Personal Development

Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom

PB CoverThe BLOG posts from the last few days about worry are a summary of a chapter entitled "Freedom from Worry" in the best-selling book Prison Break: Finding Personal Freedom.
 
The rest of the book contains similar practical teaching about:
  • Freedom from Fear
  • Freedom from Anger
  • Freedom from Depression
  • Freedom from Rejection
  • Freedom from Addictions 
  • Freedom from Spiritual Bondages
You can purchase a paperback version of this book from WORD Australia OR a digital eBook version from Amazon. The eBook version can be read on the Kindle APP which is available for FREE for all devices (phones, tablets, etc) and operation systems (Windows, OS, etc).
 
I hope you find this teaching helpful and beneficial to your life. 
 
Please feel free to pass it on to others. 
 
Thanks. 

No Worries! (Part 6)

Worry
 
Conclusion
 
As you can see from our recent conversation about worry, there are two things not worth worrying about:
  1. Those you can do something about. 
  2. Those you can't do something about. 
Simply take action on the former and trust God and pray about the latter. In other words, don't worry about anything! 
 
WHY break free from worry? 
 
First of all, it doesn't help us at all, unless it leads us to action. Secondly, it takes away our joy. You can't worry and be joyful at the same time! And finally, worry causes us to be consumed and preoccupied with our own needs. 
 
Jesus did actually give us a strategy for conquering worry. He said, instead of worrying, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). In other words, get busy advancing God's work in the world, helping out, serving, bringing justice, showing mercy, and making a difference.
 
Imagine an entire group of people free from worry and being a blessing wherever they go!
 
That's what Jesus had in mind ... for you and me. 
 
Say it with me, "No worries!"
 
OR Back to Part 1.

No Worries! (Part 5)

Worry
 
Place Your Trust in God
 
Now let's be honest, there are some things on our list of worries that we can't take action on. They are truly beyond our control. Yes, we can pray about them but we can't do anything about them. What do we do about that? 
 
This is where we can make a choice to place our trust in God. The wisdom of Proverbs puts it this way (Proverbs 3:5-6):
 
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take." NLT
 
Just like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field in Jesus' teaching, we have a Father who watches over us and cares for us. This belief enables us to accept uncertainty and the things in life beyond our control. 
 
Our life is not subject to luck, fate or chance. There is a sovereign God who rules our world and the daily aspects of our life. 
 
Once again, we quote the apostle Paul who wrote (Romans 8:28):
 
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." NASB
 
Notice what it does NOT say:
  • It does NOT say that "God causes all things". He doesn't. We make choices and so do other people. There are other forces at work in the world.
  • It does NOT say that "all things are good". They are not. Sickness is not good nor are accidents nor is divorce nor is redundancy or poverty or war or death. 
  • It does NOT say that "all things have a happy ending." They don't. Not every business succeeds, not every team wins, not each relationship lasts forever, not every venture is incident free.

BUT God does cause all things - the good, the bad and the ugly - to work for an ultimate purpose for those who love him.

Think of the biblical character Joseph. He was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. He spent 13 long years in prison. Eventually, when he was reunited with his brothers he said this: "You meant it for evil (what had happened was wrong and painful, it was not 'good') ... but God meant it for good (he used it for a higher purpose)." That's a powerful statement of trust in God's ability to orchestrate the story of our lives for something far greater. 
 
Are there some worries in your life today that are calling out a bold choice from you to trust God ... in spite of their pain and difficulty? 
 
God can be trusted. Like Aslan the lion in C.S. Lewis' series The Chronicles of Narnia, God is not 'safe' (tame) but he is 'good'.
 

No Worries! (Part 4)

Worry
 
Offer a Prayer to God
 
In addition to taking action on our worries, we can also pray and talk to God about our concerns. 
 
The apostle Paul wrote this in a letter to some people living in the city of Philippi the first century (Philippians 4:6-7):
 
"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." NLT
 
Sounds like Paul must have heard Jesus' teaching on worry which he gave years earlier. Word of mouth travels fast. 
 
I love how Eugene Peterson translates Paul's teaching in The Message Bible:
 
"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life."
 
I love that phrase "shape your worries into prayers." 
 
Imagine if every time we started to worry we immediately shape that worry into a prayer. We sure would pray more! And we would probably experience far less worry. 
 
Try it today. Use worry as a trigger or reminder to talk to God about your concerns. Even if it is just a silent thought prayer. 
 
What a difference that can make as God's peace replaces worry at the centre of our heart and mind. 
 

No Worries! (Part 3)

Worry
 
Okay, what next?
 
Take action on your worries
 
As you look over your list of worries (you did this yesterday, didn't you?), ask yourself, "Can I do anything about this?"
 
Turn your worries into actions. Re-define them as problems and come up with solutions for each one of them. Then crowd out your worries by actually working on them. 
 
After all, worry can be useful ... IF it gets your attention and motivates you to action. 
 
If the fuel light on your car dashboard is flashing red, don't worry about running out of petrol (or 'gas', for my American friends) or stress about the possibility of having to walk home. Simply turn your worry into an action. Turn into the nearest petrol station and fill up your tank. Worry will disappear immediately! 
 
I know that this is very deep and insightful wisdom for you here ... but imagine if we did this for every worry on our list!
 
Has someone been a bit 'cool' towards you today at work? Don't allow your mind to spend the entire day wondering if they don't like you anymore or if they are gossiping about you. Turn your worry into action. Ask them if everything is alright. It's probably not even about you anyway. 
 
So, you haven't seen someone from your small group for over a month? Don't worry about whether they have left your group or whether they don't like you anymore more. Simply turn your worry into an action and give them a call. There is probably a very good explanation ... and you'll save yourself all that wasted energy on worry.
 
What actions can you take today to start knocking off some of those worries on that list of yours?
 
Tomorrow: Part 4

No Worries! (Part 2)

Worry

Yesterday, we noted that Jesus tells us to STOP worrying. He doesn't tell us HOW to do so, so obviously he wants us to use our common sense and life experience to figure it out. 
 
Here are some practical ways I have found that we can actually do that on a day to day basis, using the acronym STOP.
 
Specify your worries. 
 
Ask yourself, "What am I worried about?" 
 
Often, worry becomes this dark cloud of vague concern that hovers over our mind, ruining our day. That's why it pays to define your worries. Make a list. Get them all out on paper so you can have a good look at them.
 
Research indicates that:
  • 40% of our worries will never happen.
  • 30% are in the past and we can't do anything about them. 
  • 12% are about health and worry makes our health worse!
  • 10% of our worries are about minor or petty things.
  • Only 8% of the things the average person worries about are what we could call legitimate. And half of them, another 4%, are beyond our control. 
So studies tell us that 96% of what we worry about is not worth worrying about! It's a waste of time and energy. 
 
Have you ever used a shopping trolley with one wheel that didn't work? It's so annoying! It's squealing and you're irritated and annoyed. It saps your joy and energy. Well, that's what one negative emotion, such as worry, does to your inner world. 
 
Think about it. Why worry about the unimportant, the unlikely and the irrelevant!?
 
I'll leave you now to work in creating that list ... and we will talk more tomorrow in Part 3

No Worries! (Part 1)

Worry
 
One of the great Australian greetings is, "No worries!" The truth is, we do worry a lot. And let's face it, there is a lot to worry about. We can worry about our health, about our family, our relationships, our money, the weather, our career or job, whether our football team is going to make the finals, and about the future. Then, of course, there are all the global concerns - the economy, the environment, global warming, politics, and the growing threat of terrorism. That's a lot of worry fodder!
 
I have found that the more we worry, the worse we feel, then the worse we feel, the more we tend to worry. One worry feeds another. Out goes our joy. In many ways, worry is simply 'negative imagination'. It's like a downward spiral of anxiety, fear and concern, consuming a heap of our time and energy. 
 
Jesus understood the daily challenges that we face and that's why in one of his well-known sermons ("the sermon on the mount") he spoke about worry. 
 
Here is what he said (Matthew 6:25-34). 
 
"That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
 
And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
 
So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 
 
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
 
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today." NLT
 
Basically, Jesus says, if you are worrying ... STOP it!
 
How do we do that? 
 
We will talk about that tomorrow in Part 2 ...

Weight Loss Tips

Weight
 
I'm not a doctor nor am I an expert on weight loss, by any means. However, I do know what it is to be skinny and I do know what it is to be overweight. I definitely prefer the former to the latter.
 
I'll never forget one day when I was carrying in a bag of oranges from the car after a grocery shop with my wife, Nicole. She noted that that one bag of oranges weighed 3 kilograms. Being overweight just 3 kgs is like carrying that bag of oranges around ... all the time. It saps your energy and makes you feel more tired. Of course, if you are overweight by 6 kgs or 9 kgs, well that's just a lot more oranges you're taking for a ride ... everywhere you go.
 
I know the challenges of trying to lose weight. Sometimes I feel like I almost need to starve myself in order to lose weight and even when I do, one bad day puts me right back to where I was again. It can be so frustrating and so discouraging. I feel terrible being overweight and I don't like the flab around my stomach, which looks bad and is a health hazard for me. I really want to change but I often struggle to find the discipline to do so.
 
Losing weight takes much more than jumping into some new fad diet. After all, diets only work while you are on the actual diet. We need more holistic lifestyle changes. Shedding those extra kilos takes more than regularly repeating a few motivational mantras such as, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels!". It also takes a lot more than mere willpower, something we all have in limited supply. That's why our discipline often slackens by day's end due to something called 'self-control depletion' (our use of will power to resist temptation). 
 
For me, it is all about habits - developing small healthy habits every day. This creates progress over time and assists me in reducing my weight level and then keeping it off. Some form of structure or a set of daily routines helps to eliminate the need for recurring decisions.
 
Here are my TOP 10 habits of behavior and/or thinking for successful weight loss:
  1. Think ahead about your meals for any given day. Where are you eating and with who and what? As you get older you don't need as much food. So plan your meals and food quantities ahead of time. Three bigs meals a day aren't going to help you lose weight. Choose to eat smaller portions of food. Select an appetizer or entree rather than a main. Yes, smaller plates do help you to eat less food.
  2. Eat more slowly. Be the last person to start eating and the last to finish. That way your body gets a chance to know it's full. You probably won't go back for seconds! Eat only until you are 80% full. This slows down the body's metabolism.
  3. Have more home-cooked meals from fresh ingredients. Re-discover the joy of cooking. Learn to eat different types of food too. Prepare big batches and freeze the leftovers. 
  4. Eat as much natural food as possible - fruit and vegetables (prevents over-eating), seeds and nuts, beans and legumes, etc. It's the easiest way to lose weight. It is often neither laziness nor over-eating that makes us fat: it is what we eat. That's why exercising more and eating less will not necessarily prevent us from being overweight.
  5. Avoid processed foods as much as possible (which are full of sugar, salt, and fat). The fast-food industry has a dark side. Learn to not trust your taste buds. Beware of artificial flavoring.
  6. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates. This includes pasta, potatoes, noodles, rice, bread, desserts, and sweets or chocolates. Too many carbs make us fat ... and sick.
  7. Beware of sugar, which is a real killer, working like a drug that leads to addiction.
  8. Drink lots of water - at least 4 glasses a day.
  9. Be physically active - walk, swim, hike. Get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. 
  10. Fast occasionally. It's good for your metabolism. See this excellent article on the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Make modest, incremental changes rather than big, sweeping ones. Make tradeoffs. Remember, the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady always wins the race. The heavier you are, the more difficult it is to lose weight because you always feel much hungrier. Become aware of the triggers that influence your behavioral goals. Consider the people and situations that influence whether you achieve your goals or not. Feedback teaches us to see our environment as a triggering mechanism. Review every day and implement your learnings the following day. When you drift, simply get back on track. Get some help if you need too. See a doctor, join a gym or find a coach. Accountability and support from others are extremely helpful.
 
If you are keen to do a little extra homework, I have also found these resources very helpful:
Here's to long life and a healthier you!
 
P.S. See also yesterday's BLOG post Weight Loss Musings.

Weight Loss Musings

Weight
 
As a teenager, I was as skinny as a rake. Even my bones stuck out of my shoulders. This often led to questions or laughs from both friends and strangers anytime I took my shirt off, like when swimming.
 
I could also eat like a horse. My dad used to jokingly say that if you were looking for the 'bottomless pit', I was it. I remember never being full. I could eat and eat endlessly. And did I mention that I was skinny?
 
We lived in Portland, Oregon at the time and there was this restaurant called Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor that everyone loved to go to. The biggest item on the menu was 'The Pig Trough'. It was a huge ice cream sundae with too many scoops of ice cream to count, covered with all the sugary goodies - whipped cream, flavored syrup, nuts, etc, etc. It was so big that IF you could eat it all, the restaurant staff would come around with a microphone and a pounding bass drum (the marching band type) and announce your achievement to the entire restaurant, culminated by pinning a big prize ribbon on you that said, "I made a pig of myself at Farrell's." Good fun.
 
Well, after my high school graduation, a bunch of friends and I went to Farrell's. I am a bit ashamed to admit this ... but my friend, Steve, and I, actually finished off TWO pig troughs that night ... each! Needless to say, my stomach was a little queasy night, but I slept it off and life went on. And did I mention that I was skinny?
 
Fast forward to age 40 - my appetite hadn't changed much but I could eat and actually be full. And I wasn't skinny anymore. Since that time, shock horror, I have struggled off and on with this thing called weight loss. At age 55, I weigh myself pretty much every day and there are often groans as I realise I've put on another few kilos. How annoying!
 
I am currently reading the best-selling book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harai. I was shocked to learn the following:
  • Overeating is now a worse problem than famine in our world. Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030. In 2010, famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million.
  • Whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Qaeda.
  • In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.
These facts are quite alarming and should definitely grab our attention. After all, the best gift you can give your family and loved ones is living a long life - staying around as long as you can. None of us can guarantee a long life but we can choose to develop some healthy habits that at least make that a greater possibility.
 

Finding Happiness (Part 3): Financial Control

IMG_0567

The third ingredient contributing to our everyday happiness (read part 1) is financial control.

Money isn't everything but having enough to meet our own needs as well as to give away to others can create a sense of happiness and freedom in our lives. This has nothing to do with our 'net worth' or waiting until we get that next raise or bonus. It's about how we are managing the resources we currently have. Money is a terrific servant but it can be a cruel taskmaster if we allow it control us. 

Thankfully, we don't have to wait until we have more money. We can start having a sense of financial control ... beginning today. It's about having a common-sense plan that's based on hard work, saving, controlling our expenses, paying down our debts and investing wisely. Anxiety can disappear and, in a matter of time, you can know what it is to be financially free.

Unfortunately, we don't automatically have the financial acumen we need for life when we graduate from high school. Sure, we know a little math and maybe a bit about economics, but young people today often don't learn the keys to good financial management while growing up, unless their parents took the time to teach them and model the way. Thankfully, there are tools and resources to help us acquire the knowledge that we need. And it's never too late to learn.

A few helpful resources for Australians are:

Yes, for less than $60 you can acquire all the knowledge and skills you need to gain financial control. That's well worth it.

Did you know that (all are recent statistics from Scott Pape's book mentioned above):

  • The majority of Australians pay $515 a year in bank fees. Over 10 years, that's $5,150, enough money to take you on a really good holiday somewhere!
  • Your super fund can gobble up a third of your savings in fees. Approximately 90% of Australians don't choose where their super money is invested, so they end up in their fund's default option.
  • The average wage in Australia is $78,832 (the top 0.28% of the richest people in the world by income) yet 62% of us believe we can't afford to buy everything we really need.
  • Australians on average live in the biggest homes in the world. And we need a lot of stuff to fill those homes. And we are one of the biggest waste producers in the world - second only to the USA.
  • Australia has the highest rate of household debt in the world. 
  • Only 7% of Australians have the right amount of insurance. 
  • Most Australians aren't ready to retire financially. Although having the richest people on the planet, one in three retirees lives in poverty due to the high cost of living and many run out of savings 13 years before they die ... one of the worst results in the world.

Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way. People are often destroyed through lack of knowledge. That's why it is important to "get wisdom". Get around people who know more than you do and be humble enough to ask questions. Be willing to learn. Have a teachable attitude. You can learn anything ... if you only give it a go.

Your money is just that - YOUR money. You got out of bed in the morning, went to work, and earned your paycheck. Why not learn to manage those resources better so you can achieve a greater degree of financial control? It is possible. You can do it. I'll be cheering you on. You'll be glad you did.

P.S. For some more insights on the topic of finance, be sure to check my 3 BLOG posts on Money Talks.


Finding Happiness (Part 2): Strong Personal Relationships

IMG_0567

The second factor that contributes to our happiness (read Part 1) is Strong Personal Relationships.

Each of us is born into a family and a desire for a sense of belonging is a part of what it means to be human. Although the introverts among us tend to be energized by solitude and alone time, most people enjoy meaningful conversation and are enriched by good friendships.

In many ways, relationships are spatial. Most people have lots of acquaintances, many 'friends' or people they know more about or do life together with, but usually only a few close or best friends. Like circles of friendship, the former are further away emotionally while the latter are in close proximity. The key is knowing who is where and how best your constellation of relationships functions in a healthy manner - for everyone concerned. 

We find close friends by first being friendly with lots of people - enlarging our circle of acquaintances. Out of these casual connections, we often find people with common interests or who are of a 'kindred spirit' where there is a mutuality of commonality and enjoyment. With time and effort, close friendships can emerge. And what a gift a good friend is! Of course, to have friends one must be friendly and it is often in giving to others that we also receive. 

How are your relationships going? Who are your friends? Who needs to be closer? Who should you be creating some distance from at the moment (not that you become rude to them but that their proximity is not benefiting either of you)? 

What could you do to strengthen your existing friendships? What conversation do you need to have to take things to a deeper level?

What steps could you take to make some new friends? Where could you meet people with common values and interests?

In most relationships, we get out of them what we put into them. True love thinks about how the other person wants to be treated then grabs the initiative and treats them that way. It's called the "Golden Rule" and it enhances all relationships. 

Tomorrow: Financial Control

For some additional BLOG post around the theme of relationships, see also:


Finding Happiness (Part 1): A Sense of Purpose

Finding-Happiness

Are you happy? 

What does happiness really look like?

Australia's longest running and most comprehensive survey on happiness is conducted by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. After 15 years of detailed research, the author of the survey, Deakin University Emeritus Professor Bob Cummins, says he's finally cracked the code to wellbeing, which he has dubbed the ‘golden triangle of happiness':

  1. A sense of purpose.
  2. Strong personal relationships.
  3. Financial control.

Let's take a look at each of these:

A Sense of Purpose

Deep inside of each one of us is a need for a sense of purpose and meaning. What are we living for? What is life all about? Why should we even get out of bed in the morning? Good questions! 

A lot of people simply pursue pleasure (more fun!), possessions (more stuff!) and prestige (more popularity!). Is it any wonder, because the media and our culture bombard us every day with these values. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these pursuits. It's just worth pausing and asking if they are worth making the central purpose of our life. 

Pleasure doesn't last that long and before you know it, we need another fix. 

All stuff eventually breaks down and wears out and before you know it we want something newer or better (thanks to the relentless efforts of the multi-billion dollar marketing industry). Years of detailed research proves quite convincingly that once you earn over a certain amount a year, money won't make you much happier. Is it really worth the time and effort to pursue outward symbols of success - owning an expensive home, in an expensive suburb, and driving an expensive car to drop the kids off at an expensive school? Many people bite off more than they can chew. They work more. They stress more. They fight more. Is it really worth it?

Prestige can be elusive too. We can be with the 'in crowd' one day and forgotten the next. If our sense of worth and identity is based on what other people think about us, we will always be vulnerable and at risk to the whims of people's fickle opinions. 

So what are you living for? What is the purpose of your life? These are BIG questions. And it's worth pulling aside from the rat race, even if just for an hour or two, to consider and reflect on them deeply. Life's way too short to be climbing the so-called ladder of success only to get to the top and find it was leaning against the wrong wall.

Tomorrow: Strong Personal Relationships.

Here are a few other BLOG posts that might be helpful as you reflect on your sense of purpose:


The Story of Your Life

Story-of-your-life

I love the idea of life being like a story. History itself is a narrative of the story of the human race of which we are all a part. Within that grander story, every one of us has a story to tell. Your life is your story. Your story is your life. 

Like a story, your life has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. There is a theme, characters, subplots (work, family, health, happiness, friendship), trajectory, and tone.

 What kind of story is your life?

  • A comedy?
  • A drama?
  • A thriller (horror) movie?
  • A romance or a love story?
  • An action movie?
  • A fairy tale?

In reality, each of our life stories is an EPIC. It’s a long journey with many scenes, experiences, twists and turns, characters, and smaller individual story lines. It's our own personal growth adventure!

Right now, I'm reading a very interesting book called Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life by Kim Scheinderman. Drawing from a number of disciplines, including narrative therapy, she presents life as a spiritual story which we are co-authoring. She suggests that we "can re-imagine ourselves as the hero of our own unfolding story, with the power to reclaim our personal narrative through choice and voice ... rather than remaining entrenched in tales of victimisation and martyrdom."

Here are a few questions for you to reflect on:

1. It's been said that most people spend more time planning their holidays than they do planning their lives. When is the last time you took some extended time aside to think deeply and honestly about your own life?

"Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering." St. Augustine - Confessions.

2. If you could view your life as a story, what is the 'narrative arc' of your story so far? Are you happy with where the story is going?

3. Who is writing your story? Is it really you ... or are you simply following the scripts of other influential and even well-intentioned people in your life?

"Freedom begins the moment you realise someone else has been writing your story and it's time you took the pen from them and started writing it yourself." Bill Moyers

[Watch the movie The Truman Show for a classic example of a person living out someone else's script]

4. Use a third person lens as you look at your life.

  • Draft a brief character sketch of the main character (the protagonist) of your story - YOU.
  • What does this character want out of life? What are their motivations, dreams, and aspirations? 
  • What is getting in the way? What are the obstacles (or antagonists), whether people, emotions or things?
  • What's at stake? How intense is the character's motivation? How much do they care? What is to gain by overcoming the obstacles? What is to lose by failing to do so?

Notice how different you write about, or see yourself, when taking a somewhat neutral observer/onlooker role.

5. The biblical character of Joseph went through a horrible family ordeal of rejection and betrayal. Yet at the end, when re-united with his brothers, he said, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Without denying his painful past, how did Joseph learn to tell his story from such a redemptive perspective? How can we learn to re-tell our own stories with more of a redemptive spin that allows for God's providence in all things - the good, the bad and the ugly?

"What matters in life is not what happens to you, but how you remember it and how you tell it." Gabriel Garcia Marquez

6. In one of the darkest times of ancient Israel's history, the prophet Jeremiah said this:

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11.

How could this powerfully, positive statement inform your understanding of God's intentions for the remainder of your story, regardless of what has been in your past?

Whatever your story has been so far, may your next chapter truly be your best chapter yet!

See also: Storyline: Understand your Story

Psalm 9:11. Sing your songs to Zion-dwelling God, tell his stories to everyone you meet. MB

Psalm 145:4. Generation after generation stands in awe of your work; each one tells stories of your mighty acts. MB

Matthew 13:3. Using the boat as a pulpit, Jesus addressed his congregation, telling stories. MB

Mark 4:30. Jesus said, "How can we picture God's kingdom? What kind of story can we use?" MB


No Worries

W

Have you been worrying lately? Worry is a common thing. How do you deal with your worry?

Well, firstly you need to ask yourself, “What am I worrying about?” A study was done recently about the things that people worry about.  

Here are the results:

  • 40% of the worries were about things that never happened or would never happen.
  • 30% of the worries were things in the past for which they could do nothing about.
  • 12% were worries about health and worry actually worsens your health.
  • 10% were about petty or minor worries.
  • Only 8% of the worries were about anything substantial or legitimate and of that 8%, half, or 4%, of them were out of the person’s control. 
  • That means only 4% were something that they could actually do something about.  

The research therefore reveals that 96% of what we worry about is totally irrelevant. It’s not worth worrying about!  

So why don’t you evaluate your worries today. If you can do something about it go ahead and do it, but with the rest just leave it. Don’t worry.  Trust in God.

As us Aussies say, "No worries!"


Emotional Intelligence

EQ

Well known psychologist, Daniel Goleman has done a lot research on the components of success, especially in the work place. His conclusion is that Technical Skill and Intellectual Intelligence (or IQ) are very important, but that the quality of Emotional Intelligence (or EQ), is the most essential.  In fact, it’s twice as important as the other two attributes.  

‘Emotional intelligence’ is: knowing how to relate well to a wide variety of people.

How do we do that?  Well, Jesus gives us some great advice in Matthew 7:12 when he says, “Do for others what you would like them to do for you.”  

Some people call this the “Golden Rule”. Jesus is basically saying to think about how you like to be treated. Think about the qualities and attributes that attract you to others, the ‘ideal friend’. We can also think about the qualities and attributes that repel us from others. You know, the ‘friend from hell’.  

Think about how you want to be treated and then you take the initiative. You begin treating other people in that way.

Imagine a world where every one of us follows this basic principle of relationships. 


De-Cluttering my Library

BookwormConfession time - I love books! There is a certain joy in buying a new book and putting it on your shelf ... even if you haven't yet read the last 10 books you have bought. Book addicts understand this. Other people just don't get it.

As a kid, if my parents visited friends and there were no kids to play with, after dinner, I'd sit by their bookshelf and browse through their books. If they had an encylopedia set, I was elated. I loved reading and learning new things. I guess, at heart I I'm a bit of a a maven.

So I have a lot of books. Books given to me from family and friends. Books handed down from my father, Kevin Conner, or my brother-in-law, Frank Damazio - both fellow book addicts. Then there are books I have bought - new or in second hand shops all over the place. Did I mention that I have a lot of books?

The painting to the right is called "The Bookworm" and I have a beautiful version of it mounted on my library wall. One book in each hand, another one under the arm and another one between the knees. Every booklover gets it.

Well, we have recently sold our home and we are down-sizing. Yes, there are times to enlarge, to add, to expand and to make more room. We've been through plenty of those seasons. But now we are in a very different season - a time of simplifing, of letting go of a lot of stuff, and of de-cluttering. With two of our sons all grown up and married, we are moving to a house almost half the size of the one we currently live in. [See my wife, Nicole's, recent BLOG post "Honey, I Shrunk the House" for more details]

Sadly, this means there won't be room for all of my books. So I am currently working through my books, shelf by shelf and book by book ... forcing myself to ask 3 questions:

  1. "If I haven't looked at this in the last 5 years, will I look at it in the next 5 years?" [Confession: I have looked and read a heap of my books, so this question alone isn't enough]
  2. "If I didnt have this book today, would I buy it?"
  3. "If I could only have 1 bookshelf of books, would this book be on it?"

These questions are helping me make some tough decisions ... in addition to asking, "Can I get this book on Kindle and thereby take up less space by having an electronic version of it?" Sure, it's not the same as the read thing, but eBooks do save space.

It's time to give away, to bless someone else ... with a book or two that they need more than I do. 

Painful but freeing. 

See also:


Jesus: I AM the Vine

I AM 1080

John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” NIV

These are some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He has spoken about his departure and assured them of his return (John 14). Now his focus is on his disciples remaining or keeping connected to him as they live in the world following his departure. Jesus was probably walking through a vineyard with his disciples when he gave this teaching. He often drew analogies from the culture around him and from ancient Jewish traditions, infusing them with fresh spiritual meaning. The vine and the vineyard were old and sacred images in Judaism. The vine represented Israel: God’s covenant people who were meant to bear fruit (see Psalm 80:7-9. Isaiah 5:3-5). Jesus boldly declares, “I am the true vine” (his seventh and final “I AM” statement in this Gospel). He has taken the place of Israel as God’s true planting, the one on whom God’s purposes are now resting. His Father is the gardener and we as his disciples are the branches.

A Challenge

God wants his children to live an abundantly fruitful life. That’s why he put us on this earth (see Psalm 1:3. John 15:8. Titus 3:14). Fruit represents ‘good works’ - a thought, attitude, or action of ours that God values because it glorifies him. The fruit from our life is how we bring honor to God on earth. We bear inner fruit when we allow God to nurture in us a new, Christ-like quality: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).” We bear outer fruit when we allow God to work through us to bring him glory. That includes sharing our faith but also serving others in love. Fruit-bearing flowing out of an intimate relationship with Jesus is why he chose us (John 15:16. Ephesians 2:10).

Jesus describes four different levels of fruitfulness in this teaching (see vs.2, 5): (1) “no fruit”, (2) “fruit”, (3) “more fruit”, and (4) “much fruit”. The Father wants more fruit from us so much that he actively tends to our lives so we will keep growing - from a barren to a productive branch. We were created to bear fruit, more fruit and much fruit! Of course, the fruit of our good works does not refer to things we do in order to earn God’s grace but are simply an overflow of the life of Jesus in us. Jesus calls us to do more of our life with him not just more for him. If you were accused of being a follower of Jesus, is there enough evidence to convict you? How’s your fruit?

An Application

Any vine or bush left to itself will become straggly and tangled, and grow in on itself. It will produce quite a lot of not-so-good fruit (or flowers) rather than a smaller number of splendid ones. It will, quite literally, get in its own light. So you prune it to stop it wasting its energy and being unproductive. You cut out, particularly, the parts of the plant that are growing inwards and getting tangled up. You encourage the shoots that are growing outwards, toward the light. You prune, in other words, to help the plant be its true self – to focus its energy on producing good quality fruit, rather than lots of second rate ones. That’s why any good gardener knows the value of pruning. Through pruning, growth that is dead or dying is removed, adequate sunlight is allowed to get to all the fruit-bearing branches, the size and quality of the fruit is improved, and new fruit is encouraged to develop.

Pruning, like loving discipline, is painful at the time, but it results in the potential of more fruit (vs.2). Sometimes ‘less is more’ and through removing certain things in our lives or hearts, we make room for more. Is God doing some pruning in your life right now? Is there some pruning you need to do – of certain commitments, or possessions, or lesser priorities?

An Insight

The key to fruitfulness is that we as Jesus’ disciples abide (or remain connected, attached) in him, as he is our life source. Apart from him we can really do nothing of lasting value. Connected to him, we can bear much fruit. Discipleship is not a matter of merely acknowledging who Jesus is (a set of doctrinal beliefs); it is having Jesus spiritually connected to our inner lives (a way of life characterized by love).

Abiding in Christ is a command for all disciples, not a suggestion or a request. But how do we do so practically? Throughout history, followers of Christ have connected closely with Christ in different ways – what we could call ‘abiding styles’. Here are five of them:

  1. Contemplative – people who love creation, quiet, solitude, meditation and reflection.
  2. Intellectual – people who love mentally stimulating material and studying the Bible.
  3. Serving – people who love putting action in their faith by helping others and using their gifts.
  4. Relational – people who love doing things with other people, including prayer and serving.
  5. Charismatic – people who love spontaneity, the unexpected and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Consider when you feel closest to God and most alive in Christ then lean into your primary style. Of course, it’s important to accept others who are different. Most importantly, develop an appreciation for all the styles so you don’t develop an imbalance. Each style taken to an extreme has weaknesses. Jesus balanced all five of these styles to keep connected to the Father. He is our model for abiding, which is the key to fruitfulness. When we develop the ‘Mary’ aspect of our life (a depth of intimacy and spirituality) then the ‘Martha’ aspect will be more effective (fruitfulness and productivity). If we separate these, it leads to frustration. Abiding in Christ is much like a tree producing its fruit – it is a natural outflow that occurs quite effortlessly.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. As these are some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples, why do you think this matter of fruitfulness and abiding in Christ were so important to him?
  2. How do we practically measure the fruitfulness of our lives?
  3. How can we avoid the Christian life degenerating into a long list of things we DO for God and others but without the joy and life of Jesus flowing through us?
  4. Can you describe a time in your life where you felt you were experiencing some ‘pruning’? What was it like and what was the end result?
  5. Today there is a growing social movement towards simplicity, down-sizing, essentialism and minimalism. What can we learn from this trend in our society? What could God be saying to us through it?
  6. What is your personal abiding style? How could you lean more into it?
  7. Finish by praying for a greater intimacy with Jesus resulting in a greater fruitfulness in your life.

Baggage

Baggage

Nicole and I have recently returned from a few weeks overseas - for a conference and some holidays, as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

I love to travel. The very atmosphere of airports and airplanes energises me. I love visiting new places and meeting new people. However, my wife doesn’t get quite as excited. In fact, she starts packing a few weeks ahead of time, just to make sure she’s got everything she needs. I tend to pack in the last minute. 

You know, as we travel through our journey of life we all tend to carry various sorts of baggage with us. Some types of personal baggage from our past can become pretty tiring to carry after a while. In fact, the emotional strain can become overwhelming. Sometimes we have to make a choice to ‘let go’ of things, including situations in the past where we were hurt by other people, where we were disappointed by life, or maybe where we failed ourselves. 

What’s in your suitcase? What are you carrying with you right now? What’s dragging you down? Are there some things worth off-loading? Is there some baggage you’d be better off getting rid of? Doubts, questions, regrets, hurts ... maybe it’s time to let them go. Why not do that today ... even right now.

Baggage ... think about it.


Money Talks (Part 3)

MoneyIt may take time … but having and working a financial plan is the path to financial freedom and God’s blessing whatever your situation. Notice the plan is not the 80-10-10 plan. The order is important. Put God first in your finances. Then change ratios over time as you’re able - 15-15-70, etc. This is pretty simple: a 10-year old can do it. Every person’s financial situation is unique. What is right for you may not be relevant for someone else, but these principles can work for just about everyone.

My motive in sharing this message is to help you personally – because a lot of people live under tremendous financial pressure and all of us need to learn principles of wise financial management. It is not because the church is desperate for more money. We are healthy financially. Yes, we can always use more, so don’t stop giving, but that is not the primary purpose of this teaching. Notice that our focus is not just on giving, because, as important as giving is, it is only one part of the wise financial management.

If you’re doing well financially, well done. Be a blessing and help to others around you. If you’re not doing that well, begin making some changes right away. If you’re under financial pressure or if you have a lot of debt, obtain some financial advice and help to work your way out of your current situation.

There are many things in life more important than money. You can have an enjoyable and fulfilling life without having a lot of money. There is more to life than money and possessions including pleasing God by living right (Prov.11:4; 16:8; 28:6), enjoying quality relationships (1Cor.13:13), as well as experiencing inner peace and contentment (Prov.15:16; 23:4-5. Phil.4:11-13. 1 Tim.6:6-10).

Reflection Questions

  1. The Bible talks a lot about money. How do you feel about it being talked about in church?
  2. Reflect on the dangers and the benefits of wealth.
  3. Read Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:28-30 about considering the cost of discipleship and discuss what relevance it has to wise financial management.
  4. Read Paul’s comments on work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 and consider its application to today.
  5. In what situations is it appropriate not to be working and be dependent on someone else for income?
  6. What are some principles of promotion in the work place? How do Paul’s comments in Colossians 3:23-25 relate to this?
  7. Reflect on the problem of gambling in Australia. What are some of its causes and consequences?
  8. What are the benefits of managing resources wisely? What are the consequences of not doing so?
  9. How can the church community provide a place where each person is encouraged and helped to be blessed financially?
  10. Why do you think some Christians struggle with the concept of ‘tithing’ (giving 10% of their income to the church)?
  11. What testimonies do you have that illustrate how giving can release God’s blessing in your life.
  12. What are some things you would like to do in the future that will require money?
  13. Why is saving so hard for most people?
  14. What are some lessons about financial investment you have learned (including both successes and failures) that may be helpful to others?
  15. What are some questions we can ask ourselves before buying a particular item (‘shopping tips’)?
  16. What are some ways we can reduce our expenses so we are living within our means?
  17. Finish by praying for financial blessing for your life as you honour God with your  finances.

Money Talks (Part 2)

MoneyEstablish and Live by a Budget

If you don't take control of your money it will take control of you and your life. Money is a great servant but is a cruel taskmaster. A budget is the most important and effective tool for getting your finances under control. A budget is simply a plan for earning and spending money. It provides limits and boundaries, which give security. There are many Scriptures on planning (Proverbs 15:22; 20:18; 21:5; 27:23-24. Jerermiah 29:11. Luke 14:28-30).

INCOME - How to Acquire Money

Human labour is the means by which we earn money. It is the key to the earning side of the financial equation. God is a worker. He worked for six days (on His creation project), then rested from his work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). We were created to work (Genesis 2:5, 15). The primary means of acquiring income is through work. Work was not a result of sin. It is part of God’s plan for our lives. He works and he wants us to work too. We are created to make a contribution and to add value to the world. In return we receive finances for our efforts.

A Plan for Financial Freedom

Most people will earn millions of dollars in their working lifetime. However, what we do with that money is what is most critical. That brings us to the second part of our budget which is our expenses. We need a plan for doing three things with our money - Spending, Saving and Giving. Most people only do one thing with their money - spend it. In fact, a lot of people spend more than their income and as a result they’re drowning in an ever-enlarging pool of debt. Consider starting with something like the 10-10-80 plan.

1. GIVE - first, give at least 10% to God. God gives us our very breath and the power to acquire wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18) All that we have comes from him and therefore belongs to him (1 Chronicles 29:14-16). Giving God the first part of our income is a regular reminder to us of this reality. In doing so, we honour him as our Lord and as the source and owner of all of our resources. In Old Testament times, ‘tithing’ (giving 10%) was a law for all Israelites. In the New Testament, the emphasis moves toward generous giving. Followers of Christ are instructed to give to God’s work - proportionately, generously, sacrificially, willingly, regularly, cheerfully, and wisely, excelling in the art of giving (see Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24. Mark 12:41-44. Luke 19:8. Acts 2:41-47; 4:36-37; 11:27-30; 20:35. Romans 15:25-27. 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; 16:1-4. 2 Corinthians 8-9. Philippians 4:18. 1 Timothy 5:17-18. 2 John 5-8). Giving 10% (‘tithing’) of our income to the work of God is an excellent principle of good financial management (not a law).

Abraham tithed 430 years before the law and Jesus affirmed the principle of tithing (Matthew 23:23. Luke 11:42). The new covenant of grace brings us to a higher law - a place where we give not because we have to but because we want to.

The subject of giving can be approached from two different perspectives - human wisdom or the wisdom of God. The natural mind says, “Giving means I make a loss.” The truth is when you give or invest in the God’s work it is not a loss but it is actually a deposit in your heavenly account. God records it and there will be return for you (Matthew 6:19-21. Luke 6:38. Philippians 4:10-19). God can make your 90% go further than you can make your 100% go without his help and blessing. Secondly, the natural mind easily says, “I can’t afford to give” or “I’ll give when I’ve got some surplus.” However, God challenges us that when we give in faith even when we are in a time of need, his miraculous provision begins to come our way. He only asks us to give of what we already have, not what we don’t have, and as we go first, in faith and obedience, we release his blessing into our life (see 1 Kings 17 and Mark 12:41-44).

2. SAVE - secondly, take at least another 10% and pay yourself by putting this in a savings or investment account. Prepare for the future by adopting a savings and investment plan (Proverbs 21:20). Savings creates freedom, reduces pressure, enhances joy, is a powerful witness and enables you to give. Make a decision to become a saver and get a plan to make it a reality (Proverbs 13:11; 21:5). Spend less than you earn, then save and invest the difference over a long period of time. Ants have small bodies and small brains but they are very smart (Proverbs 6:6-11)! They store up (save) for the winter months. We humans have bigger bodies and bigger brains but sometimes we’re pretty foolish. We have nothing saved up for the future. Growth financially takes time and continued effort. If we are faithful with what we have, God will give us more (Matthew 25:21).

Investing is about getting your hard-earned money to work for you. There are a lot of ‘shonky’ investment schemes out there that promise you a fast track to wealth (Eccesiastes 5:13-14). If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, there are many investments that can yield good returns. Do your research, obtain good advice and learn about different investment types - both their potential returns and risks.

3. SPEND - use the remaining 80% or less to pay everyone and everything else. This is for the rest of your normal living expenses – food, clothing, housing, transportation, debt reduction, entertainment, holiday, extra giving, etc. You’ve already honoured God and paid yourself. You can now enjoy life a little because you’re on plan. You’re living wisely.

Beware of the major “budget busters”, especially “impulse buying”, which refers to unplanned expenditures based on emotion. Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. If you buy something on sale, you are not saving, you are spending. Advertising motivates us to buy things we often don’t need and seeks to make us dissatisfied with what we have now. Material things always oversell themselves and rarely deliver on their promises over the long term. Avoid situations that encourage you to spend. Be satisfied with what you have. Focus on what you have not on what you don’t have.

Use debt strategically (to increase assets) not destructively because debt puts you in bondage (Proverbs 22:7), it puts you under pressure (Proverbs 23:4), it can sabotage your peace and joy (Ecclesiastes 4:6), it can damage your Christian witness and it hinders you from being able to give (Luke 10:25-37). If you are in debt, make a decision to get out of debt, get a plan, get some help and don’t give up (Proverbs 3:27-28. Romans 13:6-8).

If you can’t live on 80% of your income you have to make some changes: Either earn some more income – find a higher paying job (upgrade your skills, if necessary, to make yourself more qualified), work extra hours or start an extra job (possibly part time). These are all possible options but consider the ramifications of each choice. The other option is to reduce your expenses, which may require you to ‘down-size’ your living standards (see Eccesiastes 4:6). If your standard of living is creating great pressure and stress in your life and relationships, why not lower it. Right-size your living expenses to match your income.

Most people think that the solution to their financial problems is to earn more. However, it’s not what you earn that matters - it’s how much you spend. If you consistently spend less than you earn, and save or invest the rest, you will gain financial freedom. It has nothing to do with how much you earn. Overspend just a few dollars a day and you can be thousands of dollars in debt in a number of years. On the other hand, put aside a few dollars a day into savings and you’ll save thousands of dollars in a number of years.

[Part 3]


Money Talks (Part 1)

MoneyJesus and Money

In Luke 16:1-13, we have an example of Jesus’ teaching about money. There’s a difference of opinion as to what exactly Jesus is commending about the manager in the story but the application of the parable is very clear: (1) all of us will be called to give an account of how we have served him and what we have done with our resources; (2) preparation for that day of account should involve wise use of our resources, especially in the area of finances; and (3) wise use of resources, demonstrating a life of true discipleship, will be rewarded with eternal life and joy. Jesus then added a few other lessons after he finished the story: (1) How we handle small things is an indicator of how we will handle larger things (vs.10); (2) God looks at how we manage the financial resources (‘worldly wealth’) he puts in our hands to determine how much spiritual responsibility (‘true riches’) he will give us (vs.11). Money is a test of spiritual maturity. It reveals our heart and the quality of our character; (3) How we handle or manage other people’s things is a test of our character and maturity (vs.12). If we can’t do well with what belongs to another person, we probably won’t be given our own; (4) Finally, Jesus observes that you can’t serve God and money, in the sense of making an ultimate commitment to both at the same time. Obviously, Jesus is saying that a real test of our discipleship is our attitude towards and our management of our finances. You can tell a lot about a person by how they spend their money. It’s more than just numbers. It reflects values. As part of another teaching on money, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” In other words, your money follows the desires and values of your heart.

Jesus talked about money and possessions in 16 out of 38 parables and 1 out of every 10 verses in the gospels refer to this topic. He talked more about possessions and money than about heaven and hell combined. He did this because how we handle our money matters.

Your Personal Money Makeover

We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Over half of the world’s population lives on just a few dollars a day. Every one of us is ‘rich’ in comparison. Yet despite that fact, many Australians, including many Christians, are under financial pressure. When we experience financial difficulties, every area of our life is affected. Thankfully, there are biblical principles to help us achieve financial freedom and for living wisely on the resources we have.  

On the negative side, the Bible teaches us that money can become like a monster that rules our life if we allow it to. Money can be addictive (Ecc.5:10), deceptive (Mt.13:22) and destructive (1 Tim.6:9-11), and it’s only temporal (Lk.12:16-21). Money can be difficult to master and that’s why the Bible says that the “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim.6:10). If you don’t control your money, it will control you and it has the potential to destroy you. Riches can be a threat to your relationship with God. That’s why the Bible has many warnings about the dangers of wealth. You don’t have to have money to love it. Both poor people and rich people can be lovers of money. So, should we all be poor? Not at all. God doesn’t mind us having money as long as our money doesn’t have us. Money is not the problem; it’s our attitude towards it. Money is essential for survival and the expansion of God’s kingdom. It depends on our motives, our priorities and our values.

On the positive side, the Bible teaches us that if we serve God, money can become a blessing in our life. The Bible shows us that God desires to bless his people. God prospers us for a purpose. Money can meet our basic needs (Dt.8:10-20), provide for our enjoyment (Ecc.5:19) and enable us to meet the needs of others (1 Tim. 6:17, 18) and resource God’s work on the earth.

A Financial Assessment

About 10 years ago, we shared a series of messages focused on a personal money makeover. It’s worth looking at this again. A money makeover starts with an assessment of where you are at right now financially. You will benefit from a very simple financial check-up. This is what you need to know about your finances:

  1. What you own – your This includes cash, house, car, furnishings, tools, investments, money you.
  2. What you owe – your liabilities. This is what you owe – a personal or bank loan, or credit card debt.
  3. What you earn – your income. This includes wages, investment returns, gifts, government support, royalties, etc.
  4. What you spend – your expenses. Expenses include all your living expenses, loan or debt repayments, etc.

#1 and 2 are referred to as your Balance Sheet. Hopefully, you have some ‘equity’ or a positive ‘net worth’. The percentages and proportions are more important than the actual amounts.

#3 and 4 are referred to as your Profit and Loss Statement. Hopefully, there is a ‘profit’, because you are spending less than you are earning. The percentages and proportions are more important than actual amounts.

Doing an assessment such as this takes time but it is worth it. Get some help if you need to. Make use of a simple computer program, consider taking a basic accounting course or purchase a basic book on financial management. Remember Jesus said how we manage your financial resources is very important.

A Balance Sheet statement is very important as it is a snapshot of your current financial position. However, it is simply a result of what we do on a day-to-day basis with our finances, which is shown by our Profit and Loss Statement. If you’d like your assets to increase and your debts to decrease over time, then you need to ensure that your income is exceeding your expenses on a regular basis then apply the resulting profit to those goals.

[Part 2]


Living a Life of Gratitude

Living-a-life-of-gratitude

Prayer and Praise

When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to the next petrol station (while Nicole was saying, “I told you so!”). I remember telling all the kids in the back seat, “Pray!” Yes, we all prayed for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, God had mercy and a petrol station appeared just in time and I said out loud, “Thank you, God!”. After filling up, we headed off again and as we drove on in the silence of the night, I was challenged. I realised that the intensity of our praise did not match the intensity of our prayer! Have you ever experienced something similar? Ingratitude is not that uncommon.

Ten Lepers Healed

In Luke 17:11-19, we have the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee, two places where the people had strong hatred and animosity towards each other. Ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus as he entered into a village. Biblical leprosy differed somewhat from today’s various skin conditions, but it was a highly contagious disease that required the person to be isolated from other people. Jews viewed leprosy as a punishment for sin or a mark of God’s displeasure. These lepers must have heard of Jesus healing one of the worst lepers in Galilee a few months earlier (see Luke 5:12-16). In desperation, they cried out for mercy. Without a miracle, their situation would remain hopeless.

They knew that Jesus was approachable and when Jesus saw them he did so through eyes of mercy and compassion. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, as the law required (See Leviticus 14-15). The priest would examine them and then issue a certificate of clearance if they were healed. This was a test of their faith and obedience (much like Naaman of old – see 2 Kings 5). As they went they were healed. Dry scales fell from them, white spots disappeared, a healthy colour returned to their flesh, their disfigured members were restored, and the thrill of new life filled their whole being with incredible joy. They could now return to normal life with their families and friends. Each one of them must have been ecstatic with excitement and gratitude to Jesus.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan (vs.15-16). When this man saw that he was healed, instead of going on to see the priest (to be declared clean), he turned back towards Jesus to express his thanks and praise. He lifted his voice in praise as he had done in prayer (vs.13) before going on his way to enjoy his healing. He was the least likely person to come back but he had an attitude of gratitude.

Jesus responded by asking, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner (vs.17-18)?” Feel Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and possibly sadness. Ten had received a blessing but only one took time to stop, break from the group, and return to give thanks to Jesus. The other nine hurried on to be with their families and friends. Jesus said to this one man, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (or “saved you” - vs.19)." While all ten were “healed”, only one was “saved”, experiencing spiritual healing and wholeness. Nine were healed in their bodies, restored to society but not cleansed of the sin of ingratitude. Only one was cleansed completely.

Lessons for Today

There are so many different and unique applications of this story for us today. Here are a few:

  1. Take time daily to express thanks to God. A ‘quiet time’ of some sort is a terrific way to start each day. Read God’s Word, talk to God and share your requests, but be sure to take time to praise and thank God for his goodness. Make this your pattern for prayer. This is especially important during times of pressure and difficulty when we so easily forget what God has done for us in the past.
  2. Have your guard up against negativity. It is so easy to focus on what is not going well rather than what is. Before long, we can find ourselves grumbling, complaining and whinging. Our words and attitudes affect the atmosphere around us and push away our joy and peace. Stick a thermometer in your mouth and catch yourself when negativity settles in.
  3. Approach gathering together with others to worship God as a priority. Church services are a meeting with God. The singing and worship times aren’t for us. They are an opportunity for us to express our thanks and praise to God as a church family.
  4. Never limit who God might use you to bless. This Samaritan leper was a person living on the margins, away from the general public. Yet Jesus reached out to him in love and compassion. Remember no one is too far from the grace of God. Faith can show up in surprising places, including across common social and racial boundaries.
  5. Keep an attitude of gratitude in all your relationships. Express appreciation to people regularly, say “thank you” and choose not to take anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Any success we may attain is always aided by the help and support of others. Humility acknowledges that God and others contribute to the achievements of our life.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the aspects of prayer (asking God for assistance) and praise (thanking God for his help). Which do you think we are better at or do more of?
  2. What two specific things they are most thankful to God for?
  3. In what ways does gratitude affect the atmosphere our our mind and our world?
  4. What could lack of punctuality to church services say about our attitude to the times we have of praise and worship together? Have we made the preaching more valuable to us?
  5. Jesus healed these ten lepers out of compassion. He is still able and willing to heal today. Take time to pray for someone in your world who is unwell.
  6. Jesus also ‘saved’ this man, bringing spiritual wholeness to his life. Take time to pray for friends and family members, that they will experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Pareto in Practice

Pareto

As you think about the power of priorities, just for fun, think about these principles:

  • 20% of our time produces 80% of our results.

  • 20% of our relationships produce 80% of our happiness and meaning.

  • 20% the customers make up 80% of the sales.

  • 20% of the people take up 80% of our time.

  • 20% of our products produces 80% of the profit.

  • 20% of the book contains 80% of the content.

  • 20% of the presentation produces 80% of the impact.

  • 20% of the people donate 80% of the money.

  • 20% of the people do 80% of the work.

  • 20% of the volunteers do 80% of the work.

  • 20% of the leaders have 80% of the influence.

  • 20% of the people eat 80% of the food.

What could this mean for how you think about your life and work today?


The Power of Priorities

“Most major goals are not achieved because we spend time doing second things first.” Robert J McKain

 “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” John Maxwell

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James.

ParetoKnowing what is important (our priorities) and focusing our time and efforts on these things is a key to greater productivity and effective leadership. Yet these are two of the most difficult things to get people to do. Conventional thinking is linear and assumes that all activities and tasks are equally important. But research reveals that not all work produces the same level of results. In fact, there is a universal imbalance between effort (input) and reward (output. Only a minority of activities produce a great impact while a majority of tasks have only a small impact.

This is referred to as The Pareto Principle (named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population) or The 80/20 Principle. It says that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities.

Greater productivity can often be achieved by doing less rather than doing more. Effective people redirect their efforts away from tasks that only have a small impact towards those that have the largest impact. By aiming for quality rather quantity you will see your impact increase exponentially. This doesn't mean that we write off everything else but this principle helps us tap into the power of simplicity and of the impact of focus.

This simple concept can be applied to any sphere of life, ranging from business to friends and quality of life.

Applications

  1. Identity the 20% of your activities or tasks that produce 80% of your results.
  1. Focus (concentrate) your time here.
  1. As a result, you will decrease the time you spend on less meaningful matters. It’s about maximum result from minimum amount of effort. By dedicating yourself to work harder for a shorter period of time, you’ll find you work improved and your free time expanded.

P21

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you believe that this principle is true?
  1. Do you think Jesus practiced this?
  1. How does this principle apply to you in your work or vocational role?
  1. How does this principle apply to the efforts of your team?
  1. How does this apply to your personal life?

Also, check out Pareto in Practice.


Stages of the Life of Faith

Walking-path-scaled1000-e1375847010584

God’s kingdom is often described in an organic way and is seen as growing larger and stronger (Mark 4:26-29. Luke 13:18-19). The church is also seen as growing and maturing (Ephesians 4:15-16). Individual followers of Christ are also called to grow in their relationship to God (Colossians 1:9-10; 2:6-7). Personal and spiritual growth occurs over a period of time and always involves a process that is very much like a journey. Many people find it helpful to have a roadmap or at least a loose guide for their journey of faith. In their insightful book, The Critical Journey, authors Robert Guelich and Janet Hagberg, propose the following six stages:

Stages in the Life of Faith

1. Recognition of God. This is where we all begin our journey of faith. The experience of faith at this stage is the discovery and recognition of God. It is accepting the fact of the reality of God in our lives. Someone bigger than us really exists and He truly loves us. This may occur in childhood or later in life as adults. For some people this is a very identifiable experience, like a moment in time where everything changes. For others, there is a gradual realisation, with no certainty as to just where or when the experience began. Either way, we simply ‘know’ that God is there. Factors contributing to this experience can be either a sense of awe or a sense of need in our lives.

2. Life of Discipleship. This stage is about learning and belonging. We begin to learn, explore, absorb and put into place our set of beliefs or faith principles. In this stage we learn the most about God by association with others we respect and trust. We are apprentices. We need others because we are relatively unsure and insecure at first in our growth and what we believe. The group also provides a sense of belonging, which helps to alleviate some of our feelings of fear and even inadequacy that accompany the excitement of new learning. The group begins to give us a sense of identity and security. We start to feel at home, with family. We are loved and accepted, despite our struggles. It’s not always easy but we are with our kind of people. We have a sense of security and comfort in our faith.

3. The Productive Life. This stage is best described as the ‘doing’ stage as it is the period of time where we find ourselves most consciously working in service for God. It’s now time to give in return for all we have received. This is usually a very active stage of our journey. It is positive and dynamic, centred on being productive in the area of our faith. This stage nourishes us because it is so personally rewarding. It operates on goals and achievement, building and creating, which can be exciting, fulfilling, inspiring and fruitful. We start to feel unique within our community. We are taking on extra responsibility. We feel a degree of confidence because of our experience. Leadership may be part of this stage.

4. The Journey Inward. This stage is a deep and very personal inward journey. It almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it. Until now, our journey has had a very external dimension to it - the community of faith, serving with our gifts, leading others, and productivity. Upon entering this stage, many people experience a period of questioning, exploring, doubting, and even uncertainty. This can be caused by a life or faith crisis. For the first time our faith does not seem to work the same as it has before and our answers seem inadequate, leaving us feeling quite vulnerable. Some people refuse to engage fully with this stage. Therefore they become inadequate guides for others who enter this stage.

The Wall. Somewhere near the end of Stage 4, we experience the Wall – a face to face experience with God and with our own will. This is a critical experience. It represents another layer of transformation and a potentially renewed layer of faith – for those who have the courage to move into it. We decide anew whether we are willing to surrender and let God direct our lives. This is a time of mystery and not something we can do through our own strength or wisdom. This is a pivotal moment. We are afraid, yet drawn to surrender, knowing it will not be easy, but that it will be worthwhile. We are dying to self and letting God be God. [Click here for some thoughts on "Growing in the Dark"]

5. The Journey Outward. This is the next step after rediscovering God and accepting his love. We surrender afresh to God’s will to fully direct our lives. This outward journey may seem similar to earlier stages, but our focus is different. We have changed. We endure suffering gracefully, because of our confidence in God. Our primary motivation in life becomes the desire to love honestly and live according to God’s purposes. There is a fresh sense of calling, vocation or ministry. We start to focus more on other people’s best interests. We start to experience a deep calm and stillness. We allow for a new certainty in God while being comfortable with ambiguity.

6. The Life of Love. At this stage we reflect God to others in the world more clearly and consistently than we ever thought possible. We let our light shine in such a way that God is given the credit and the thanks. We have lost ourselves yet truly found ourselves. We are selfless. We are at peace with ourselves, fully conscious of being the person God created us to be. Obedience comes naturally. We give our all without feeling that it means surrender or sacrifice. We are at one with the Spirit of God. God becomes everything to us.

There is a mystery to our journey of faith. Everyone is unique and will experience variations in their individual journey but we are all headed in the same direction – closer to God. It is helpful to view this journey as a circle rather than as a linear progression. God is at the centre. He is at work in each stage and our goal is not to try to control our growth experience but to draw closer to Him in each season. There are no set formulas for spiritual growth nor can we always know exactly where we are in our spiritual journey. Stages may overlap and we may re-visit stages at times.

Reflection Questions

  1. Where do you think you are now in your own journey of faith and why?
  2. Where have you been in the past? What stages do you recognise or identify with?
  3. Select two Bible characters and see if you can see this pattern in their faith journey.
  4. What are some insights for relating well to others who may be at a different stage than you?
  5. What sort of activities or experiences might be most helpful at each stage - and especially the stage you are at right now?
  6. Click here for a list of additional reflection questions for each stage of faith.

The Value of Time

Time

To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who just missed a train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask someone who just avoided an accident.
To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.

Treasure every moment that you have ... and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with. Remember, time waits for no one.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why its called the present.

[Unknown]


First Things First

Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you (Jesus).

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Good is the enemy of best.

Establishing priorities is essential to life and ministry effectiveness. Not every task or project is created equal. The challenge is to put “first things first”. Basically, all of us spend our time in one of four ways, as illustrated in the Time Management Matrix. This matrix defines activities as “urgent” or “not urgent”, and “important or “not important”. Most people discover that they spend far too much time responding to the urgent crises of Quadrants I and III, escaping occasionally for survival to the not urgent, unimportant time wasters of Quadrant IV.

7h-matrix

The ideal is to work toward eliminating time spent in Quadrants III and IV, and increasing time spent in Quadrant II. As you invest more time om planning, prevention and relationship-building activities of Quadrant II, you’ll find that you spend far less time picking up the broken pieces in Quadrant I or reacting to the urgent demands of other people in Quadrant III.

Applications:

  1. What one thing could you do (that you aren’t doing now), that if you did on a regular basis, would make a significant positive difference in your personal life? What one thing in your ministry life would bring similar results? Schedule both of these things weekly.
  2. Draw a Time Management Matrix and estimate how much time you (and/or your team) spend in each quadrant. Then log your time for 3 days in 15 minute intervals. How accurate was your estimate? Make needed changes by concentrating on Quadrant II.
  3. Start organising your life on a weekly basis. Write down your roles and goals. Then incorporate your goals into a specific action plan.

Floss Regularly

Floss

As a kid, I hated going to the dentist! The very smell of the dentist's office caused panic and nausea for me. Thankfully, I didn't need too many fillings growing up but I still dread the 'scale and clean' experience even as an adult. I'm so glad when it's over.

We all know that flossing our teeth helps prevent tooth decay and makes those 'scale and clean' experiences much more bearable. I try to floss every few days but sometimes I drift and let it go for a few weeks. It's much harder then to clear those gaps between your teeth.

I think flossing has spiritual and relational lessons for us. Imagine how much better life would be if we stopped and engaged in a spiritual examen every night before going to sleep and ensured that our conscience is clear before we finish each day. Now that's as good as a thorough floss of the teeth!

Why not try it out: 


Get Outside of the Box!

Box

In most neighbourhoods today, there is a daily pattern: a garage door opens, a car drives out, and the occupants head to work. Later that day, the car returns, the garage door opens, and the car disappears. Nancy Whitney-Reiter notes that if an alien were to visit our planet, he or she might observe: "You know, these people are all living in boxes. Then they get in their box on wheels, drive to another box (their office), probably spend all day working in front of a box (their computer), then drive home again, disappear back into their box, and sit and watch a box (their televisions) all night." 

There are many benefits of getting outside. It clears our heads, the fresh air is good for us, and we get in touch with God's world.

George Washington Carver once said, "I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting system, through which God speaks to us every hour, if only we the in." 

Here are a few ideas for getting outside:

  1. Plan a BBQ or eat al fresco in your own backyard.
  2. Take a walk around your neighbourhood.
  3. Sit outside and write in a journal. 
  4. Go outside at night and do some star gazing. 
  5. Spend you next lunch hour in a nearby park. 
  6. Pack a picnic and head to a lake or forrest somewhere.

Is it time to get out of your box... literally?


Jesus' Preparation for Ministry

Bap

At the age of 30 (Luke 3:23), Jesus began turning his attention towards his ministry to the people His Father had sent him to. Jesus’ preparation for ministry included his baptism in water (Luke 3:21-23), his relationship with his Father, the empowerment of the Spirit (Luke 4:1-2), and his defeat of the devil and his temptations (Luke 4:3-13).

Jesus prepared for 30 years for 3½ years of significant ministry. It has been said, that people today go to Bible College for 3½ years to prepare for 30 years of ministry.

Proper preparation is essential.

Anything significant is preceded by intensive and thorough preparation (often behind the scenes). Things just don't happen. In fact, the quality of the preparation determines the quality and success of events.

  • A delicious meal requires hours in the kitchen when no one else is around.
  • An enjoyable musical performance requires hours of practice and preparation.
  • A superb sports performance demands hours of training and preparation.
  • A doctor spends years studying before he or she ever take the tools and begins to operate (aren’t you glad!).
  • A significant ministry of high impact also requires the same intensity of preparation. God often takes his time.

The better the preparation, the more significant and lasting the impact. So in the spiritual. God prepares by His Spirit and we also must prepare. 

God sent John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 1:11-17, 76-80; 3:1-6) He was God's prophetic messenger sent before the coming of Messiah “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:27).”

Every significant event in the purposes of God is preceded by a time of intense preparation.

Common Misunderstandings about Ministry:

1. “Ministry is only for people who work on staff at the church”.

This viewpoint misses the fact that every believer is in “full time ministry” wherever they may be – in church, in the marketplace, at school, in the neighbourhood or at home.

2. “Significant ministry just happens.”

This perspective misses the process that God uses to develop us over time and through many life experiences.

3. “You can’t minister until you’re perfect.”

This attitude causes you to keep putting things off until “one day” and this can lead to you missing the opportunities for God to use you today. God doesn’t want you in “school” forever. Yes, we keep learning and growing, but we have to get out there and begin “doing” what we’ve been taught.

What has God been preparing you for?


Time to Jump?

Jumppp

As the age of 19, I left America with my family to relocate back to Melbourne, Australia where I was born. I had been living in the USA for 10 years. I had friends, memories, and great opportunities for the future there. But my family was coming home and so I agreed to come with them for one year and give it a try. I had prayed bold prayers of surrendering everything to God. Now was the time to put those words into action. I was leaving everything, letting it all go, with no promise or guarantee of what was ahead. I had many more questions than answers: "Could I trust God? Would it work out? Would I regret leaving?" The great unknown.

Time to jump.

Scary, yet exhilarating.

As a 54 year old, I now re-visit this same space ... but in new ways. We have begun succession planning talks at CityLife where I have been the Senior Minister for the last 21 years and part of the staff team for 31 years. Once a successor has been chosen and is in place, I will take 6 months off then see what is next. I am letting it all go - a ministry role I have enjoyed for many years, a position of respect, a platform of influence, financial security, comfort, and a life of predictability … with no promise or guarantee of what is ahead. Once again, I have far more questions than answers: "Can I still trust God? What will people think? Am I too young for this big of a change? Will it work out? What will I do next? Will I regret leaving?" The great unknown.

Time to jump.

Scary, yet exhilarating.

Is it time for you to jump?

Maybe not.

The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence (it's usually greener where we water it!). Sometimes we need to stay put, to let our roots go down deep, to be faithful in season and out of season, and to stay the course even in the midst of a scary storm. 

Is it time for you to jump?

Maybe so.

What would you love to be or do … but are afraid to? We love to talk about adventure, faith and risk ... but there comes a time when we must choose to live it. Like Abraham, sometimes God calls us to leave our place of comfort and familiarity ... and go to a new place.

Have you silently been whispering to yourself, “I’ve always wanted to …”

If so, you are not alone.

Take a moment to read Mike Lewis’ story, then check out his new web site www.whentojump.com and follow the stories. You'll be inspired ... and maybe you too will decide it's time to jump.

Mike talks about a “jump curve”. This is not a strict blueprint but there are some common points that most people experience:

1. First, listen closely to the little voice in your head that won’t go away. 
2. Second, make a plan. In reality, for the vast majority of people, their jump is a lot of little steps.
3. Then jump. You can only plan, analyse and hypothesise so far. You will only get certainty to some degree. Just do it. The unknown delivers the best experience. Set the pieces right as best you can, then jump. 
4. Once you jump, don’t look back! Will it work? What does ‘work’ mean? Work just means you did it. That was the success. Trust God and his providence to carry you forward into the next season and chapter of your life. 

Quotes

"You can't always wait for the perfect time, sometimes you have to dare to jump". [Unknown]

"Face It: Career Jumps Are the Future of Work." [Forbes. February 26, 2016]

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." [Mark Twain] 

"A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for." [William Shedd]

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” [Helen Keller]

"The most dangerous risk of all - the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later." [Randy Kombar]

"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone ... I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!" [J.R.R. Tolkein in The Hobbit]

See also: