Grace Driven Holiness

As we think about celebrating the birth of Christ this Christmas, we can’t help but think of a stable and a manger. But this Christmas, all I can think about is a cross. I think we can all relate when I say that the human condition lends itself to trying to earn God’s acceptance by what we “do”, by meeting expectations or by our performance. Our focus can become self-centered and we can be driven by keeping rules, a check-list of what we are or are not doing. Some of us may hope our good deeds outweigh our bad, some of us may fear failing or the disapproval of others. Some of us may deal with perfectionism because doing it “perfectly” makes us somehow more pleasing. I think all of us at some time or another have a fear of being “found out” that we’re really not that great and therefore, we will be rejected by God or by others. We feel we have to “do” something to “be” something. What some of us may have never thought about is that we may profess Christ, but basically, by being self-sufficient, we are saying that we don’t need God. The truth is as hard as we try, we will utterly fail living this way- because it’s impossible to do it good enough. We’re just not capable. If we continue trying to earn His acceptance, we will live weighty lives of despair, joyless living and emptiness. But of course God in His grace has provided a rescue, and there’s hope for all of us– because there’s Jesus and the cross.

I’ve heard it said that the illness we’re experiencing matches the remedy we need. For a headache, we pop a pill, for something more serious like cancer we take chemotherapy treatments. So when we think of Jesus’ back being filleted open, “his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…” (Isaiah 52:14), what must have our sin looked like? If the remedy demanded the very life of Jesus, how significant was our malady? Jesus paid the price of our sin through His perfect sacrifice on the cross. He forgave our sin, and gave us His righteousness; He restored us to right relationship with the Father. We have been accepted in Christ. We have been declared holy in Christ- we have been set apart for Him. Christ is the hero, not us. Christ’s performance is the focus, not ours. We who were His enemies, guilty and condemned with blackened, sin-stained hearts have been declared innocent and set free! What a reason to celebrate! What joy that He knows all about us and still accepts us in our brokenness. Apart from Christ there is nothing good in us but in Christ we are made new!

Christ has become our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness and our redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). His grace is at work in us transforming us to be more like Him, not only providing us pardon, but providing His power! His Holy Spirit’s power lives in us providing the strength to do what He’s called us to do. Out of our new identity, we live. We are, therefore we do. Our call to action to love, to reach out, to choose life, all springs from who He’s made us to be and what He’s done for us. Let’s be stunned by His love for us, that we would fall head over heals in love with Him. Let’s live from an unending gratitude for what He’s done for us. Let’s continue to follow Him and grow, not striving to earn His acceptance- again, Christ already accomplished that for us with His finishing work on the cross (Hebrews 10:14). In Christ, we are already holy. But we are also called to practical holiness, to live it out, to grow to be more and more like Christ. So let’s choose Truth and Grace and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1), self-sufficiency, and trying to earn His acceptance by our performance.

God’s grace was poured out on us from the cross. May we never forget what we were saved from, the incredible price Christ paid for us and the completeness of that cleansing. May we not forget His grace or become immune to it but instead, live from it and share it with others so that He is seen and glorified!

Merry Christmas!

Secure to Serve

Our teenage son is a coach through and through. When he sets a goal for himself, he is disciplined and committed to reach it, no matter what it is. He works hard and puts the time in, and because of that, he sees results. Because he is wired with leadership ability, he motivates others to set goals and follow through. When he heard me talking about working out, he felt compelled to create a plan for me for the next two months. He would ask me every day if I had done my workout, giving me an encouraging word if I had followed through.

One evening after it was already dark outside, I sat in the kitchen talking to him as he finished doing the dishes. As usual he asked if I had worked out that day. I sheepishly responded with a “no.” He asked me what my reasons were, and with each one I gave, he shot it down with truth. “No excuses” was his motto. Commitment was in order, despite the hour of the day, the weather, or my emotional state. There was a goal to be reached, a bigger picture to be realized. I had to chuckle as I sat there, a thirty-nine year old woman, being held accountable by a thirteen-year-old young man, who was absolutely right. He was young, but the next words out of his mouth were wise and spoken from the heart of a servant leader: “Mom, get your shoes on. I’m doing it with you.” And so we did. I ran that night better than any other time before.

In a much greater way, we have our Coach, our Leader, the Spirit and essence of our Savior within us. He not only came up with the plan and the purpose for our lives, saying, “Go, do it,” but He also says, “Get your shoes on. I’m doing it with you.”

God’s heart is one of passion and justice, and it is one of gentleness and humility. Jesus took off His robe and grabbed a towel for His disciples that day in the upper room (John 13), but when He lay on the cross, He took off His robe and grabbed a towel for you and me. Where we once may have felt threatened to lift up others and help them get ahead, we can now live in security. We can serve with joy because we are chosen through Jesus, because we have found a place to belong with God, because we know where we’re going….We can’t do it in our own strength, but He can. How abundant our lives can be because He gave us His! Every day we can choose to rest in His divine life living in and through us. Take heart, there’s hope for change. Because of Jesus in us, we can choose serving others over serving self- and love it! (Excerpt from Can You Tell This is a Knockoff: Finding Your True Identity in Christ (Horsfall & Hamsher, Barbour publishing)

Servant leaders derive their security from their identity in Christ, not from performance, position or people. This is imperative because we will always lead from who we are. What’s inside will come out in our leadership. If we are insecure, we will lead that way- our leadership will be self-focused because we will continually be trying to prove ourselves. But if our security lies in Christ, a peace and stability comes forth enabling us to keep our focus on Christ and the purposes He’s called us to.

In decision making that affects others, a secure/servant leader will put the best of others before their own wants. Rather than hold people back out of fear, servant leaders will develop and empower others and help them get ahead. They will not only walk in front of others to provide clarity of vision, but will walk beside others and ask, “How can I help?” Servant leaders show how… they go first. They won’t expect others to do what they won’t but especially in times of adversity, they will serve in the trenches along with their team. They will get their shoes on and do it with them. That speaks volumes to a team who’s tired, hurting and in need of hope to persevere.

To move from a place of insecurity to security, let’s discover our identity in Christ- the security He provides for us. Any fear that lies in failing, appearing wrong, helping others get ahead, losing our place, being less valuable or being overlooked or forgotten are empty threats. When we root ourselves in Christ and the birthright He gave us of “secure and complete in Him,” we will soon taste the joy and freedom that encouraging and empowering others brings.

Blessings,

Jocelyn

 

 

Cravings and Contentment

Unfortunately, we all have the natural tendency to deal with a “rabble spirit,” eyes that look to the negative and a heart of ingratitude and self-sufficiency. Exploring the OT story of Numbers 11, we see a generous God who gave everything the Israelites needed, but they continued to want something else. It’s a lesson that challenges our own hearts, but we can find hope and the solution to combating our grumbling in learning contentment. Join Bruce and Jocelyn as they explore “Cravings and Contentment.”

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cco-craving-and-contentment/id623366602?i=345394868&mt=2

“Have To” or “Get To”

(Adapted from Jon Gordon article)

Who knew that two simple words could change one’s mindset, perspective and approach to work and life? Just two words have the potential to enhance joy, productivity, performance and change a complaining voice to an appreciative heart.

So often we say things like, “I have to take the kids to practice.” “I have to go to this meeting.” “I have to finish this project.” “I have to have the conversation to clear things up with them.” “I have to go to work today.” “I have to take care of this customer.” “I have to share these new ideas of change with my team.”

We act as if we don’t have a choice. As if we are imprisoned by life, maybe a paycheck and the expectations of a world that forces us to do things we don’t want to do. But in reality we do have a choice. We can choose our attitude and our actions. We can choose how we view our life and work. We can realize that every day is a gift. It’s not about what we have to do. It’s about what we get to do.

We get to live this life, right now, today, while so many have left this world seemingly far too early. We get to drive in traffic while so many do not own or are too sick to drive a car. We get to go to a job while so many are unemployed. We get to raise our children even if they drive us nuts at times.

We get to breathe the oxygen which has been provided for us and we get to experience the sustaining, life-giving qualities of the sun that never forgets to shine and keeps everything alive.

We get to interact with our employees and customers and make a difference in their lives. We get to use our gifts and talents to make a product or provide a service. We get to eat three meals (or more) a day while millions of people are striving to eat just one meal a day. We get to work on projects, answer phone calls, serve customers and work together as a team. We get to participate in meetings, design, create, share, sell, lead and suit up every day for the game of life.

Yes there will be challenges and life isn’t easy but each day we wake up we get another opportunity to make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today. We get to uplift, inspire, encourage, and impact others. This life is a privilege. Let’s make the most of it by remembering that life is a gift, not an obligation…and that we actually “get to” live it!

List several things you “get to” do today and let it change your perspective.                                                   

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Bouncing Back from a Failure

Many of us are afraid to fail which can hinder our growth and even paralyze us in making decisions. But take into account these words of wisdom from psychologist, Dr. Ryan Dunn.

Everybody fails…. With things big or small, sooner or later, in private or (embarrassing) in public, with projects or relationships, we all fail. So the skill of bouncing back from a failure is one that is important to develop, to help us get back on track over and over and over….

A recent study in the journal Anxiety, Stress & Coping, found the most effective ways of bouncing back are positive reframing, acceptance, and humor. These helped people recover the fastest and still feel most satisfied at the end of the day.

Positive reframing is thinking about a situation differently – this may include deliberately thinking about what you can learn from the failure, estimating the tangible cost of the failure (“how does this actually change my life?”) rather than how you feel about it, and what positive things might come from the experience.

Acceptance is deliberately seeing the failure as a normal part of life, something to be gone through without being a reflection of your value, reminding yourself that everyone fails at things, and that you have failed before and will again as a normal part of life, but still survived.

Humor is deliberately finding any funny or ridiculous aspects of the situation. One of my favorite techniques is magnification, where I deliberately exaggerate my negative view of my failure until it becomes ridiculous and usually humorous, which helps me change perspective and feel better. For example, “Yes, that was terrible. Reporters are probably rushing to print headlines about it now, my wife will divorce me, and the mobs will be gathering soon to stone me. People will shun me in public, and Walmart will probably tell me I can’t come back.”

Using these techniques can greatly help deal with failure. Interestingly, coping techniques that made people feel worse were talking with others about it, denial, venting, behavioral disengagement (shutting down and not doing anything), and self-blame. Try and avoid these!

Remember, failure is a part of learning, growing, and developing new skills and abilities. The only people who don’t fail are already dead. So get out there and fail at something! Then bounce back well and keep growing.
Ryan Dunn, Ph.D.

Life Isn’t Fair….But God Is

Meeting with a 15 year old whose good friend gave in to depression and committed suicide reminded me once again of the many silent sufferers in our midst. As this young man and his friends were trying to come to grips of the realities and aftermath of this traumatic event, two truths came to mind that I was able to share with him.

1. I’m not convinced that anyone in their “right mind” could ever commit such an act. Many people need medication to help with bodily organs like the heart, liver, kidneys etc. However, when it comes to all the physiological connectors in the brain not connecting, causing the brain to not function properly, the “mental health” stigma often wins out and we’re slower to receive medicine because of what people might think…or because that would mean “I’m crazy.” It’s not weak to take medication and we’re not spiritual giants because we don’t need it. Sometimes our brain needs help. Medication doesn’t mean we just “pop a pill” and become magically better. It simply regulates the brain, brings things into balance and puts us in a position where we can make better decisions.

2. I believe that God never intended for us to feel the kind of pain that death brings with it. In the Garden of Eden, we were to freely worship God in all of perfection and to enjoy all of his goodness, with no guilt or shame. We were intended to live forever in this state of being, but since mankind chose to “partake of the fruit” (read Genesis), we now live in a state where everything that is living is on its way to death…every plant, animal and human being. Thankfully, God is so gracious that He’s also created a Second Perfection (Heaven), and thankfully His Son, Jesus came to Earth to become our sacrifice for sin and provide victory over death and sin once and for all.

When things happen that we can’t comprehend or understand, let’s all be careful to not blame God. In the situation above with this young man (and in 1,000 other head scratchers), God was just as sad, if not more so, than any human being was. Let’s all remember, that “Life isn’t Fair…But God is.” Please keep this young man’s family and friends in your prayers as they continue to grieve and process things.

Bruce

A Gift in Every Moment

dreamstime_xs_22245053Several years ago, I had the privilege of working at a retirement community as a chaplain. I learned so much from those that lived there- they had such a strong faith, wisdom gleaned through the years and a perspective that challenged my thinking every day. One day I was facilitating a Bible study and asked the question, “How do you experience God?” One man, without hesitation answered, “With every breath I take. With every breath I take, I experience the presence of God.” Awesome. What a reminder of God’s faithfulness, His unconditional love, His desire to be near to us, His heart for us. Immanel—God with us. As I reflect on this man’s statement, I also see that with every breath we take, we can experience God’s “presents.” Our lives – every breath – is another gift from Him. He gives us the gift of people and relationships. He gives us countless opportunities to enjoy, from new and exciting experiences to favorite moments to making a difference in the lives of people. He gifts the “little things” that aren’t really little at all, like laughter, sunsets, the smell of fresh brewed coffee, a beautiful snowfall or the prayer of a little one.  Even in the hardships and trials He brings forth the gifts of life lessons, wisdom and redemption. There is a gift in every moment if we just look for it. As we take notice, receive and unwrap His gifts every day, may we become so full that we give to others from a grateful, joy-filled and overflowing heart. Whether it’s encouragement, our time and availability, grace and forgiveness, love and respect, sharing life lessons or whatever He asks of us – from all that He has given, we have the joy of giving as well!

Time for Change

There’s a saying a good friend of mine told me once that I’ll never forget: “The most successful people aren’t necessarily the most intelligent, but those who are willing to adapt their thinking to change.” So much of my life this past year has changed that there’s simply not enough room to tell you, and I’d have no idea where to begin. I will say, though, the very beginning of this new journey in life started with a single step of faith.

A few years ago, I saw a friend of mine do the exact same thing… no idea what he was going to do next, no idea how he’d provide for his family and no idea how to stop the nagging desire to ask “why.” But he did it. He took that step of faith. He sold out his life, committed himself to be truly utilized by God and is a better father, husband and friend because if it. What did I gain from it? He gave me a roadmap of how to get my “why” question answered, too.

Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit unto The Lord all things and your plans will surely succeed.”  There are other translations, but I like this one the best because it expresses to me that there’s absolutely no way… if I commit myself to His glory (not mine)… that I can mess this up! My investment in “God Things” is guaranteed.

Friends, people are watching you, and you don’t even know it. Take a chance for God. Take a step through that open door today that might not be there tomorrow. Be today. Do today. Go today… and you may even take some people along with you that you had no idea who they were! These are the things Toward the Goal Ministries desires for you. You’ve enabled us to do great things in some people that the rest of the world has discounted or written off. You’re helping us to help others. You, too, have the ability to be intentional in someone’s life that this world says they have no value. Scary? Yes, terrifying. Costly? Everything. Worth it? Every cent of your time! But remember… “successful people are those who will adapt their thinking to change.” That’s what growth really is, right?!

God bless you and your household,
Art Yoder, TTG President

Perspective Changes Everything

084In order to go forward in life, in situations, in emotions, in relationships, in forgiveness, in health, many times we need to change our current perspective. Our mind is one of the greatest weapons we possess. Our thoughts can fuel victory or defeat in every situation. Victory doesn’t always look like obtaining the results we want. Victory is being able to shift perspective, lean into Christ and trust Him in the results.

Changing perspective comes when we slow down emotionally and step back to take in the entire picture. It means to reframe our situation, come at it from a different angle, and think outside the box. It means asking myself, “What can I learn from this situation?” It means stepping back, identifying lies, detecting our typical patterns of thinking (negativity, doubt, skepticism, rejection, etc) and changing our thinking. It means making new pathways in our brain with new thoughts, replacing lies with truth, the negative with the positive, mistrust with trust, assuming the best rather than expecting the worst. It means building our strengths rather than focusing on our weaknesses, wearing names that fit rather than destroy. It means pointing out what others do right rather than what they do wrong. It means looking through somebody else’s lens in order to understand rather than judge. It means focusing on our blessings rather than our lack. It means looking at each ordinary thing or moment and seeing the extraordinary. It means enjoying the scenery along the path of life — each season of life, each day we have, each scene right in front of us. Problems become opportunities and failure isn’t seen as the arch enemy but a teacher in life. The chains of perfectionism fall to the ground when we realize there can be more than one right answer. As we shift perspective, a whole other picture emerges. If frees us to move forward, teaches us lessons about life, gives us direction and grows our faith and character. It frees us up to move forward in becoming the person God has called us to be.

Changing perspective keeps us moving forward, enabling us to move out of the “ruts” in which we have become “stuck.” It doesn’t deny the present or our weaknesses. It doesn’t negate our necessary grieving or processing, but enables us to manage our emotions, walk with steadiness and exude peace and stability. It takes our focus off of ourselves and onto others- serving and encouraging them, all the while keeping our hearts fixed on Christ.

What I look for, I will see. If I look for the same old things I always have and resort to my old patterns of thinking, I will continue to get the same results. If I look for the positive and plant new seeds of thinking I will find something very different and rewarding. Changing perspective is being intentional. It’s a choice. I’m choosing to move forward or backward. I’m choosing freedom or captivity. Perspective changes everything.

Philippians 4:6-9, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:22-24

 

Increasing Measure

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

We don’t need to worry about if God will “fill our cup” or not. We will be refreshed! As we’re generous, we “will” prosper, thrive, stretch and grow. This means we’ll then have a “larger capacity” to share of our time, talents and treasures with an increasing measure.

In referencing several Godly traits, 2 Peter 1:5-8 says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Living out these qualities in “increasing measure” is the key in avoiding complacency and stunted growth.

It’s been said that…We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving. This truth lines up with what Jesus says in Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies (enemies of the cross), do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High…”

In life, we’ve seen that as we freely give, God freely gives back in very innovative, creative and increasing measures.

Let’s all keep sharing our time, talents and treasures in increasing measure as we have opportunities to do so.

Bruce