Have You Asked Yourself These 3 Questions?

I had only been serving at Bell Shoals for a couple of weeks when Gary Payne, our current Executive Pastor, came into my office. He checked in to see how Rachel and I were adjusting to the constant state of sweat we now found ourselves in as new Floridians. We chatted about ministry for a while. And then he shared an illustration that hasn’t left me since that day. Here’s basically what he said:

“Have you ever been to the mall? Unless you visit often, you don’t always remember exactly where every store is located. So what do you do? You find the nearest map. And that map shows you a layout of every store in the mall. You find the store you want to go to and head for it. Right? No. After finding the store, you have to find a star that says, “You are here.” Then you see how you are going to get from where you are to where you want to go. Effectively leading your ministry requires you to ask three questions: Where are you now? Where are you going? How will you get there?”

Now Gary intended this illustration to guide me in leading my ministry. And it has. It’s an excellent exercise I regularly go through. But I don’t only use it for ministry. I’ve used it in many other areas of my life. You can too. Let’s break it down a bit.

Where Are You Now? Evaluation.

Maybe you are in the ideal place right now. But for most, there is some area of our lives that we would love to do better. The difficulty is that we love to make ourselves feel good about where we are. We’re good at justifying. We don’t want to admit we may be deficient because to do so we would have to own it and take some level of responsibility. And that’s hard. That hurts. Whether or not your current circumstances are outside of your control is irrelevant. There is something you and I could do to make it better. To start we have to get real. Get honest. Stop the excuses. Stop blaming others.

We will never get to the ideal place we desire if we aren’t honest about where we currently are. Because denial is an impediment to growth. So let’s get real. And get specific. It’s what’s best.

Maybe one or more of these is you:

-I’m 30 pounds overweight.

-I’m hanging out with the wrong crowd.

-I rarely if ever exercise or strive to eat healthier.

-I’m not currently on a budget.

-I struggle with watching porn.

-I don’t give regularly to the church.

-My ministry has lost 3 volunteers and 30 members in the last 6 months.

-I can’t remember the last time I prayed, read the Bible or went to church.

-I have very little satisfaction at my job.

-I’ve only spent 3 quality days with my family in the last 3 months.

-God has gifted me to___________.

Where Are You Going? Vision.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years? If you could do or be something and not fail, what would you go for? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? What picture of the future would you like to see come to fruition in your life? What do you dream about becoming reality? These questions get at what milestones you want to accomplish. And once you have them, you have a preferred future to strive for. Here are some examples:

-I will one day be the leader of an organization.

-We will be the most accepting ministry environment anyone ever enters.

-I will run a marathon this year.

-I want to never look at porn again.

-I want to write a book.

-I will spend 1 day a week focused exclusively on my family.

-I will live by a financial budget and seek to raise my level of giving.

-I will tangibly serve others and lead my family to do so.

-I passionately love God and allow him to lead me in every area of my life.

-Our ministry will raise $100,000 to help feed impoverished children in our city.

How Will You Get There? Strategy.

Lots of people live their life without a plan. They think they will eventually end up where they need to be. Not true. People end up at less than ideal destinations every day wondering what happened. This is really the most important of the three steps. Without it you will be a miserable dreamer always wondering “why.” Develop a strategy that will take you from where you are to where you want to be. It’s going to consist of a lot of “start doings” and “stop doings.” It also requires discipline. So if you’re serious, then commit for the long-haul. It’s a journey.

-Throw away the junk food in your pantry. And go shopping for healthier options. Commit to only bringing healthy options into your home.

-Get new friends.

-Set your alarm earlier so you can exercise and spend time with God.

-Find someone who understands finances and can help you accomplish your goals. Create a budget and stick to it.

-If your current job is a bad fit, start looking for one that allows you to thrive.

-Upload software on your computer to prevent you from looking at porn.

-Go to college or pursue some other form of education.

-Regularly read and study business or ministry leaders to help you work towards your vision.

-Write out your plan, then tell someone and have them hold you accountable to it.

I may not know you or your story. But I do know that the people who made it to where they wanted to be didn’t accidentally arrive there. They evaluated where they were. Had a vision of where they wanted to go. And developed a strategy to get them there. You can too. Just remember the map at the mall.

What Is Your Boat?

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One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:1-11

This story is incredible. It’s one of my favorites in all of the Bible. Jesus “one ups” some fishermen by completely astonishing them with his fishing skills. They clearly see who they are when compared to him. Their lives are changed. And they leave everything to follow him.

Until last week I’d overlooked the significance of one crucial detail in this story: the fishermen had a boat.

Now maybe you’d say “duh,” but think about it.

This boat represented their way of life…

…their most prized possession…

…their income…

…their identity…

…their security.

This boat was everything to them.

But after meeting Jesus, they were willing to leave their boat behind.

How?

Why?

They saw Jesus clearly. And they realized he was of more value than their boat.

We all have a boat of some sort.

There is something that you and I find our identity and security in other than Jesus.

There is something that we treasure more than him.

There is something that we fear losing more than anything else.

And what Jesus desperately wants for us to do is invite him into our boat. Just like the fishermen did. And let him take over.

When we do, we will find a sustained fulfillment that cannot be found elsewhere.

We will see ourselves rightly in comparison to him.

We will discover someone who is way better than that something else we’ve been holding on to.

So what is it for you?

What is your boat?

Last week I taught this to our students at Bell Shoals. You can listen to the whole message below, or fast forward to around 25 minutes as I zero in on what our “boats” might be.

https://thepointstudent.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/matt-hill-114-missional/

Pic Credit HERE

You’ve Already Failed Your Resolution…So What?!

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So it’s been 14 days. 14 days since you or somebody you know made a New Year’s resolution.

How’s that going?

Research shows that it’s likely not going very well. One particular study suggests that only 71% of people have kept their resolutions to this point. That means 29% of resolution-makers have already messed up in just 2 short weeks.

Ouch.

What’s worse is that the same study found that out of the 71% that make it two weeks, only 8% of those people end up achieving their resolutions.

8%.

So basically, there is a 92% likelihood that you are going to fail your New Year’s resolution if you haven’t already.

Ugh.

Depressed yet?

Well, don’t be.

Refuse to be.

Forget about that New Year’s resolution. That was so 2 weeks ago.

Instead, think of today as your January 14th Resolution.

Today, you can start over.

Today, you can commit to the change you intended for January 1st.

Today, failure doesn’t have to have the final say in your year.

Resetting your life for the New Year is nice. It even makes sense. It feels right. But for some reason, we have bought into the idea that once we fail at our resolution it’s over for that year. We become paralyzed in the state we started in and stop pursuing the change we desired. Maybe your resolution was to exercise 5 days per week. It’s been two weeks, and you haven’t exercised once. You have 2 options: 1) the “maybe next year I’ll exercise and lose weight…didn’t do it this year…already failed my resolution…oh well” perspective, or 2) the “I’ve messed up so far, but today I can start over” perspective.

It’s the difference between perfection and persistence.

Perfection focuses on never messing up. When it happens, the resolution is abandoned.

Persistence focuses on continuing even though messing up is inevitable.

Nobody expects perfection out of you. It’s impossible. Even the 8% that “achieve” their resolutions do so imperfectly.

What matters is being persistent in pursuing the resolution you’ve made. And when you do, you will eventually see the results. Maybe not right away. Maybe it will take longer than you’d liked. But it will happen. You may have to start again a few more times down the road after failing along the way. That’s okay. But don’t quit just because it didn’t go well since the New Year.

So what resolution do you have for yourself? What change would you like to see in your life right now?
Is it exercising? Losing weight? Reading books? Better grades in school? Spending more time with your family? Something related to your finances?

I don’t know about you, but I always try and make some sort of resolution regarding my relationship with God. For me that relationship is the foundation for my life and influences everything I’m a part of. Thankfully, God is NOT a God of second chances. He is a God of grace – the God of unlimited chances. No matter how many times I fail, He meets me where I am and lets me start over. He is the same towards you. He unconditionally loves you and desires a relationship with you. This year give it a try. Pursue a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You won’t regret it.

If you want to increase your chances of success at your resolutions, there are some practical things you can do.
-Write them down.
-Ask someone to hold you accountable to them.
-Have a plan of action steps.
-Make sure they are S.M.A.R.T – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.

But if it’s a resolution that takes any amount of effort (and the most meaningful ones do) you won’t be perfect. You will mess up somehow. And when you do, you can quit, or start over.

It’s okay if you’ve already failed.

You’re not alone.

Don’t wait until next year to restart.

Begin your resolution today.

Make a January 14th resolution!

Dan Diamond, “Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions. Here’s How They Do It,” Forbes, January 1, 2013. Read here.

7 Things God Has Used To Grow My Faith

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The past two weeks I wrote about how you can grow in your personal relationship with God. I focused exclusively on having a “quiet time” and shared how that has been the single greatest factor in my spiritual growth. It’s what I tell students to focus on as well. Nothing will grow their faith as much as personally owning it on a daily basis through getting alone with God.

While I believe this wholeheartedly, after I finished those posts it got me thinking. What else grows our faith?

What else has been pivotal in growing mine? Because even if having a quiet time is the foundation, there have to be other things that have helped, right?

Yes.

In the same way lifting weights is foundational for muscle growth, doing that alone won’t give you maximum results. There are other factors that contribute to it happening. Good genes, right diet, drinking enough fluids, rest between workouts, proper sleep, etc.

So what are some of those other factors for growing your faith? Here are 7 things God has used, and continues to use, to grow mine.

 1)      Daily Quiet Time.

This is relationally connecting with God through prayer and reading the Bible. Last week I did a whole post devoted to this called “Have a Quiet Time.” You can check it out here.

2)      Relationships.

We were not created to be alone. We were created for relationship. If we are going to grow in our faith we must be in relationship with others because God often speaks in and through them.

Other than having Christian friends, two other strategic relationships have grown my faith tremendously.

Small Group: Gathering together with a small group of people allows for accountability, encouragement and conversation about faith.

Mentor: Finding someone who has been following Jesus longer than you to pour into you makes a major impact on your faith. I currently have a couple of people I consider mentors that I regularly talk and meet with. I’m so thankful for their influence in my life!

3)      Church worship services.

There is something special about coming together with a large group of people to worship through music and learn about how to follow Jesus through teaching. When everyone stands to sing truths about God, that collective “song” is a reminder of the faith you have. And when the pastor brings a message from the Bible, your faith is engaged. Find a church with practical teaching that focuses on Jesus in all it does.

4)      Application, application, application!

Learning a whole lot of stuff is great. But if you do nothing with it, it’s just knowledge that makes you spiritually fat. Growth comes when you apply what you’ve learned. If you don’t, you are deceiving yourself into thinking you are doing okay. (James 1:22) Take what you learn and put it into practice. You’ll always know more than you do, but working to shrink that gap has been pivotal for my faith.

5)      Serving others.

I heard it said a while back that we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving. And it’s so true. More than that, it grows your faith. I’ve experienced some of my greatest times of growth through serving others on mission trips, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, serving in a nursery at church, feeding people at a homeless shelter, etc.

Also, serving in the way God has gifted me has been an even greater catalyst for my faith. God has gifted each of us in unique ways to serve others. Have you ever taken the time to figure out your gifting and served in that way?

6)      Reading and Listening.

I regularly read books and blogs and listen to sermons and podcasts of influential people. By doing this it allows for other people to speak into my life and help me grow in my faith. I may never meet them. I may disagree with them on certain points. But it stretches my faith and challenges me with a real-life example to follow.

7)      Sharing with Others.

If you want to remember something you’ve been trying to learn, teach it to someone else. The preparation and delivery solidifies it inside of you. It’s the same way with your faith. Since I teach publicly on a weekly basis on matters of faith this is an easy one that God has used. But there are two other ways I can share that grow my faith. I can share with others  what God is teaching me and I can share the gospel with non-believers. When you share the gospel with someone it increases your trust in God and reminds you of what it is you believe.

I’m sure there are more things, but these are the 7 that are most obvious to me that God has used to grow my faith.

What are some other things God has used to grow your faith?

PIC credit here

Have a Quiet Time

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Last week I wrote a post titled “The Reason You May Be Struggling to Believe in God.” While there are lots of reasons people struggle, the reason I talked through was this: most people haven’t tried a relationship with him. I went on to show how a relationship with God can come before belief and can actually be what helps many to believe in him. And then I clarified that’s it’s not just a “whenever I feel like it” relationship, but a personal, daily one. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post you can check it out HERE.

At the end of the last post I asked the obvious question: “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” I’ve heard from many people who said last week’s post was encouraging and challenging and were looking forward to today’s post. So let’s jump in.

You can have a personal, daily relationship with God by following Jesus’ example in Mark 1:35. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Now I just lost many of you with the “very early in the morning” part. But stay with me. Before Jesus started his day he personally connected with God, his heavenly father. It wasn’t something done with a large group of people. It wasn’t something he did in public for everyone to see. It was just a designated time for him and God to relationally connect through prayer. You could say he had a “quiet time.”

Several years ago I was taught to have a quiet time each day. I was told that more than anything else in my life a quiet time would grow my faith the most. I was told it would be a tool to having a personal, daily relationship with God. And it has been.

So how can you have one? It’s not complicated. It’s quite simple actually. And there are many different ways to have one. But what I wanted to do is give you a way so that you could begin having a quiet time if you don’t already.

What You Need

Place. Find a place where you can be uninterrupted for a period of time. It should be familiar to you and somewhere where you can stay awake and engage with God. Laying down in your bed is probably a bad idea. For me, it’s my study at my house.

Time. For Jesus, that was first thing in the morning. That’s what I do and prefer. By doing it first thing, it shapes my perspective on the day and allows me to pray for what is ahead of me. It also ensures that I do it. I know for me, it would be easy to forget or be distracted from having a quiet time daily if it wasn’t first thing in the morning. You may have another time of day that works better. Maybe you are more alert in the afternoon and have a break where you could work it in. Try that. The time of day isn’t as important as having some time during the day. Also, the length of time will vary. For some people they spend 15 minutes and for others they spend an hour. Again, the length isn’t as important as devoting some period of time each day.

Readable Bible in print. You shouldn’t have trouble understanding what’s being said. If you are, try a different version. That might mean moving away from the KJV. Versions that I use are the NLT, NIV and ESV. It should also probably be a physical Bible in print. I have a Bible App on my iPhone and iPad and love it. But when I do my quiet time, I use a physical copy of the Bible so I don’t get distracted by notifications popping up, texts, phone calls, etc.

– Notebook and Pen.

What You Do: One Example of a Quiet Time to Try

Pray: Say a short prayer asking God to speak to you through his Word. I regularly pray through Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That reminds me of my daily need to connect with God and hear from him.

Read: Pick a passage of Scripture to read through. It can be 5 verses, a paragraph, a chapter, or more. If you’re just starting out, try reading where the chapters are divided with headers in each chapter. In the past I’ve gone through one chapter of Proverbs each day that corresponds to the day of the month. I recently read through Jeremiah and now I’m going through Matthew one chapter at a time. Whatever passage you choose read through it slowly, at least once, trying to digest what is being said.

Write: Now, try and boil down 1 main idea from the passage you just read and write it down. If it’s a longer passage there may be more than 1 thing you write. Then, I try and answer a couple more questions:
-What does this passage show me about myself?
-What does this passage show me about God?
-What does this passage tell me to do? / How can I apply what I’ve learned?

Pray: Now you are ready to pray. In the book, “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” a very helpful prayer guide is given for your quiet time. It models Jesus’ teaching on how to pray in Matthew 6:5-14. Here it is:

-Praise. Start by thanking God for who he is and what he has done for you in your life. Take time to specifically acknowledge how he has provided for you. Tell him why and what you are most thankful for. Express your love for him.

-Repent. To “repent” means to agree with God that what you have done that he says is sinful is so, to be remorseful for it, and to ask him for help turning away from it. Take time to repent for specific sins that God brings to your mind.

-Ask. Ask God to answer personal prayer requests you have. They can be for you, friends, family, others you don’t know, situations you believe God should step into, etc. Writing these down helps you to remember who you’ve prayed for and helps you look back and see the prayers God has answered.

Yield. Acknowledge that God is God and you are not. That you want his will to be done on this earth. Commit to trusting in him for the prayers you have offered, the sins you need to avoid, and for providing for you. Ask that he will help you to obey what it is he has revealed to you today through your quiet time. Finish with thanking him again.

So how can you have a personal, daily relationship with God? Have a quiet time. It will be a game-changer for your faith. And you will begin to connect with the God of the universe, your heavenly father, like never before.

I’m not perfect. I miss days having a quiet time. And on those days, I miss out on what God wants for my life. So what do you say? Give it a try. What do you have to lose? And what might you gain?

Pic Credit HERE

Grace and Tacos

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Several months ago I went out to lunch with a friend of mine to a tasty Mexican restaurant.
As we sat there talking and eating chips and salsa I had the thought that I should pay for his lunch. He had enough money to buy his own and he wasn’t expecting me to buy his, but I’ve had my lunch bought dozens of times by others and I wanted to “pay it forward.” So I decided I would buy, but I didn’t tell him. When the checks came at the end of lunch I was going to just pick up both checks and pay. You know, the smooth way.

Shortly after deciding I was going to buy, the waitress came to take our orders. I ordered some cheap lunch special. But my friend didn’t. He ordered one of the most expensive combination platters on the entire menu. Then I went in to “have-a-conversation-with-yourself-mode.”

It went something like this:

“I can’t believe it! Here I was about to be nice and generous to this guy and he goes and orders that!? Oh well. He can kiss his free lunch goodbye. I can’t pay for his now. It’s going to cost me way more than I had planned on spending. Good thing I never told him I was paying. He can just pay this time. Maybe next time I’ll buy his if he stays within a reasonable price range.”

After having the very normal, silent conversation with myself I immediately had a new thought—“I don’t like myself right now.”

Why?

Because my heart had just been fully exposed.

In that moment I was full of pride.

In that moment I was extremely selfish.

In that moment I loved my money more than my friend.

While pride, selfishness and greed are enough to make you feel bad about yourself, I realized there was a deeper issue.

In that moment I had forgotten grace.

Grace.

It’s at the center of the heart of God. It’s what separates Christianity from all other world religions. It’s beautiful to those who need it and offensive to those who don’t. It exposes the self-righteous and makes them mad. It’s living water to the broken sinner and makes them glad.

When we make a mistake in life we want it. It’s so easy to receive.
But when others make a mistake we don’t want to give it. It’s difficult to give away.

Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. It’s unearned by the one receiving it. And unconditional by the one giving it.

Jesus is the embodiment of grace. “While we all were still sinners He died for us.” Jesus didn’t wait to see how much we were going to sin and then decide if he would pay for it. He knew how much it was going to cost him and didn’t turn away. Even though we didn’t deserve it, he died in our place. That’s true love. That’s grace.

Maybe more than anything else, followers of Jesus should be known for showing people grace because we ourselves have been shown an immeasurable amount of it.

Currently I have a losing record showing it. I struggle at it. But I want to get better. I have a feeling you do too.

So the next time you’re cut off in line.

The next time somebody says something to hurt you.

The next time a waitress gets your order wrong.

Or the next time you have an opportunity to buy someone’s lunch…show grace.

And when you struggle to show it, remind yourself again of the immeasurable grace Jesus has shown you. And then show grace again. And again. And again.

It’s going to cost you. (Maybe even the price of a couple tacos).

And the other person won’t deserve it.

But that’s just fine.

That’s what grace is all about.

Do you struggle showing people grace?

Pic credit Here

You Don’t Know It All…And That’s Okay

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The older I get the more I realize I don’t know it all.

When I was younger, I thought I knew it all in at least a couple of topics. You did too (or do too) I’m sure. But then I went to college. And then to grad school. And then I moved from North Carolina to Florida. I met new people. I read more books. I used Google. And each day I realize more and more how little I know. But I also know more now than I’ve ever known before. How can both be true? Because the saying that your grandparents told you isn’t a lie: “The more you know the more you realize you don’t know.”

It’s a bit overwhelming, but it shouldn’t crush you or me. It should cause us to be humble in admitting we don’t know it all and hungry in pursuing what we want to know. Unfortunately the opposite often happens. We live like we know it all. We become arrogant and full of ourselves with what little bit we do know. We stop learning. We stop growing. And we start projecting an image of ourselves to others that is less than appealing.

Leaders struggle with this maybe more than anybody else. We think admitting we don’t know it all isn’t okay. We think it might show that we don’t know anything “at all.” We think it shows weakness. We think that people will trust us more when we act like we have all the answers and no questions. But in fact, the opposite is true. People follow leaders they can identify with. Those that are transparent enough to admit they don’t know it all attract followers. This doesn’t mean we as leaders can’t be confident in lots of truths. We can. And there is LOTS to be sure of. But it does mean that when we don’t know, it’s okay. And maybe we should let people know that. It humanizes us.

So how can you and I fight against thinking we know it all?

We have to be intentional about learning. And not just learning something new every once and a while. We have to commit to being life-long learners. When you learn something new, whether you realize it or not, you’re admitting you just gained something you didn’t have before. You realize that in fact you didn’t “know it all.”

Leaders cannot take people further than where they’ve been. And if you aren’t learning you aren’t going anywhere new. You’re stuck. And people don’t want to follow leaders who are standing still.

Whether you are a leader or not, you probably know you should read books if you want to learn and grow. And you should. More than that though, someone once told me that the best way to keep learning and growing is to ask a question in every situation you face: “What can I learn?” When I started doing that I began seeing things I never would have otherwise. I learned a lot and saw that I didn’t know it all.

But what if instead of asking “What can I learn?” you started asking “God, what do you want to teach me?” Do you see the flip? By asking that, you are no longer trying to teach yourself (learn) something from a situation. You’re trying, as best you can, to learn from someone who can and wants to teach you. You’re getting God’s perspective. When you start searching for what God wants to teach you, you learn and grow in ways beyond what self-reflection can accomplish. Why? Because God knows a whole lot more than you or I can figure out on our own.

You don’t know it all. And that’s more than okay.

What are your thoughts?

Pic Credit HERE