts start to lose their grip.

4. Share your thoughts with a friend. Friends like this are special people. Getting a hidden thought out of your head gives you a chance to get feedback and a different perspective. Ask your friend, “This is what I’m thinking. Does that even make sense?”

5. Meditate on God’s Word. My little son is allergic to a few foods – peanuts, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat. It’s a real pain. We’re praying for his healing. In our house from time to time, stuff will fall off the table. He got into something he wasn’t supposed to the other day, and his lip swelled. Thankfully, we had a bottle of Benadryl handy. In the same way, our minds are allergic to toxic thoughts. They cause an allergic reaction. The medicine we need is God’s Word.

Maybe your asking, “How do I meditate?” If you know how to worry you know how to meditate. When we worry we meditate, but in a negative way. Meditation takes worrying and turns it upside down to break health and peace.

David wrote in Psalm 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”


What Do I Want?

That’s a simple, but powerful question. I think it’s a question worth asking ourselves at the start of a new year.

It’s easy to let our focus shift to what others have. May be you saw a family member pull up in a new car this Christmas and that’s all you’ve thought about. Maybe a friend or family member purchased a new home, or received a nice promotion in 2013. If none of that happened for you it’s easy to compare, to see yourself as coming up short. Focusing on what others have leaves you in a rut.

We can also focus on what others have done or are doing. The actions of others and how they are treating us becomes the central focus of our thoughts. We talk about it with others, email about it, meditate on it. We can easily develop a victim’s mentality without even knowing it – “I’m this way because…”, “If only she…”, “If only he…” Whenever we focus on what others are doing or have done, we give up control of our lives. We stop progressing and send ourselves again to the rut.

Instead of focusing on these things, others and what others have, why not ask yourself this liberating question, “What do I want?” For the Christian the question is, “What do I want God to do for me?” That question will set you free.

Is it even Biblical to ask that question? Jesus asked that question to a blind man in Luke18:41a – “What do you want me to do for you…?” Seems like a silly question, but I think Jesus wanted the blind man to identify his area of need. I think Jesus is asking us that same question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

There are 7 key areas of our life. Let me give them to you.

Relationship with Jesus
Personal Health
Marriage and Family

I encourage you today, before the New Year, to sit down and ask yourself, “What do I want God to do for me in each of those areas? Where do I want to be at this time next year in each area?” Then, write down at least one goal for each.

There is something powerful about writing your goals. Someone said, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when passing over lips and through pencil tips.” Writing brings clarity and focus. In fact, if you haven’t written your goals down they’re just blurry wishes and aspirations. Not only write them down but review and pray through them weekly in 2014.

We can talk so much about what others have we never take the time to discover what we really want. Let’s not be like that in 2014. Today God is asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?”