Mental toughness is one of my major character goals for myself. Character traits are a little difficult to pursue because of the difficulty of measuring progress in ourselves. Having a clear definition of the character trait we are pursuing helps in our self assessment of growth and progress. I have defined this trait as being able to recognize “thinking sins” or “stinkin thinkin” in my mind quickly, and then be disciplined enough to set my mind on something that is good, pure, lovely, or noble quickly. Self- pity or poor me thinking is definitely not tough, neither is critical or bitter thinking about another person. Anxiety or worry is definitely the kind of thinking that those who feel out of control or feel like victims practice. Also a major wimpy kind of thinking is “I can’t” or “it is to hard”. And then there is just your general negative mental grumbling about life and circumstances. As I pursue mental toughness there are a number of disciplines that are essential to growth in this area so I have actually made those disciplines my specific, measurable goals, knowing that as I faithfully practice them I will become increasingly more tough in my thinking and attitude. One is memorizing Bible verses. It takes an incredible amount of mental energy to spend 15 minutes in intense memorizing of scripture. Faithfully exercising the mental muscles of our mind every day results in the ability to stop thinking about one thing by choosing to think about something else. Very few believers faithfully memorize scripture because it is so “hard”. The blessings that come into our life from God for faithfully hiding His Word in our heart are easily worth the effort.
“It is scary to realize that the path to external success and internal emptiness can be the same road” I read this in a book I am now reading on “Pastoring and Leading a Church”. The quote is talking about the state of being “out of gas” emotionally. It is also called burnout, depression, and exhaustion. In the first 15 years of ministry I was in a constant state of being “empty”, out of gas, and in what I used to call a “blue funk”. When I was in that place it was hard to motivate myself to do anything, I didn’t want to set goals, I didn’t want to think about the future, I was full of self pity, and I wasn’t much fun to be around. I took me awhile, but I finally learned what it took to fill my “gas tank up” and to keep it full. Ministry is a lot more fun now, both for me and those who are around me.
One major key for me was to read my Bible every day and never miss a day. Psalms 119:165 says, “those who love your law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble”. Missing a day of Bible reading is like going a day without eating, you will feel tired. With food you will feel physically tired, but when you miss one day of Bible reading the tiredness is emotional and spiritual. Instead of our physical body feeling tired our soul feels tired. Another key was to spend time with God in prayer, devoted time, that is we are not doing anything else, just praying. Just 15 minutes every day will make a huge difference. It is amazing how few people do this with any degree of regularity. The time we give to people communicates how much we love those individuals, and the same is true of God. If all we give God is time in which we are also doing something else, left over time, convenient time, it is not very honoring of Him and it clearly communicates that God is not worth devoted time to us.
It isn’t rocket science, but most never get it. God is all powerful and He loves to give His strength, joy and peace to those who give Him time. Great trade.
JBC had it’s first showing of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” tonight, and it was amazing. Most of the actors were young people and they did such a good job with their parts. They did more than recite lines, they really acted the parts they had with personality. It will be performed tomorrow at 4 pm and 7 pm and then Sunday at 11:30 am and 6 pm.
The goal of the drama is to give people joy. There seems to be a great famine in our land right now of joy. God is the source of joy, and we want to send a message that there is a lot of joy to be experienced in life if you look in the right places. Ps 16:11 says, “in Your presence is fullness of joy, and in Your right hand there are pleasures forever”.
People are naturally proud, thinking that they can take care of themselves and find their own joy, but the truth of life is that without God we can’t experience real joy. The joy that comes from circumstances and possessions has a diminishing return and does not last. God’s joy lasts forever. It is a simple matter of being humble enough to seek Him and His joy.
I have identified 26 character traits or behavior patterns that I focus on extensively. I go through my list taking one character trait a week to think about, reflect on in my life, and do some writing on how I can grow and improve in this area. This week the character trait is “honoring others”, and the “others” would be my wife Patty, our 8 kids, their spouses and 22 grandkids, the staff at the church that I pastor, people in the church, and people in general who come into my life.
During the week I take a few minutes at the end of each day and think through the contacts I had with people and how I treated them, and I compare the conclusions with previous weeks when I was on the same character trait. With 26 character traits identified I go through each one twice a year. This focus really helps me to think how I am talking, listening, and responding in general each time I interact with a person. My self-control increases with my awareness of what I am trying to do and how I am trying to act.
Hebrews 6:1 says, “Let us press on to maturity”, and that is what I want to do. “To press on” is more than casual, it is like an athlete working hard to get better at his sport. He spends hours practicing and working out to get better so he can win. That is what I want to do, but I don’t want to win a golf game, I want to win with God, and get a prize from Him that will last forever.
Revelation 12:12. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
The devil knows that he only has a little time left to try and win so he has kicked it into overdrive. Sort of like a boxer in the last round of a heavy weight championship fight, and he is behind on points and the only way he can win is by a knockout and he knows it. The result is the statement by God, “Woe to the earth”. Sounds bad to me.
In the midst of all the craziness going on I have great peace because I pray a lot about everything and everybody. Philippians 4;5-6 says, “be anxious about nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God and a peace that is beyond comprehension will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus”. That is true for me.
Every day without fail I pray for my kids and grandkids, my Mom, Patty, our church staff and leadership, key friends, and President Trump. I pray that God will be glorified, many people will become followers and lovers of Jeusus. I pray that God will give me a lot to do for Him, and that I will make a huge difference in many people’s lives. I know that as it gets darker those who are bright lights in the world will attract many people to what they believe to be true, because it is this belief that makes them bright. Anybody can be positive and happy when things are going well, but only those who are being blessed by God with His peace, joy, strength, and wisdom will be world changers when the devil is ticked off.
I drove up to Portland today with Patty, actually she drove and I read and napped, to have a check up by my Neurologist at the Parkinson’s Center at OHSU. He asked specific questions about how I was doing and then he did a bunch of little tests like opening and closing my hand as fast as I could and wrote down a score of sorts on each test. After we were all done he said that I had actually improved from two years ago, and he said that it was quite amazing. Parkinson’s is progressive in that you get worse and worse every year, and I had gotten better. The reason that I gave him for the improbable improvement was my hour of stationary bicycle riding that I do every night, but on the ride home I got to thinking, I probably have a thousand people praying for me every week that God would heal me. Kind of funny how my first response was what I did rather than what God did. I guess a better word than funny should be sad. Kind of sad that my first response was to take the credit for the improvement, and have an hour pass before I had the thought, maybe it was God that made my health better because of the hours of prayer that people have lifted up on my behalf. Psalms 115:1 says, “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory”. It is a bit embarrassing to admit that.
This is Mother’s Day weekend and on Every Mother’s Day we have a “Baby Dedication”. Our “Baby Dedication” is not really a baby dedication, it is a parent dedication. Each set of parents or parent come up on the stage with their baby and I read to them a five fold commitment or promise that they are making to God, to each other, and to their baby. I read what they are committing to do and they respond by saying “I will” or “We will”. God loves commitment, His power flows to commitment, commitment tends to bring the best out in us as we pursue the promise we made. The parents make five detailed commitments such as praying for their baby, reading the Bible to them, and taking them to church. The desire on the part of each parent is to raise a champion for Jesus, and they all recognize that the job is to big for them to pull off successfully without God.
I have for most of my life memorized Bible verses, about 10 new ones each year and I would review the old ones as well. Two years ago I had about 150 verses total memorized well that I could think about and meditate on easily. Because of the strong desire not to get senile as a result of getting older, and because of the Parkinson’s that I have, I started on a major increase in my memorizing. I started using the “App” on my IPhone and IPad called “Scripture Typer”, and I made a goal of getting the total number of verses that I have memorized up to 1,000 by the time I am 70 years old, which is about 18 months away. I have just about 700 verses down pat as a result of spending about 30 minutes every day working on them. I have noticed a marked increase in my memory, but also in my ability to think clearly which has been an exciting experience. My writing seems to have picked up in the sense that I don’t have the long periods of “writers block” where my brain seems empty of anything to write about. Also my ability to focus while I am praying by myself has increased to the point that I would say it has doubled. Before this memorizing emphasis my mind would wander so much I couldn’t maintain a silent, private prayer time for more than a couple of minutes without my mind going to fishing, hunting or some other such super spiritual activity. Now, I can stay right on task as I pray for the people in our church, my family, my goals, lost people, for an hour or more. The power of God’s Word in my mind and heart permently has been amazing. When people ask my about my Parkinson’s I say, “best thing that has happened to me in a long time”. I ride my stationary bike for an hour a day, staying in the best shape of my life, I read while I ride usually at least 100 pages a week, I listen to sermons, and I memorize Bible verses for 30 minutes every day. I wasn’t even close to that when I was healthy.
Jefferson Baptist Church has 4 “Five Day of Prayer” events each year, one about every 3 months. During the five days that we pray, Monday through Friday, we pray 10 hours each day, 5 to 10 am and 5 to 10 pm. As the pastor of JBC who has a very strong faith in the power of prayer I am always very disappointed with the turnout of people from our church for prayer during these events.
So I am not going to just feel bad, and get irritated because many people who attend JBC don’t have a strong faith in the power of prayer yet. But I am going to do something as the pastor to lead, train, and teach people how super important it is to pray together as a church. My strategy is to remind, teach, send notes, teach, nag, teach, harass, preach, and send some more notes. But I understand that my struggle is not against people, flesh and blood, but it is against satan and his demons. They hate prayer because it destroys their hold over people and they have no defense against prayer except to work hard to keep people from praying.
When I was 12 years old my Dad, who was in the Navy, was stationed in Alameda, California. We used to walk down to the docks where the ships were tied up and fish occasionally. It usually was very windy whenever we went fishing on the docks, but one time it was dead calm, not a hint of a breeze was blowing, and the water in the bay was like glass. Dad walked over to a big Navy ship tied to the dock, and he said watch this, and leaned out and began to push on the side of the ship with all of his strength. He pushed for 10 or 15 minutes without letting up, I was pretty sure Dad had lost it. Just about the time that I was getting super bored with this effort in futility, the ship began to move away from the dock, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Dad sat down on the edge of the dock to catch his breath and asked me to sit down next to him. He said to me, “I don’t know how it works, but somehow as I pushed on that ship my energy was being stored in the molecules of the ship, and it finally moved when there was enough energy to overcome the resistance of the water. There are two things I want you to learn from this, first, if I had given up just 2 seconds before it started to move it wouldn’t have moved and everything I had done up to that point would have been wasted, so never give up. Second, if you had helped me we would have moved it in half the time”.
So that is my mental picture as I try and convince people to give up time working in their yards to come down to the church and spend time praying with me and other church family. Just keep pushing and never give up and try to get as many other people to push with me as possible.
I have 10 passages that I have identified as my key verses to guide my life and influence my decisions. I have them memorized , and I meditate on them almost daily so that they are right on the top of my head, to help guide me during the day. One of them is Matthew 7:13-14. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. These verses are not talking about heaven and hell, they are talking about this life. “Life” is success, and “Distruction” is failure. So the principle is this, all day long I will come to a “T” in the road of my life, and I will need to choose the right or the left. The right is the hard way, the narrow gate, and the left is the easy way. Today in our culture the god that is worshiped by most , is the god of comfort. We are all born lazy, our flesh is easily addicted to comfort, the devil constantly pushes us toward the easy way. I want to bear much fruit with my life, and the hard way will be the way of success. Every day as I am faced with choices over and over, I think, which way is the hard and narrow way, I want success so let’s choose that way. It takes a bit to train your brain to think “choose hard” , but once you do, it becomes the right way for you. The main reason Christians are so unfaithful to the basic disciplines of the Christian life is that they are the “hard way” and the easy way is the default choice of most.
The thing that those who choose the hard and narrow way discover is that the hard way becomes the easy way. What?? Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” When we choose the hard way Jesus helps us, and it becomes the easy way. Only those who consistently choose the hard way as a matter of principle discover this truth.