There are many conversations taking place at this very moment with the intent to put an end to the sort of massacre we witnessed last Friday. Gun control or gun responsibility is something that always needs to be discussed. But this conversation merely deals with the means to a massacre. Mental health and how we care for the mentally ill is also something that needs to be discussed. Yet this conversation, again, is only one small piece of the puzzle.
Quite frankly, this sort of violence will always be with us no matter what we do to try and stop it. We can melt all the guns and treat those with less than sound minds, but evil will remain.
Remember Matthew 2:16-18? It’s the ugly part of the Christmas story that doesn’t make it into our pageants or Nativity scenes. It’s the part of the story where an evil man, worried of being de-throned by an earthly ruler, ordered the massacre of every two-year-old boy in the town of Bethlehem and its vicinity. King Herod died, but evil remains.
Remember the second World War last century? Hitler killed thousands of innocent people. He died but evil remains.
Remember Saddam Hussein? He died too – but evil remains.
Almost all of these people in recent years who’ve walked into a school, church, or other public venue and opened fire have died or have been locked away. But evil still remains.
The only real defense against evil is to live with the hope of salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ.
There’s no escaping it. Evil exists because of sin. Romans 3:23 says that everyone – me, you, my parents, Billy Graham, and President Obama – have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Paul later writes in that same book that the price of our sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The only way, my friends, to combat the evil in this world is to arm and ready yourselves for a life that is eternal. We all will spend an eternity somewhere – in Heaven with the Father, or in Hell separated from Him.
The only way to have hope, to express joy in the midst of sorrow, to live without fear, and to send your kids to school in confidence is to make sure that you have accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and then to share that opportunity with your children, your children’s children, your family, friends and neighbors.
Guns will always be mis-used. The mentally ill will always have an uphill battle for proper care. But we ALL can have the hope of a life eternal with God our Father regardless of the evil that surrounds us.
We should not be surprised at the manner of evil that took place last week. 1 Peter 5:8-9 warns us that our enemy is always prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour. We must resist our enemy, Satan, and stand firm in the faith of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
During this season of Advent, on a day of mourning for so many, take stock of where you are. I dare you to give this “Jesus thing” a try and see if He won’t change your life forever.
We teach our children at Bible school that coming to Jesus is as simple as ABC – A: Admit you are a sinner. B: Believe that Jesus is God’s Son. C: Confess your sins to Him and Commit your life to Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life.
I read a quote yesterday from Pete Wilson, a pastor in Nashville. He states, “We do not choose how we die, but we do choose how we live.” I write this to you today in the hopes that more of you will make the choice to live with and for Jesus while there is still time.
Over the last few years I’ve experienced some significant growth in my life and development as a pastor and leader. This growth period was brought on by a chain of experiences that left me with two options: give up and move on OR learn from these experiences and grow.
Though it wasn’t always easy, I eventually chose the latter.
Looking back, I can identify five tools that played a significant role in my growth and guided me to be the person I am today. Whether you are facing a challenge or looking to improve on success, the tools listed here can be powerful in helping you identify information that will lead you to present and future success as leader and as an overall individual.
Get away to a secluded location for a minimum of two nights and three days. Turn off all technology that connects you to the outside world. Quite your mind and – listen.
Whenever I get away on one of these retreats by myself I’m always amazed at the amount of noise that is in my life. When you achieve true solitude in a secluded setting, the silence can almost be deafening.
But it is in that silence that you begin to see your life and circumstances in a new light – through God’s eyes. Direction becomes clear and energy is restored.
Every pastor, parent, teacher, leader needs to experience this form of fasting annually or bi-annually.
“Most are passive spectators, watching their lives unfold a day at a time. They may plan their careers,the building of a new home, or even a vacation. But it never occurs to them to plan their life. As a result, many end up discouraged and disillusioned, wondering where they went wrong.”
This quote is taken from the introduction of Michael Hyatt’s e-book, Life Plan. This was one of the most eye-opening exercises I did to put me on the path of growth and personal development. As I began to go through the exercises in this book, I began to live with more intentionality with the relationships that matter most: God, my wife, my children, etc.
Michael has made this as a free resource just for signing up to his newsletter, which is worth your time to regularly read itself. You can get your FREE copy of Life Plan here.
I have utilized three different personal and career coaches over the last three years. Each of them has had a different take on coaching and each were able to guide me to the correct point of action I needed at that time.
Coaching is not counseling. It’s not touchy-feely, though personally I often cried because of what God was doing but that’s just me.
A good coach will not tell you what to do, rather, they will listen to you and ask you questions to help guide you to the appropriate next steps. Coaching is a very rewarding process for both sides and I highly recommend it.
You can easily find personal, career, and ministry coaches in your area. If you are interested in working with one of the coaches I worked with, please contact me here for more information.
This has been a tool that I just engaged in the last few months. Based on years of research, the team at Gallup has produced 34 strength themes that people demonstrate. Through an online assessment, you can find your top 5 strength themes.
The basic premise of Strengths Finder is that our entire society is built upon playing to our weaknesses. We spend time tutoring our children in their low scoring subjects and never challenge them to excel in their high scoring subjects. People will spend time and energy working out a part of their life that will never be a strength while their strengths stagnate and become mediocre.
When you can identify your strengths and play to them, you will find a higher satisfaction in in your career and life. I highly recommend this tool to anyone wanting to take a positive step forward in their life. You can learn more about Strengths Finder 2.0 here.
This is the latest book by John Maxwell in which he describes the levels of leadership that begin with positional and build through relationships and results. This book comes with a set of self-assessment questions to gauge yourself on the different levels. It also takes the next step for you to give those same questions to the people you lead to see how your answers compare to theirs.
At this point, I’m only a third of the way through this process. So far it has had a great impact on me and I look forward to completing the process and moving forward with its results. You can purchase a copy of the Five Levels of Leadership here.
Question: What are your favorite tools for leadership development? You can respond by leaving a comment here.
As an avid football fan of the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the Baltimore Ravens, I’ve had a disappointing end to my team’s 2011 seasons. Both teams had great seasons, making tremendous improvements from previous years. Yet when the final scores posted they each fell short of their championship games.
With both teams, I felt they were evenly matched to their opponents. Both of the final games were hard fought. From my perspective it wasn’t a matter of lacking the will to win. It was more of a matter that on those given days, the other team had the slightest edge we didn’t have that led to victory.
OK, so maybe I’m just pouting because they lost – let’s get real. But I do believe that your team at work, home, or at church can learn from the tough losses by my teams.
In the case of the Baltimore Ravens’ match-up against the New England Patriots at yesterday’s AFC Championship, Baltimore was picked to lose by many experts. Given the elite post-season history of the Patriots, this came at no surprise.
There was even an incident where the Ravens quarterback took negative criticism by one of his teammates last week leading up to the game.
Still, the Ravens boarded their flight, took the field, and fought hard. Even in the face of critics, they did not roll over and die, they believed in their ability to win and played as champions.
Has your team ever faced pre-game criticism? Did your team just roll over and give up on the task before you really got started or did you push through regardless?
No matter the odds against you, when your team has an assignment, you should execute as though you will win the prize.
The teams that play in championship games are teams who are constantly evaluating their game plan. Yesterday, I watched as New England came out of the locker room after halftime with offensive plays they didn’t show in the first half.
Teams who successfully evaluate and skillfully execute adjustments win. This is why we test market new products and ideas. If a focus group isn’t satisfied, then your product is not ready to ship. Evaluate what can be corrected, make those corrections, and move on.
This morning, the New England Patriots’ coaches and players have a victory short lived. They know almost better than any other NFL team that yesterday’s victory is just that. No time for wallowing in victorious pride. The clock is ticking for the game that holds highest stakes of their season.
As for the Ravens, they can choose to wallow in a tough defeat all throughout the off season, or they can learn from it and move forward stronger than before.
In this momentary life, the minutes are so fleeting that no one can afford to stand still- you must move on. Getting caught up and wallowing in victory or defeat is dangerous. Every win or loss in life comes with its lessons. The most important step is to learn from them and move forward.
We all will experience wins and losses. Regardless, we must move on, learning from both and improving for the challenge.
If you are a fellow Ravens fan in morning, I hope these words are a balm for your pain. If you are a part of a team – then I hope you can take something from this and make your team stronger- today.
Regardless: Go DAWGS! Sic ‘em! Go RAVENS! CAW!
Question: How has your team handled it’s victories and defeats? Please share your lessons learned here for the benefit of others.]]>
I’m working on material for upcoming events at my church on Christian leadership and I could use your help.
Gallup has some great research and resources for leadership, specifically Strengths Finder 2.0 and Strengths-Based Leadership. In the latter, author Tom Rath discusses the method used by Gallup to research how people are positively influenced by those who lead them.
I would like to take an informal poll of people that I know to see how you would respond to their questions. It’s simple, in the comments section below, please leave your response to the following questions:
1. What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life? Take a few moments to think about this question if you need to. Once you have someone in mind, please list his or her initials.
2. Now, please list three words that best describe what this person contributes to your life.
These two questions were taken directly from the Strengths-Based Leadership. If you are more comfortable with a more private response, please feel free to message me directly via my work email address: bryan at fbclaurel dot com. Also, you don’t really need to leave the persons initionals for the purposes here. I’m more interested in your response to question two.
Thank you in advance!
Yesterday at church, we celebrated the third Sunday of Advent – a Sunday marked by great joy. In the journey of the Advent season we lit the third candle of our Advent wreath.
By this time in the month, the first two candles have burned down quite a bit. It’s a sign that Christmas day is near and our journey in the season of Advent is almost complete. As I considered all that has taken place during this journey, it occurred to me that something marvelous, something redemptive has happened:
Not only has this occurred physically with our candles on the altar, it has occurred within my heart.
As we journey through this season in prayer and reflection, those items in our lives that were once hiding the Christ within, are now melting away -
The challenge moving forward is to keep Christ shining and avoid hiding His light within our hearts. In doing so, others will always see His light shine bright.
As Jeremy Camp sang, “Let this old life crumble. Let it fade.”
May you have a joyful third week of Advent.
I love Christmas songs. I’m the first to admit that I have a slight addiction to the warm fuzzies the music of this season brings.
I love the religious songs for they remind me of Jesus’ birth which would lead to grace for all. The not-so-religious songs are dear to me as well. They remind me of riding in the back seat of my parent’s sedan on Saturdays in December as we would window shop and spy out Christmas lights.
Now that I’m the one dragging my children all over creation during this season in our van, we listen to all the Christmas music. Yet this week, one lyric – one very depressing lyric – has begun to annoy me:
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
This is from a very nice, nostalgic song, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Love the song. Hate that line. And worse yet, when James Taylor sings it, my energy is depleted.
It annoys me so much because it reflects my outlook prior to 2011. The truth is, I’ve spent a fair amount of my life just muddling through, somehow.
You see, on January 3rd of this year, I stood on a scale that reflected the image of what my muddling had accomplished: a fat, gluttonous person, just muddling through.
After a few weeks of simply working out three days a week and keeping to a balanced diet, I began to taste the sweetness of success. As I built on one success after another, my energy increased and my drive to succeed in all areas of my life increased dramatically.
Old habits are indeed hard to break. I am acutely aware that the triggers in my life which lead to my muddling remain. Those triggers only suffer a temporary defeat as I battle them each day.
A person who muddles through somehow is often one who feels that they are out of options. They have arrived at the point at which they see no way up and out of their muddled life.
Whether you believe it or not, God has plans for your life – plans that give you hope for your future (Jeremiah 29:11). In other words, there are always options.
So, go ahead, James Taylor. Muddle through until next Christmas. For me, I want to move ahead one sweet success at a time!
Oh, and have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
The other day my wife brought a profound discovery to my attention: our children no longer have room for their toys. When sent downstairs to clean up the play area, they actually had just moved all their stuff around and to the walls.
All the toy boxes and baskets were full. To the children’s credit, they did their best, but in the end, they merely moved the clutter around and called it “clean.”
Our hearts are a lot like my children’s play room. God, the Father, asks us to go inside and clean up our heart-room. Through spiritual procrastination and excuse making, however, we often do not really clean the room. We just move things around so when the Inspector shows up, it looks different.
In reality, our version of different is still unclean.
On Sunday we sang a phrase in a hymn that stood out to me: “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.” The Holy Spirit asked me, “Bryan, is there really room in your heart for me? Is all that clutter I asked you to clean up really cleaned up? Or is it just moved to the side?”
In this season of Advent, the season of great anticipation and preparation, we are all asked to go to our inner rooms known as our heart and soul, to clean:
Our children amaze me at their desire to pass on their used toys to other families. This is something they often do without prompting. In fact, it’s Daddy who often cannot let go of a certain toy or stuffed animal (I have a lot to learn from my children).
What is the excess of our heart? Like David wrote in Psalm 23:5, our cups overflow from the joy God has given. Joy in the midst of sadness and pain. Joy in the midst of great triumph. Surely there is one person, today, who could benefit from the overflow of joy in your life?
When we begin the great December purge of 2011 in our children’s play room, I’m sure we’ll find toys that have seen much better years — toys that are beyond repair and would be of no use to anyone.
I know there is junk in our hearts as well: envy, deceit, gossip, arrogance, etc. Wouldn’t it feel great to purge these from your life and ready yourself what Christ offers anew?
Psalm 139 closes with an invitation for the great room inspector Himself to come and see first hand what lurks in the clutter of our hearts. What would He find in you should you extend Him the same invitation?
The children have their best and favorite toys. They also have a place to store them. These storage options represent the best seats in the house for dolls and race cars.
Where are you placing the necessities of your life this season? Family? Prayer? Time spent with the ones you hold most dear? In the process of cleaning, the Father would have us put these in their proper place and priority.
I wish you great joy and peace in this season of cleaning and preparing — this season we call Advent.
I’m sure it seems a little strange to be receiving a letter from me. It’s been a few years, I know. I do still believe you exist in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the true spirit of giving and for those who still see the good in their fellow man.
This letter is not so much about what I need or want. You see, in 2011, I’ve already received a lot. I’ve regained my health, my marriage has been renewed, my children have grown closer, and my family and friends are well and strong. I’ve also been blessed materially this year with a house, cars for transportation, more than enough food, and a just enough money for my family and some for others.
I’ve tried to be good this year, and I’ve done well in many things. Though not always perfect, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes and move forward. So if there’s anything that I could ask for this year for Christmas, it would be this:
I have many friends who are struggling with life decisions. Plans have not worked out like they had hoped. Job changes and uncertainty loom and they are often so stressed out. I would like for these friends to receive as a gift a reminder that God loves them, that He has a plan for them, and will continue to provide for them. (John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 6:25-34)
A few families in my life are mourning the loss of a child this Christmas. Some lost their child in the womb, while others have buried their young-adult and adult children. No parent ever wants to go through this. These dear friends need the gift of knowing that this loss of their child is not their fault. I hope they can be reminded that God knows what it’s like to lose a son, as He lost His son, Jesus, on a cross. They need the gift of remembering that every moment of our lives is precious, and that moving forward with gratitude for the precious few moments we have with our children are not to be wasted on what could have been. May they receive the fullness of God’s love to fill this dark void in their lives. (Psalm 147:3, Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Divorce and infidelity have reared their ugly heads for some of my friends this year. I can’t imagine the pain and anguish that must be in their lives. May they receive the gift of grace, forgiveness, and peace – from God the Father and for each other. (John 14:1, John 14:27, Matthew 18:21-22)
My eyes have been opened to the poverty that exists in our world this year. As I have learned, this is of my own doing as much as anyone else. So this year, may those in poverty receive what I am able to give: my voice to call others to their attention, my knees for prayers over them, and my abundance that they may share in the wealth granted by God, the Father. (Proverbs 3:27-28)
I know that all of these gifts are only provided by our Heavenly Father. So as I write this letter to you, I’m praying these thoughts in my heart, for I know that my God hears me when I pray.
Today I am deeply burdened, saddened even, because so many friends of mine in the ministry are hurting. Some have been released from their ministries by bully committees, some are navigating their ministries through personality mine fields, and others are dealing with the consequences of choices they have recently made.
The reasons aren’t important. Pastors, ministers, their families – maybe even your pastor – is hurting – today.
I’m asking you to take 5 minutes to pray for the Pastors, Ministers, and Staff members of your church:
Would you also take one more minute to write them an email, give them a call, or send a hand-written note of encouragement?
It is often perceived by congregations and parishioners that their ministers are made of steel. There’s a false perception that we are Super-Heros impervious to temptation, burnout, and fatigue of the mind, body, and soul. Don’t be fooled. We are men and women who are in need of the same grace and forgiveness offered by the Lord Jesus Christ that we preach of from our pulpits.
This is not a pity-party. This is a call for all to invest in the ones that you, as a congregation, agreed together that the people you call pastors are called of God for this time, and your church.
Have you considered what is your family’s culture of food? What are the values, ideas, and actions driving the choices you make for your family’s diet?
Many families never consider their family’s culture of food with intentionality. This is a dangerous oversight. Without intentionality, your family’s diet will be left to last minute, hunger driven choices which rarely lead to healthy choices.
Until recently, my wife and I were guilty of this. Our lack of intentionality resulted in meals hastily prepared, over-inflated grocery bills, and more often than not – eating out.
In order to rescue our family from it’s path of dietary disaster, we are now intentional about creating a healthy culture of food at our table.
A few days ago, our oldest daughter passed on dessert since she knew she would be having cake and ice cream at a birthday party later that day. A seven-year-old passed on dessert!
She willingly sat and watched as the rest of the family enjoyed a small treat. In her words, she wanted to make a healthy choice!
That moment was a sign to my wife and I that the core values we place on our food culture are beginning to take root in our children.
Your family can be intentional in it’s culture of food if you take the time to cultivate the values of moderation, gratitude, and sharing.
Who doesn’t want seconds or even thirds of their favorite foods? America is a nation of gluttony. Anyone can have whatever they want, whenever they want, and however they want.
On the contrary, God’s word to us through scripture emphasizes the importance of self-control and moderation. This flies in the face of our gluttonous society.
Children can understand that all things are created by God for our good. But with all good things, there are limits. We must teach our children that moderation with food is not just about saying “enough is enough.” Moderation should also drive how often we eat out, how often we eat higher calorie meals, and how we can find a healthy balance in between.
It’s hard for your children to give you an attitude when they’re expressing gratitude. We need to be grateful to God for the food He’s given us at all times, but especially now when food and fuel prices are rising faster than our salaries.
Our middle daughter is only five. Through our recent sponsorship of a child through Compassion, she is learning that there are children who go to bed hungry every night. We don’t teach this to her in a way that makes her feel guilty.
We teach her and all our children the heart-breaking facts about world hunger so that they can begin to understand just how blessed they are.
When you begin to approach each meal with gratitude you begin to have the urge to share what you have. Our daughters now include prayers for Lucy, our Compassion child, at our family table. They pray that she’ll have clean water and enough food.
My wife and I are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for us to more tangibly share with others. We are already talking about how our new global awareness of hunger can affect our local action.
Before I finish I’d like for you to imagine the generation of your children practicing these values of moderation, gratitude, and sharing. What would the world look like if their generation applied these values not only to their culture of food, but to their culture at large? It can happen. One meal, one conversation, one step at a time.
Let’s Discuss This Together: Are you intentional in your approach to your family’s diet? What are the core values of your family’s food culture? If you’re not happy with your family’s food culture, what’s one small step you can take today to make it better? You can discuss this post in the comments section by clicking here.