The Elasticity of the Heart – An Important Life Principle

By | Christians, Devotional, Encouragement, God, Life Plan | 10 Comments

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

I’ve learned through hard lessons that a stretched heart never returns exactly the same.

The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart.” I think part of the reason is that once the heart stretches, it’s changed. Forever.

Let’s say you had a dream. You pursued it with passion. It didn’t work out. You failed. But in the process you stretched your heart for something new. You’ll have to find yet another dream to fill the void you created by stretching.

You thought you had the job. You were beginning to get excited about it. You even looked at houses in the area. You didn’t get the job. Your heart stretched. You will have to refuel your passion where you are now or you’ll be miserable. Your heart was stretched.

You felt a call to missions at some point in your life, but you ignored it. You’re not serving right now and your heart is empty. Your stretched heart has never been the same.

And it works in other ways too. You looked at things online you shouldn’t have seen. Now you want more. And more. You can’t seem to find satisfaction. You stretched your heart.

Be aware of the elasticity of your heart.

My advice is to find something to fill the new space you have created. You can’t just “get over it”.

You have to fill the void left behind because of the stretching. That may require prayer, discipline, accountability, practice or even counseling. Maybe all of them.

But your stretched heart is too important to ignore.

Above all else – guard your heart“. (Proverbs 4:23)

2 Simple Prayers That Greatly Changed My Life

By | Encouragement, God, Prayer | 6 Comments

Over 25 years ago, I took a month to read through the book of Jeremiah. Two verses stood out to me then that have continued to produce spiritual growth in my life.

The two verses are:

Jeremiah 24:7

I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

I realized that God had promised the people they could have a heart to know Him. Therefore, the God who never changes has also promised me I can have a heart to know Him, not just know about Him, but really get to know Him personally. I began praying that God would give me that kind of heart.

A few days later, I read this verse:

Jeremiah 32:39

I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.

God also promised His people that not only could they know Him intimately, but also He would help them carry out that heart in the things they did. They wouldn’t simply believe a truth; they would actually begin to live truth. Again, I realized God would do the same for me. I began praying that God would give me “singleness of heart and action.”

Praying the truths of these two verses became a pattern for my life over the next year. Looking back, I can see how God did just as He promised. I continue to make mistakes (lots of them) and I consistently need to go back to these principles, but God truly has given me a heart that desires to know him and more and more I am beginning to see myself live out the truth I believe.

What verses have worked that way in your heart? Do you need to pray God would work these verses for truth in your life?

The Absolute Biggest Mistake I’ve Made in Life

By | Call to Ministry, Children, Church, Encouragement, God, Life Plan | 18 Comments

One of our boys has always been a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon without a ton of hidden meanings, but it was never enough. Even today, he’s the analyzer of life – often the over-analyzer. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me. I’m a questioner too and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership. But he’s much deeper than I am.

The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising one day when he was an early teenager – seemingly out of nowhere Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long.

We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead. We sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did.

Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing and starting over again financially.

I told Nate (I call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying the other business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I remember saying something such as, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.

(It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday, but there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart – where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times.

(As a side note, these times will always line up with truth from God’s word. God will never contradict Himself.)

Anyway, I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again.

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will in your life and not mine.”

And then God was silent.

Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions. And God apparently had nothing else to say at the moment.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life – including my wife, but I had ignored them continually replying we are all “called to ministry” – which I still believe is true. But I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failures in my life always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

4 Reminders in Times of Betrayal

By | Christians, Encouragement, God, Leadership | 11 Comments

I was talking with a pastor who had been betrayed by someone in his church. He told him a secret in confidence and soon learned the friend had shared it with another, who, of course, shared it with another – who shared it with another – and you know the rest of this story.

I was empathetic, but thought to myself, “Welcome to the world of leadership”. And it can be true even in Christian leadership.

If you’ve been in leadership very long you know what it feels like to be betrayed. It can come at the hand of one you barely know or someone you trusted.

I love that God provides us real life examples from the Bible of men and women who faced the same struggles we face today. I once wrote 4 Ways to Process Betrayal about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.

Then consider these thoughts from the life of David.

Psalm 41:7, “All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.”

David, the man after God’s own heart, had men who talked behind his back. They spread rumors about him. They maligned his reputation and character. He was the subject of gossip. People said things about him that weren’t true; probably some that were partially true, but stretched out of proportion to reality.

Have you ever been there?

Then consider what David says in verse 9, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”

David had been betrayed by someone he trusted completely.

Most likely you have also. Chances are good, if we are honest, we have been the the betrayer and the betrayed. It could have been in a business deal, with a family member, or even in a marriage. It might have been a misunderstanding or an intentional act of betrayal, but either way, it still hurt. You were tempted to get even, perhaps you held a grudge. Maybe you quit speaking to the person.

How should you respond in betrayal?

Here are 4 reminders for times of betrayal:

Be confident in who you are, and who you are not – You are not a super human. You are a man or woman. You have real feelings. You have emotions. You can be hurt. Don’t be surprised by your emotional response to betrayal. You will have to trust again, but you may be hurt again. That’s part of living among sinners like you and me.

Be confident who others are and who others are not – Don’t hold others to a standard they can’t live up to, but don’t allow them to control your reactions either. Others will let you down. Even the most well-meaning people will disappoint you at times. There may need to be consequences for other’s actions, but if you open yourself to betrayal by trusting others, which you will often have to do in leadership, life and love, you will be hurt at times. Just as you are not perfect, others are not either. Part of relationships is the vulnerability, which allows betrayal. They only way to avoid it completely is to avoid relationships.

Be confident in who God is and who He isn’t – God is able to protect you. He doesn’t always protect you from betrayal. Sometimes He even allows those closest to you to be the betrayer. He will, however, always use it for an ultimate good. We shouldn’t expect God to do as He hasn’t promised to do. We can expect God to never leave us nor forsake us and to be our strength when we are weak and to lift us up in due time when we humble ourselves before Him.

Be confident in what God has called you to do and what He hasn’t – God has not called you to please everyone. He has called you to be obedient to your call; regardless of the sacrifice. Even in the midst of betrayal, we are called to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) He has also called you to forgive. He has not called you to enable bad behavior.

You can’t control the world from betraying you, but you can control your reaction to betrayal. That begins by living out of the confidence God has given you through your relationship with Him.

Have you ever been betrayed? How did you handle it?

Start a New Year With A Blank Page

By | Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, God, Vision | No Comments

and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:10 NIV

One of my life goals has been to get to a blank piece of paper stage in my walk with God. Ultimately, I want to present God with a blank piece of paper so He can plan my life.

It started like this. Years ago I was explaining to a friend I was at one of those trying to discover Gods will points in my life. (I have been there many times before and will be again.) His advice wasnt something he had thought about a ton before. He admitted it sort of came to him quickly. But, for me it was the word I needed to hear.

He said something like, Maybe you need to start with a blank piece of paper and give God ample space to plan out the rest of your life. Make yourself completely available to Him.

I left our meeting, however, with a very probing question for myself. Did I really even have blank piece of paper?And, not in the literal sense. Im sure I could find blank paper somewhere- even in such a digital age. But, in my heart. Had I really released my will to Gods will?

Over the next few weeks, through prayer and discipline, I attempted to get there – at least in that season.

Over the years since then, I have periodically continued the self-examination. To do this I have to be honest with myself and the plans I have for my life. I certainly want to follow His lead, but I think many times my page is loaded with my own agenda. If I want my page to be completely blank, then I need to offer it back to God with nothing on the paper.

But, it leads me to ask you the question:

Have you given God a blank page to plan your life?

Be prepared when you do. God seems to love a challenge. He is great at taking nothing and making something when we let Him draw the picture – write the story of our life. But, Im not sure as followers of Christ – and, really as humans, whether we know it or not, if we can fully realize our ultimate design until we let the Creator have His way.

Let me offer a few more thoughts on the subject:

The Biggest Mistake of my Life

Making Resolutions Youll Actually Keep

Personal Reflection Questions to Start New Year Right

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Success

The beat thing you can do for yourself when planning for life is to give God plenty of margin to shape your plan. Actually, when we give Him our whole life we are in a better when we come with our own agendas.

5 Words of Encouragement to the Church Planter or Young Leader

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, God, Innovation, Jesus, Leadership | No Comments

Recently I was able to share some encouragement with church planters in Chicago. Having been a planter twice, I understand the unique challenges facing planters. They are constantly struggling with leadership issues, finances and simply knowing what to do next.

I get it. Most of what I know now came from experience and the wisdom of others.

Many of the suggestions I shared are suitable for young leaders in any field.

Here are 5 words of encouragement:

The more specific you are the more we can help. Established churches have systems. Processes. Committees. Structure. Too much you might say and that’s why you’re planting. But we have budgets that have likely been approved long in advance. The more detailed you can be with what you need the easier it is to meet the need. Otherwise, it seems overwhelming. And, don’t be afraid to talk about money. Everyone knows you need it. Just don’t be surprised if help is more readily available in other ways.

Surround yourself with some encouragers. Make sure you have people who speak regularly into your life. People outside the work you’re doing. Some days theyll keep you going.

Seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to. Great advice someone gave me. You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. You may not feel you’re doing any good. You’ll second-guess yourself and your calling. Get back into helping the hurting people — the work, whatever it is — God called you to. Be recharged.

Everything great starts with a humble beginning. Either in your personal humility or the humble beginnings of your work. Take your pick. We all want the grand and instant success. That’s seldom the reality. Those who launch big often had enormous stories of previously being humbled. “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah? ?4?:?10

Protect your soul – and your marriage. You have to discipline to decompress. Paraphrase of Jesus: “Come to me all who are stretched, burnt-out, weary and heavy-burdened – I will give you refreshment for your soul. Live this truth daily. Put it as a regular practice of your life.

God bless you planter. Leader. Friend.

Stop Seeing the Bible as a Reference Book

By | Encouragement, Faith, God, Leadership | No Comments

Dictionary.

Thesaurus.

Encyclopedia.

We all know what these are. These are all reference books, and a reference book is only used when you need to use it as a source to make a point. The definition reads, “a book intended to be consulted for information on specific matters rather than read from beginning to end.“It’s a source that we pull up when we need to back up a point or further clarify what we are trying to say.

And this is exactly how many of us treat the Bible, simply as a reference book.

We see it as a resource in our pocket to be searched when we are trying to win an argument. As a book of inspiration to post on social media. Or as a book we consult on specific matters but have never thought about reading beginning to end. And this is a dangerous habit for us to fall into.

Why? Because we need to see the Bible not as a book to be referenced, but as a book to be lived, and then let our life be saturated by it. It should be the source of life for us. Not a source that we footnote or cite to make a point.

Honestly answer this question: how do you mainly interact with the Bible?

Do you pull a verse here and there to tweet or Instagram?

Do you Google for a verse every now and then to back you up in an argument?

Or do you daily read it to soak it up and let it transform the way you live?

I promise, this is not a gotcha type of question. I only ask this question to you, because I recently asked the same question to myself. And when I answered it, it made me realize that I had not made the Word of God a big enough of a priority in my life.

It is so easy in our “information at our fingertips” lifestyle to go about our day and simply see the Bible as a reference book that supplements our lives when it is convenient to us or we have a question to be answered. And when we do this, we are missing out on the true riches of Scripture. As Matt Chandler would, “We are adults playing around in the kiddie pool of faith.”

After being convicted of this myself, I found a few ways to get past this type of thinking:

1. Simply, read the Bible daily.

The greatest way to get out of the habit of seeing the Bible as a reference book is to make a daily habit of reading, studying, and applying it to your life. This will cause Scripture to be in your mind and vocabulary constantly rather than just as a reference. It will begin to flood your mind throughout the day, so you are thinking about it not just when you need to defend something, but in every decision that you make.

2. Before you share a verse, read the whole chapter for context.

Sadly, often when we share Bible on Instagram or Twitter, we morph Scripture to fit into our life rather than fitting our life into Scripture. Because of this, we’ll take verses out of context and post them as inspiration even if that is not what the original author intended.

One example is Jeremiah 29:11, you know, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” We love to post this one in hard times, like right after a break up or unexpected job change, but we end up using a verse as inspiration that the author was writing to show God’s judgment to His people.

3. Create a habit of memorizing Scripture

Memorizing Scripture is normally thought of as a super-spiritual habit. But it should be seen as essential for all believers. Think about this, we can memorize lyrics to a song, but we don’t have the capacity to memorize God’s Word? Yeah right. It’s just that we don’t focus on it, so we allow our minds to be filled more with culture’s influence than the Spirit’s influence. But when we memorize Scripture, we are keeping a reference book of the Bible in our mind. When we draw from it, we aren’t looking it up, but rather we are drawing it out from a past reading or devotion.

What are some ways you have made Scripture more of a priority in your life?

Chandler Vannoy is the Brand Manager for LifeWay Leadership. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and is now pursuing his Masters of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves the NBA, C.S Lewis, and good coffee. Connect with him on Twitter: @chandlervannoy.

7 Things I’ve Learned about Following God

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, God | 14 Comments

For the last 30 years or so, I’ve attempted to listen to, obey and follow the voice of God. I have never heard it audibly but I have had it for only impressed upon my heart and mind. I have actually been a believer for over 40 years, but I got serious about my faith in my early 20’s.

It’s been a long road, and I’m still a pilgrim in the process, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. These are based totally on my personal experience.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned about following God:

I’ve never been able to see very far down the road. God seems to keep me from seeing all the details in advance. Sometimes I get a clear vision of a big goal God has for me, but I usually have no clue at the time how to get there.

The road for following God has never seemed to be easily paved. I assumed if I was doing things “His way” things would go my way. But, just being obedient doesn’t always remove the obstacles. This has always required faith. Thankfully, without faith it’s impossible to please God.

There have often been several options available of “how” to proceed towards what God is calling me. God seems to give freedom in the way I complete His plans. I’ve even made mistakes and watched Him redeem them.

I have been tempted to quit. How is that for honesty? When life is hard my faith is sometimes weak. I’ve learned God doesn’t give up – people do. I do. But, God is faithful even when I am not.

Satan is the great disrupter. And, he is crafty. The enemy stirs conflict with other people, stretches resources and tempts battles within my own mind.

God’s voice can be discerned. It’s so wild! The Maker of the universe is willing to let me hear from Him – even on the darker days. The more I know God and the closer our relationship, the clearer I hear His voice.

God calls people to impossible tasks. What’s impossible for me is possible for God. Praise His name! God brings eventual completion to His work – in His time. 

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to learn from and be encouraged by you.

What have you learned or experience about following God?

7 Tips to Read the Bible Through in One Year

By | Christians, Encouragement, God | 14 Comments

Are you up for a challenge?

How about reading the Bible through this coming new year?

I’ve heard so many people who would love to read the Bible through in a year, but never completed the task. It’s nearly impossible for the pastor to preach through all of it, so you are going to miss something unless you study on your own. Sadly, most believers haven’t read all the Bible. Some of the best nuggets of truth I discovered on my own, reading through the Bible in a year.

For several decades, I have practiced an every other year read through of the Bible. On even number years, I read through the Bible as part of my daily devotion time. On the other years, I read the Bible more thematically or spend more time in certain books. I believe both are important in our spiritual formation.

Here are 7 tips for reading the Bible through in a year:

Pray

Ask God to give you the motivation and strength to accomplish this goal. You can’t read the Bible effectively like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you.

Pick an easy to read version

This past year I used the Holman Christian Standard, since this was the version I was primarily using in my preaching. You can use any version you wish, but I would choose one which most appeals to you – whether you want an easier-to-read or a more literal translation. I previously wrote a post about versions. You can read that HERE.

Find a plan to help you discipline

You could simply read three chapters a day and do fine, but I have found having a printed checklist helps keep me disciplined. It may seem mechanical to some, but it will keep you on task. YouVersion has many plans to follow. There are more than you can imagine. The key is to find one. I like the balance of reading some Old and New Testament each day. There are even chronological versions of how we believe the events of the Bible happened. The key is to choose one which works for you. Here’s a LINK to other options.

Find a place

Choose the time and place which works best and you will most likely stick with through the year. I find mornings work best for me. I travel frequently, so I can’t have just one place, but when I’m home, I have a certain chair. I have often used the dining room table, because I know I’ll be less distracted. For me, I need to turn off everything else and simply concentrate on the Bible reading to be most effective.

Document your reading

I’ve found I get more out of my reading if I journal along the way what it’s saying to me. Even if I don’t understand it completely, writing the questions I have down helps me process them later and eventually something else I read seems to help answer my questions. This is another benefit to the YouVersion app. It allows you to highlight and comment on verses which stand out to you.

Discipline yourself

It will likely take you on average about 15 minutes per day to complete this. Once you’ve done it consistently for 30 days or so, you’ll be well on your way to having a habit formed.

Catch up when needed

If you miss a day, don’t sweat it – and don’t quit. Spend a little extra time and play catch up on what you missed. Of course, if you do this too many times you’ll eventually give up, so the key is discipline, but extend grace to yourself as you move through the year. Also, if you didn’t start on the first, start on the 2nd, or the 22nd, and go through the same time next year. You can begin today. There’s no legalism here – just encouragement! You can do this!

Keep the goal in front of you and follow through. A year from now you’ll be glad you accomplished your goal.

Who’s with me?