The Greatest

How do you define greatness?  Is a person with a sharp suit and a fast car great?  Or is it a popular and loved person who is truly great?  Maybe someone who follows all the rules of the Bible?  Or maybe it’s the one who works hard and becomes CEO of his company.

nice car!

What Standard?

Could it be that all of these definitions are wrong?  Could someone be winning in his fitness, family, financially, and career, and yet lack what it takes to be great?  Let’s take a moment to look at what the world’s greatest teacher had to say on the subject:

Luke 9:

46 An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”

I’m better!  No, I’m better!

We see in this scene men arguing with each other as to who is better than whom.  Have you ever, perhaps in your mind, compared yourself to those around you and decided that you really are greater than they?  It is easy for us to overlook some of our own shortcomings and see ourselves favorably.  “If only others were more like me,” we think, “this place would be a whole lot better…”

The problem is, besides becoming puffed up with ourselves, we are apt to have a very mixed-up view of greatness and what it takes to be great.  Like the disciples in the Luke 9 story, we focus on external accomplishment and things that impress men.  Jesus taught the disciples, as He teaches us, that God values highest what men often esteem lowest.

Why waste my time with kids?

Children are often looked down on in our society—and not just because of their stature!  😉  Adults will often think of children as silly, naïve, and simple.  Rather than have a conversation with a little kid or tell a story from the Bible, we adults will prefer to spend time on “important things” like washing dishes, paying bills, or even surfing facebook.

In contrast, Jesus defines greatness by one who receives a child in His name.  When we accept children, we accept Jesus, and when we accept Jesus we are accepting God.  To be great, we must be willing to, and take the time to, tell kids about God, about Jesus, and about what He has done.  When is the last time that you shared God with a child?

Will you serve, even if no one cares?

Perhaps we won’t impress those around us with speech about how we told kids about Jesus.  Maybe teaching a Sunday School class of second graders or volunteering to lead game time on Wednesday night will not be rewarded with the thanks of your fellow church members.  Maybe no one will care.  But isn’t that the point?  Do we really love God for who he is, and desire to serve Him and do what He says for that reason only?  Perhaps this is one reason Jesus defines greatness in this way—who will value a child, take the time to pour truth and love into him, even if he must do so thanklessly.  Lord, teach us to be great!

New Habits for a New Life

Is there any area of your life that your wish was better?  Perhaps it’s a relationship that you would like to be strong and positive, but today is less than great.  Or maybe you are carrying a few more pounds of belly fat than you’d like.  Maybe your financial situation is a struggle, and you dream of days where you can go shopping for shoes and clothes without feeling guilty.  Whatever the area that you’d like to improve, there’s a simple and extremely effective recipe for attaining the thriving life you imagine.  It’s simple, not always easy, and requires faith and perseverance, which is why few people employ it.  Consequently, few people enjoy the harvest, and remain wishers.  But not you! Read on to hear how this timeless principle can work for you.

parasailing

WHO knows?

The first step toward developing success in your desired area is to find someone who already has success in that area.  If you want a strong and healthy marriage, think of people around who have great marriages.  Offer to take them out for a cup of coffee and ask them what they do to keep their marriage healthy.  If you want to live healthier and get in better shape, find someone who’s already doing it and ask what they do each week to get healthy and fit.  This person is your WHO.

WHAT habits?

Ask questions of your WHO in order to discover the WHAT that will get the results you want.  Many great books are available as well, which contain excellent information on the things you need to get from where you are to success in any given area.  Again, make sure the author has credibility in the subject at hand (the author should have success himself in the area he’s giving you advice in), and study to identify exactly what you will need to do to succeed.  Hint:  this will involve doing something different than what you’ve been doing.

Now the key

Ok, we’ve done the two easy parts, now all that’s left is the hard one.  Finding credibile sources is relatively straightforward.  Reading and asking questions of your experts to determine what to do is pretty simple too.  And many many people do these two things, and yet do not achive the results they want.  In many cases, it is for the simple reason that they did not stay the course.  You see, there must be consistant right action for period of time, a period during which the results of the new habit are not visible.  Take a new workout regimen for example.  How much different do you look after your first workout?  Sweaty, I know, but I mean after your shower!  Not much different.  What about after three workouts? Four?  Fifteen?

Right action, repeat, right action, repeat

You see, you may have a great workout program that will move you exactly in the direction you want to go.  If you sought advise from a credible expert to obtain the program (e.g. you have been following the ThriveFit regimen), your program is perfect for you.  But if you look back during week two to check your results, you’ll likely find little but disappointment.  You’ve been working hard, you’re supposedly doing the right things, but you still weigh ten pounds too much!  What gives?!  You think, “All this hard work, all this study and dedication, and I’m not getting any closer to my goal!  I should just give up and stay where I am.  At least then I’d have more time to relax and watch TV or something….”

Don’t Give Up!

And here is where we separate those who succeed from those who only dream and wish that things were better.  I’m all for dreaming of a better life, and I encourage you to do so.  But I would further challenge you to take your dreams and find a WHO, who will tell you the WHAT that you need to reach your dreams.  And finally, I challenge you to commit to doing that WHAT cosistantly, persistently, for a long period of time.  Do not be disuded by the non-winners and non-experts who try to take you off course.  Understand that your results will come in time, and have faith in the process.  Two paths are before you today:  right action toward your desired result, or life as usual.  Which will you choose?

Keep Your Goal Before Your Eyes

Imagine your ideal life—how would it be different than what your life is like today?  Spend a few quiet minutes thinking on this, and you’ll find the key areas where you’re ready to set a goal.  Make your goal bigger that what you think you can do, in order to stretch you and challenge you.  This exercise can be inspiring, motivating, and exciting, but soon comes the hard part of getting it done!

100_0515

Can You Keep Going?

You can achieve the big goals that are currently out of reach, and the path there is simpler and more straightforward that you think.  But one thing is required:  consistent right action.  Take a physical example:  losing weight.  In order to drop that ten pounds, all you have to do is lose half a pound a day for twenty days.  How?  Increase your energy output and reduce your calorie intake—it really is as simple as that.  But, here’s the hard part—on day three, when you’re hungry and your body is sore, will you continue with the consistent right action of eating healthy and exercise, or will you take a break and let your goals fade into memory?

The Slight Edge Principle

Setting goals is important.  But alone, the activity of setting a goal may not bring you what you want.  Once you set a goal, you must commit to it, and keep the goal in front of your eyes.  Like many principles of success, this important step is easy to do.  But easy to do is also easy not to do, and oftentimes we skip this important step, to our own peril.

How to Keep the Goal in Mind

What does it mean to keep a goal before your eyes?  Well, first it means that your goal must be written down.  Have a number and a date (for example, run a mile in seven minutes by December 15, 2013) so you have a clear idea where you are going.  Next, find a way to bring your goal to the front of your mind every day.  Some helpful ideas here include writing your goal and taping it to you bathroom mirror.  Some people ask others to help keep them on track towards their goals by checking in with them every few days, or even pursuing a similar goal at the same time.  One idea that I found strange at first was to actually speak your goals out loud every day.  What at first felt very silly became a valuable tool in training my mind to see and take action toward my goals every day.  Whatever method you want to use, the main key is to keep your mind on your goal.

Your Mind Working for You

Your mind is an amazing thing, and if you take the time to focus it on your goals, you will be astounded how it starts seeing opportunities around you every day.  Stay committed, stay steady, and start down the path toward living the thriving life that’s waiting for you!

Respond or react?

What do you do when you negative things come your way?  When a friend disagrees with you and puts you down, do you lash out?  When your brother cancels your poker game at the last minute for the third time in a row, do you yell at him for being so irresponsible and unreliable?  What about when a coworker belittles your ideas and makes you feel small?  Do you react by gossiping about her behind her back?

100_0902

Your Choice

When people are unkind to us, we have two choices.  We can respond or we can react.  Reacting means doing what we naturally feel and allowing our emotions to choose our words.  In contrast, when we choose to respond to a negative situation, we use our mind and heart to overrule our emotions.

Is It Even About Me?

Often, when we are wronged, we incorrectly take the negative actions of another personally.  People are sometimes rude and inconsiderate, but many times this has nothing to do with you.  First off, if they are habitually rude, that has everything to do with them, and little to do with you.  In other instances, a person may not be habitually negative, but something negative has just happened in their life and they let their disappointment get the best of them.  In a few instances people are truly mean to you because they want to be.  But even in these cases, the right road is to respond, not react.

Forgive First

Each one of us has shortcomings, and as such we are bound to rub each other the wrong way.  When someone hurts you, can get mad and let your feelings boil over into harsh words against the wrongdoer.  Or you can choose to forgive them.  You can forgive, assuming they meant no offense; you can forgive assuming they let their emotions get the best of them, and you can even forgive in cases where it’s clear they were intentionally malicious.  You need not wait for their apology—forgive anyway.  If an apology comes, great!  If not, no big deal.

Create an Opportunity

If you will make the choice to live this way, and act with your will, mind, and heart rather than your emotions, your reward will be peace unknown to the masses who fail to respond and allow themselves to react.  Not only that, but those around you will notice your unusual behavior. They may even ask you why  you live so differently.  Can you think of a better opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Who’s your Neighbor?

Do you consider yourself to be a friendly person?  Would the people who see you, whether at work, as you leave your house, or at the supermarket, speak of how you sought them out in friendship and treated them great?  Do you routinely smile and greet those you pass on the street or in the hall, or is your daily focus primarily on yourself?

100_2204

Two Ignore, One Helps

Jesus was once asked by religious leaders who he considered to be his neighbor.  He responded with a familiar parable, the story of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, we learn of a man who is beaten and robbed.  A few of his countrymen see his helpless condition, yet pass by on the other side of the road.  In contrast, a Samaritan, who is naturally an enemy to the Jewish victim, yet seeks him out, takes him to a doctor, and even covers the expenses for the man’s care.

We often hear this parable as a nice story, meant simply to induce us to be kind.  But remember back to what question Jesus was actually responding to when He told this story.  He was asked who his neighbor was.  Understanding this context gives a deeper meaning to the story than the simple truth that we are to be kind.

Look for Needs

The people of Jesus’ day, much like most people in our day, tended to happily exist in their own small sphere of influence, engaging with people who were like them and who they were familiar with.  Through this parable, Jesus shows clearly that we are to intentionally seek out others, others who may not be very much like us, in order to meet their needs.

The Greatest Need

What is the greatest need which many of our neighbors have?  For any who do not know Christ personally, who have not been washed and cleansed through faith in Christ, their greatest need is salvation of their soul.  Without atonement, mankind is separated from God’s good presence, and any who perish without Jesus will face eternity without Him.  The need for salvation is so widespread, little recognized, and of utmost importance that, if we are looking, we will see it everywhere.

This is the condition of many people we see and walk by each day.  The strangers who we’re ignoring are desperately in need of the truth, the truth that we know.  But someone needs to tell them.  Not only that, but most people aren’t particularly receptive to ideas unfamiliar to them being expressed by strangers.  So what can we do?  We share the gospel with them as a friend.

Be a Friend

Friendship doesn’t come instantaneously, but it can be cultivated in a relatively short period of time.  Start simply by adopting the habit of greeting and smiling at the people who cross your path each day.  You’ll quickly find that a great many people are eager to engage with you, particularly if you’ll ask them open-ended questions about themselves.

As you cultivate friendships with your neighbors, be listening for what they value.  Do they desire wisdom? Or perhaps peace and something solid to rely on?  Or maybe they’re contemplating what happens after death because of a recent loss in their family.  Remember that when you have Jesus, you have the truth and the life that our world desperately needs.  Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, share the truth, and let Jesus call out to the people in your life using you as His mouthpiece.  To God be the glory!

The Well-Kept Secret

Those who are financially free are those who know, and have applied, something that the rest of us don’t.  In fact, not only wealthy people, but every person who has success in any area of life has learned and applied a secret principle.  Although these people are not shy about sharing their secret formula with others, the principle remains elusive for most people.  And of those who know this principle which guarantees success, a great many people refuse to employ it to affect the result they desire.

Wedding

The Action Component

It’s been said that knowledge is power.  This is almost correct:  applied knowledge is power.  The difference between knowledge and applied knowledge is this well-kept secret known by all who possess success–be it financial, physical, or in any other realm.  You must know what you want.  You must know what actions are required to obtain what you want.  But with these two pieces only you cannot succeed.  You need the third piece: consistent daily action.

Discover Your Dream

Imagine your dream life.  If you could have anything, anything at all, what would it be?  Whatever it is, let’s represent it as a large tree.  You have an axe and must chop down this large tree.  Each swing of your axe gets you a little closer to your goal.  Find a mentor who has a life closer to your dream life than you do.  Ask him what actions he took to achieve the level of success he has attained.  These actions are your axe swings.

Five a Day, Every Day

Now for the application of the secret principle:  Take these actions; every day.  Not some days, not for a short period, but every day.  Here’s what I know:  if you swing your axe five times per day, every day, every day, every day, eventually the tree will fall.  No matter how big the tree, no matter how great or terrible you are at swinging, the tree will fall.  You must know what you want, you must know the right activities, but many people who have these things right still do not succeed.  Too often, we give up to early, or fail to take daily consistent action.

Persist Until Victorious

Do not let failure beat you in this way.  Discover your dreams, find what your axe swings are.  Then commit to doing them every day without fail for the next 2, 5, 10 or how ever many years are required to get there.  Success is never comfortable or easy; it is, however, worth it!

What Are You Pouring In?

In my garden out back of our house, I planted tomato, pepper, and squash plants this spring.  I did not plant only a single seed of each, but many seeds of each type.  What would you think of me if I say I am disappointed today that I have no apple trees, cactus plants, or strawberries growing?  Would you think me foolish?  What if I went further to say that I am frustrated that so many tomato, pepper, and squash plants are growing?  Surely then you’d think me strange, right?

100_2071

What Are You Growing

While we might think this sort of behavior foolish, we tend quite often to act this way when it comes to what we plant in ourselves.  We desire to have good things happen to us, to have a life full or rich relationships and success, but how can these things grow if they haven’t been planted?  Take this past week for example:  how much time did you spend around positive, excited winners?  Did you learn things directly from leaders or mentors of yours by listening to their wisdom as they poured their experience into you?  If not, how can you expect the plants of success to grow?  There are no seeds to even start with!

Conversely, how much time in the past week have you spent letting negative messages pour into your head?  Have you listened to others around you complain about things they don’t like or blame others for the situations they find themselves in?  Have you spent many hours letting the TV be your teacher?  Are the shows than you watch filled with positive messages of overcoming difficulty through persistence and teamwork, or are they overly-sexualized sitcoms that display selfishness, destruction, or belittling others.  If the latter, what do you think these seeds will grow into within the garden of your mind?

Understand the Connections

Our lives are in much more of our own control than we often realize.  Wise men make the connection between what’s poured into the mind today and the situations we find ourselves in tomorrow. Will you take the step of intentionally pouring in an shielding yourself from the bad?  Put distance between yourself and the habits of the masses, and watch your life of success grow and flourish!

Does Money Drive Your Decisions?

Have you ever heard someone quote from the Bible that, “money is the root of all evil?” Does God really oppose riches and want His children to avoid nice homes, cars, and other physical possessions?  Is it wrong to seek financial freedom and success?

a formal affair

To start off, let’s check the accuracy of that biblical quote.

1 Timothy 6

7For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money is Paper

Does this passage teach that money is bad?  Is money the root of all evil?  No. Rather, it is the love of money that is a root of all sorts of evil.  Loving anything more than we love God is idolatry, and to do so violates what Christ said was the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  As the passage above teaches, many foolish men have wandered away from God in the pursuit of their greatest love:  money.

So, if loving money is a danger we must be careful to avoid, should we seek to keep our income low and not bother to learn sound financial principles and habits?  Some have misquoted and misunderstood Scripture in asserting such ideas, only to find that this foolishness has the opposite effect than what was intended.

Money on Your Mind

Which man spends more time thinking about money, the one who earns plenty and has a large savings account or the one who earns little and lives paycheck to paycheck?  All else equal, who places more value on a $100 bill, a man who’s in debt up to his ears or a man who has a $1 million net worth?  A rich man may be miserly or generous, and a poor man may love God or love money, but in general the following applies:  those with plenty of money make fewer decisions based on money than do those who have little.

How Then Shall We Live?

So, what does this mean for us—the majority between poverty and affluence?  How should we live in light of these truths?  I see two major lessons:  First, always check your heart that you’re loving God more than money (or anything else for that matter).  Whether you count yourself rich or not, your heart can be led astray after money, so guard yourself and always see money as a means to serving God, not the other way around.  Lesson number two is this: act wisely now in order that your decisions need not revolve around money later.  Dave Ramsey says in this way:  Live now like no one else so that later, you can live like no one else.

Don’t Be the Joneses

It’s a hard thing to do, saying no to fun trips, activities, and purchases just because “we don’t have the money.”  What makes it even harder is that it’s so easy to borrow money on a credit card or finance a big purchase, and this is exactly what our neighbors do.  But, if you will make the hard decisions and say no today, the money you save and invest will grow and compound, and one day you’ll reach the position of financial strength and freedom where money no longer drives your decisions.  We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Learning Something New

Are you growing?  Not in height, but in your capabilities, your character, your walk with God?  Here’s one way to check:  how often lately have you been frustrated, overwhelmed, and uncomfortable?

IMG_3136

Yes Benefits, No Discomfort

It’s a little funny sometimes how we always want to have the capability, the strength, the skill, but we avoid the exact things it takes to develop those parts into us.  I’ve heard it said that the place where success resides is outside your comfort zone.  I think that describes it pretty well.  Have you been there lately?

I’ve been learning what some may think is an odd skill lately, and even though it might not be the most important capability in the world, the experience has been very enlightening.  You probably can’t tell, but this article is being written with a different keyboard than usual.  It’s called the Dvorak keyboard layout, and I encourage you to Google it and learn more about what makes it worth learning.

But keyboards aren’t what we’re talking about:  we’re talking about learning.  And it’s what I learned about learning that can encourage and propel you to success in what’s important to you.  What I learned is this:

Embrace the Stages

Learning involves progressing through four distinct stages.  Only if you persist through the hard times, the times that make you want to quit, will you get to experience the benefits on the other side.  If there’s only one thing you hear from this entire article, let it be this:  you must persist.  When all seems most hopeless, you must hang on—you are so close to a breakthrough!

The four stages of learning are these:  enthusiastic beginner, frustrated learner, capable but lacking confidence, and master.  When I first learned of the Dvorak keyboard layout, I got really excited!  I jumped into an online lesson and flew through it happily.  This enthusiasm lasted a few days…

By the next week I had a few of the letters down, but by no means enough to type at a decent pace.  I used the backspace key like nobody’s business, and it seemed typing three sentences would take me all day.  It was at this point that the thought of giving up entered my mind.  To make matters worse, I told a few friends about what I was doing and how it could benefit them.  Rather than getting excited like I did, they told me that this was a waste of time and not worth the effort.  This was the low point of my Dvorak experience, and only my commitment to learning and growing helped me hold on.

Don’t Give Up!

I’m happy to report that as I persisted, I began to improve and the new style of typing became more and more fun.  Better than that, I began to see some of the lessons I’m describing for you here, and that made me even happier that I stuck with it!  I still have some room to grow before I become a master Dvorak typist, but I’m at a strong pace and am moving forward—taking the lessons I’ve learned and applying them to growth in the areas that matter most.  Will you get out of your comfort zone this week and start learning something new?  Let us know what it is by registering (which is free of course) and posting a comment below!  Thanks for including us on your path to a thriving life!

The Debt is No More

Would your friends describe you as an appreciative person?  Are you grateful for the many blessings you enjoy?  Or, are you prone to take the benefits you daily enjoy for granted?  Do you occupy yourself more with giving thanks for the good things or keeping count of the bad things? Today we’ll learn from the master, as the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to have hearts of gratefulness.

no more debt

Luke 7

41″A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42″When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45″You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46″You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47″For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49Those who were reclining [at the table] with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this [man] who even forgives sins?” 50And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

A Huge Debt Forgiven

As was so often His habit, Jesus used a simple and relatable story to communicate a deep and powerful spiritual lesson.  In the parable, we meet two men who are both in debt to a wealthy man.  One owes him 50 days wages (say $10,000 or so) and the other owes him ten times that amount.  Although the wealthy man has every right to demand his due payment, he does not. Because he is gracious, he completely forgives both debts.  The two are of course grateful—but not exactly the same.  Imagine being forgiven a debt of $100,000!  How much weight would you feel lifted off your shoulders!!

The Lord then goes on to explain the spiritual truth underlying the story.  Like the men in debt, you and I owe a monstrous sum.  But it’s not money we owe—it’s a debt of sin.  Because God is a just God, and we all fall short of obeying His perfect Law, we must pay for our unrighteous actions.  The penalty for sin is death, and not just death, but eternal separation from our Creator.  But, like the gracious rich man in the story, our heavenly Father has paid our debt.  He did this through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.  Our Savior paid the penalty we owe by dying the death we deserved—He Himself being without sin.  If we will turn from our sin and accept Christ as Savior and Lord, He will wash us clean and forgive our debt.

Do Your Actions Show You Grateful?

Now, whether we have been forgiven for a collection of small or lesser sins, or if we’re forgiven from a lifetime of rebellion and grotesque sins, we will be overjoyed and thankful to our gracious Father.  But the one who is saved from the mountain of heinous sin will tend to have a greater appreciation for the gift he has been given.  Like the woman in the story who was saved and forgiven from her life of adultery, we should recognize and give thanks to God for blotting out our transgressions.

If you’ve been forgiven much, take the time to recount and remember what God has saved you from.  Pray and give thanks that Jesus has paid your debt and God has forgotten your iniquities.  Conversely, do you think yourself forgiven relatively little?  It can be easy to downplay our own sinfulness, to view our godless words and actions as “minor slipups,” or “small infractions.”  But God is holy, and a sinner cannot enter His presence.  Instead of looking on others, whom we deem as “worse sinners” than us, let’s take the lesson of this passage and fall at our Savior’s feet in overwhelming gratefulness for His grace and love toward us poor, undeserving sinners.