Spiritual Formation

Soar

This past fall my Men’s Bible Study did a study entitled, Be Strong. It was a great study, unpacking the resources God has put at our disposal in order for us as Christ followers to Be Strong.

In preparing for this series, I wanted to hit on some of the verses where God encourages his people to be strong in the Lord. But specifically, I wanted to unpack Isaiah 40:28-31, as I know that there are times where we are completely exhausted, or in need of hope and we need to remember the promise of Isaiah 40:31,  so we don’t lose heart and give up.

Isaiah 40 marks the beginning of a new section in the book of Isaiah. It is the first chapter which looks beyond the captivity of Israel to the brightness of the future God has in store for the nation of Israel. The Israelite’s are waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise of deliverance. They longed for, and looked forward with hope the completion of His covenant. And in the midst of this anticipated hope, God instructs them to wait upon Him. To believe His Word; to stand upon His promise; to hope in His faithfulness. and to expect good things from His hand.

We all get tired. We all get weary at times. But I am especially comforted by the fact that Isaiah says that even even young men, athletes and soldiers, grow weary and become fatigued. There is a limit to all human endurance. That even the strength, stamina and agility normally associated with youth even proves insufficient. Exhaustion causes them to stumble and in weariness they fall. Even the strongest can only go so far.

But in our weariness, the promise is that we can  soar on wings like eagles. In other words, we can rise effortlessly. If you have watched any film footage of eagles, you know they soar with the greatest of ease. Those who study them, tell us they are masters of wind currents. Eagles do not rise to dizzying heights by constantly flapping their wings. It is not an feat of endurance. Instead they perform this act by depending on a source other than themselves. They ride the wind. They catch the currents. They use thermals.

For eagles, distance or duration is not a problem. Like the Energizer Bunny they go on and on and on and on and on. And this the difference between relying on our own efforts and trusting in the Lord’s strength. The point of this chapter is to encourage us to trust in and count on the strength of God, the power of the Creator, the joy of the Lord.

In the text we are asked, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?” (40:21, 28). These are rhetorical questions aimed at reminding us of the things we have always known about God. He is the all-powerful Creator; He raises and dethrones world rulers; He knows all about every one of us. He knows everything we face. And He cares! As it says in the text, God will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Is. 40:28-29).

The choice is ours. We can flap or we can soar.

Maybe you need these promising words today. You have run the gamut. Your strength is gone or nearly gone. You are stumbling, or maybe you have even fallen. If that’s the case, here’s the instruction. Wait on the Lord. Trust Him. Reach out to Him. Believe. He will renew your strength.

Life is Too Short to Go It Alone

According to a Time magazine report, every 60 seconds on Facebook is packed with a lifetime’s worth of social interactions! For example, in the next 60 seconds, 500,000 comments will be posted on Facebook and 350,000 posts will be liked. In addition, 250,000 messages will be sent, 135,000 photos will be added, and 100,000 statuses will be updated! That’s a lot of information! While I am not convinced that things like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets have helped our sense of connection, it’s not surprising to me that Facebook is now the #1 most visited site on the internet.

You see, as human beings we have an innate desire to connect with one another in meaningful ways, and the reason we have this innate desire to connect with one another is because God created us with this innate need for community! In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image and our likeness.” I don’t know if you ever noticed the plurality of that verse, but in those 10 words, there are three references to God’s very unique nature. The words “us” and the word “our” proclaim the core doctrine of the Trinity, referring to the fact that God himself exists in community. Yes, the creation account provides us with an amazing window into the very nature of God, in whose nature we are created. And since we are created in God’s image, we are therefore created for community!

The need for relationship was part of God’s created order. It wasn’t the result of the fall, as some might believe. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will make a helper suitable for him.” From the very beginning, the creator of the universe realized we could not live on our own, so he made a way for us to connect to others in order to survive.

If you remember the movie, Cast Away with Tom Hanks, his character, Chuck Noland, is stranded on a tropical island, and he had to give up everything he once knew to learn how to survive both physically and emotionally. In order to keep his sanity, he made a make-believe person named Wilson out of a volleyball. During his four years of being stranded on the island, Wilson and Hanks character weather many storms together, but when a big tropical storm comes upon the island and Wilson is blown off to sea, Chuck breaks down emotionally.

Cast Away is a fascinating movie which so accurately displays our need for connection, which has been hard wired into our DNA. But unfortunately, as humans and even as Christ followers, we try to do life alone and we isolate, because of shame, guilt, discouragement, and fear of rejection. Yet God calls us out of the isolation and invites us into community. He gives us an example of what this community looks like in Acts 2:42-47. It’s an amazing ideal of what the church can and needs to look like.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Looking at these verses, it’s clear that if you want to experience life as God intended it, and experience the ideals of our faith in Christ, we need to commit to be with others. There are a lot of things we can do alone in life. We can drive a car, play solitaire, or read a book. But we cannot experience the joy of knowing and being known outside of community, because it’s in community that we will experience all that God has for us. That’s why there is so much instruction in the Bible about how we are to live out our faith with one another. In fact, there are 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament! These Bible passages help us to understand how much emphasis the Scriptures place on our obligation as Christians to love and care for one another in relationship in order to experience the fullness of all God has planned for us.

Life is all about relationships! So, I invite you to get off your electronic devices and connect. Start taking some risks to be vulnerable, and experience the reality that life is better together.

The Danger of Comparison

We do it everyday. Consciously or unconsciously, we size one another up. We measure others by their looks, the type of car they drive, where they live, and by the type of job they have. We use comparison like a measuring stick, assessing our own worthiness based on how many friends we have on Facebook and how many likes we have for our posts on Twitter and Instagram. But the sin of comparison is robbing us of our joy and contentment.

The problem with comparisons is that they lead us to make judgments – toward ourselves and toward others. And comparison also causes us to show partiality toward others or ourselves.

As human beings, we often use conscious or unconscious measuring sticks to try and rank others. But the problem with that is that we are all created in God’s image and likeness. Therefore there are no “better people” or “worse people” – there are only people created in the image and likeness of God.

Comparisons get us into trouble for at least two reasons:

1. They can make us feel better than the person we are comparing ourselves to, leading to pride. Remember the man who thanked God that he wasn’t a sinner? The enemy of our souls loves it when we struggle with pride. After all, it was his downfall.

2. They can make us feel worse than the person we are comparing ourselves to, leading to low self-esteem, which still keeps our focus on ourselves. Although it says in James that God is not a respecter of persons, we do not believe this if we believe God is withholding something from us that is rightfully ours.

In other words, when we compare, we’re essentially telling God that what He created wasn’t good enough. And we miss the opportunity to see the beauty of God in ourselves and in others.

The Bible says satisfaction comes from doing your best, not comparing yourself to others: “Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (Galatians 6:4 LB).  In other words, you can’t focus on your purpose and find contentment while looking at other people.

So here are four ways to stop comparing yourself to others and rediscover your joy and find contentment:

1. Remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Psalm 139:14, the psalmist tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In other words, you are God’s unique creation. If you ever consider yourself unremarkable or even ordinary, you’re not seeing yourself God see you. But when we discover the truth that we are God’s unique design, it is overwhelming and empowering. So when you begin to feel inadequate and feel the temptation to compare, quietly whisper a prayer of thanks to God for making you the way you are.

2. Realize we all have different strengths and weaknesses. 

The reality is that there will always be someone thinner, richer, and better looking than us! No matter how hard we try, someone will always be better at something than we are. So when we start feeling the need to compare, we must recognize our opportunity to practice humility and recognize the beauty of God in His creation. This past week, at a Night of Prayer for our church, the different gifting and talents of our church staff struck me. And I thought about how each of those staff members’ gifts and talents are needed for the church to function well. God in his sovereignty has given us each a set of gifts and talents to accomplish His kingdom purpose.

3. Choose compliments over comparison. 

Instead of being people that compare ourselves to each other, we need to be people who champion each other. So whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to another, why not go right up to that person and compliment them about the very thing you are comparing yourself with. Jealous of someone’s great hair, his or her nice car or beautiful home? Tell them how beautiful you find those things! Instead of comparing your accomplishments to the accomplishments of a coworker, why not send a note congratulating them on their achievement? When we turn our comparisons into opportunities to champion each other, the devil loses and God is glorified.

4. Rely on God’s opinion rather than the opinion of others. 

Truth be known, it’s often our own insecurity that causes us to compare ourselves with others. But what if you and I relied on God’s opinion of us, before we had a chance to listen to our own, or another’s opinion of us? Not only are you and I fearfully and wonderfully made, but Scripture also reminds that those in Christ are loved, forgiven, accepted and complete. That means we must use God’s measuring stick, not our own or that of others to live by.

So when it comes to comparison trap, God asks one thing of you: Be who He created to be!

24 Lessons on Marriage

Today my wife Jennifer and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. That’s 757,382,400 seconds, 12,623,040 minutes, 210,384 hours, 1,252 weeks or 8,766 days of being married to my best friend!

I remember, Saturday, May 15, 1993 like it was yesterday! I remember my groomsmen gathering at Lyon’s for breakfast! I remember my eyes tearing up as my beautiful bride Jennifer walked down the isle. I remember stopping by Kaiser in Vallejo to get a prescription for birth control, before we hopped on a plane for Hawaii the next day. I remember watching the sunset as we ate our first meal as husband and wife at the Moss Beach Distillery. It was the beginning of a spectacular journey that has almost spanned a quarter of a century.

We had no idea what the future held for us on that day. But we said we would love and cherish each other for richer and poorer, in good times and bad; and we knew that as long as we had God and each other, we would have enough. And through all of life’s surprises and challenges, its hard fought lessons and its moments of sweetness, we have stayed true to each other and our vows by God’s grace.

So to honor our many years together, here are 24 lessons I’ve found most valuable in our marriage:

  1. Marriage takes work. You can’t just cruise into idle after the wedding date. Each season, with its challenges and opportunities, is an opportunity to trust God, grow in His likeness and cling to each other.
  2. God is the only One who can fulfill us at every level. It’s unfair to expect my spouse to be my all-in-all. Therefore, it’s important to surround ourselves with other friends, who will encourage us on the journey.
  3. You cannot change each other. And you cannot change yourself either. God is the One who changes and transforms us.
  4. My spouse is my most important ministry. Period.
  5. Love is an action, not an emotion. The greatest and most challenging definition of marital love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
  6. Play together. Participating in an activity or hobby together will bring you closer together. Over the years Jen and I have taken country western dance lessons, played golf together, and watched many of a San Francisco Giants game together! These moments are priceless.
  7. It’s about the simple things. Over the years, some of the best times Jen and I have had are when we simply took a walk on the beach, watched a movie on Netflix, or did the dishes together.
  8. Opposites attract. Remember all those things you loved about your spouse when you were dating? Well those are same things that drive us crazy when we’re married. We simply get attracted to the opposite of us. And I believe it is part of God’s design.
  9. Listen to your wife. Don’t offer advice! Be empathetic and meet emotion with emotion. As it says in Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”
  10. Pray together. Nothing has brought Jennifer and I closer together than praying to God together! We are the closest, when we pursue God together.
  11. Non-sexual touches lead to great intimacy in the bedroom. Perhaps that is too much information here, but it took me awhile to learn this lesson. Men are like microwaves. Women are like crockpots. Understanding each others need in this area will go a long way.
  12. Date your mate. For Jennifer and I, much of our time on date nights are talking about our kid, but it’s important to spend time dating. Do the things you enjoy, without the kids.
  13. Take family vacations. These create treasured memories for your kids. Every year for the last 24 years, minus a year or two, we have taken an annual camping trip to Plumas Eureka State Park! And every year, we spend some time on one of the hikes, recalling God’s faithfulness to our family. The place holds treasured memories for our family. And in doing this each year we’ve created family traditions.
  14. Capture memories! I am the photographer in the family, and over the last 24 years I’ve captured over 25,000 pictures of our family. That’s almost 1,000 per year. But it’s so fun to look back on all the fun we’ve had as a family. In addition, Jennifer has placed pictures in our house in strategic places to remind us of God’s faithfulness to our family.
  15. Children change everything. Adjusting to parenthood is hard but rewarding. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, you enter into a new phase of parenting, which keeps you humble and dependent on Jesus!
  16. Marriage thrives best in community. Being a part of a married small group over the years has brought us great blessing. In fact, it was the prayers of our small group that God honored by giving us the biggest blessing of all, our son Zach, after years of struggling with infertility.
  17. Marriage is not a 50%-50% give and take. It is 100%-100%. The love that we’re supposed to show our spouse every day is unconditional, sacrificial love. This is what Paul states in Ephesians 5:1-2, “be imitators…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
  18. A good marriage takes two good forgivers. It’s important to keep short accounts in marriage and resolve conflict in a productive way that leads to greater intimacy.
  19. Speak words of life. Intimacy is about being fully known and loved. Therefore, we need to learn to express our needs, wants and desires, in order to allow our spouse to understand and respond. Your spouse also needs to hear words of encouragement. They need to know that you appreciate them.
  20. Love your spouse according to their love language. I learned this one early on in our marriage. I was doing all these things around the house to show Jennifer I loved her. Then one day, she called me out, stating I was doing all those things for me. That was the last time I ever did anything around the house and she regrets ever saying that. Seriously, there are 5 Love Languages: 1) time; 2) gifts; 3) service; 4) touch; and 5) words of affirmation. Jennifer’s love language is time! And it’s not quality time; it’s lots of time.
  21. Don’t have a television in your bedroom. This came as advice from the pastor who did our pre-marital counseling. We’ve honored it since; and we’re so glad we did.
  22. Keep a budget. The most important step to achieving financial success in your marriage is to make a budget. Put simply, a budget allows you to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.
  23. Turn off your phone. The simple act of turning off your phone can go a long way toward growing closer. Just put it down & concentrate on being together.
  24. Take time to laugh. Most couples spend the majority of their time talking logistics: who’s doing the grocery shopping, which one is calling the repairman, who’s picking up the kids. A relationship is more than logistics, so have a pillow fight instead!

Live. Love. Thrive.

We were never intended to live our lives apart from God. In fact, it’s impossible to try to live the Christian life apart from Him. God has not called us into a relationship with Himself, only to leave us alone to find our way through the maze of life. Prior to His departure, Jesus promised a Counselor who would guide us into truth and act as our guide and companion. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, not only empowers us to become like Jesus, but he also fills us with a supernatural ability to do great things for God.

In West Texas there is a famous oil field known as the Yates Pool. During the Depression, this field was a sheep ranch, owned by a man named Yates. Not able to make enough money on his ranching operation, Mr. Yates was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family, like many others, had to live on government subsidy.

Then one day, a seismographic crew came into the area and told Mr. Yates that they thought that there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract. At 1,115 feet the well struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. 50 years later, a government test showed that one of the wells still had the potential to produce 125,000 barrels of oil a day.

And to think Mr. Yates owned it all! The day he purchased the land, he received the oil and mineral rights. Yet, he was living on government subsidy. A multi-millionaire, living in poverty! The problem? He did not know the oil was there. He owned it all, but did not possess any of it.

I know of no better illustration of the Holy Spirit than this. As Christians, the moment we receive Christ, we are indwelt (I Corinthians 3:16) and sealed (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) with the Holy Spirit, and as such we have direct access to God’s unlimited power source for strength and victory. But, like Mr. Yates, most Christians continue to live in self-imposed spiritual poverty, because they do not know how to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit, which is already theirs in Christ.

Such was the experience of Peter, who apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, denied Christ three times, but who later under the power of the Spirit, proclaimed Christ boldly. Of course, we know that the Spirit had not yet been given when Peter denied Christ, but clearly Peter’s story shows us the difference the person and work the Holy Spirit can make in our lives. Not many sermons or talks are devoted to the work of the Spirit, but it’s important to understand the Spirit’s work in our lives, so we can experience the promise Jesus made to his followers in Acts 1:8 when we said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In looking at the biblical data concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s roles are numerous. He assures us of our salvation (Romans 8:16); He baptizes us (Acts 1:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:13); He convicts the world in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); He directs us (John 16:13); He empowers us (Acts 1:8); He fills us (Ephesians 5:18); He guarantees our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14); He helps us (John 14:16,17); He indwells us (I Corinthians 3:16); He regenerates us (John 3:5); He seals us (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30); and He teaches us (John 14:26). The regenerating, indwelling, baptism and sealing by the Holy Spirit take place at the moment of salvation. However, the assuring, directing, filling and teaching aspects are ongoing ministries of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.

Because the Holy Spirit is the source of the overflowing life (John 7:37-39), we must live in dependence upon Him, walking moment by moment in His strength and not our own. This is why Paul, in Ephesians 5:18, exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit, means to be controlled and empowered by the Spirit, and the imperative is in the continuous progressive tense, suggesting that one must “continually be being filled.” By appropriating the fullness of the Spirit by faith, one is not only empowered to be Christ’s witness, but also empowered to live life to its fullest (John 10:10).

So, how do you know if you are walking according the Spirit? Check the fruit! As it says in Galatians 5:19-23, The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” If you want your life to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, the solution is simple, walk according to the Spirit. As Romans 8:5 tells us, Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit, have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

If you have been living in spiritual defeat, wondering if there is any validity to the Christian life, there is hope for you! The same power that was available to Christ is also available to you in the person of the Holy Spirit! And Jesus’ promise to us is this, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Remember, if you are in Christ, you do not have to ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life, because He is already indwelling you. But to be filled, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, you simply yield to Him and ask for His fullness and power. It’s the difference of a glass of milk with a bunch of chocolate sitting at the bottom of the glass, and a glass of milk with the chocolate stirred up, so that it looks and tastes like chocolate milk. Both glasses have the same amount of chocolate in them, but one looks no different than a regular glass of milk, while the other is taking on the characteristics of its indwelling force. In the same way, as Christians, we need to allow God to stir us up (fill us), so that others see Christ in us, the hope of glory.

So here’s the point. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of the Spirit’s work is supernatural. The church can’t help but be different. And the world can’t help but notice.

Post written as a contributor for Principles to Live By

Flourish in Relationship

relationshipsGod made us to flourish! And as God’s created handiwork, we are made to flourish with him and with others in relationship. Therefore, in order to become God’s best version of ourselves, we need to be connected with others, specifically seeking to build and cling to these four important relationships in our lives:

God…

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In this passage, Jesus tells us that there is no other relationship of greater importance; there is no aspect of life any more important, than to know and to be in relationship with God. A healthy relationship with the Creator and a willingness to allow God’s Word to guide our actions, activities, and govern how we act towards others will allow us to experience the promise of this verse.

In my life, none of my other relationships work well if my relationship with God is out of whack. I can tell when I have neglected time with Jesus, as I get weary, become less patient and less present with others. And sadly this state of mind rubs off into my relationships with my wife, my son and with those I work with. But as I seek first God’s kingdom, and prioritize my relationship with Him, everything goes much better, as I experience His presence and power!

Friends…

Everybody needs a few close friends they can laugh with, cry with, have fun with, or do life with. And there is such power in connectedness. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us that, “Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together. If one falls down, the other can help him up. But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls, because no one is there to help.”

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about how Belgian horses are trained to work together—and how it made these incredible animals so much more effective. Belgian horses are huge, powerful animals. In fact, one Belgian can pull more than 8,000 pounds. That’s one strong horse! But the amazing thing is that if you put two Belgian horses together, who are strangers, they don’t just double the amount they can pull; they actually triple it to 24,000 pounds. And if you spend some time training them to work together, that unified pair can pull a whopping 32,000 pounds. That’s four times what a single horse can do alone!

That story reminds me that connections are powerful. And just as Solomon reminds us, people need healthy relationships to win at life, too.

Wise Counselors…

Life can present us with challenges and decisions that are not easy to make on our own. We may pray about the situation and read God’s Word for guidance, but could still feel confused and uncertain about the direction we should take. It’s in these times, that it can be helpful to seek the counsel of other wise and godly people.

I believe that everyone needs a mentor in his or her life. To cultivate a relationship with those who have already been where we are or who are a little further along on the journey. A wise counselor is someone in which you can bounce ideas off of, gain wisdom and get perspective from.

Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.” Seeking wise counsel is a sign of maturity and humility and some of the most successful people in life have surrounded themselves with wise counselors.

As a pastor, I have come into contact with many great Christian leaders like Bill Hybels, Phil Vischer, Dave Ramsey, and Rick Warren, and what strikes me about their leadership is that they are always asking questions. In my conversations with these men, they don’t seek to impart with me their wisdom; they seek wisdom by asking lots of questions. And I believe it’s this humility and perspective on life that God blesses.

A Close Confidant…

Finally, I believe we all need a trusted friend who you not only enjoy being with, but who speaks truth into your life and with whom you feel safe enough to be real.

Jesus called twelve guys to do life with him, but within his circle of twelve, he had an inner circle of three comprised of Peter, James, and John. These were his closest friends and confidants. And in following Jesus’ example, we need to circle ourselves with a few people that truly know our story, our struggles, our insecurities and our fears.

It’s these types of friendships that shape who we become and truly affect where we go! Having these sorts of relationships will not only help us run the race that God has called us to, but will also help us to experience joy and encouragement along the way.

Yes, life is all about relationships! So get connected, start taking some risks to be vulnerable and get connected by pursuing these relationships in your life. Until next time…

Post written as a contributor for Principles to Live By

Reflections on Turning 50

football-50Today I turn 50 years old. That’s right, the Big Five-O. Yep, it’s my birthday and I’m thrilled to be given the gift of turning 50. As i embark on this new decade of life, I’m filled with joy, gratitude and wonder. And instead of complaining, or making jokes about being over the hill, I’m celebrating the gift of reaching this milestone day.

These past 50 years have been an amazing ride for Bryan Hardwick, and I have the scars, age spots, wrinkles, gray hair as well as the AARP card to prove it. And at 50, I think I look pretty good and can probably still make your head spin on the dance floor. But, I have to admit, embracing this milestone day has been a journey for me. And as this day has approached, I have truly wondered if my best days are behind me or before me. Yet in recalling God’s faithfulness over these past 50 years, and in understanding God’s character and promises, I have come to embrace that the best days are truly ahead.

In considering the stories of the Bible, I learn that many men of the Bible experienced greater fruitfulness and blessing in their ministry in the second half of their life. Moses and Aaron were chosen to lead the Israelite’s out of Egyptian at the ages of 80 and 83. Joshua was given the charge of leading the conquest of Canaan, during the last thirty years of his life to which he lived to 110. Daniel was well over 80 when he served as one of three governors over the kingdom of Babylon and was thrown into the lion’s den. So until God takes us home, our mission is not done, and each moment is to be treasured until we are called home.

The last 50 years have been great ones…I have an incredible family who I love and who loves me. I have been blessed to spend the last 25 years of my life with this most amazing woman of God who loves me unconditionally and who is an incredible cook and mother to our son Zach. I have an amazing son, who is our miracle from heaven. He’s thriving in his freshman year at Rocklin High School and I am so encouraged by the young man he’s becoming. I have a career that I truly love! Yes, it’s complicated at times, especially over these past couple of years, but it is truly an honor to come alongside others to help them experience God in fresh ways. In addition, I have been blessed by some awesome friends and mentors who have walked through some amazing seasons with me. I could go on and on, but special thanks go out to Dan, Dave, Mike, JP, Todd, Brad and Michael for believing in me and making a difference in my life.

  • Yes, it’s been an amazing 50 years and by God’s grace I have learned to take myself less seriously, worry less, and to accept and even love my imperfections. To embrace that I am perfectly imperfect. That I am flawed, and that I make mistakes. Yep, I bump into walls and I stumble and fall. But I have learned that in embracing my imperfections, I embrace God’s love and grace in my life. And for this recovering perfectionist, this has been one of the greatest gifts I have experienced.
  • So, thank you God for the gift of another year! Today, I own my age and I wear it proudly. I am 50! WooHoo! And I’m praying that this will be the best year ever. I am filled with anticipation of what this next phase of my life will bring and I welcome it all.

Christian Athleticism & The Olympics

An Edited Repost from August 1, 2012

If you are like most American’s r2016_1ight now, you’re probably a little sleep deprived from watching the Olympic coverage! With so many televised options, you can literally watch Olympic coverage 24-hours a day! It’s amazing to see these athletes, some of whom are just teenagers, perform at the highest level of competition! When I was 17, I sure wasn’t preparing to fly to Rio! I was just hoping that I didn’t blow the engine in my 1967 Volkswagen Bug!

What I’m struck by is the sheer amount of perseverance and dedication these Olympic athletes possess. Countless hours of practice, a myriad of sacrifices and an incredible amount of strength & grit got them to the Rio games. While they make it look easy, they put in years of hard work, for a single event that will, at best, last for only a few minutes!

The games teach us the value of self-control, discipline, training and adherence to principle. And these athletes make us shake our heads in disbelief at the strength, skill and determination of which human beings are capable.

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul writes, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (NLT). In considering this verse, I believe that the Apostle Paul knew and understood something that many of us contemporary Christians miss: Success in the Christian life requires training, conditioning and focused effort. There is a spiritual athleticism required. Learning to trust God and live the Christian life requires training, just like gymnastics and swimming.

Watching the Olympics has once again inspired me to give my all for Jesus! After all, lazy Christians, like lazy athletes, don’t win. What’s more, they don’t even have much fun!

Effective Leaders Build Trust

1901ed3The heart of a great relationship is trust. It’s also the first, and most critical piece for building strong teams. Lately I have been giving a lot of consideration to this topic and I have come to the conclusion that trust is empowering. It enables me to be more. It opens me up to grow and learn. It allows me to collaborate, gain feedback and do better work. It allows me to be human. And it allows me to develop significant relationships with others.

However, I have to admit, trusting others is not something that comes natural to me. So I have been giving consideration to the factors that allow trust to flourish within me, and came up with this list of how leaders can build trust with others.

In a nutshell, leaders who build trust with others are…

  1. Vulnerable – As a leader, they model vulnerability. Usually they are the first to “open up” and extend trust to others. As Ken Blanchard says, “vulnerability…engenders trust.” The best leaders are vulnerable, not invincible.
  2. Self-aware – Leaders who establish trust with others pay attention to their words and actions. They don’t commit what they can’t control, make promises they can’t keep, or fail to own their mistakes or shortcomings.
  3. Caring – They operate with a compassionate heart. They see people as individuals, not as someone who helps them look good or serves their agenda.
  4. Encouraging – They bring out the best in others, help them apply and develop their strengths and reach their goals. They speak highly of you in front of others and help provide challenges and opportunities to help you go where you want to go.
  5. Listeners – Leaders who build trust don’t listen so they can talk; they listen so they can learn. By withholding their judgment, being present, and engaging real dialogue, they embrace differences, create openness, and facilitate connection.

I recently had lunch with a leader who modeled all these characteristics and I found it so refreshing. And it inspired me to be a better leader myself. At its simplest, trust is a catalyst for our organizations and businesses to be more: more nimble, more efficient, more effective. It’s like oxygen for a successful team or a thriving relationship and one simply can’t exist without it.

10 Common Mistakes in Developing a Ministry Plan

blue_compass_square-300x300Our church is getting ready to launch a big groups initiative this fall and it’s got me thinking about strategies and goals. Leaders always set out with the best intentions, but if we aren’t careful, we’ll find your best intentions have led us nowhere. So as you make your ministry plans, here are ten common mistakes leaders make in writing ministry plans. Hopefully these will provide you with more clarity and success in getting the most out of the ministry plan process:

  1. Either not reflecting or not including the standards of excellence in your ministry plan. Be specific.
  2. Only putting new programs, activities, and initiatives in your ministry plan and not including or building on existing programs.
  3. Placing goals and initiatives in only one area that definitely has overlap in one or more areas. If it is written in one area and applies to another, make a note of it.
  4. Developing programs, goals, and initiatives that are not measurable or quantifiable.
  5. Programs, goals, and initiatives that are not obtainable. Be realistic and honest. Use what you accomplished last year as a baseline and build from that.
  6. The leadership team of a particular ministry is not involved in the planning process and implementation of the ministry plan. Share your plan with your leaders. Get their buy in.
  7. Seeing the ministry planning process as an administrative task rather than a spiritual process. Pray and listen for God to speak to you and the leaders involved with you.
  8. Thinking that once the ministry plan is finished, it can be set aside rather than used as a fluid document. It should be used with your leaders and adjusted and “tuned up” as you minister through the year.
  9. Looking for ways to “cheat” the process, instead of allowing the process to help your ministry change and get better each year.
  10. Not interacting with your team or supervisor. They are a resource for you when you have problems or questions in the ministry planning process.
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