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Lasting Motivation

  
In a training class, I was recently taught that there are three basic motivations: compliance, identification, and internalization. As I learned more about them, it made me realize that many people approach Christian living using one of these three motivating factors. When I explain them, you will realize where you’ve been and where you fall now in these with your approach to living like Jesus. I’ll include the Parable of the Sower, from Matthew 13, to show the end result of each of these.

The first one, compliance, is where many people initially fall. The motivation is “Do it, or else!” There’s a constant threat living over you that if you don’t do it right, you’re done for. As long as you’re at church or church people, you live the way you should. When you’re away, you go back to how you want to live. Living like this is like the seeds that fell on the footpath. The birds came and ate them up. Trying to live a double life ends in failure. No one wants to try to live like Jesus if there’s a constant threat being held against them.

The second one, identification, is where you see someone else’s life, you identify with the end result, and you want to be like them to get their blessings. You’ll be motivated to do some things like join a small group, go to church on Wednesday, or even give your tithe, but what you’re missing is how to live that way consistently. To me, this is like the seed that fell in shallow soil. They sprout up quickly, but can easily wilt under the hot soon because they lack deep roots.

The third one, internalization, is where you take to heart what you hear and do whatever it takes so that the changes become who you are. This is the only one that produces long lasting change because it’s a change in your heart and mind. It’s like the seeds that fell on fertile soil. It will grow and reproduce thirty, sixty, and hundred times what was planted.

Your desire to follow Jesus shouldn’t be because you are afraid to go to hell. That will only last so long. It also shouldn’t be because you want the same blessings someone else has. When they don’t come quickly, you’ll give up. Your desire to follow Jesus should come because you met Him, want a relationship with Him, and will follow Him because of your love for Him. When you do that, your mind changes and so does your life. It’s what’s described in Romans 12:2, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (NLT). When you internalize what Jesus did for you, your life will reflect it in your living.

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Your Obituary

There is a lady I used to work with who enjoyed reading obituaries in the paper. I was curious as to what intrigued her about them. She told me she thought it was amusing how many different ways a writer could come up with to say someone had passed away. She showed me some said, “this person went to be with Jesus”, “they went to receive their reward”, “they expired on this date”, “they got their wings”, “they bravely lost her battle” and the list went on. She told me that she wondered what they would write in hers and what her legacy would be.

I think that’s a good thing to wonder about. If you were to live until you were old, what would you want your legacy to be? What would you want others to say about you so that you could feel like your life was a success? Now work yourself backwards in life. What will you need to have done in order to have accomplished that? What can you start doing today to start moving down that path? You won’t accomplish your goals in this life or God’s will for you unless you have a plan to accomplish them and act on it.

Saul was a man who the Bible describes as “head and shoulders above the crowd.” God chose him to be Israel’s first king. After he was anointed, he prophesied and was transformed into a new person. He started off well, but he had no plan for what his legacy would be. He just assumed that because God had done these things for him that he could coast in that favor for the rest of his life and his legacy as king would succeed through his sons. With that lack of vision and planning, his life began to wander.

The longer Saul was king, the further he went from his intended legacy. He became paranoid, arrogant and proud. He forgot his mission from God. Without direction or a plan, his life wandered into disobedience. During his reign, God anointed another man to be king and ensured that Saul’s line of successors to the throne would end with him. I Chronicles 10:13 records his obituary. It says, “Saul died in disobedience, disobedient to God.” His legacy was tarnished because he didn’t go to God for help and turned away.

Saul did some great things for Israel in his life. He freed them from oppression and won many battles. He started well, but finished poorly. When he sinned, he became arrogant instead of repentant. His heart became hard. He didn’t look to the end of his life and wonder what it would look like if he had followed God’s will. He didn’t think ahead to what a successful life would look like. Instead, he took each day as it came and never knew he was off the path because he had never looked at the path.

What does your path look like? Where is it leading? What will your obituary say about you? I know it’s kind of morbid to think of the end of your life, but I believe that’s how you create a legacy. Where do you want to be at the end of your life and how if you get there from where you are today? When you have that path, you’ll know when you get off of it. When that happens, repent and get back on that path to fulfilling God’s will for your life. Your obituary can read, “This person lived life fully, loved God and died in obedience to what God had for them.”

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Victory

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I saw a poster recently with a picture of Michael Jordan on it. It caught my attention because it’s been over ten years since he played. Underneath his photo, in big letters, it said “Victory”. Then it wrote out the definition of victory. As I thought about it, he became synonymous with winning and victory, but that’s not his full story. Before he became a star, he couldn’t make his high school team. After he became a star, he failed at gambling, marriage and baseball. He failed in more areas than he succeeded in, but he did not let those failures define him.

You and I are the same. Our failures outnumber our successes. I get caught up sometimes just thinking about my failures. I wonder why I still try. I beat myself down because my failures seem so stupid. I think I should be able to beat them, but each time I fail, I get down on myself. I saw a friend on Facebook ask the other day, “Is it a true portrait of a man to see him when he is tempted?” I thought a lot about that. My first inclination was to say yes. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I thought that because I allow my failures to define me.

You and I are more than who we are when we are tempted and when we fail. We are also the person who knows where to seek forgiveness after a failure. We are the person who stands on mountain tops with our arms outstretched looking up to Heaven when we’ve succeeded. We are the person who pushes through when we don’t feel like it and no one seems to care. We are complex and should never allow ourselves to be defined or think that an accurate portrait of ourselves is who we are when we fail.

In Romans 8, Paul listed all kinds of things that could define us. At the end of that list, he said, “Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ.” It’s time we started to see ourselves as God sees us. We are not all the mistakes, failures or temptations that we face. You and I are victors. We are the very definition of victory if we are willing to get back up, seek forgiveness and to try again. We may not be considered synonymous with victory in the world’s eyes, but we are in God’s. When He looks at you, He doesn’t see a failure. He sees someone made in His image with the power to win.

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Test Day

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I’ve never really liked tests before even though I’m pretty good at them. Any time the word “test” comes up, I think of one of my high school teachers, Mr. Hart. He loved giving tests. He would wear a red contact lens, the ugliest tie he could find and eat a bag of chips while you were taking it. He’d ask, “Is this bothering you,” and then give an evil laugh. He’d ask questions that would earn you a Nobel Prize if you could answer them. His “bonus” questions came from movies like “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”. Maybe my memory has added to his legend, but that’s how I remember taking tests in his class.

I remember doing a lot of studying for tests to make sure I passed. I read back through the chapter, looked at my notes, made flash cards and quizzed other classmates to prepare. You knew the subject matter, but not what to expect on the test. As a person who played sports, there was extra pressure to pass since the “No Pass No Play” law had gone into effect. I wouldn’t have let myself down by failing, but my team too. So I put a lot of time and energy into making sure I knew the material.

All those memories came flooding back when I read what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in II Corinthians 13:5-9. He said, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. (MSG)”. Paul was saying to do with our faith what I did for tests in school. Read the book (Bible), look at notes (commentaries), make flash cards (memorize scripture) and quiz other classmates (have accountability partners to help you learn and grow).

Just like we had to prepare for what Mr. Hart might throw at us, we need to be prepared for what might challenge our faith. Times of testing shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. They shouldn’t scare us either if we’ve prepared beforehand. If you can read this, you’ve lived enough life to know that you’re going to be tested. If you’re a Christian, you should know your faith will be tested. It’s not so that you will fail, but to make sure you know what you believe. When I give tests at work, I jokingly call them “celebrations of knowledge” to relieve the stress. I’m not trying to get you to fail, I’m trying to showcase how much you’ve learned.

God does that with us too. He’s not up there trying to see if you’ll fail when He tests you. He’s wanting to show you how much you’ve learned and what you need to work on. Paul understood this and encouraged us to test ourselves ahead of time so we could pass with flying colors. When we do that, we won’t take our faith for granted or drift along. We’ll know what we believe, be able to confidently speak God’s Word when the enemy comes against us and live out our faith with a purpose and a passion. What will you do today to prepare for the testing of your faith?

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The Power of Restoration

I got a call this weekend from someone who was going through a rough patch and succumbed to temptation. They reached out to me and a couple of others for help. One of the others and I went to meet them to offer guidance and next steps. It would have been easy to go over there, beat them on the head with a Bible and ask a lot of “why” questions. That’s not how God says we should handle these situations though.

As I drove over there, The Lord took me to Galatians 6:1 that says, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.” My mind changed from all the “how could you” questions to the “how can I help you” questions. I moved away from the accusatory mindset that saw all the steps leading to sin to one that was there to show the path to forgiveness.

The Lord had spoken the same thing to my friend who went with me. He opened up the conversation with, “We’re here to help you, not to condemn you.” He went to Romans 13:12 that says, “So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.” We explained that there is not one of us who is perfect. None of us go without sinning. What sets us apart is that we remove those sins and step back into God’s light.

I read Proverbs 24:16 that says, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” I explained that if we’re not able to get up on our own, we should do what they did and call others to help them. I reiterated that we were not there to hold them down, but to offer a helping hand up. I’m sure they had already beat themselves up over it and that the Holy Spirit had convicted them. The problem was that they didn’t know the way back to the right road.

I’ve been thinking all weekend about how many people fall and just stay down because they don’t know how to reach out for help or are just too embarrassed to. I’ve been there. I was ashamed and embarrassed because I knew better. I didn’t want to admit that I had messed up and gone in the wrong direction. I didn’t want to let others know that I didn’t have the strength to get back up and that it was easier to just stay down. Thankfully someone saw me there and offered a hand to get me back up.

Who do you know right now that has fallen? Have you gone to them and offered a helping hand or just talked about them to others? Our command is clear. We are to go and restore someone in that condition. We are to pray with them and give them the tools and safeguards they need to keep them from falling again. When they fall, go and put your arm around them and walk with them. Isn’t that how you would want to be treated if it were the other way around?

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Keep Running

I got to hear Kirk Franklin share his testimony last year. It was the first time I had seen him in person. He told the story of how he grew up without a father and how he always wanted to be there for his son. He told how his son ran track and he was watching him run a relay race. When the second guy on their team went to hand the baton to number three, he dropped the baton. The third guy picked it up and started heading for Kirk’s son.

When Kirk looked ahead at his son, who was now at a disadvantage, he didn’t see him give up. Instead he saw him readjusting his stance, timing the space between he and the other runners and preparing to receive that baton. When he finally got the baton, he ran as if he had a chance to win the race. He ran as fast as he could all the way to the finish line knowing he wouldn’t win.

That took character. Many of us would have jogged to the finish line. If we can’t win, what’s the point in trying that hard? No one in the crowd expected him to run that hard to the finish line. Well no one except his dad. His dad had instilled in him the value of never giving up. In a time when running fast didn’t really matter, the character that was taught to him came shining through.

You and I are in a race. I’m not talking about the race to the top of the corporate ladder. We’re in a race of faith. Paul likened our lives as Christians to race a few times. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul said we should run to win the prize. You shouldn’t slow to a jog just because someone you looked up to dropped the baton. You shouldn’t slow down because you may have dropped it.

The truth is that none of us have been handed a perfect baton in this race. None of us are capable of running with it without dropping it. It’s what we do when we receive a dropped baton or drop it ourselves that matters. The easy thing is to give up and say, “I tried, but there’s no use now. If they can’t carry it without dropping it, how can I?” The hard thing to do is to pick up that dirty baton, wipe it off and keep running like you will win.

I played a lot of sports in high school. One school we used to play had a banner up that said, “Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” The same is true in the faith. What you do when you or so done else messes up reveals your faith. You have the ability to get forgiveness for your mistakes, to start running again and to do your best to not do that again. Being a Christian isn’t about being perfect, it’s about getting back up and continuing to run after you’ve fallen or have been knocked down.

Proverbs 24:16 says, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” What about you? Have you tripped recently? Are you jogging and taking it easy to the finish line? I want to encourage you to get up, pick up your baton and sprint towards the finish line. Run like you’re going to win, trust God for the victory. Don’t stay down when you trip. Get back up and join the race. The body of Christ is here to help you and your father is in the stands watching and cheering you on.

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Flawed Failures

If you are perfect, then you don’t have to read this today. If you are a flawed failure like me, you can keep reading. The good news is that you are just who God is looking for to use. He rarely picks anyone perfect to carry out His plan. If you look at the list of people God has used to do great things through, it’s full of flawed failures. It’s full of people who you probably wouldn’t want to work with.

Moses knew his own flaws and tried to use them as an excuse to not do what God was asking him to do. He stuttered. He murdered. He ran away. He was orphaned as a baby. He had excuses. God sees our excuses as opportunities to connect with others. He sees our flaws as ways to build dependence on Him. He’s ok with you not measuring up to what you think He wants. You actually have what He wants. That’s why He chose you to do His will.

Each of us have a purpose to fulfill. God has a desire to use you despite your flaws and excuses. He has a purpose for your life that only you can fulfill. God is not concerned with your past if you’ve gone to Him for forgiveness. He’s taken your past into account when He planned your future. He knew the struggles you were going to face. He knew where and how you were going to fail and still planned to use you. It’s hard for us to understand because what disqualifies us humanly somehow qualifies us spiritually.

God’s ways are higher than our ways. What we consider wise is foolishness to Him. When we point to the scars, disappointment, failures and sin, He points to the cross. It’s in our weakness that He can truly work. If we rely on our strengths and abilities, we get in His way. When we think we can’t or shouldn’t be used by Him, we are ready to be used by Him. If we had the ability to do it on our own, we wouldn’t rely on Him.

Look at Gideon. When he was approached by the angel, he was greeted with, “The Lord is with you, mighty man of God.” He had strength to accomplish what God wanted. He had the ability and the man power to do it. God took those things away from him so that he would not be able to say it was his ability that defeated the enemy. It could only be The Lord that allowed 300 men to defeat an entire army.

God can and will use our strengths, but He’s really interested in our flaws and failures. He uses those to bring healing to others and to show them that He can use them too. Be open about your past. Tell others about your scars. Your story (testimony) brings hope and healing to others. When you hide who you were, you hide the grace that God bestowed on you. Others need to see that God can forgive a past that’s dark and full of sin. Others need to see that God can use someone as flawed as you.

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Fire Drills and Escape Routes

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Have you ever been in a fire drill? I’ve been through plenty in my day. The worst one was when I was 32 floors up in a skyscraper. Walking down 32 flights was not easy for me. Why do offices, schools and other building conduct those? As much of an annoyance as they are, they’re to teach us what to do in case of an emergency. The Fire Marshall knows that in a panic situation, you may not make the right decision unless you’ve rehearsed in your mind and with your body what you are going to do.

It’s really a great concept when you look at the reason for it. It’s got me thinking, “Why don’t we have spiritual fire drills? Why don’t we rehearse what we’re going to do when we are tempted?” We need to think through our evacuation route from temptation. We need to have them posted on the walls of our heart, look at them often and rehearse in our mind and with our body what we will do when temptation comes.

Temptation shows up anywhere and it’s typically unexpected. We are rarely prepared for it which is why we give in to it so easily and so often. Each of us are tempted. Each of us sin. Some temptations we are good at resisting and others catch us every time. If you think about the ones you are good at overcoming, they’re the ones that you’ve prepared an escape route from. It’s the ones that catch us every time that we haven’t prepared for.

I Corinthians 10:13 says, “But with the temptation He (God) will always also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.” God has provided an escape route from every temptation there is. How does He know the route? Hebrews 4:15 says we have a God who was tempted in every respect we are, yet without sinning. He’s been in our place and rehearsed the escape route for the sin that easily ensnares you. He’s calling out, “This is the way out.” Because we haven’t prepared, our focus is moved from the escape route into the sin.

How do we prepare then? Jesus demonstrated one way out of temptation and that was to quote God’s Word when we are tempted. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Knowing God’s Word is the primary escape route. Placing it deep in our heart and not just in our mind is the important part here. When we fill our hearts with His Word, we are able to win the battle of the mind.

The alternate escape route is to run. Yes, physically run. If you find yourself in an area that breeds temptation, run. Get out of there! Don’t stick around and see how close you can get to the fire without getting burned. That’s just stupid. In Proverbs 7, Solomon is looking out his window and sees a naive (void of good sense) man walking down the street where he knew a prostitute was. He crossed over to walk on her side. He didn’t turn around and run. In verse 22 it says, “He followed her like an ox to the slaughter.”

Temptations are around us every day. It’s part of life. How you prepare beforehand determines how you will react when they come. If you wait until the time of temptation to react, you will more than likely fail. If you prepare by putting God’s Word in your heart and knowing how to react when temptation shows up, you will escape. What escapee routes do you need to plan for in your life? What are you doing now to prepare for the ones that get you every time?

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If 99.9% Were Good Enough

I was cleaning out old stuff in my cubicle yesterday to get prepared for the new year when I came across an attention getter I used to use. You may or may not have seen it, but I’ll share some of it anyway. It’s called “If 99.9% Were Good Enough”. I used it in class to help front line employees know that even small margins of errors can have huge impacts on the business. Here are a few of the more notable ones:

If 99.9% were good enough
– 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day
– 268,500 defective tires would be shipped this year
– 14,208 defective computers would be shipped this year
– 2,488,200 books would be shipped with the wrong cover
– 5,517,200 cases of soft drinks would be flat
– 18,323 pieces of mail would be mishandled in the next hour
– 107 incorrect medical procedures would be performed today

What if you could live right 99.9% of the time. Would that be good enough to get to Heaven? Romans 3:10 says that there is no one who is righteous, no, not one. Later on in verse 23, it says that all have sinned and fallen short. Apparently 99.9% isn’t good enough. We all fall short of righteous living. Does that mean that we shouldn’t try? Of course not. Titus 2:12 says that “we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God.”

Just because we are unable to live right doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I was talking to a friend yesterday about an old group of friends I used to have. We called ourselves “Heathens Anonymous”. The concept was simple, but fun. Each of us are born with a sinful nature in us. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior it doesn’t mean that we all of a sudden live perfectly. That sinful (heathenistic) nature still lives in us. Just like an alcoholic becomes a recovering alcoholic, we become recovering heathen.

We still fall prey to our fleshly desires from time to time. We should try to refrain from our old way of living as much as possible. According to James our faith without works is dead. In Romans 4:5 it tells us to be careful though. We are not counted as righteous because of our works, but because of God who forgives us. It is His grace that covers our sins especially when our old sinful nature rears its head. Ephesians 2:8,9 says that we are saved by grace and not works so that no one can boast.

Wherever you find yourself from 99.9% down to 0.1% in living right, when you accept Jesus, His grace makes up the difference to get us to 100%! The older I get, the more appreciative I am of His grace. I rely on it, need it and trust in it. I’m not perfect. I’ll still be a recovering heathen as long as I live. There’s one thing I know though, His grace is sufficient to cover my mistakes and short comings. It’s sufficient enough for yours too.

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