Spiritual Growth

The Forgiveness Factory

In my book What Every Pastor Needs, there is a chapter titled, "The Forgiveness Factory." (Note: would you like to read free samples of my book? You can sign up for free book excerpts here). In the chapter I quote Matthew 18:21-22 (ESV) which says:

"Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him,"I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times."

I think the main point here is that we never stop forgiving and that is why I call our hearts a "forgiveness factory." I'd like to share how you can make your heart a forgiveness factory today.

Keep It Going

We start by keep forgiving others. We must never think that some people are not worth forgiving or that we are incapable of forgiving them. I cringe when I hear people say, "I could never forgive him for that." The day we stop forgiving others is the day our hearts begin to harden. Bitterness takes root in a heart that doesn't forgive. We have to keep forgiving not only because Jesus tells us to but also because of how it will effect us.

Keep it in Perspective

Later in Matthew 18 Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35). In the story, a servant owed his master "ten thousand talents" or several million dollars in today's money. Imagine that you open your credit card statement this week and it says, "Minimum Payment: 5,000,000"! You couldn't pay it and that's the point. Jesus tells us that our debt to Him is insurmountable. We owe a debt of sin that only He could pay. When the servant begged for his debt to be forgiven it was but then he refused to forgive a servant who owed him several thousand dollars.

Pastor, people will hurt you. I know because I've been hurt by other people in ministry. But the hurt I've experienced cannot compare to the hurt I've caused Jesus because of my sin. We forgive others when we keep things in perspective, remembering how much Jesus has forgiven us.

Keep It Short

Finally, our heart is a forgiveness factory when we keep short accounts with others. My wife has taught me so much about forgiveness. I had always been bad at holding a grudge when people hurt me. When we got married, I would stew for days when my wife said an unkind word. Then one day she asked me, "Are you ready to forgive me?" I replied, "I'm not sure." Then I realized how petty I was being.  Yes, she had hurt me with her words but I had done the same thing to her at times. We all say things we don't mean when we're tired or stressed so we need to forgive now. Ephesians 4:26-27 says,

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

"The sun going down" refers to the end of the day. Before the day is over, we need to forgive.

Is your heart a forgiveness factory today? It can be. Keep your forgiveness going, in perspective, and short and you'll be amazed at what Jesus does in your heart.

Real People

Fake news is everywhere. You can't watch the news or go onto social media without hearing about it. People now have to decide what "real" news is because they're having a hard time differentiating between facts and opinion. It seems like there is more and more fake news every day.

In our relationships, there is a lot of fake talk happening, too. People will ask how we are doing and we will make a fake reply of "fine." We will avoid talking about what is really going on inside us and will keep our distance from others. In this last post on pastor health, I'd like to talk about relational health. There are three steps we need to take if we are going to be healthy relationally.

Find People

Everybody needs somebody they can talk to. It could be somebody in your church or in your social network but you need somebody you can have a close, intimate relationship with. Jesus did; He ministered to thousands but had three close friends: Peter, James, and John. Proverbs 17:17 (ESV) says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." We need people in our lives who love us for us and not for what we do. We must have people that we can be honest with.

The most important part of this relationship is that it needs to be a safe place. Many pastors will turn to their spouse as their safe place but your wife has plenty on her plate already. We need to have other people in our lives that we can have a safe conversation with.

Meet Regularly

After you find the right people--I would recommend 2-3 people--you need to meet regularly with them. You can be flexible but you should try to meet at least once a month. For example, there are two people in my life that I have honest conversations with regularly. One lives out of town so we don't meet in person often but we usually talk on the phone every week. The second person lives in town so we try to get together for coffee once a month. These are people I can be totally transparent with who love me and care about me as a person. Whatever you decide on your schedule, it needs to be consistent. If you only meet a couple of times a year, it won't have as much value to you. You need to meet regularly with them.

Open Up

In these conversations, the most important thing is transparency. You have to be totally transparent with these close friends knowing that they won't judge or condemn you. You can't say everything to everyone but you can say everything to someone and it is healthy to open up to other people. The focus should not be on complaining about your problems but sharing your heart and about how things are affecting you. You want to share your thoughts and feelings with the sympathetic ear of a person who loves you.

Proverbs 18:24 says, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Jesus is that friend to us. He says to us, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5b). But in this life we also need people to stand with us.

Question: Who is in your life today that you can be totally transparent with? Ask God for people you can be real with and open up to them.

Thinking Well

The fourth step in pastor health is mental health. The phrase "mental health" has a bad connotation because we immediately think of mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder. But I want to use that phrase in another way and talk about how to have healthy thoughts.

Throughout a normal day, your mind will be bombarded with thoughts and images ranging from pop-up ads on your smartphone to commercials during a ballgame. You can't control everything that enters your mind but you can determine what your mind focuses on. I'd like to share three ways you can have a healthy mind today.

Reject Negative Self-Speak

Everybody thinks to himself or herself. In our minds, we might think things about ourselves that are what psychologists call "negative self-speak." If you grew up in a verbally abusive home, you could have been told over and over that you are a failure, loser, or hopeless and so you have accepted those words to define yourself ("I am a loser"). As a result, you have a negative self-image and repeat critical words about yourself but nothing could be further from the truth!! As we talked about in week one, you are a marvelous creation of Almighty God (Psalm 139) and His child forever. There is no reason for you to think negative about yourself. When those thoughts enter your mind, reject them instantly.

Receive the Truth

Philippians 4:8 (emphasis mine) says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Paul lists a number of things we should all think about and then he says "think about these things." In order to be healthy mentally, we need to receive the truth about God and who we are in Christ. As Paul says, let your mind "think about" the positive things God says about you. It's not enough for us to reject the lies (negative self-speak). We also have to receive the truth ("think about these things").

Pastor, you have so much power within you. You have the power to change the trajectory of your life by what you think. And the Bible is filled with so much truth about who you are as a creation and in Christ. You can be positive about you because God is!

Make Daily Declarations

I recently listened to a Catalyst Podcast with Craig Groeschel (Episode 407). In the podcast, he shares about some of the disciplines he has developed over the past decade including a new discipline he calls, "daily declarations." Craig says that he starts each day with about forty declarations regarding his life. Here are just a few:

  • Jesus is first in my life.
  • I exist to serve and glorify Him.
  • I love my wife and will lay down my life to serve her.
  • I love people and believe the best about others.
  • Christ in me is stronger than the wrong desires in me.

He says that this "renews his mind" and I think it is a great habit for all of us to start. If we declare the truths from God's Word about ourselves then we will live them out. Thinking always precedes doing. We can't live a healthy life if we aren't thinking healthy first.

What truth or truths do you need to fill your mind with today? Your Father wants you to think well. You do that when you reject the lies, receive the truth, and make daily declarations.

Living Free

This is the third in a five-part series as we look at the five areas of pastor health. Last week, we looked at spiritual health and today we'll talk about emotional health.

This is often a difficult area for a lot of people but our Father wants us to overcome any emotional unhealth in our lives so we can live in freedom. Galatians 5:1 says

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Jesus came to "set us free." We are free from sin if we know Him as our Savior but we can still be free from our sins and not be totally free.

Free From the Past

I'm going to be totally transparent with you. When I was eight years old I was sexually abused by a man in my neighborhood. That's right: I'm a victim of sex abuse and for most of my adult life I wasn't free. Every time I thought about the abuse I forced myself to forget about it. I kept pushing my hurt deeper and deeper inside. Then one day I realized I needed to deal with it. I went to see a Christian counselor who helped me process through what happened to me.

You might not have been through something as traumatic as me but let me ask you: is there anything from your past that you have not fully dealt with? It could be a broken relationship or an issue with your parents. You might have been through a divorce and never worked through the pain from it. Whatever your issue is, almost everybody has somebody who hurt them and you will never live in freedom if your have not fully dealt with it.

Free Through Forgiveness

This past week I went on vacation with my family to one of my favorite vacation spots: Myrtle Beach. One day, while we were walking on the beach, I asked my wife, "How have we made it together for twenty-four years?" She answered with one word: forgiveness. She's right. In every healthy marriage there is a heavy dose of forgiveness. We all say things we don't mean to say when we are tired or stressed. I know I have said some really hurtful things to my wife and she has to me but we learned early on to be good at forgiving each other. The same is true in every relationship: we have to forgive others often. You might have people in your life who you need to forgive or you might find that the person who needs your forgiveness the most is you. We are often the hardest on ourselves because we think of all the things we should have said or done differently. Whether you need to forgive yourself or someone else, forgiveness is a key that will unlock the chains holding you back from freedom.

Jesus wants to set you free in every area of your life, including emotionally. So, let me ask you once more:

Is there anything from your past that you have not fully dealt with?

Our enemy wants us to hide our hurts out of fear or shame. Our Father wants us to reveal our hurts to a loving friend or counselor so we can be free.

Emotional health happens when we overcome the past and live free.

Being in Love

Last week, we talked about how to have individual health but today I'd like to share about the second area of health we discuss in the Hope & Health Workshop: spiritual health.

Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated Valentine's Day and I blogged about what love is. Today, I'd like to focus again on a more permanent love than even love in marriage: our love for Jesus. As a Christian, I have often believed that God wants me to spend time in His Word and in prayer so that I can grow as a Christian and I am definitely an advocate of reading the Bible and praying. But I think our Father wants something more from us. I believe He wants not only our obedience but, more importantly, our love.

Falling in Love

I still remember falling in love with my wife, even though it has been almost twenty-five years ago. We met at a mutual friend's birthday party and soon began to date. It wasn't long before we decided to get married.

When you fall in love, you have all sorts of emotions running through your body. You feel the exhilaration of finding someone to spend time with and the joy of getting to know this wonderful person. You will spend hours on the phone talking with each other because you are in love.

The moment we begin our faith in Christ, we have all sorts of emotions, too. We have the relief of knowing that all of our sins have been forgiven forever. We have the joy of entering a love relationship with the God of the universe. But, as in marriage, we will have a shallow relationship if it only involves emotion. We have to spend time together to get to know each other and grow in a love relationship.

Growing in Love

After we got married, my wife and I began to spend even more time together. We went away on the weekends and visited out-of-town friends. We would talk to each other about the day and about what we had planned for the week. In short, we started to grow deeper in love the more time we spent together. The same is true in our relationship with God. He doesn't want us to have our Quiet Time so we can check a box off of our to-do list. He wants us to spend time with Him in an intimate relationship where we grow closer together. As in marriage, our Father desires to grow in a love relationship with each of us. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us." As God loved us sacrificially by sending His Son, so we love Him by sacrificing ourselves to grow closer to Him.

Living in Love

Everyday, I get the joy of waking up and seeing my beautiful wife. We don't have a perfect life but I'm glad that we have each other to share life together.

Everyday, your heavenly Father wants you to enjoy spending time with Him. We don't have to limit our time with Him to a few minutes in the morning but we can talk to Him in prayer throughout the day. Your Father wants you to live in love with Him by thinking of Him, reminding yourself of what He has taught you in His Word, and by talking with Him in prayer. He wants you to have that type of intimate relationship with Him.

1 Peter 1:8 says,

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.

In Christ, you have the opportunity to not only know God your Father but to have a loving Father-child relationship with Him. Don't settle for just knowing about Him. Get to know the Father who loves you so much.

You Are

In our Hope & Health Workshop, H2 Ministry helps pastors discover how to reach their potential by being healthy in five key areas. The first area is individual health and that is what I'm excited to talk about today.

Psalm 139:13-15 says,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

There are a number of things this passage says about each of us as individuals but I want to focus on three of them.

You Are Valuable

Your value doesn't come from your net worth. Your value doesn't come from the model of car sitting in your garage. In comes from the fact that God made you. He "knitted [you] together" within your mother and that is why you are valuable. The value of something comes from the person who made it. A Rembrandt is far more valuable than the water color pictures my children made when they were younger (although the latter are definitely treasures to me!). You are valuable because Creator God made you and everything about you. You are valuable just the way you are.

You Are Wonderful

Next, you are wonderful. Verse fourteen says, "Wonderful are your works" and that includes you and me. You are wonderful because God made every part of your body but He didn't stop there. Your personality and temperament, whether you are a people-person or introverted: all of these things and more were designed specifically by God to make you the unique person you are. Human creation is a beautiful mosaic, with all types of people and personalities within in. You are wonderful because of who He made you to be.

You Are Special

Do you think you are special? God does. Verse fifteen says you were "intricately woven in the depths of the earth." The detail of your creation shouts of how special you are. There has never been and never will be another person just like you. Your fingerprints alone point to the fact that you are a special creation of God.

But God didn't stop with your physical creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

You are also special because Jesus has made you brand-new in Him. You aren't the same person you used to be. You are now a new creation through Jesus.

So, who are you? You are valuable, wonderful, and special. When you start to focus on your accomplishments or failures, focus instead on everything God has already accomplished by making and then remaking you in Christ. That is who you are.

Why I'm Thankful

I'm a forward-thinker. I don't like to spend a lot of time looking back because I'm too busy looking forward. But, sometimes it's a good idea to look back and reflect, especially when it comes to what Jesus has done in our lives. Today, I'd like to share three reasons why I am thankful this year.

My Health

I am 56 years old and am in very good health. I usually do twelve miles a week on the stepper at my local gym and have lost a few pounds recently. But every year I become more and more aware of the frailty of my body. Many of my friends have experienced health issues ranging from a knee replacement to brain cancer and I am so thankful that I have reached my age as healthy as I am.

My Family

In August I sent my second child to college and now have two away at school. My daughter is a junior in high school and is thinking of signing up for college classes next year. And, most importantly, I recently celebrated 24 years of marriage with my wife Lorraine. Other than Jesus, my family is the most important part of my life. I am so thankful I'm close to each of them and that they value my relationship with them, something I hope I never take for granted. I am thankful for the family God has given me.

My Calling

I absolutely love what I do for a living. God called me to ministry over thirty years ago and at first I thought He wanted me to go to overseas. When I entered seminary God began to clarify my call by giving me a heart for the local church. However, recently, the Father has called me again, this time to minister to ministers. In March of this year, h2ministry.com was launched as an outreach to pastors. My goal is to help as many pastors as possible reach their potential by being healthy and hopeful. I think pastor health--spiritually, emotionally, and in other areas--is so important to the Church because healthy pastors lead healthy churches that reach their communities for Jesus. I'm thankful Jesus has given me a passion to help pastors.

1 Thess. 5:18 says

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I've shared my reasons for being thankful at Thanksgiving. What are your reasons? I'd love to hear them! Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on the Share link below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How to Handle Holiday Stress

The holidays are almost here, with Thanksgiving just 10 days away! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year as I get together with my extended family and catch up on how things are going with them. But, like everyone else, I know one thing about the holidays: they are stressful! You'll have multiple Christmas parties to attend and time spent on the busy roads or at the airport visiting family and friends. Your have presents to buy and wrap before placing them under the recently-decorated tree. And then all the Christmas calories will begin to show on our waistline. Yes, the holidays can be stressful but I'd like to offer some suggestions on how you can reduce your stress this holiday season.

Don't Keep Up with the Jones-es

Every year, we learn about the hottest shopping items for Christmas. Sunday papers are filled with Toy Guides and other circulars so parents can learn about the "must have" items this year. But, I'd like to encourage you to have a "not have" instead of a "must have" list. Too often, we spend money we don't have to buy presents people don't really need. And, when the bill comes in January, our stress level hits the roof. Yes, we should enjoy the holiday season but not at the expense of keeping a reasonable budget. It is estimated that Americans will spend an average of $700 this Christmas and most people tend to buy now and pay later. Keeping up with the Jones-es creates an endless cycle of stress that we need to avoid.

Be Responsible to But Not For People

Something Jesus has been teaching me lately, especially with my kids, is that I can't control people. My two boys are now away at college and I want to keep them from making bad choices--like staying up until 2 am playing video games--but I have to let them make their own decisions. In other words, I am responsible to them without being responsible for them. You might run into a friend or family member this holiday season who has a habit of making bad decisions and you could be tempted to rescue them from themselves--something I'm tempted to do. But we have to let people live their own lives. When you get together with people during the holidays who want to bring you into their drama, be responsible to and not for them.

Let Jesus Teach you Through it

When we're stressed out, we want to get out of it as soon as possible, and that's natural. But Jesus wants to use our circumstances supernaturally to mold us into His image. Pastor, before the holidays begin, ask Jesus this question: what do You want to teach me through the holidays this year? Last year, my family experienced one of the toughest Christmases ever. We traveled a long distance to visit an aging relative and it was a pretty stressful situation. We were staying with family so we really couldn't go anywhere to get away from the stress. Looking back, I think Jesus was teaching me to trust Him during a tough situation. I Thessalonians 5:18 says,

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice it doesn't say "for" all circumstances but "in" all circumstances. All circumstances are not good but God can teach us things through bad circumstances we couldn't learn any other way.

What does Jesus want to teach you this year, pastor? He is always in control and knows what He is doing and sometimes the best lessons we learn are through the most stressful situations.

God bless you and your family this holiday season!

How to Overcome Fear

Fear is universal: it's something all of us experience. It doesn't matter how much money you have in the bank, how healthy you are, or how young or old you are: everybody has to deal with fear. So how do we do it? How do we overcome the fears that we face? Today, I'd like to look at fear through the lens of a familiar story: Peter walking on water.

Choose Faith Over Fear

Matthew 14:28 says,

And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water."

Matthew 14:22-27 sets the stage for this scene. The disciples had just seen Jesus feed the five thousand and began to cross the lake. Jesus came later, walking on the water, and when the disciples saw Him "they were terrified" (v. 26).

Then Peter decides he wants to walk on water. I'm not sure what got into him. Maybe he just wanted to be with Jesus, or maybe he wanted see what it felt like to walk on water. But, whatever motivated him, his fear of sinking in the water was overcome by his faith in Jesus.

And that's the first step to overcome our fears: we must have faith to believe in Jesus. Faith is a choice. When we are going through uncertain times, we must choose to place our faith in Jesus over our fears about the future.

Choose to Move

In Matthew 14:29,

He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

Notice the action involved in Peter's faith: he "got out," "walked" and "came." It not only took faith to get on the water but to move on the water. Every step Peter took, the wind was beating against him and the waves rose and fell around him. And yet his faith didn't waver. He kept his faith in Jesus through the journey.

To overcome fear, you have to move by faith. You must continue to have faith in Jesus no matter how scary everything is around you. You have to stay focused on Jesus and His ability to do anything in your life and to overcome any obstacle.

Choose to Ignore Circumstances

Matthew 14:30-31 says,

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

When the wind was blowing against Peter, he didn't notice it at first because his focus was on Jesus. He only sank when he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on his circumstances.

I don't know what your circumstances are today, pastor. You might be facing the biggest test of your life. You might be dealing with things that seem impossible to overcome. But, like Peter, you have a choice: focus on your circumstances or focus on Jesus.

He wants you to live by faith not by fear. And faith is a choice. He can help you overcome anything, as long as your faith is in Him.


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3 Steps to Focus Better

I recently finished reading the new book by Charles Duhigg entitled, Smarter Faster Better. The theme of the book is that all of us can become more productive by following eight principles. I found the book very helpful and in the future I plan to share my thoughts on many of those principles. In today's blog, I'd like to talk about his third principle: focus.

Focus continues to be a big problem for me. Though I've not been medically diagnosed with it, I have no doubt that I have adult ADHD because I find it hard to focus on anything for too long. Even something as simple as reading the Bible is hard for me because my mind starts to drift toward everything I need to accomplish during the day. If you're like me, and have a hard time focusing, here are three steps that might help you focus better.

Forget the Past

Phil 3:13-14 (ESV) says,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Focus begins by putting the past behind you. For most of us, that involves forgiving other people or even ourselves. If we don't deal with the past and move on from it then we won't be able to focus on what God wants to do through us in the future. That means we must forget both the good and the bad from the past.

Focus on What's Ahead

In Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg talks about a way we can focus on what we expect to happen in our immediate future, something he calls "mental models." He says that making mental models allows our minds to imagine what we might experience in the future and how to respond to it. One example he gives is of a nurse who had a clear mental model of what a healthy baby should look like. When she passed by a crib with a newborn baby that didn't fit the model, she alerted the doctor on the floor and probably saved the child's life.

For pastors, forming mental models helps us to look for areas where we can improve. We train our minds to "strain forward to what lies ahead" (v. 13) by thinking about what we want to see God do in our future. We imagine the endless possibilities of what can happen in Him.

Fight to Win

What do you want to see Jesus do in your life? You have to fight for it. The "press[ing] on" Paul describes in v. 14 involves mental and physical exertion. As a runner lunges forward to win the prize, so we must focus on the end in mind. Our goal is not a win a gold medal but to hear His "well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).

Question: What is Jesus leading you to focus on today?