How to be More Alive

One of my favorite quotes is by Saint Irenaeus and it goes like this, “The glory of God is man fully alive”.

I know it’s actually a miss-quote but I really like it anyway. The expression “fully alive” really inspires me. It reminds me of Christ’s offer of a rich and satisfying life. It also makes me think of how many of us aren’t really fully alive. We’re alive in the sense that our hearts are beating and we’re walking around, but we’re plagued by unfulfilled hopes, abandoned dreams, and lives that make little to no impact on the world around us. When our ideas of a good time are watching TV or taking the edge off with alcohol, then we’re missing out on a whole lot of actual living.

It seems more like we’re kind of alive but not fully.

There are many reasons why we don’t live fully. Too many to list here. But I thought I’d share four things with you that might help you move to a greater place of fullness in your life.

Never let shame settle in.
Nothing sucks the life out a person like shame. Shame over our appearance, shame over our lack of anything, and especially shame over our actions. I had a conversation the other day with a friend who was wrecked by shame because he lost his temper at work. It’s like he was stuck in that moment, unable to enjoy life. You can’t live fully and hold onto shame at the same time. You can’t learn from your mistakes either. Accept God’s forgiveness, forgive yourself, grow from it, and get back to living.

Don’t compare.
Comparison can be deadly. For years I struggled with comparing myself with my peers in the same age group. Most of my friends owned houses before I did, they made more money than me, and generally seemed to be enjoying life a whole lot more. In addition, my pastor friends seemed to be reaching more people than me, and I imagined that there was an excitement about their ministries that made mine seem boring. When I learned to accept the uniqueness of my own journey, and that God’s blessing and favor were on my life, regardless of my own definitions and expectations of success, I could stop comparing, and start enjoying life right where I was.

Give yourself permission to dream.
Disappointment happens. And the older you get, the more disappointments stack up and it’s easier to stop dreaming than it is to keep getting your hopes up. We focus on failures, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled hopes instead of believing that the best is yet to come. By the way, no matter how old you are, it’s still okay to believe that the best is yet to come. Dream! Have big hairy ideas. Set audacious goals and go for them. Without a vision, we parish so keep dreaming!

Appreciate where you are while taking steps to move forward.
How often do we look around ourselves and express gratitude for where we are in life, and how God has taken care of us? Gratitude is the gateway to joy and appreciating where we are gives us an excitement for what’s next. But don’t stay where you are, keep moving forward. Read another book, take another step, create strategies for reaching your goals and act on them. I heard once that a rabbit’s heart beats just as fast the day before it dies as it does when it’s younger. It keeps moving and running until the end. I want to be like the rabbit. God forbid that I ever choose to bench myself and spend my days watching TV and complaining that I’m too old. There’s just too much life to live!

I hope you choose to live a life that’s fully alive. I hope you accept God’s best for you, dream big, live gratefully, and never stop moving forward!

4 Reasons Why Personal Growth Is So Hard

“If it’s not growing, it’s dying.”

At least that’s what I’ve heard said, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement.

I like to play the guitar. I’ve noticed that, if I don’t practice regularly, my skill level doesn’t stay at it’s peak. Instead, it declines until I get myself on a regular practice routine again, and then it starts to grow.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could exercise and eat right until you had the body you desired, and then it just stayed that way forever? Heck yes it would!

We were designed to grow. It’s what we’re meant to do. Growth makes us happy, makes us healthy, and makes us wise. When we set goals to learn, to achieve, and to improve our health, we experience growth in the process of reaching those goals.

Unfortunately, many people just don’t grow. They get comfortable where they are and remain stunted, like 17 year-olds living in 30, 40, or 50 year-old bodies. This lack of growth often leads to discontent, relational dysfunction, and poor physical health. At the end of the day, life is just so much better when we make growth in our lives a priority.

I have found that there are four reasons why many people never grow. They are not huge obstacles, and anyone can overcome them. It just takes a little commitment to move forward toward being your best.

Personal growth requires humility.
Many people don’t grow simply because they don’t feel like they need to. Pride gets in the way of seeing areas of growth potential, and it’s just not teachable. When interviewing potential team members at our church, we always ask, “What do you think you could learn from being a part of the team?” If the answer is something like, “I think I could really help you guys out,” then that person doesn’t make the cut. Feeling like there is no need to grow is a sign of arrogance that usually leads to bigger problems down the road.

Personal growth requires an investment.
It takes time, energy, and sometimes money to intentionally grow. Want to grow as a parent? You’ll probably have to invest your time in reading a book. Want to grow in your physical health? You’re going to have to invest your energy into some exercise. Some people even invest their dollars into hiring a life coach when they want to see even greater growth. People don’t grow by just sitting there watching videos or trolling Facebook. It takes an investment. The investment, however, is totally worth it!

Personal growth requires focus.
We are such a terribly distracted culture. Our smartphones have set their hooks in us and we’ve become addicted to the dopamine hits we get from glancing from one digital novelty to the next. It requires focus to put down the phone and pick up a book. We must constantly make the decision to say no to momentary entertainment and say yes to personal growth. It is the only way to make the journey of growth without making a thousand unnecessary stops along the way.

Personal growth takes time.
Sometimes I’ll meet someone who refuses to take growth actions in their life because they “already tried that”. This usually means they went to the gym for a month or read the first two chapters of a book. Growth takes commitment. We can’t expect months (or years) of growth to take place from a half-hearted, commitment-less, weak-sauce attempt at improving our health, intellect, or spiritual condition. Make the commitment to stick to it until you reach the place you want to be!

That’s four but I know there are more. What are some obstacles you hit when attempting to grow? Share them below and we’ll talk about it.

Be teachable, make the investment, focus, and stay the course!

How to Get Unstuck

Have you ever felt stuck? I sure have!

Once, I spent over 5 YEARS trying to lose 10 pounds. I know that doesn’t sound like much, and you might be laughing at me right now for struggling with that for so long. I went to the gym faithfully, I used a calorie counting app, and I worked hard at reaching my target weight. My weight goal was behind a wall, and I just could not break through to it.

Every once and a while I’d get close. I’d drop a few pounds and, wham! Christmas would come. Or I’d go on vacation, gain it back, and struggle for months just to lose a couple pounds. Talk about stuck!

There are lots of ways to get stuck in life. We can get stuck in our health, in our relationships, our careers, and our personal growth, to name a few. It’s normal. It happens to the best of us and, if you’re feeling stuck right now, you’re not alone.

The danger is not in getting stuck. It’s in staying stuck. The problem is that, most of the time, we get stuck and only see one (or maybe two) ways to get unstuck. For example, I felt stuck in my weigh loss goals and believed the only way to get unstuck was through diet and exercise. It didn’t occur to me that there were other ways to lose weight.

Or, we might feel stuck in our career and believe the only way to get unstuck is going back to school. There’s something about being stuck that seems to limit our perspective, squelch creativity, and keep us from seeing the less than obvious options.

Today I want to give you a little exercise that you can do if you’re feeling stuck in a particular area. Are you ready? Let’s begin!

First, grab a sheet of paper and a pen. You’re going to do some writing. At the top of the sheet of paper, write “Ways to get unstuck in my ______________” Fill that blank in with the area you’re stuck in.

Next, as quickly as you can, you’re going to write out all the ideas that come to your mind for getting unstuck. Don’t worry about how crazy or unrealistic the idea is. The point is to warm up the ol’ noggin. Our brains are like muscles. If they’ve been performing the same actions, thinking the same thoughts, and haven’t been forced to think creatively in a while, then they need some exercise.

Set a timer for 5 minutes and just start writing!

For example, if you’re trying to lose a few pounds, you might write:

Work out 30 minutes a day
Take a walk after work
Eat only salad for a month
Fast
Take cold showers
Beat up Jillian Michaels
Drink a gallon of water a day
Give up soda and beer
Put up a mirror in the dining room so I can see myself eat (Yuck!)
Lock the refrigerator after 8:00pm and give my spouse the key
Get a Wii Fit
Park far from the door when I go shopping
Only take the stairs
Sweat to the oldies

You get the picture! Keep on writing until you have wrung out every last idea you can think of, or until the 5 minutes is up. If you want to really put the process on steroids, then ask a friend to join you.

Once you have your list, start eliminating the crazy ones. I’m certain that you will find at least one idea in your brainstorming list that is doable, maybe even enjoyable, and that you didn’t think of before. If you struggled with it, that’s okay. Like I said, your brain is a muscle, and this is a great way to exercise it. Take a break and do it again. Maybe get some inspiration by googling “Craziest way to _______________.” The answer to getting you unstuck exists. Others have been where you are, and gotten unstuck. You can do this!

Once you’ve chosen your idea (or two) DO IT! Envision yourself free from this stuck area, make a plan, and take action. You will be so glad you did!

So, you might be wondering how I managed to lose that last 10 pounds after all these years. I’ll give you a hint:

 

Stop Missing the Mark With Your Goals!

We all do it. We make goals that we hope will change our lives for the better.

Lose weight.
Write a book.
Get out of debt.
Launch a business.
Lean a new skill.

The world is full of people with unfulfilled dreams, goals, and desires. At the beginning of every year, around 62% of people make New Year’s resolution. Only 8% of those resolution makers actually follow through.

The problem with most of us is that we just don’t understand the process of moving from where we are to where we want to be. We’re pretty sure we know where we want to go but there’s a disconnect, and that disconnect keeps us living in the land of dreamers instead of enjoying success.

The following are seven questions that, if answered thoughtfully, will greatly increase your odds of accomplishing your goals, and moving from frustration to fulfillment. They are questions that successful people have been asking themselves for years (I didn’t make them up) and I think they’re really going to help you.

1. is my goal achievable?
Let’s be honest. Sometimes we have crazy dreams. Not everyone who tries to become the next great movies star ends up on the screen. Some people work their entire lives to accomplish something, and it never happens. The tragedy is that, if they would have applied themselves to something else, they probably would have experienced massive success. Asking the achievability question will help eliminate pining for things that just aren’t going to happen.

2. How will i measure my progress?
A great goal is measurable. Dieters can measure their progress with a scale. Writers can measure their progress by checking their word count. Sometimes measuring progress just means drawing a mark on the calendar for every day that you worked toward your goal, and try not to miss a day. Find a way to measure progress and measure it every day.

3. Where am I now?
It’s hard to know if you’re moving forward if you don’t have a clear picture of where you are. What is your skill level? What are your resources? What are your giftings and passions? What is your current quality of life? Take inventory and write it down.

4. What is the deadline?
Great goals have a deadline. It eliminates “pie in the sky”, and “someday” thinking and lights a fire under you to git ‘er done. Share your deadline with a friend and ask them to hold you accountable. I have a friend who’s goal was to write a Life Plan for himself. When he wasn’t getting it done, I challenged him to have it written by a certain date or he had to buy me lunch at the most expensive restaurant in town. You better believe he got it done!

5. What are my obstacles?
This is where we get real about what’s holding us back. Do you have a hard time getting out of bed early? That might be an obstacle. Do you lack knowledge needed to accomplish your goal? That’s another obstacle. Too busy? Too tired? Too broke? More obstacles. Write them down and start brainstorming ways to overcome them.

6. What skills or knowledge is needed?
This flows beautifully from question 5. Personally, I have never achieved a big goal without having to read at least one book, take a class, or seek out loads of information. The best goals usually require some growth on our part so get ready to learn and be stretched.

7. What is my plan?
This is where it gets fun. Grab a notebook and pen and start charting your course from where you are to where you want to be. Write the names of books you’ll read, obstacles you’ll overcome, and who you’ll include on the journey. Turn the dream into tasks, and break those tasks into smaller ones. What can you do, every day, that will lead you to reaching your goal? Make a plan, discipline yourself to live it out, and delight in your accomplishment when you reach it!

4 Benefits to Having Uncomfortable Conversations

I was recently invited onto a podcast to be grilled by the host for an hour.

I don’t know why, but conversations like this have always been difficult for me. I don’t answer questions “on the spot” very well, and I tend to freeze if the topic isn’t something I’m very knowledgeable about.

When I was younger, there were people in my life who would ask me questions about my faith, not in the spirit of exchanging ideas, but to try to make me look foolish. I honestly don’t know why your neighbor’s son was hit by a car, I’m not sure what happens to people who have never heard the gospel, and I have no idea if God can create a rock so heavy that even He can’t lift it.

Truth be told, I’m not much of a theologian. I’ve been reading through the Bible, over and over again, for around 30 years, and I’ve been in ministry for over 20. But I’m a Bible College dropout, and I’ve only read a small handful of books on theology. I know other people who are able to answer difficult questions much more concisely, and with greater confidence than I can.

Fortunately, the podcast was produced by a friend from our church, and it was done in the spirit of honest conversation, rather than an attempt to publicly debate me. Nonetheless, it was very uncomfortable. But, as I’ve been mulling the experience over for the last week, I’ve come to realize that there are some benefits to engaging in uncomfortable conversations.

They force you to really think. A lot of times, we just adopt our beliefs without giving much thought to them. We were taught certain things, they sounded good, and we accepted them. What we believe about God is the most important thing about us, yet we give more thought to the shoes we buy than the faith we buy into.

They make you dig deep. Let’s face it, most conversation we engage in is pretty shallow. It doesn’t take much thought, and doesn’t challenge us. But an uncomfortable conversation is like a workout. We have to search our memory for information we’ve read, observations we’ve made, and evidence we’ve accumulated. This is especially true if you don’t want to give answers like, “because the Bible says so” or “just because”.

They challenge you to decide where you really stand. I know that it’s important to pick your battles wisely. However, it’s also important to know what you believe, and not be wishy washy on certain issues. That doesn’t mean we become dogmatic or inflexible. It just means we move toward becoming established in our beliefs about what is important to us.

Lastly, uncomfortable conversations are humbling. I mean this in a good way. If you approach an uncomfortable conversation in the right spirit, you have the opportunity to learn what you don’t know, and you can start growing in that area. In the instance of the podcast, I was inspired to do some reading on the issues we talked about. I don’t want to merely postulate or philosophize. I want to actually know what I’m talking about.

If you’ve been avoiding uncomfortable conversations, I would encourage you to kindly engage in one in the near future. They are, well…uncomfortable, but so is exercising and learning new skills. Give it a try!

If you’d like to listen to my uncomfortable podcast conversation, click here.

Eight Wisdom Bombs That Will Help You Get Your $#!% Together!

“Get your $#!% together!” Has anyone ever told you to do that? I remember being in my early 20s and having a mentor tell me that. Those weren’t his exact words but the sentiment was the same. I complained constantly about my job, I wasted a lot of time watching TV, I didn’t put much effort into my physical well-being, and I was lucky to have any friends because I was so sarcastic all the time.

In a way, those words saved my life.

Now I have three sons between the ages of 14 and 22. Every day, I do my best to teach them things that will help them succeed, get along with others, and avoid unnecessary pain and frustration. I’ve noticed that I find myself repeating particular lessons to them more than others. They are a core of eight things that most of life’s problems seem to stem from. They’re the eight things that took me from frustrated and failing to fulfilled and succeeding.

Put these eight things into effect in your life and it will really help you get your $#!% together!

1. Spend time like it’s a precious commodity.
Here’s the thing about time: it’s deceptive. We usually THINK we have more time than we actually have. A quick glance at Facebook and, before we know it, 20 minutes have gone by. We put off writing that book, earning that degree, or taking that trip, and years pass without making any progress. The time that we waste watching one more YouTube video, reading one more Twitter post, or posting one more selfie to Instagram is time that we’ll never get back to spend on what really matters.

2. Never underestimate the power of your words.
People listen, and they don’t forget. Speaking out of anger, “venting”, and off-the-cuff insults will have consequences. Speak the truth in love, speak life, and build people up with your words, and those words will have consequences too (Good ones!) Manage your words well because they will steer the direction of your life!

3. Never stop growing.
If a plant stops growing, it means it’s dying. Many people complain that their faith doesn’t do much for them. Most of those people can’t remember the last time they prayed more than they looked at their phone, or read the Bible more than they read Facebook posts. A commitment to growing applies to EVERY area of life, not just spiritual life. Read some good books, take a class, set new fitness goals, get some wisdom about parenting, marriage, LIFE. Whether you’re 8 or 80, you should never stop growing!

4. Don’t blame others for your unmet expectations.
Don’t blame the rich because your poor, don’t blame your boss for your lousy performance, don’t blame your unbelieving spouse for your spiritual condition, and don’t blame the poor behavior of others for your volatile temper. The sooner we take responsibility for our own actions, the sooner we can grow into people who live out their dreams instead of sitting around wishing.

5. Avoid laziness like the plague.
This one goes with number 1. Work hard, work smart, and don’t cut corners. Laziness leaves us open for all sorts of bad things. Poor health, difficulty finding or keeping a worthwhile job, frustration in relationships, financial hardship, the list goes on. The rewards for hard work don’t always come right away but they do come. No one owes you a thing. Success in life is NOT THE DEFAULT. We don’t just move toward success naturally. If you want it, you have to work your butt off to get it.

6. Treasure contentment.
My son owns three video game consoles. The other day, he told me he really wanted another one. Seriously?? Most Americans already have more than they need, and many of us even pay to store stuff in garages because there’s not enough room for it all in our houses. We throw away more than some countries consume and it’s pretty gross. What’s even worse is that some people can’t help others need because they’re too broke from buying crap they don’t really need. We need to realize when enough is enough, be content with what we have, and learn a better way of living than this excessive consumption. Contentment gives us financial margin and helps us to be generous toward others. It also lightens the burden of having to take care of so much stuff!

7. Great relationships take work but give back some of life’s greatest dividends.
Friendships, marriages, being a good neighbor; they take work! I thought being married was going to be easy. I was wrong. I’ve read books, talked to counselors, and gotten advice from those who have been married longer than me, but the rewards of working hard on my marriage are outstanding. At the end of the day, it’s the people in our lives that add the most value to it, and not the stuff we own. Work hard to be a good friend, spouse, and neighbor, and it will come back to you with interest.

8. Take risks.
You never really know what you can accomplish until you step out on a limb to do it. There are a lot of people with successful businesses inside of them but we’ll never see them because they won’t take a risk. There are other countries to explore, artworks to produce, and friends to be made if we just refuse to listen to fear and take risks. We won’t succeed at everything we try to do but we’ll fail at everything if we don’t at least try to do them. Take a risk. You might be taking the first step toward something amazing!

Well, that’s my eight. If you have any wisdom bombs that would help people get their $#!% together, then leave them in the comments. You might just help save someone a whole lot of frustration!