Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Small Groups

Choosing Obedience

Maggie is a fornicator. And yet, she has never been acquainted with sin. Some tell me she is not really responsible for her actions. After all, I am told, “It’s only natural.” It is a funny thing, though. She does not even claim to be a victim—a victim of her parents, her younger years, her friends, her boyfriend, her family, her environment, or any of the cards that have been dealt to her in this life. I have never heard her blame anyone for what happened. In fact, I have never heard her blame anyone for anything that has come her way in the last 56 years. 

Maggie was our 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever (that’s 56 people years)! While my friends have encouraged me that Maggie was just being a dog, I am not convinced. Since six weeks of age, she has resided with our family. She has been trained to not stray into the neighboring yards. No matter how many children are playing and having a riotous time down the street, she knows it is “off limits” for her. Maggie was given boundaries to follow. She chose not to follow those boundaries. The lure of playful attention was too much for her—she chose to cross the line.

When I set a limit for one of my children, it was because I loved him or her and had their best interests in mind. Does God set limits for us because He desires to control us or because He loves us? His love for us is not in question; our love for Him is what is in question. Do you love Him enough to obey Him or, when the limit is “uncomfortable” for you, do you desire to rewrite the already written Word of God? This is the most crucial issue when dealing with obedience.

In today’s world, the scripture, “I am the Lord, I change not” is viewed more like, “I am an understanding, benevolent, vacillating God who may or may not be upset with you and your sin.” Has God lowered His standards because His creation cannot maintain a standard of holiness? 

One goal of a healthy, mature Christian is to obey God readily on the outside while our hearts are resting in a trust of God’s concern for our welfare on the inside. Our love for God, as well as knowing God’s love for us, draws us to obedience. That is our motivational factor. However, there are some negative forces motivating us to obey God.

Unhealthy fear: Fear is a great motivator, for sure. But our God chooses to motivate out of love. I do not walk in an unhealthy fear of my heavenly Father because I know His unconditional love. Fear of punishment is an inappropriate reason for obeying God. 

The difference between a healthy fear and an unhealthy fear is clear. A healthy fear recognizes God’s love for us and is life-giving. “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23). An unhealthy fear is connected to punishment. While we may deserve God’s wrath and punishment for our sin, He placed it upon our crucified Savior. (See Romans 5:6-11.) 

Legalistic rules and regulation: We choose to obey God out of having a healthy relationship with God and not because He maintains a little black book. In the midst of the regulations of the Old Testament, it was Samuel who told King Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Sacrifice came out of regulation; obedience comes out of love. Obedience is doing all God wants me to do, while sacrifice is doing what I want to do for God in my way. Paul stated it so succinctly when he wrote about the law and obedience in Romans 2:13, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

To earn favor from God: We don’t fool God. After all, He knows our hearts. He knows what we’re really thinking. He is not a politician running for office. He doesn’t care if you vote for Him or not. He is Grace. You do not need to somehow get into His “good grace.” You may fool some people with whom you relate, but you’ll never fake out God. You cannot earn God’s favor. You already have God’s favor, if you are a believer. We cannot earn something that has already been given to us!

There was an unnamed woman in Luke eleven who blurted out some words about Jesus when He was teaching one day. She said of Him, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (verse 27). Was this a reason to follow and obey the Savior? Jesus’ response was interesting: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (verse 28). 

Obedience is connected to love. How do I know my children truly love me? It is by their obedience to me. How does God know we truly love Him? It is by our obedience to Him. 

This is love for God: to obey his commands (1 John 5:3). And this is love that we walk in obedience to his commands (2 John 6). If you love me [Jesus said], you will obey what I command (John 14:15). Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me (John 14:21). 

Note: The above was adapted from the book, In Pursuit of Obedience, by Steve Prokopchak and can be ordered at this link: https://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-Obedience-Deepening-Love-Through/dp/1886973644/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+pursuit+of+obedience+prokopchak&qid=1634649430&qsid=140-0506088-5706866&sr=8-1&sres=1886973644&srpt=ABIS_BOOK

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Healing, Insecurity, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Postmarital, Premarital, Women

Help! I’m Married to Someone Who is Opposite of Me!

Do you see yourself as different or opposite from your spouse? Welcome to everyone’s world!

Let me provide for you a window into our early marriage.

Steve, loved to go to bed late. Mary, loved to go to bed early.

Steve, loved to have a devotional time in the evening. Mary, loved to have a devotional time in the morning.

Steve’s into trying new things. Mary, sticking with what works.

Mary, no debt is good debt. Steve, good debt is investment.

Mary, loves to give. Steve, loves to save.

Steve, embracing change. Mary, change comes more slowly, purposefully.

Steve, face the conflict. Mary, conflict is to be avoided.

Mary, everyone is a friend. Steve, friends are selected through trust over time.

You get the picture; we’re different. But here’s the thing about that difference, neither way is necessarily wrong. What is wrong is when we attempt to change our spouse to be more like ourselves because we’re “right.”

Social scientists tell us it takes five to seven years for a marriage to “settle.” I would define settling as becoming mature enough to no longer try to change my spouse but rather to embrace them for who they are and for how God created them. 

You see, maturity helps us to understand we need that difference in our lives.  Yes, we fight and argue about it initially (immaturity), but when the revelation hits us, we soon discover that we are far more powerful, far more rounded, far more complete together than separate, embracing our differences. 

Too often the thought is, “We’re just too different to continue this marriage.” The fact is, God brings to you the person who is not like you so that you can grow and change and then discover how you are to love, respect and accept this person.

Unfortunately, too many persons, husbands and wives, think that power and control can force change for the better. Power and control will never provoke change for the right reasons because a spirit of power and control will also need the threat of negative consequences. The spouse who threatens causes more anger in the relationship.

Love and acceptance sees the difference as a good challenge. Then it sounds something like this: Mary is Steve and Steve is Mary because Steve and Mary need the differences the other brings to the relationship. 

This perspective will cause us to focus on the strengths in our spouse’s life rather than the weaknesses. This perspective will help us to walk in humility knowing we need what our spouse brings to the marriage. This perspective also helps us to not see our spouse as the one who holds us back but rather the one who provides the appropriate caution or pause. And this perspective is going to bring a healthy balance and sometimes compromise to who we are and to who we are becoming.

Today, almost 48 years later, things look a little different.

Steve likes to go to bed early and so does Mary.

Mary loves early morning devotions and so does Steve.

Steve and Mary embrace change together.

Mary’s love of giving has won over Steve.

Mary embraces investment even with some risk and Steve smiles.

Everyone loves Mary more than Steve because Mary is still everyone’s friend.

Steve is more selective about addressing conflict and Mary still dislikes it.

But the greatest of these is love.

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Training

Have You Surrendered?

Surrender. It’s an interesting word. In western culture, it can be a negative word because it means to give up rights, to yield, to relinquish control or comfort. These are all things we hold onto tightly, often for self-preservation.

To give up control for some is terrifying. We cling onto power and control in order to have some sense of oneself having legal standing, political standing, religious standing or just human rights standing. 

To be in total control of our lives literally means to perceive oneself as knowing better than God. To walk through life in this way is to worship the idol of self. The Commandments told us to worship no other gods but the Lord God and yet we often persist in demanding our rights, e.g., it’s my body, it’s my life, what I do behind closed doors is my business, etc. To be in total control of one’s life is a scary place to reside. How so?

  1. You can only trust you. 
  2. You dare not surrender your rights to anyone for anything.
  3. You are pressed to ultimately decide your own fate.
  4. You must hold back emotions so as to not be out of control.
  5. You must be suspect of any input.
  6. You must control or avoid any life-changing decisions and the persons initiating or provoking those changes.

In an avoidance of surrender, you must control all input, all process and all output from your life. It is an exhausting way to live. Mentally you are forced to stay ahead of everyone, you are continually second guessing those around you, perfection becomes your go-to process in order to avoid the loss of control and your rights must, at all cost, remain front and center. We see this exemplified all around us in our culture today. 

Enter Jesus. Jesus, the Savior who asks you to give up control. Jesus, the One who says to relinquish control to Him–all control. It’s no longer your money, your will, your sexuality, your political side or your self-gratification. Jesus requires surrender. 

For me to say, “I give up my rights to __________” goes against everything my flesh desires. But isn’t that what Jesus did on the cross for you and me? He gave up every right as the Son of God, Creator of heaven and earth, Creator of you and me in order to surrender His life willingly. He didn’t surrender to get something, He surrendered to give something–salvation to all of mankind. We surrender our lives to Him in order to give our lives to His kingdom. 

When we surrender our passions, our careers, our bank accounts, our pain, our lust, our children, our marriage, our employment and our sin to our Savior we are not losing control, we are gaining freedom from control. 

Do you desire true faith? Surrender.

Do you desire liberty? Surrender.

Do you desire freedom from sin? Surrender.

Do you desire freedom from yourself and your own control? Surrender.

When we surrender to Jesus, not just as our Savior, but as our Lord, we are saying that we are done with all of our self-efforts of power and control. We are finished with self-preservation. We are through with addictive behaviors leading us. We are done becoming angry over those who we perceive as annoyingly different from us. When we surrender control, we can let go of controlling and manipulating others to be who we thought we needed them to be. 

When we fully surrender control, we will find an intimacy with the Father like never before. The more we surrender, the more freedom we’ll experience. 

Marriages in which both partners stop trying to control the other are happy and fulfilling marriages. Relationships minus control are liberating and peace-filled. 

Are you willing to die to control so that you can experience the freedom that comes from trusting God?

Standard
Encouragement, History, Identity, Leadership

I’ll Be Turning Fifty!

Those of you who know me also know I personally reached that age some time ago. This month, a little closer to Christmas, it will be 50 years since I made Jesus Lord of my life.  

Fifty. That’s half a century of doing my best to live life in a way that would honor God. Fifty seems like a lifetime of learning, growing, changing, forgiving, repenting and transitioning. 

I have discovered that I cannot change history, but history has changed me. I discovered that failure is almost certain in areas that are not surrendered to my heavenly Father. And, I realize that if I want to hear “well done” in heaven, I need to say “yes, Lord” on earth.

Maybe you’re beyond 50 or nowhere near that number. Either way, faithfulness is the key. Remain faithful to your King; He never disappoints. He will never leave you and He will provide for your every need, even some wants. Be committed to love Him with all of your heart, mind and soul. Know that He has your best interest in mind. Pray about all things and continually thank Him, for a grateful heart is a full heart.

Never compare yourself with others; it’s unwise, Corinthians says (II Corinthians 10:12). There are two end results to comparison: insignificance or pride. Continually work toward a pure heart and mind, forsake sin and forgive quickly.

My life verse has been Galatians 2:20 which says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That verse says it all for me. 

Fifty years. I haven’t accomplished all I desire to, but there’s plenty of time left for that. 

Merry Christmas!

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Parents, Training

Starting Tomorrow for Thirty Days!

Watch your in-box for some very special blog posts.

Starting tomorrow for 30 days you will be receiving a daily blog post and exerpt from my new book, Identity: The Distinctiveness of You.

I hope you enjoy this challenge and will take the time to read it each day. I pray you receive much from every post.

Pass it on to others and feel free to add your own comments. See you soon!

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Training

Joining the Dishonest

Why do we think it’s more spiritual to appease others or live by conciliatory gestures?  And why is passive-aggressive behavior tolerated more today?  Are we being merciful and gracious or are we being dishonest?

 

Today we write comments on social media or letters to the editor trying to get our aggressions across in an acceptable media-centered way.  But is it the right way?  As well, what about the people in your life who will not tell you what they see or feel, but they will definitely show you or make an inference on Facebook?  That is passive-aggressive behavior.

 

Matthew chapter 18 tells us that if your brother sins against you, you are to go to your brother.  Nowhere in that chapter does it say to write a letter to the editor, bully them on Facebook, ignore them or slam them with passive-aggressive tactics.  We are to go one-on-one in love, in the hope that our brother will hear us.

 

Listen to I Peter 3:8 & 9: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  We must determine that part of being a blessing is speaking compassionate truth and words of blessing.

 

One day Jesus encountered an issue with Philip while Philip was requesting to be shown the Father.  Jesus looked straight back at him and said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you for such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’”  I’ll bet Philip never asked that question again.

 

I’ve had leaders who have loved me enough to confront me with what they saw as a deficit in my life.  As hard as that kind of thing is to receive and look at, I realize they love me enough to tell me the truth as they understand it.  To me, that is real mercy.  Not being confronted toward change will cause me to repeat the wrong I was doing. 

 

I’ve often asked other leaders to let me know if they hear something in what I teach that is culturally insensitive or incorrect.  After speaking on one occasion, I requested input and, low and behold, I was told, “Yeah, there was one thing…”  I agreed and was thankful for their honesty.  If you do not want truthful input, don’t ask, but then do not expect to grow.

 

Another Reason or Three Why We Do Not Confront

  • Self-protection – I am apprehensive because I am protecting myself from a projected reaction that will affect me, so I choose not to go there. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “True friends stab you in the front.”
  • Arrogance – Rather than moving in love, compassion and humility, we feel arrogance because we’re not walking in this sin, wrong doing or what we think is wrong thinking. Arrogance is full of pride and will keep us from changing.
  • Insecurity – I perceive my worth, my identity wrapped up in the garment of this person liking me and not rejecting me. If I confront them, my identity could be shaken.  Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare…”

 

The book of Proverbs wisely counsels there are times we are to overlook an offense.  (See Proverbs 17:9, 19:11.)  It simply is not worth getting into.  But when is it worth getting into how do we confront someone with the truth?  Here are some life-giving ways or approaches to consider.

 

  1. When you expose another’s fault, a sin, you do so in love in order to win your brother or sister back (Matthew 18:15). Compassion is a major ingredient in the why of your confrontation.  “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  (Proverbs 27:6)
  2. When it is not criticism for criticism’s sake and it is not, “The truth hurts sometimes,” because that can be mean-spiritedness. It must be that I love you enough to tell you the truth.  The spirit of the conversation is love and the vehicle is grace.  (Ephesians 4:15)
  3. Paul the Apostle disagreed with Barnabas about taking John Mark on their missionary journey because John Mark had deserted Paul in Pamphylia. Paul was honest about how he felt concerning John Mark and why.  Be honest, be truthful while at the same time believing for and positioning yourself for healing in the life of the one you have to be honest with.
  4. Paul would eventually reconcile with John Mark. Everyone is worth a second chance.  Give the one you are confronting the benefit of the doubt and trust God for a second chance and reconciliation.
  5. Proverbs says that the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18). Is what you have to say spoken in an effort to bring healing or destruction and judgement?  It takes courage in the desire to bring healing to another.
  6. Stop airing your opinions and move toward understanding (Proverbs 18:2 – “Fools have no interest in understanding, they only want to air their opinions.”). Once we speak what God has shown us, stop and listen to understand.
  7. Be the tongue that brings life and not death (Proverbs 18:21 – “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”) Grace-filled truth brings life.
Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Parents, Training, Women

Erasing Your Debt

If you would have been a member of the Morehouse College graduating class of 2019, you would have graduated debt free. All 396 students had their college loans paid in full. How?

 

The commencement speaker that year was Robert Smith, a private equity executive worth $4.47 billion. During his speech, he shared that he was donating enough money ($40 million dollars) to eliminate every graduating student’s personal debt. Everyone was stunned to say the least.

 

In his speech he asked the class to pay it forward. I don’t know what that will look like, but I do know what it feels like to receive notice from the bank or mortgage company that my debt is paid in full.

 

Unfortunately, too many of us know more about indebtedness rather than a debt marked “Paid.” We deserve that new car or house upgrade, or for others, it was unexpected medical debt or some other emergency.

 

However, if we are faithful to make our monthly payments, even adding to the principle, we will realize our goal. And when we are faithful in our tithing and giving first, we will see God multiply our income so that we can eliminate debt even faster. I do not know how that works, but I can tell you in following those principles for 50 years of my life, they are proven.

 

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  (Eccl. 5:10)

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Issues of the Day, Leadership

Obedience in All Things

On occasion, when speaking or training and then having the opportunity to sell or give away some of the books that I have authored, I am requested to sign the book for the purchaser. I have always found that request to be a bit unnerving.

 

There is this sense of unworthiness, Why would anyone desire my signature? I get it, as I have asked a few authors to sign a book I purchased, but I tell myself it’s different. I think they are famous or well known or just simply amazing in their message. I want to be honest in the estimation of myself as the scripture reminds us to do, but at the same time, I do not desire any sense of false humility in my life. False humility is a nice way of saying I am dealing with pride.

We are reminded in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” I am imperfect for sure, but there is a good work that is happening in my life. There is an “attitude of our minds” which is relevant to who we are or how we see ourselves. If that attitude reflects worthlessness or inadequacy, then we are actually downplaying what our heavenly Father is building within us.

 

I am not complete, but I am also not totally incomplete. I am not a world famous, number one best-selling author, but God has given me things to write about and I must faithfully obey His voice. And I suppose that is the ultimate goal—obedience.

Standard
Challenge, Children, Encouragement, Leadership, Marriage, Men, Parents, Women

A Lack of Protection and Security in Your Home

During my grade school years, we had the occasional, but normal fire drills and we also participated in bomb drill exercises. We were instructed by our teacher to place our heads and upper torso under our desks, just in case the day would come that there would be a real bomb. Those were some pretty powerful desks! Our school even had its own bomb shelter located in the basement of the building. It seems the thought was during the cold war, at any given time, we could be bombed. Pretty scary stuff for a grade schooler.

 

If you or I grow up in an unsafe environment, an environment of insecurity, abuse, neglect or simply without parental protection we too can deal with similar emotions of fear. We all need a safe environment and we all need protection. We need the protection of laws to maintain society. We need the protection of natural parents and spiritual parents.  We need the protection of our spouse. Each of us require multiple areas of needed protection.

 

However, occasionally that protection is missing, neglected or lacking in existence. Sometimes a husband is standing idly by and not protecting his wife and family. Sometimes a wife has her priorities elsewhere. When we as a spouse fail to follow God’s word, responding in a godly manner with righteous, loving, protective authority, our spouse and our children will not know security. Long term insecurity can lead to anxiety, a loss of identity and fear. And when fear is present, love is absent.

 

A spirit of fear is not from God. The Father’s heart is to love and protect you and it is His desire to use husbands and fathers, wives and mothers in that protection as well. In what ways are you providing loving protection to your spouse and children today, which in turn brings security, safety and the lack of fear?

Standard
Challenge, Encouragement, Leadership

A Message I Shared from 2011

Recently I received a random phone call from a friend. He was driving to North Carolina at the time while his wife slept comfortably beside him in the passenger seat. He found himself feeling somewhat drowsy and remembered that he had thrown a box of “old” CD’s in the truck with him. He decided to reach behind his driver’s seat and arbitrarily choose one. After blindly selecting, he noticed it was a teaching from 2011 when I spoke at his local church.

 

He then said this to me, “Steve, you just can’t imagine how relevant your message was to both of us at this specific time. We so enjoyed it. To think that I just randomly pulled it from a box of old CD’s and there we were listening to a message you spoke in 2011.” I thanked him for the encouragement that call was to me.

 

It caused me to think about the fact that a nine-year-old message could be a blessing to someone today. We tend to forget those messages and often wonder if anyone was listening, received anything and whether or not they actually made some sort of application to their personal life. Be encouraged if you are a trainer, a teacher, a pastor or a blog writer. You never know if the message you share today may end up being a direct blessing and encouragement a year from today, a decade from today or beyond.

 

I am simply intrigued how God does these kinds of things. Please be assured that your heavenly Father does not miss a thing in your life or those lives you are responsible for. Be encouraged to know you are affecting others just as they are affecting your life. Perhaps you need to call or write to someone as my friend did and encourage them for their faithful acts of service that have personally blessed you. Go ahead, bless someone with affirmation today.

Standard