MICHAEL ANTHONY BLOG
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SNOW HAS A WAY OF DOING SOMETHING MAGICAL TO YOU. I’m not talking about snow flurries. I’m talking about a LOT of snow. The nearly 30 INCHES that fell the day before yesterday – all in one massive purge – left our family and many others completely snowbound, unable to go anywhere or do anything other than shovel snow, recover, make a toboggan run, eat, spend time together and repeat. But the snow has also has given me ample time to be with no one other than myself. Herein lies the problem. There are painful joys in being snowbound.
Sometimes I like myself. At times, I even like myself a bit too much. Then there are other times when I don’t like myself at all.
“A sail is a poor excuse for travel if the wind is wanting.”
Being snowbound means the usual ability to get out and move about is shut down. Completely. Never mind the milk and eggs, honey. This means I will definitely run out of distractions – those things that subtly take me away from living the kind of life for which I was designed, and destined, by the Almighty. With all this snow and time on my hands, I have lots of distraction-free time to get back to the business of life – the only one I’ll ever get.
“As a Christ-follower, I must wrestle – really wrestle – with the culture of self. And, I must wrestle it to the point of daily extinction. If confession is good for the soul, I’m now immersed in a lake of God-inspired goodness.”
I tend to think too much of myself. Accordingly, I get in my own way. Actually, I get in God’s way a great deal, as well. Who needs the devil when we can be our own worst enemy? It’s easy to do in a culture where each of us is encouraged to be center stage. But culture doesn’t make it right. As a Christ-follower, I must wrestle – really wrestle – with the culture of self. And, I must wrestle it to the point of daily extinction. A Christ-follower is to run counter culture.
Do I truly care about my two boys – to the point of being emotionally engaged in the interests, hurts, fears and thrills that eleven and nine-year old boys experience? Do I care to the point of being so engaged that it will make a difference for them when they become young men, middle-aged men and perhaps even old men, long after I’m gone?
What about my wife, who sacrificially gives herself to both of them, and me, in ways that only a wife and mother can appreciate? Do I truly care for her at an emotional level, and put myself aside so that she can be a lot more successful, in ways that would not be possible if I were not around?
“A reflective, repentant, renewed and refocused life is a powerful weapon in the war against mediocrity.”
Though solitude and self-examination can be painful, they can also be LIFE-savers. I’ve found that it’s leading me to the feet of Jesus in a bit of confession. Well, let me be brutally honest – a lot of confession. If confession is good for the soul, I’m now immersed in a lake of God-inspired goodness. It’s agonizingly beautiful. Paul’s advice to the Corinthians so many centuries ago is so excellent for us in these hectic times:
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” – 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV, italics mine)
What about my church? It’s so frighteningly easy to go through the motions of ministry without being moved by the Holy Spirit.It concerns me so much that with nearly each passing year I reach the conclusion that this year will be the unique year. Thiswill be the year when I truly begin walking with God, listening to Him, surrendering fully, and allowing Him to carry me along with the ease at which Philip was blown into the path of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). And then the snow comes, and I am reminded of how much the sail of my life needs the wind of the Holy Spirit. A sail is a poor excuse for travel if the wind is wanting.
“It’s so frighteningly easy to go through the motions of ministry without being moved by the Holy Spirit.”
Yes, ma’am, when a soul has nowhere to go but within, a soul sure does think. There are so many distractions I’ve not only allowed in my life, but also welcomed, that I have forgotten the painful joys that can only be found in solitude. Solitude helps us reflect, repent, renew and refocus. A reflective, repentant, renewed and refocused life is a powerful weapon in the war against mediocrity. I’m sure this is not only true for me, but also for you. It’s true for all of us.
We could all use a bit more solitude and self-examination. The interruptions of life can be welcome interruptions if we see them as God-given opportunities to get back to what LIFE – the only one we’ll ever have this side of eternity – is all about.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? HOW’S THAT SOLITUDE THING GOING? HAVE YOU WELCOMED DISTRACTIONS INTO YOUR LIFE TO SUCH A DEGREE THAT YOU’VE SETTLED FOR A LIFE THAT’S FAR BELOW YOUR GREATEST POTENTIAL – AND GOD’S GREATEST DESIRE?
There is a common trait found among people who are continually successful. Yes, anyone can have a successful moment here and there – but if we want to consistently experience success in all areas of life, there is one trait that increases our odds like none other. What is it? I’m down here in the Dominican Republic, with the family, making some new friends. Our time has made me reconsider this trait. When we see it in action, it’s obvious. When we don’t, it’s repulsive. There is a trait that will make you successful, above all others.
Think about it: we all love the company that has great customer service. But what is great customer service? Its caring for the customer. Why would we think it is any different when it comes to our personal interactions with people? The truth is, it isn’t. The relationships we treasure the most are those that we have with people we believe really care about us. No wonder we care about them. There is something contagious about . . . caring.
The common trait found among people who are continually successful is that they care more about others than themselves. This trait will make you successful – consistently – because you will stand out from the crowd. Very few people these days care more about others than themselves. Consider the timeless words of Philippians 2:21:
“For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
Consider Philippians 2:3-4, too:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.“ (ESV)
If we have every other trait of “success” but not the trait of genuinely looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ and others, are we really successful? If we look out for the interests of Jesus Christ, we can’t help but look out for the interests of others – because Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of doing exactly that. When we follow Jesus, we become like Jesus. We care about Him, and others, more than ourselves.
What about you? Whose interests do you look out for? On your quest for “success,” are you missing success?
Thoughts are things. They are either good, bad or neutral. Good and bad thoughts consume the same amount of energy – but one is priceless and the other costly. Why not use your limited energy to embrace good thoughts while disregarding the bad? What’s playing in the theater of your mind? It makes all the difference in the world. Here are some important things to consider about your thought life so that you turn it around, keep it on track, and live your best life for God right here, right now:
- What we do in public begins in secret.Before something is seen in public, it is thought about in private. The mind, in a very real sense, is the soil where we plant the seeds of life or death. We really do reap what we sow.
- “Neutral” thoughts are like sweets– they take up valuable space that could be used for good thoughts. “Neutral” thoughts take up valuable space that could be used for positive thoughts. In the end, then, a thought really isn’t “neutral” at all.
- Negative thoughts are neither neutral nor beneficial– they not only take up valuable space that could be used for good thoughts, but never result in anything good. Negative thoughts rob us of happiness, productivity, healthy relationships and progress in every area of life. There is no good that can come from a negative thought – so why tolerate even one? Have you been allowing your mind to run on auto pilot? If you have, there’s a good chance that negative thoughts have been wreaking havoc, ransacking your well-being.
- Positive thoughts are the only ones that are beneficial to you, others and God. They are the only thoughts that will move you in the right direction. Why not begin (or rekindle) the process of capturing every neutral or negative thought and replacing it with a positive one? Consider 2 Corinthians 10:5:
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ . . .”
Every single one of us has the moment by moment choice to determine what plays in the theater of our mind. Everything we do was first done in the mind. Everything. Are you bitter? You’ll behave like a bitter person. Unforgiving? You will be an unforgiving person. Generous? You will behave in generous ways with others.
Think about it. Literally.You’ve been spending mental energy on negative, neutral and positive thoughts. Have any of your thoughts – except the positive ones – been helpful to you, others or God? The amazing thing is that every one of us has the same answer to this question: “No.” But not every one of us will do something about it. You have the power to make a positive change right now. You have the power to take captive every thought, to get rid of negative thoughts and neutral, space-wasting thoughts – and replace them with good thoughts.
YOUR SOURCE FOR POSITIVE THOUGHTS
Looking for good thoughts to replace the negative and the neutral? The Bible is filled with them. Start your day with a bit of reading from the Bible. Fill it with the same. End your day, just before bed, with more reading from the Bible. Put into action whatever you read. You will begin to take captive every thought. Space that was previously taken up by negative, neutral thoughts will be overwhelmed by your new, positive thoughts. Your entire life will begin to turn around – and it will all be due to one simple, powerful thing: you made the choice to play good things in the theater of your mind.
What’s playing in the theater of your mind? Isn’t today a good day to play positive things? Have negative or “neutral” thoughts been sucking up valuable energy that could be spent on positive thoughts? You have the power to determine what you think. Why not take your thoughts captive throughout each day, so you move forward in every single way?
It’s everywhere – even when we’re not looking. My young sons and I were standing in the checkout line, and there it was, again forced upon us through the headline of one of those strategically placed magazines. A famous actor was boasting about his alleged all-night (and humanly impossible) romp with a woman. If you have young children, there is one thing you need to: learn how to talk with your children about sex. And, you need to talk with them about sex – often. If you don’t, others will. Don’t kid yourself: your children are either already thinking and talking about sex – or they would love to – with you.
“Be encouraged. Talking about sex with your children, like sex itself, gets better with time.”
It’s ironic, don’t you think? Our children are here because of a decision we made, yet we are unwilling or embarrassed to tell them how they got here. And, you most likely either enjoy sex or wish you did. If you love your child, don’t you want them to enjoy sex in it’s God-honoring context when the time comes for them to take the plunge? Don’t you wish someone did that for you? Stop kidding yourself. Most of us didn’t have parents who taught us the good news about sex – yet we wish we did. You can be the parent or guardian you wish you had.
Be encouraged. Talking about sex with your children, like sex itself, gets better with time. The truth is, you are more afraid to talk to your children about sex than they are. The more you do, in healthy, God-honoring ways, the more healthy a view they will have about sex and all of life. Unhealthy views about sex and self are the root of multiple problems in and throughout life. By instilling a biblical view about sex into your children, you lay the groundwork for a biblical lifestyle that enjoys God and everything He has given us.
Your children need to learn about sex from you. They need to know that sex and emotional intimacy are intertwined. Don’t you wish someone had explained this to you? Boom. You just became your own case study. Why not spare your children from the confusion and awkwardness you went through, love them, and help them avoid the problems you faced? After all, this is one of the primary roles of a parent.
“If you shun this responsibility, you will unintentionally force your children to learn about sex in places and ways that can distort the truth – and ruin their understanding of one of the greatest gifts God has given humanity.”
Part of what it means to disciple your child is to help them succeed by learning from your failures and successes. Disciple your children.Teach them about sex. Let them know youare their “go to” person for not only the facts but also the purpose and context of guilt-free, steamy, satisfying, God-given, emotionally fulfilling sex. When you do, you will also help them realize that life, contrary to what the world has us thinking, isn’t all about sex. How you handle or ignore the issue of sex will stick with them every day of their lives. It will shape the rest of their lives.
“I learned about sex through my friend, Harry, as we sat on hay bales in the hay loft of our big red barn at the end of a long, hot summer. It was a talk I would have loved to have with my father . . . And I could have, if only he hadn’t believed the lies that sex was dirty, difficult to discuss, and unimportant to the rest of life.”
Even when our children hear about sex from other sources, they need to know they can come to you as their expert – the person who will put sex in its God-honoring, fulfilling context. If you shun this responsibility, you will unintentionally force your children to learn about sex in places and ways that can distort the truth – and ruin their understanding of one of the greatest gifts God has given humanity.
This is what happened to me. I learned about sex through my friend, Harry, as we sat on hay bales in the hay loft of our big red barn at the end of a long, hot summer. It was a talk I would have loved to have with my father. And I could have, if only he hadn’t believed the lies that sex was dirty, difficult to discuss, and unimportant to the rest of life. The truth is, Dad knew more about sex and life than me – so that made him qualified to lead the discussion. The same is true for you and your children.
There isn’t much that’s private about sex any more. If you don’t talk with your children, someone else will. In fact, they already are. The question is whether or not what they are hearing is from God’s perspective, the world’s perspective or the devil’s perspective. This is why you need to be the “go to” person for your children when it comes to the most intimate, formative and life-influencing topic on earth. Sex is not a dirty word.
Does the thought of talking to your child about sex scare you? Don’t let it. You can learn how to talk to your child about sex – and, you can enjoy it. I’ll be sharing some suggestions here, in my blog, so stay tuned. And, there are many great resources available, too. Ask God to guide you, and He will.
Lubrication reduces friction and makes things move more easily. Your car needs it. I know this first-hand because the front wheel of my first car, a 1973 Plymouth Valiant, came completely off – right after I had been driving on the highway. Scary. I cringe when I think of what might have been if only I were on the highway a few minutes longer. You probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.
My car wheel came off because I didn’t keep it lubricated. But cars aren’t the only thing that need lubrication. Our lives need it, too. What is the “grease” of life – that one essential component that keeps us moving forward with God and with people? You may be surprised, but by the time we’re done, you’ll be convinced.
Life is relationships. Think about it. There is no area of life that is not in some way impacted by relationships, for better or worse. Even time we spend alone is impacted by what is happening between us and people, us and God. The quality of our relationships affects everything. When things are going well with God, things go better with people. And when things are going well with people and with God, all of life is wonderfully lubricated and things run smoothly. Haven’t you found this to be true?
Repentance is the “grease” of life. Without it, we don’t go anywhere with God – and we don’t go anywhere with people.
WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
Jesus’ first sermon began with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Interestingly, the original language conveys continuous action, not a one-time event. It would be better translated as “repent and keep repenting and believe andkeep believing.” What a lesson! To “repent” means to continuously change your heart and mind to such a degree that behavior changes. Any simple study of repentance in the Bible will lead you to this same conclusion. It’s possible to change a behavior and not change an attitude of the heart or mind. But when change happens on the inside, at a heart and mind level, it makes its way to how we live.
“. . . repentance is what supernatural living is all about.”
WHAT PREVENTS REPENTANCE?In a word, repentance is prevented by pride. It’s the original sin, and we’re so very good at it. It’s our default mechanism, but that doesn’t make it right or good. That’s what makes it so deceptively devastating, so we must be on our guard against falling into what comes so naturally. Repentance, by contrast, is what supernatural living is all about.
Until repentance becomes a way of life (try being a Christ-follower without this), we are living out of character with our new identity, our new nature and our new direction as followers of “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Without the grease of repentance, life becomes an unnecessarily complicated uphill battle.
HOW DO WE REPENT?
Repentance requires honesty. We’ll never repent if we don’t acknowledge the truth. We need to be honest with God, ourselves and others. Jesus said “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37, NIV). If you want a well-lubed life, a life that is easier, less stressful, more productive, more enjoyable and more God-honoring – a life that more positively impacts everyone you encounter and everything you do, repentance needs to become your new best friend. Without it, you’ll get . . . stuck. And, you’ll stay stuck until you add the grease of life, repentance.
Repentance happens when we deliberately recognize that it’s simply not good, wise, healthy or productive to go through life on autopilot. Repentance is agreeing with God about what He already knows. It’s a life of transparency before God and people. It requires apologizing and changing behavior to reflect the sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes it perfectly: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”Repentance will set you free.
What about you? Could you use a little more lubrication in this journey of life? It’s all possible through the grease of life, repentance.
The National Week of Repentance is underway, this week.Lubricate your life with our free resources. They will help you, your family and your house of worship go deeper with God and further with people. We even offer tips on how to apologize.After all, repentance is the grease of life.
Eventually, we all meet this person. They say they know Jesus Christ as their Savior – but they never seem to walk in victory, with Jesus as Lord. They are constantly going from one person to the next for counsel, help, encouragement and inspiration – but they never seem to have anything to say that comes directly from the mouth of God. They don’t walk in victory. Why? How can a person who says they know Christ follow everyone but Christ? What about you? Are you this person? Every single one of us needs a counselor. A really, really good counselor. It’s good to read books about the Bible, and to seek godly counsel – but it’s best to go right directly to the source of wisdom – God Himself, and His teachings in the Bible. Secondary sources, while helpful in our spiritual journey, are no substitute for the counsel of God Himself.
“Are you listening, taking God up on His offer? One source of counsel creates a victorious life. All the other sources . . . will leave you wanting.”
When all is said and done, you will have either built your life on the words of Jesus, which come directly from His word, the Bible, or you will have built it upon secondary sources.
DIVINE COUNSEL FOR MERE MORTALS Psalm 119 is my favorite Psalm. It’s a real “magnum opus,” a masterpiece of heavenly insight. Though every verse within is rich, verse 24 is great to consider when it comes to who gives you counsel in the course of life:
“Your testimonies are my delight, they are my counselors.”
Who counsels you? The Psalmist explains that God, through His Word, provides counsel to anyone willing to listen. Are you listening, taking God up on His offer? Which would you rather have, unfiltered, pure counsel directly from the throne of God, or counsel that is processed, edited and watered down? One source of counsel creates a victorious life. All the others, if they are the primary places from which you get counsel, will leave you wanting.
I want to encourage you to read Psalm 119 all through this week. Take a month if you’d like. The more time you saturate yourself in it, the more you will be convinced that God is the best counselor you can ever have. He’s the best Counselor available – if only you make His Words the centerpiece of all you are and all you do.
Who is your counselor? Are you living a victorious life? It’s available if you will let God’s Word, the Bible, be your counselor.