It’s been well said that hope never goes out of style. Who doesn’t need hope? I’ll bet you wonder about that at times. Because all of us sure need it.

You even wonder what it would be like to not need hope.

While all may need hope, some are in desperate need of it.

What’s the difference?

You desperately need hope when you feel…

Helpless. You don’t have the answers or the resources to alleviate your current pain.

Overwhelmed. You feel like you are drowning in debt, emotional pain, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Paralyzed. How many times have you sat and thought for hours only to realize that you have not accomplished anything? Pain affects our productivity.

Exhausted. You are at the end of your rope and you know it.

You are not alone. In my next post I want to share a story from the Old Testament where we will meet a woman who was in need of hope. Her pain was about to do her in. She wondered if life would ever change.

It did.

spiritual growthLet’s face it. We all get busy. Too busy. It’s been a while since I wrote my last post. Life has been a little hectic as Carol and I are building our fourth house. And I have finally moved my study into the basement even though it is unfinished. The house is nowhere near complete. But I needed to use my extra time to get the house under roof.

At any rate, I have been busy just like you. Which means that just like you I would like to be able to find simpler ways to do things.

My guess is most believers could not readily identify their spiritual growth plan. While the 7 steps I am offering are not a complete list, this is like Personal Spiritual Growth 101.

But let’s move on to the 7 steps.

  1. Bible reading. With so many plans and ideas available, you should be able to find one you like. What I like may be vastly different from what you like. However, you could simply start by reading two chapters a day from the New Testament.
  2. Prayer. I suggest you start with just 15 minutes a day. Yes, that sounds like a lot. But a very helpful way to pray is use the acrostic, ACTS. A is for adoration, C is for confession, T is for thanksgiving, and S is for supplications or specific requests.
  3. Journal. You may not want to write down your thoughts or prayers every day, but you could journal once a week. Trust me, years later you will enjoy reading what you wrote.
  4. Exercise. Yes, this needs to be a part of your spiritual growth. Your physical fitness will impact your spiritual growth.
  5. Study. This goes beyond reading to observation, interpretation, and ultimately application because we want to DO what the Bible teaches. Perhaps you can study with someone else over a cup of coffee or in a small group. If that’s not possible right now you can also study alone with some good Bible study books. Some authors to check out may be John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, or Kay Arthur.
  6. Fast. Most have never tried fasting. I assure you it will make a difference in your life. You could simply make it a habit to fast at the beginning of every year. The point is you make this a part of your spiritual growth plan.
  7. Read good books. Start with shorter books as most never finish books that are longer than 250 pages. Plus you will feel a sense of accomplishment after you finish your first book. There are many to chose from. Start with a topic or book of the Bible that interests you.

That’s it. Not complicated. But you do have to start.

Why not start today?

FootballPlayerEatsLunchAutisticBoyRecently a compelling story and its photo went viral.  Apparently, an autistic boy just started middle school as a sixth grader. In case you have forgotten middle school, students can be downright cruel. So this boy found himself eating alone during lunch.

While the rest of the students were all wrapped up in themselves, eating with their friends, a Florida State University football player named Travis Rudolph entered the lunchroom and looked around.

When he noticed the boy eating alone he grabbed some lunch and went over and ate with the boy. We can all imagine what kind of impact this one compassionate act had on the boy, and his mother has posted publicly about the tremendous impact it had on her.  Being sensitive to the less fortunate is an undervalued value in our society.

Actually this should be more widespread among Christ-followers. Romans chapter 14 talks about being sensitive to those who are weaker (in the faith specifically, but the application goes far wider).  But for most of us, this is an overlooked aspect of worship.

The apostle Paul added that this is an excellent way to engage in an act of worship. “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (verse 18 ESV). The word for serve is the word for worship in the New Testament.

In other words, you honor God and participate in worship when you care about the less fortunate. Perhaps because it reflects on the nature of God, Who is described as merciful and gracious.

You may find similar opportunities to worship at work. Recently my son, Gabe, who works in produce at Harris Teeter, had such an opportunity. A man came in wanting some fruit cut up a particular way. Come to find out his wife had cancer, and he needed the fruit to take back to her hospital room. Gabe spent a few minutes talking to this man, relating how cancer had also stricken his aunts.  Then he went into the back and brought out the fruit cut just the way the guy wanted.

My son did not think at the time that that was an act of worship, but it was.

You may have a similar opportunity at work. The question is, “Will you worship at work?”

clock-people-pixabay

There are two things about human nature that are universal. We want any pain to cease immediately. And if we do something right, we want to be rewarded immediately

After all, that’s how we train our animals. Do this and there is immediate gratification.

In our dogs’ case, that equals food, pleasure.

When it comes to our piety, our faith & devotion, we tend to feel as if we should get some kind of hall pass on pain. After all, doesn’t God want us to be happy? I want my pets to be happy. But then I’m not trying to build character into my dogs.

Can you imagine a world in which God rewarded piety immediately? Sports would be non-existent. Because you can’t have two winners at the end of a game. What if both teams held a Bible study and prayed before a game? God would be in a pickle.

Ultimately we would become selfish and slaves to all of our prurient interests.

But it’s still a hard concept to shake. When God sets out to be build character in us, He includes suffering.

To be clear there is nothing wrong with asking God to remove the pain in your life. And we should expect God to bless our spirituality. That is pretty much the theme of Proverbs.

Let’s just not put God on a timetable. Perhaps a better solution is to make Proverbs 3:5-6 a daily reality:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths (ESV).

  

Let’s trust God to decide when it’s time to reward our piety.

others-pixabayLet’s be honest. We all need someone in our lives who believes in us. Actually it could make all the difference.

John Lynch is a former NFL football player. But let’s start at the beginning of his story.  Lynch went to Stanford University to play football as a quarterback. However, he never made it onto the field for the first two years.

After his sophomore year the coach suggested that he move to free safety, a position on the defense. But still he rarely played. He got on the field only about thirty percent of the time.

Since he was also gifted at baseball, Lynch decided to go pro and signed a contract with a professional baseball team, the Florida Marlins.

This happened at the same time Stanford got a new football coach, Bill Walsh.

Coach Walsh got wind of his decision to leave and called him into the office. Walsh had just spent hours reviewing the team’s game films and was convinced that Lynch was the best defensive player Stanford had.  That day Walsh persuaded Lynch to stick with football.

As they say, “the rest is history.” Lynch went on to play in the NFL and become a star player for many years. Of course, that doesn’t mean his path to stardom was easy.

In his second year in the pros he did not even know if he would make the team.

Once again, a new coach arrived in town and saw his potential.

John Lynch repeatedly discovered the power of others.  His rise to fame may never have happened without the influence of others, particularly those 2 coaches.

In the Bible it’s rather amazing that one day Jesus looked at a fisherman named Peter and saw incredible potential. And then He invited Peter to join His team. He became one of the 12 disciples, wrote 1 & 2 Peter, and became one of the pillars of the early church.

Later the apostle Paul met a young man, Timothy, and invited him along to participate in the ministry.  Timothy became Paul’s ministry assistant and the pastor of the church at Ephesus.

Sometimes we simply need the right people around us.  People who see potential in us and believe in us.

You can’t always control who is in your life, but you can pray that God would send the right people into your life.

So that you too can experience the power of others!

 

Man Sleeping

Sleep is a funny thing. We all need it. Yet many love to talk about how little they need. It’s as if you win some sort of medal for needing so little. Sort of like being busy. No one wants to admit a lack of busyness.

Somehow needing as little as five hours of sleep a night raises one’s value.

Or does it?

Growing up I was not allowed to sleep in. It was a huge sin to sleep until 7am. Fortunately for me I was always an early riser. Add in working in construction since the age of 16 and I was up at 4:30 or 5.  That just meant I had to go to bed earlier. As I age I still love to get up early, but I still need a good night’s sleep.

Yet the stigma of needing 7, 8, or even 9 hours of sleep still exists. Perhaps it’s time to shed that line of thinking.

Great athletes like Tom Brady goes to bed regularly at 9pm. Now stop and think about that. Sounds a little extreme. Yet Brady who has attained the highest level of an NFL quarterback wants to play as long as possible. His health routines are legendary. And today at the age of 39 he is arguably playing his best football ever. That is unheard of.

While his sleep routine is not the only part of what he does, it is an important component. One that many of us routinely overlook and devalue.

Jesus also valued sleep. His disciples even found him taking a nap in the bottom of a boat during a huge storm. You must admit, storms are very conducive to sleep!

The bottom line is we are all different. Most of us will need anywhere from 6-9 hours of sleep.

Sleep matters. It affects your productivity. And you can tell. Even if you wouldn’t admit it.

Are you getting enough sleep?

How do you feel during the day?

Maybe it’s time to get a good night’s sleep. And not feel guilty, but better!

dunking a basketball

Anyone who has ever played basketball has dreamed of dunking the ball.

But for people like me, who tend to suffer from height challenges along with reduced jumping abilities, it’s out of reach. The basket, that is. But I can jump high enough to touch the bottom of the net. Granted, that’s over a foot away from the rim. And you can’t just touch the rim, you must be able to elevate above the rim.  That’s beyond me.

So I was pretty impressed when I ran across a video of a guy who is only 5’2” dunking the basketball. That is unheard of. It’s rather incredible, really. Most people at that height would assume it was impossible.  Maybe not even try.  Obviously this guy went above and beyond expectations.  It would be so easy to be like everyone else.  To assume it couldn’t be done.  But he didn’t sell himself short, and now he amazes everyone who sees him at his game.

Let’s move outside the arena of basketball. In fact, let’s go back to a guy named Moses.

I bet you have heard of him. Did you know that he almost sold himself short? Thankfully God stepped in and made him go for it.

It all started when God showed up one day and asked Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. Most would have jumped at the opportunity. Not Moses.

He balked. Big time!

Moses’ first response was to fall back on what others thought about him.  At least his perception of it.

First, he was a “nobody.” Because of that he didn’t think anyone would listen to him or follow his leadership. He had no credentials.

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” Exodus 4:1 (ESV)

And there was more to his insecurity issues.  Apparently he didn’t have the gift of public speaking. And since leaders have to speak on occasion, he was convinced he was the wrong guy. So he “said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Exodus 4:10 (ESV) 

And then he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Exodus 4:13 (ESV)

Now stop and think about it for a moment. You have heard of Moses because he eventually relented and did what he thought he could not do.

He did what he was not qualified to do.

He did what he thought someone else could have done better.

Thankfully Moses trusted God to use him. But what if God had allowed Moses to sell himself short? Many today consider Moses to be the greatest leader in the Old Testament.

I often wonder what Moses thought about when he went to bed at night.

Did he ever think, “I almost sold myself short.”

Perhaps a good question to ask is “Where am I selling myself short.” Maybe it’s time to go out and try to dunk that basketball.

CheckmateAs another football season is about to begin, training camps are opening up.

However, there is one star Running Back who will not be in camp.

In 2014 Ray Rice was caught on video punching his wife–fiancee at the time–in an elevator. As the video went viral, the Baltimore Ravens were essentially forced to cut him from the team. Also, because of the despicable act the NFL also banned him for a period of time. Now that the ban is over, teams are not that likely to reinstate him.

All because of one foolish act.

One. Foolish. Act.

For Ray Rice it cost him millions of dollars. Let that sink in. Millions. That is costly.

And to some degree we have all paid a price for a particular act. Usually they are small things, like sleeping through our alarm one morning or eating too much during the holidays or even getting a speeding ticket.

But what about the more serious “foolish acts”?

Things that impact your entire life and derail you from the path you had planned to take.   Some things can even destroy your dreams.

I’ve witnessed the fallout of a happy marriage when a one-night stand destroyed it all.  Or what about the single Tweet that cost a young college-grad her job before it even started.  Or the person who didn’t get a promotion because of something posted on Facebook.

Many will have to watch their hopes and dreams crumble because of one foolish act. Sad.  Ray Rice is one of them.

Did you know the Bible tells about a person who could only look at his dream from a distance?  It was Moses.

In Deuteronomy 34:4 it says, “And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”

Why?  Because of one foolish act during Moses’ time leading Israel to the Promised Land. Water was scarce and the people were complaining. If you are a parent and have ever traveled a long distance with your kids, perhaps you can relate a little.

At any rate Moses was human and lost his patience. In fact, he got angry. However, despite the circumstances Moses still needed to obey the LORD.

And the LORD had told Moses to speak to the rock.

But that’s not what happened.  “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”  (Numbers:20:10-11 ESV).

While it may seem like a small thing to hit the rock rather than speak to the rock, it was still an act of rebellion. Plus when you look more closely it appears to the people that Moses was the provider of water. After all, he is the one who hit the rock.

Had he spoken to the rock and water came out it would have been obvious that the LORD was the provider.

Because Moses that day, in a moment of anger, acted rashly and brought attention and honor to himself, he had to suffer the consequences.  God took it seriously, and that one foolish act proved to be very costly.

So stay alert in your decisions and your actions. Be aware of oncoming temptations. Don’t be sidelined by one foolish act.