Author Archives: Vernon Brant
Author Archives: Vernon Brant
Everything we do and say begins in our mind, and our mind is what generates our thoughts and ideas. These ideas become emotions, beliefs, and actions. How you perceive the world around you has tremendous influence on what your mind generates. You hear things every day that attempt to influence the way you see yourself and your life.
Corporate advertising tells you that you are constantly in need of something bigger and better to be happy. People influence you by telling you who you are and what you should do based only on their ideas. In a spiritual sense, you also have a very real enemy who hates you. This enemy is working to convince you that you aren’t worthy of love, you’re good at anything, and you’ll never amount to much.
Here is what I hold true: because of God’s incredible love for you, He has provided a means of relationship with Him, provided you with Holy Spirit, and provided His word. He’s also given you the ability to renew your mind on a daily basis and to ponder on the truth of how He sees you and feels about you. It is this truth that defines who you really are. You have the chance every day to experience the renewal of your emotions, perspectives, and beliefs. God desires to speak to you every day and share His truth about your identity through his word and Spirit.
His command for us is printed clear as day. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2. The truth is, if we are not able to transform our mind then God would tell us to do it. You have the ability! You are worshiping God when we renew your mind with His ideas. You worship God when you choose to believe His word over world’s ideas. By trusting God, you show your love for Him instead of your feelings and limited perspective. When you renew your mind, you no longer conforming to the world, with its destruction and lies, but conforming to God’s truth about you.
How do you transform your mind? Here are four simple steps: First, you must see yourself through the lens of God’s word. Perspective is the key. You have the ability to believe God or not. His word says amazing things about you and your identity in Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21. God proclaimed that you are God’s child, that you are worth the death of His Son, and that you are free from of the shackles of sin and the world. Those promises are extremely powerful. In order for you to experience the fullness of what His word says, you must renew your thought process to be like God’s. The Apostle Paul said that “we have the “mind of Christ” as people born of the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:16.
How do you set your mind in a Christ-like manner? Step number two is you have to make time for God every day. Open your mind and heart to God’s word every day. Before your day gets too hectic and out of control, experience renewal in your mind is when you first wake up. By carving out time every morning, you set the foundation for what you will believe and how you will think for the rest of the day.Your entire outlook on life will begin to change. You will find yourself in a place of contentment, experiencing joy, having purpose, and living in abundance.
The third aspect of daily transformation revolves around Holy Spirit. When you came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit set up residence in your heart. When you are alone and reading God’s word, read it while listening to Holy Spirit. Scripture will come alive when you spend time reading it with the guidance and teaching of the Spirit. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17. Allow your Helper, the Spirit of truth, to show you the ways he desires God’s word to shape your life and transform your mind. As you read, Holy Spirit will be your Teacher if you ask him.
The final step to daily transformation is obedience. Just like any diet or workout plan, obedience and discipline are key. You have to live in obedience to God’s word. His word is not merely historical but is actually full of practical and applicable truth that has the ability to transform your life. When you open your heart to God’s word and choose to believe it, you will experience transformation. When you choose to obedient obey God’s commands, you will bear incredible fruit in your life. God’s word is meant to direct you to the rich life he has planned for you. Have faith in the words of Scripture. Choose to believe God’s promises.
So, are you ready to transform your mind and move into a place where God will use you as the conduit to achieve His purposes? If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your instructions have been clearly laid out. If you are not a believer, then you can make that change today. In a simple prayer, admit you are a sinner to God, and you need a Savior. Believe Jesus Christ is that Savior and was crucified for your sin on the cross, and that he rose again. Confess Jesus Christ as your Savior and ask Holy Spirit to take up residence in you. If you can utter that simple prayer, and follow the instruction for transformation, then you can experience what God has in store for you.
For the Christ Follower the coolest thing, and the thing most desired, is to hear His voice. When you look through Scripture you see God is not a screamer. Often times He comes to his people in the stillness and quietness of life. This goes hand in hand with Mark Batterson’s study called, “Whisper,” of which my church is doing on Wednesday nights. In a recent session I attended, the focus was on being “still” and “silent” and to listen for Holy Spirit. I think we all can agree being still and silent is not part of our daily routine. The hustle and bustle of life, and the noise associated with it makes us deaf and unable to hear His voice.
To be honest, I have not been “still” and “silent” for a long time and have been experiencing a dryness in my Christian walk. I’m certain I was called to establish the non-profit 3Strand Inc. and help people become the best version of themselves. However, the busyness of life, the added tasks of growing a dream, and trying to keep all the saucers spinning have left me feeling overwhelmed. In the book, Put Your Dreams to the Test, John Maxwell teaches when you are living someone else’s dream you have no trouble sleeping, but when you take ownership of your dream sleep doesn’t come so easy. He also teaches when you own your dream your passion is the fuel needed to continue the journey. I am passionate about helping others but have wondered if my “why” is big enough to help be find my way. This morning I heard His voice.
Being still and silent must mean something different to Holy Spirt because he came to me at a time you probably wouldn’t talk about in church. During my routine visit to the “library” this morning I was scrolling through the emails on my phone. Stop right there! In this day of modern technology, you probably do the same thing. Anyway, one of the emails was a daily devotional from Dr. David Jeremiah. I usually delete the weekend version because is a little longer than usual. This morning I decided to open it and read the story of Karl Friedrich Gutzlaff (Karl for short). Karl was the first Lutheran missionary to China and died in 1851 at the age of 48. Not seeing much fruit from his labor, he felt his life was a failure and died in disappointment. However, his writings later impacted J. H. Taylor who would open China up to the Gospel, as well as Dr. David Livingston who took the Gospel to the interior of Africa. A warmness filled my soul and tears started to leak out of my eyes as I learned God is not the source of discouragement. My task is to keep moving forward and splash “around in the work God has given me” so that those ripples will reach those He intends reach through me.
Just to show off, Holy Spirit drove home another point. With my “library” time complete, I scrolled through the memory feed on my Facebook page. This time two years ago I was reading Chase the Lion, by Mark Batterson. It is a tremendous and inspiring book that deals with chasing your dreams and doing the difficult things needed to accomplish them. The passage dealing with legacy compliments what I learned in Jeremiah’s devotional. I might never see a life changed, but I must believe I can inspire others. It may be those others who affect change. The other portion of the book I saved talks about God’s timing and opportunity. When I answered His call in 2012, I was not looking for a scheduled appointment. His call, my dream, “found” me and 3Strand was born.
We all know things can come in three’s and this morning Holy Spirit was right on queue. I closed my Facebook feed feeling pretty confident I received a word from the Lord. I opened my Instagram page and this picture was at the top. My friend, Mike Wehde, is a pastor, church plant strategist, and all-around great guy. He has had seasons in his life where direction has been a challenge. One thing he holds true, keep your focus on the Lord and continue moving forward. I believe that to be true as well. Science tells us when something is in motion it will stay in motion unless there is applied force to stop the motion. God and I alone are the only ones have the power to kill my dream.
So, what did I hear Holy Spirit say to me this morning? What was He trying to show me? Here’s what I know. Disappointment is that place between expectation and reality. To eliminate disappointment, I can either alter expectations or change my reality. Altering my expectations is not an option so the focus needs to be on changing reality. In order to change my reality, Holy Spirit showed me three things:
It is my hope that what I experienced this morning encourages you to keep going, motivates you to chase your dream, or just brings you comfort as walk journey through life. May God richly bless you and thank you for taking the time to read my work.
Say Thanks Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
Part of my daily routine is to read a scripture-based devotional as a means of staying grounded in my faith. I wish I could say I am 100% faithful, but the effort is there none the less. Recently, I finished a devotion authored by Dan Britton and Jimmy Page titled, Called to Greatness: A Devotion to Ignite the Faith of Fathers and Sons. One of the daily devotions discussed people in our lives that can be classified as “Drainers” or “Refreshers.” Drainers “exhibit repetitive negative, pessimistic, complaining, and “life sucking” behaviors. They criticize, complain, whine, make excuses and find faults. Their words are laced with destruction, and they spew their poison on anyone who dares to listen.” Refreshers on the other hand are, “faith-filled, positive, right-living, energized” people who speak words of life. They help fill you emotionally, relationally, and spiritually by breathing encouragement, blessing, and hope into your life. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a Refresher to all those I interact with. I want to take a moment and talk about encouragement and how we can encourage those around us.
In talking about encouragement, what are we saying? First, look at the root word – courage. Dictionary.com defines “courage” as noun and is a personal characteristic exhibited by, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Likewise, to encourage is to take the noun, courage, and turn into action by “inspiring with courage, spirit, or hope.” Second, consider the biblical breakdown of encouragement. Strong’s states the Greek word for encouragement is “parakaleō” and is the combination of two words; “para” and “kaleō.” Para means “to walk along side” and Kaleō means, “to admonish, exhort, strengthen.” So, an encourager, a Refresher, is someone who walks beside someone else speaking inspiration and hope into the life of someone who may need help persevering the moment.
Being an encourager sounds like a difficult task doesn’t it? Why would someone want to step into that role? Outside of the fact we live in a tough world and need encouragement; for the Christian, it is a command. The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Timothy 5:11). Likewise, the writer of Hebrews instructs the Jesus follower, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13) Interestingly, the biblical term “edification” is very similar to encourage. To edify someone is to build them up. It is a construction term giving the picture of laying bricks on top of each other. The words we speak can build people up and act as bricks of encouragement. Being an encouragement to others is something we should all strive to do; not as a command, but as a desire.
Unfortunately, a person’s perspective may hinder them from being an encouragement. How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? In the book,Intentional Living: Choosing a Life That Matters, John Maxwell shares that 80% of people “focus on what they have failed at instead of what they have failed to do.” The focus is on their failure rather than their future. Either by design or by default, you either see the world as half full or half empty. It is impossible to encourage someone else unless you are able to encourage yourself first! How can you speak life, hope, and inspiration into someone else unless you first speak it into yours? The truth is, the same God that created the universe is the same God that created you and I, and we are created in His image. He loves you and he calls you His friend. When you see your reflection, see yourself through the eyes of your Creator and be encouraged.
How you see others is as vitally important as you see yourself. When you see others, how do you see them? Do you see them through the eyes of God as well? Do you understand God loves them as much as He loves you? The Bible say in Romans 2:11, “There is no partiality with God,” and Galatians 2:6, “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” God sees the sinner and the saint and loves them both. To be an encourager to others we need to possess the same vision. This is a tough nut for me to crack; especially when I interact with people that I don’t care for, but I’m trying. At least I have the right perspective.
Now that we know what encouragement is and why we should do it, how do we do it? Encouragement can be broken down into words and actions. We all know the nursery rhyme, Sticks and Stones. The nursery rhyme is a lie because words certainly can hurt you. You may not think so, but there is true power in the spoken word. The writer of Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” James, the brother of Jesus, describes the tongue as “a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” (James 3: 5-6). Our words can tear people down just as easily as they can build them up. Choose your words wisely – be a people builder.
Just like words, our deeds or actions can encourage others. Again, coming at it from biblical point of view, Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The good works are the actions we are destined to perform for the benefit of others. When we physically make an effort to encourage others and meet their needs, we “…do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17. You know it to be true; when someone physically steps into your life and gives you the boost you need for the day, for the season, it makes a world of difference. Words without action are just that – words.
Hopefully I have encouraged you to be a Refresher. When you wake up in the morning, before you put your feet on the floor, make up your mind to be encouraged. For no other reason than you have breath and get to live another day. Use that truth and allow it to spill into the lives of others. You can be an encourager for someone today, tomorrow…Be a Refresher and not a Drainer. Be blessed!
Have you ever been stuck in a rut? Webster’s defines a rut as, “a usual or fixed practice; a monotonous routine; a track worn by a wheel or by habitual passage.” Some might call it “a funk,” or a “stale season.” Ruts can develop in the work place, our spiritual life, personal growth, as well as relationships. Regardless of how we define it, chances are most people have been in a rut. The good news is ruts are normal and can be effectively eradicated with some effort.
Case in point: I live in Virginia Beach and we generally do not get large amounts of snow during the winter. However, when we do get snow the city has a hard time and havoc usually ensues. This winter was an exception; not the havoc part, the measurable snow part. One storm in particular dropped almost 10” in my neighborhood. It was a beautiful thing, but the storm knocked the power out and power equals no morning coffee – Havoc! I own a 2011 Honda Pilot as assumed I would be able to navigate the fresh powder and acquire the desired morning beverage. You know what they say about assuming… I didn’t make it 500 feet before I was stuck in rut and the snow had lifted the Pilot up and I could not get any traction. I was in a rut! I could not turn left or right; I could not go in reverse either. I was lucky enough to have a nice guy in a lifted truck tow me back home and I put the Pilot back in the driveway.
Now this is obviously an example of a physical rut, but I want to talk to you about relational ruts; especially in married relationships. I have a desire to help married couples achieve the marriage of their dreams and those marriages do not come with ruts. Yet, every married couple gets stuck in a rut, and if you have not been stuck yet, you will. Before I share three easy tips with you, it is important to be intentional in your relationship. You might feel your marriage is in a rut, but your spouse may not. Intentionality brings the subject to light. When intentional focus is at hand corrections can be made. No two marriages are the same, but these tips will help you move in the right direction.
Sometimes in life we get stuck on auto-pilot. Things are not necessarily bad, but you may feel the calendar is just flying by and life is stale. This is where intentionality takes place. Get out the pencil and paper and list the aspects of your relationship. Check off the ones that are fine and highlight where there needs some improvement. Here are some common areas where couples can fall into a rut:
If there is mutual agreement to any part of your life where you feel like you are in a rut, prioritize those areas. First, start making changes to the areas highlighted that works best for your relationship. You must be intentional and start somewhere; even if it is a small step. The hardest part of getting out of a rut is making a course change. The smallest degree in changing course will lead to a totally different destination. Breaking out of a rut takes work, but it’s well worth the effort. Ready to liven things up?
Once you have highlighted the areas in your marriage that need a little tweaking, it’s time to put a plan into action. Here are a few ideas for the areas I listed above:
The smallest change in the routines of life will help you get out of the rut you are in. Things will become a little more exciting and will springboard into the final tip.
Isn’t that some sort of oxy-moron? If you and your mate do not intentionally plan to be spontaneous more often, spontaneity simply will not happen. Look at your calendars, make a reminder every week to do something unplanned that will be fun, romantic, or exciting for you both. Spontaneity is fun, and most people deeply desire a measure of it; especially in their marriage. Intentionally planning to be spontaneous may sound strange, but it will pay off and get you out of the “same ole, same ole.”
We are all busy and getting busier all the time. Things can get ordinary, common place; and the only way to eliminate that is to decide you’re not going to let it stay that. Again, be intentional. I cannot stress it enough. Don’t wait; talk about it, then move.
As I begin this message, it is just before 4:00 pm on Resurrection Sunday, April 1, 2018. I am purposefully writing at this time because it coincides with the narrative of the Emmaus journey found in Luke, chapter 24. Our characters of this narrative, Cleopas and another disciple of Jesus, have left Jerusalem and are heading to their home in Emmaus; about a seven-mile journey. Their conversation at the start of this trek is rather animated. After all, their hopes of deliverance from the Roman empire have been dashed with the crucifixion of their Messiah. Now, with his body missing from the tomb, it is time to leave the dangerous environment of Jerusalem.
Not long into the journey, Cleopas and his partner are joined by another traveler. The traveler is none other than the resurrected Jesus, yet the Bible states, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (v. 16). Jesus asked the what they are discussing in such an animated fashion. I can almost see the expression on Cleopas’ face as he answers something like, “Dude! Where have you been? Are you the only guy in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what happened?” Jesus plays along with them and has Cleopas explain things as they resume their walk.
After Cleopas finished his dissertation on things gone wrong, Jesus gifted these two distraught disciples with a firsthand Bible study in prophecy. Starting with Genesis 3:15, the first messianic prophecy found in scripture, Jesus taught them for the continuation of the journey. All the while, Cleopas and his partner never came to grips that it’s Jesus doing the teaching. As the travelers approached Emmaus, the sun was setting, and Jesus was invited to have dinner with them. He agreed and reclined at the table with them. In this setting, Jesus assumed the role of the host; took the bread, blessed it, and began to serve his traveling companions. It is at this time the disciples eyes are opened and they recognized it is Jesus who has served them. Before they can utter a word, “Jesus vanished from their sight” (v. 31).
After the disappearance of Jesus, Cleopas and his partner recapped all that had taken place. They remember how their “hearts burned” during the journey while Jesus taught them. Their despair shifted. There was a renewed hope in their spirit. The two elected to travel back to Jerusalem and tell the other disciples what they had encountered. They found Peter and the others gathered in the upper room, and as they began to tell the story, Jesus appeared to all present. “Peace be with you” was the salutation Jesus spoke as he came into their presence.
So, what does this narrative have to do with you and me? For me, it is a message resurrection, of restoration. It is a story of how a person can have such high expectations of what being a Christian is, only to have those expectations squelched by the world. Over time our aspirations may become misguided and the next thing you know our “walk” has become somewhat crooked. Or maybe tragedy has struck your family. There has been a loss of a loved one, or a relationship severed. Perhaps there has been a job loss and the world is crushing you and all you can see is the struggle to put one foot in front of another; just to make it through another day.
Please allow me some creative liberty if you will. You ever wonder why Cleopas’ traveling companion is not named in this narrative? Sure, we can do some biblical investigation and come up with some good guesses. I believe it his wife, Mary, one of the three Mary’s found at the cross of Jesus, but that is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is the companion is not named. May I suggest you and I are the other disciple traveling with Cleopas. Insert your name into the narrative. Think about the time when you came to know Jesus as your Savior. You where excited and had visions of how life with the Messiah would be different. However, over time, the world has crept in and has left your faith and vision cloudy. You might even be in the same state of despair as our travelers.
The truth of the matter is Jesus is still walking beside you. He is still walking beside me. We have to listen to his teaching. We have to recline at his table. We have to partake of what he wants to feed us. It is only then our vision will become clear and our despair return to delight. The length of this journey is totally up to you. Sure, it might not be a two-hour, seven-mile walk, but it could be. Just don’t let it be a life-long adventure. In a note of transparency, I’m not in a state of despair but I know people who are. I’ve gone through seasons of staleness that only become refreshed when I listen, recline, and partake. How about you?
When I was doing my undergrad work at Liberty University, part of the required reading for one of the marriage and family courses was the popular book, Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. It’s a wonderful book and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Dr. Eggerichs uses the basic, yet profound, principles found the Bible to show how a man should love his wife. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians we read how a man should “love his wife as Christ loved the church,” and a women “shall respect” her husband. Yet, I believe love and respect are very similar and husbands and wives need both. If you have read Gary Chapman’s, The Five Love Languages,you know people have several ways of giving and receiving love. However, the following list will help husbands love their wives in a deeper way regardless of their love language.
Regardless of how you see your wife, she should be your prized possession. No, I’m not saying your wife is your property, but she must be the most valuable thing in your life. You must have eyes only for her and not get a crook in your neck taking a “double take” at a pretty girl passing by. A man loves his wife by never comparing her to an airbrushed supermodel or another beautiful woman. Men, you make your wife feel safe, adored and loved when your eyes are “monogamous.” Remember, your eyes are the gateway to your heart.
Meaningful, intimate communication is extremely difficult for most husbands. Yet, if a man can understand the typical wife’s need for communication may very well be as a powerful as his need need for sex, they may put forth greater effort. However, communication is far more than one person doing a bunch of talking. In his book,Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, John Maxwell describes how our deepest desire is to be truly known by someone else. The way you get to know your wife is to ask questions and then actively listen. He goes on to say, “Communication is the language of leadership.” I say it’s the language of a solid, loving marriage. Men, you show love to your wife when you turn off the phone, turn of the TV, and engage in meaningful, transparent, and truthful conversation.
When you have engaged in meaningful conversation you should be able to pick up on your wife’s goals and dreams. Although you may have dreams of your own, a husband will show love to his wife by making her dreams his priority. The “agape” type of love described in the Bible is putting other’s needs before your own. Men, when encourage your wife you become her biggest cheerleader, biggest fan. You stimulate growth and inspire her with courage; helping her to reach for her dreams regardless of her fear. A key role of a husband is to place his wife in such a position so that she may achieve her God-given potential.
For most men, their profession is a major part of their self-image. Good, bad, or in different, when a husband works hard to provide for his wife it communicates love. Jimmy Evans, with Marriage Today, states statistics show a women’s number one desire in marriage is to feel safe and secure. When a husband works hard, it communicates safety and security to his wife because she knows he’s doing all he can to provide for her. In contrast, a lazy husband communicates a totally opposite message.
I get it. Each household is different, and sometimes both spouse work full-time jobs. You are tired. She is tired. Yet, when a husband willing performs duties around the house that may have traditionally been left up to the wife, it communicates love. Gary Chapman calls this love language, “acts of service.” In homes where the wife manages the domestic duties, the husband should still be willing to jump in and help. Doing the dishes or folding laundry is a simple way to add value and show love to your wife. There may be a little reward in your future if you follow this practice.
Men, we have our priorities. But if we are to keep our eye on the prize, we must make our wives our number one priority. You career should line up number three behind your relationship with Christ, followed by your wife and family. A husband shows value in his wife and marriage when he makes her a consistent priority on his calendar. Men, don’t give your wife your left-overs. Give her the very best of yourself.
If you have been married for any length of time, you have probably forgotten the amount of energy you invested in winning your prize. Men are natural hunters and most guys are great at pursuing something desired. Sadly, when the desired object, in this case your wife, is obtained, we tend to get lazy. Men, you must develop a consistent and steady way of chasing after your bride. Pursuit equals passion, and when you passionately pursue your bride you communicate your love for her.
The Jimmy V Foundation has coin the phrase, “Never give up, never-ever give up.” Although the foundation’s focus is on cancer research and finding a cure, the phrase, “Never give up,” must apply to your feelings toward your wife. A husband shows love to his wife by believing in her, even when she struggles to believe in herself. Never give up on your wife. Bring out the best in her by build her up through your words, your actions and your respect. Let her know that your promise to her and your love for her is unconditional and unyielding. That will give her the confidence to take on the world knowing you are always there for her.
When I think about my marriage, and marriage in general, I firmly believe our spouses must be our best friends in life. After all, this is the person you will do life with. The romantic aspects of a marriage will be built upon a base of friendship. Sadly, many marriages fall into this “auto-pilot,” stagnate status because we quite putting for the effort to be friends. In a recent newsletter from Marriage Today, Pastor Jimmy Evans shares seven tips to consider when trying to foster a solid friendship with your mate. I’ve taken some liberty to add a little here and there to what Evans shared.
When a marriage struggles, it’s often because a husband and wife have lost focus. They’ve poured their energy into work or into their kids and they’ve forgotten that they are supposed to be best friends. Re-establish your friendship and a more successful marriage will follow.
I believe everyone who enters the covenant of marriage has a sincere desire to be successful. No one walks down the aisle, says, “I Do,” only to think about the first visit to a divorce attorney. However, although divorce statistics seemed to have leveled off at around 50%, divorce and broken homes continue to wreck the fabric of society. Depending on what poll you look at, fidelity is one of the top, if not the number one reason for divorce. People of faith, and the secular population, all could use a little help in bolstering their marriage. One aspect of strengthening your marriage is to be proactive in some habits that will honor your spouse.
Since strengthening marriage is a calling of mine, I follow several experts in the field. One such expert is Dave Willis (http://sixseeds.patheos.com/davewillis/). Dave and his wife, Ashley, have made it their point to help and strengthen marriages around the world. In a recent blog, 9 Rules to Affair Proof Your Marriage, (http://sixseeds.patheos.com/davewillis/9-rules-affair-proof-marriage/) Dave shared some practical ways he has attempted to affair proof his marriage. It is my desire to share these ideas with you and how they apply to my marriage. You may feel some of these ideas to be old-fashioned and out of date, but I can assure you they have value and would prove beneficial if practiced. So, here we go:
I hope you can see how these ideas can benefit you and your marriage. These steps do not diminish your individuality or trustworthiness. They prove to add an additional buttress to the foundation of your marriage. Thank you for sharing your time with me and I hope you were blessed.
When talking about influence, let’s consider Websters definition: “The capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” The truth is we all are influenced by someone or something, and in the same regard we are influencers ourselves. In John Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he bemones, “Leadership is about influence, nothing more, nothing less.” So, if leadership is influence, who wouldn’t like to improve their ability to influence others? I believe, in order to be the best leader I can be, I need to increase my ability to influence others. There are some practical ways we can all improve our ability to influence others we interact with.
The first point to consider is to be willing to step into someone’s life, regardless of position, and influence them where they are. Everyone wants to be an influence to those who are at the top of their game. Who wants to influence those who are struggling, and at the lowest point? Most people will simply pass on jumping into someone else’s mess, someone else’s pain. However, great influencers, great leaders, reach out to those that are down and help back up. When you invest in those who are struggling, your influence is multiplied and you will have a greater return on your investment.
Another key to improving your ability to influence others is being consistent. When you are consistent in your actions, your words, walk with integrity, you build trust with those you interact with. When others trust you, they may be empowered to make the difficult choices, do the difficult work, and move to a more positive position. We all enjoy dealing with others who say what they mean, mean what they say, and then follow through with what they said. In constructing walls out of brick, things are held together by the mortar. Consistency in your influence is like the “mortar” that holds the assorted pieces of the relationship together. If you have relationship A.D.D. and can’t seem to stick it out your level of influence will be minimal.
The greatest influential relations are based on a transformational principle as opposed to a transactional one. If you’re like me, you want the best for others. When you approach the opportunity to influence others with idea of what you can do for them, rather that what you can get from them, your influence has more weight. By using your influence to help someone grow and transform, instead of your own personal gain, the influence is proven more valuable. If you can practice this principle you are coming at things from pure perspective. More often than than not you will be blessed in the process.
Feelings can change. For some people their feelings change with the wind and you never know how you will need to approach things. Where feelings are fickle, commitment is steadfast. Commitment is not supposed to change. Just like being consistent builds trust in the relationship, being committed lets the other person they can count on you. Your influence can only grow when others know you are there for them. If you are a person of faith, your commitment to others is actually a sign of love. Love is the greatest influencer of all, and if you approach influencing opportunities from this position, success is almost guaranteed.
When we talk about faithfulness we are saying, “Dependable in light of our current circumstances.” When you tell someone, “You can count on me,” that means, if you are faithful the person, they can count of you regardless of what comes about. I believe we all want to be faithful. As a husband or wife, we want to be faithful to our spouse. As a parent, we want to be faithful in providing for our children. The truth of the matter is, if we are going to be faithful it is usually going to cost us something. Provision requires work and effort; things come at a cost. The same is true for the Christian as we live out our life in a fallen world.
Christianity is the only world religion where salvation is a free gift. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Every other world religion requires its followers to “do” something in order to receive salvation. Although the Christian does not “pay” for “do” anything to receive salvation, to live the life Jesus wants us to live does come at a price. The price is tribulation. The Bibles describes in several verses how the believer will face struggle and hatred solely for claiming the name of Jesus. The funny thing is we are supposed to pray for and bless those who persecute us. This is the type of follower Jesus is looking for and he describes this in our text: Revelation 2:8-11
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”
The Apostle John addresses the church of Smyrna by saying “God, meaning Jesus, has something to say to you.” The phrase “first and the last” found in verse 8, is seen multiple times in the book of Isaiah and describes God. Add this to, “was dead and has come to life,” depicts it’s Jesus doing the talking. In his deity, Jesus came to earth; and in his human flesh, was put to death. Yet, he displayed his power by rising from the grave and is alive today. Amen! The first thing Jesus says to the believers in Smyrna is “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” Jesus knows everything! If you feel you are going through a struggle, having a difficult time, rest assured, Jesus knows. Nothing takes him by surprise. As a matter of fact, Satan cannot do anything to harm you unless he first gets permission from God himself. So, why was the church in Smyrna facing tribulation and poverty?
Smyrna was located in present day Turkey so it was a seaport controlled by the Roman empire. There was vibrant trade and commerce in Smyrna and it was not difficult to earn a good wage and live a comfortable life. That is unless you were a Christian. The Roman empire was ruled by a Caesar. A Caesar is a title, much like a king, emperor, or president. The Roman practice was to worship Caesar like God. This was no problem for the people in Smyrna until they became a Christian. When you are a Christian you are to “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOURMIND’” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). You see, the Smyrna believers could not worship Caesar as god because they worshiped Jesus. In light of their decision, the Roman government seized their property and made it difficult for them to earn a living. You might be facing some of similar struggles in your life as a Christian today. We know there are followers of Jesus Christ all around the world who face every struggle known to man just because of their faith. However, Jesus knows the struggle. He knows the pain. So, why does Jesus allow struggle and pain in our lives?
There are several reasons the Christian may face struggles in this life, and we see it in the Bible. One way God allows trials is to keep us humble. Look at the life of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. In this passages Paul describes “a thorn in his flesh” and how he asked God three times to remove it. God did not remove it, but he answered him back, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In order to keep the greatest missionary to ever live and writer of 2/3 of the New Testament humble, God kept Paul under a constant trial. Yet, Paul remained faithful. Sometimes we must endure struggles because God wants us to be able to help others through our experience. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 explains how when we find comfort in our affliction, can comfort those who are experiencing the same thing. Sometimes people do not understand another person’s struggle and have a hard time ministering to them. But when you have “walked in another person’s shoes” you can understand what they are feeling and comfort them accordingly. Jesus’ brother, James, teaches us the various trials we face produces endurance and when endurance has its way we are made complete (James 1:2-3). So, sometimes God uses struggles in life to grow us. The trick is to find the purpose in the pain. I think we all will agree, when we face times of struggle we tend to get closer to Jesus. Philippians 3:10 teaches us we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” Suffering leads us to pray more, read scripture more, be more devoted to Jesus.
As if facing trials in life isn’t bad enough, sometimes you must deal with fake people in the church. Apparently, the church was full of people who weren’t what they said they were. Jesus calls them the “synagogue of Satan” in verse 9. Just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Just because someone prays or reads the Bible, does not make them a Christian. You can even believe in Jesus just like the demons do (James 2:9) and not be a Christian. Sadly, some estimates say 8 out of 10 people in the United States who claim to be a Christian have no clue what it takes and are living a lie. So, before we end this message, let’s be clear on what the Bible says it takes to be a Christian. First, you have to admit and confess with your mouth you are a sinner and are in need of a savior. The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). Then you must believe Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then you must choose Jesus and make him Lord of your life (Romans 10:13, John 3:18). If this describes you, Great!
It is good to have comfort in Jesus because there will come a day when things are going to worse than what they are right now. Jesus tells the believers in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (v. 10). Wait a minute, wasn’t the church in Smyrna already suffering? Yes, but it was about to get worse. History teaches the Christians in the Roman empire faced great persecution. Starting with Nero in 64 AD, the Roman government treated Christians harshly. This continued for many years in which the all the apostles, except for John, would be put to death. John was exiled to the island of Patmos and wrote the book of Revelation around 94 AD. Historians describe the persecution of the Christian church lasted till 313 AD, when Constantine became Emperor. We do not know what the Christians in Smyrna faced, but it must have been bad because Jesus challenged them to be faithful unto death. If they remained faithful they would receive “the crown of life” (v. 10). The crown of life is not salvation, but a reward for standing true. Think about the Olympic Games and how when someone finishes first they are given a gold medal. The crown of life is like that. The Bible teaches when the Christian goes to Heaven they will lay their crown down at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:10-11). However, only the faithful will receive a crown. What will you have to lay at the feet of Jesus?