Tag Archives: 12 Months to a Better Believer

3 Ingredients for Growth

 I am interested in how people grow.  This is crucial information for individuals, married couples and parents.  I think there are at least 3 components that are critical to growth:

Appropriate Environment.  My wife has a book called the Sunset Guide to Plants (something like that, but I am in bed writing this post and I am not going to go find it to give you the right title – wait…Google), it’s actually called Western Garden Book. It gives you the types of plants that will thrive in your particular climate.  The premise being that plants that thrive in Washington don’t necessarily do well in the Southern California desert region we live in, no matter how much you like the plant.

Growth occurs when the appropriate environment is supplied.  Things like soil, moisture, sunlight all contribute to growth.  In the human realm the environment has to do with the people, places and challenges in which we surround ourselves.  So if you  want to grow look around and see what the climate is where you do your living.

Who are the people in your life?  Are they positive people? healthy people? People who have a strong life compass?  People who are ahead of you, that is older, more mature, stronger and wiser?  The people we are with tend to shape our minds and hearts.  They can encourage us or destroy us.  Make wise decisions about your associations.

Closely related are the places of your life.  These are homes, workplaces, church, clubs, hang-outs.  Do the places I go encourage me to grow?  If not, maybe a change is in order.  Maybe I am in the right place, I am just not invested in the program –  if that is the case then engage.

Are you challenged by your activities?  Challenge pushes us to move beyond complacency and try new things.  Last October I rode in the Tour de Perris, a century ride sponsored by the city of Perris to commemorate their centennial anniversary.  A century is the bicycle riders marathon, 100 miles on a bicycle.  This was challenging, and in order to accomplish it I surrounded myself with others who were like-minded and we put ourselves in a place (our bikes) to carry out the challenge.  We all grew as a result.

Appropriate Elements.  You have to feed plants the right things if they are to grow in a healthy manner.  In the same way, if you are going to grow you have to address the needs in your life and apply the appropriate nutrients to your life so that you will grow.  The human body needs food, water and rest.  The human spirit needs a healthy sense of identity, security, and purpose to grow.  The human body really grows and matures, then simply needs maintenance until death.  The healthy habits of childhood simply need to be repeated in the physical realm. At 52 I am no longer looking to grow physically.

My spirit continues to be in need of development and in order to grow I nurture my sense of security (faith and belief, trust), identity (my relational knowledge of God which is characterized as “son-ship”), and purpose (engaging in my place in the family of God, the kingdom).  When I focus on developing these three areas of my life, bad habits fall to the wayside and the fruit of God’s Spirit are displayed in me.  Some of the practices that encourage this are:  repentance, believing, trusting, humbling myself, submitting, obeying, resisting temptation, and immersing myself in truth.  Some of the things that serve as blocks are:  scepticism, self-righteousness, independence, unbelief, worry, temptation, the power of the lie.

Appropriate Energy.  These things do not happen just because.  I must invest energy in the process.  Developing relationships with the right people and placing myself in the right contexts and challenging myself to do greater things takes effort.  Working on my faith is just that, a godly work which takes time and effort.  Discipline and discernment compel me to find this new direction in life so that I may grow.

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12 Months to a Better Believer: Convictions


12 Months to a Better Believer

I received this e-mail recently…

I hate my life…

I can’t force myself to have morals… I want them but I can’t make myself have them and I’m getting annoyed! I know what I have to do to be happy why can’t I just do it? Is there a way to make myself not be an idiot? It’s not natural for me to do the right thing and most of the time I don’t even want to do the right thing. I don’t understand the way I think…how the heck do I get rid of my bad thoughts…I’m making myself miserable and I don’t know how to make myself want to change enough to actually do it… Do you know what I should do? I’m stuck and I’m getting worse everyday… backwards seems to be the only way I will let myself go. I suck.

Maybe your life is not this desperate, but you are probably asking the same questions:

  • How do I act in an appropriate way?
  • What are my values?
  • Once I identify them, how do I implement them?
  • MY thinking is haywire, but I don’t know why?
  • How do I bring about significant change in my life?

The results are the same for desperate people and people who are not so desperate. When there are no results, and the rut just gets deeper, frustration is the result. Bringing about change in life and continuing to grow is an imperative for life. We, unlike God, are not immutable. In fact, mutability seems to be an integral part of being human. When we cease to grow, we begin to cease. Learning to continually progress and grow, in all of the different phases of life, can be the key to living a vigorous and satisfying life.

Our behavior is driven by our beliefs, our overall world view. Our world view feeds our sense of what will make us happy, what works and what doesn’t work, what is right and wrong etc. We all have a complex world view even if we can’t define it or identify particulars. When our world view is flawed, unidentified and left to rule whether it is right or wrong, we find ourselves driven by it but not understanding why we do what we do.

Convictions form the foundation for change in behavior. If you are going to change a behavior for any length of time and be successful in changing behavior you must start by examining and refining your convictions.


Click here for a worldview/values/convictions worksheet

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12 Months to a Better Marriage: Love and Marriage

Love and Marriage

12 Months to a Better Marriage, Part 3


Love and Marriage. The perfect match. How does the Bible define love? The marriage assignment is to evaluate and define love.  We turn to a classic passage and the main character of the Bible.  Two simple assignments follow.  As a couple tackle the questions individually then set up a time to discuss your findings.  Coming to a corporate definition of love will contribute to your levels of expectation and help you to regulate your behavior.


The Classic passage: 1 Corinthians 13.

Take the passage and come up with the behaviors of love. According to this passage what does love look like and behave like?


The Main Character: Jesus

Read the following passages: Philippians 2:1-10; John 15:12-13; Mark 10:42-45. How does Jesus display love in attitude and action?


Husbands and wives together: discuss your answers. How have you defined love in your marriage? How has that definition matched the Bible’s definition? What needs to change so that your marriage is built on Biblical love modeled by Jesus?


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12 Months to a Better Believer: Conviction


12 Months to a Better Believer, Part 3

The 12 month to a better you for this month has to do with conviction. The essence of conviction has to do with the work of the Spirit in your life.

Here is the key verse: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8 )

Jesus identifies the areas of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

He convicts us of sin. We started out this series by highlighting Psalm 139: 23 & 24: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. Couple this verse with Galatians 5:16-21 and conviction teaches us things we need to give up. Make a list of what the Spirit is instructing you to kill in your life.

He convicts us of righteousness. From the Psalm 139:24, this is the “lead me in the way everlasting. From Galatians this is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is also the implementation of the gifts of the Spirit in our lives. Implementation of these gifts can be a main expression of the righteousness of Christ in your life. You can find the Spiritual gifts in the following passages: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:8-13, 1 Peter 4:10-11. What fruit of the Spirit/gift is evident in your life? How are you expressing it in the church?

He convicts us of judgment. This is a change of perspective about accountability. My life is not my own, I hold it in stewardship. This process of evaluation is a regular part of my judgment before God. I will stand before the king of Creation and give an account to Him. So I regularly pray the prayer from Psalm 139 and evaluate my life (Communion is the built in church exercise for this). Mark the first Sunday of the month in your calendars and discipline yourself to be at church for this regular submission to judgment.

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12 Months to a Better Family: Organic

Organic is the new buzzword in food and business. But it has been around a long time in the church/family conversation. We have talked about the church being an organism not an organization, that it has an organic character that goes beyond good planning and strategy. It has to do with the presence of the Holy Spirit as a the dynamic force in church life and health. Without Him, there is no church, just social networking and lifeless religion. With him there is an organic characteristic to the life health and growth of the church.

In the same sense, families are not well run organizations, rather they are organic structures when nurtured correctly produce a fruitfulness that cannot be duplicated through strategy alone.

Take a look at the tree diagram to the right (Click here for a PDF)  It has the fruit component in the branches; these are characteristics we want to create in our children and family. It also has the “grave” component under the ground; these are the behaviors we want to suppress and get rid of in our children. Then there is the middle highlighted section entitled “soil/seed”, in this instance it is “identity”. It is the focal point of parenting, believe it or not it takes precedence over the training and disciplining that is focused on the behaviors to produce or suppress. As a parent, you want to prioritize and focus on the seed/soil aspect of parenting. This will empower your training and discipline.

The soil of our lives is the mind; our core beliefs and values about self, others and God. It is from here that the fruit of life grows and without it the efforts of parents are either foiled altogether or radically hampered. We all want the same thing. Some parents succeed, some fail. It isn’t luck; some parents have discovered the both-and aspect of parenting and have focused on key elements in the soil of their family that has fueled the results of fruit and avoidance.

So let’s get specific.  One of the fruits on the tree is “confidence”.  One of the caskets in the grave is “people pleasing.”  How do I get my child to have confidence and stop living for the whims of others?  I can (and should) point out the qualities to strive for and the behaviors to avoid.  I can (and should) create contexts where my child succeeds and excels to build confidence and provide the tools to avoid being manipulated by others.  But that simply teaches an external process (which is important) to put into effect in certain circumstances.  I want my kids to have these strengths not simply as a method, strategy, and set of skills to implement at the appropriate times rather as part of their make-up, their identity.

I want to impart to my children a healthy sense of identity.  The problem now is that this is not simply a method or strategy, it is an inheritance from you, the parents.  Parenting grows out of the pool of health in a marriage that has it’s origin in the health of individuals who have connected back to the fountainhead of life and health, God.  I am a healthy individual in that I know who I am in Christ.  I married a healthy individual who shared that foundation of life in Christ.  Our marriage has reflected that strength of life and we were able to convince our children of the strength of their identity by leading them to Christ.

Parenting is not simply learning steps and strategies and imposing them on children.  It is living genuinely as an example of health that is worth emulating.  My focus in life is on my identity in Christ and submitting to His image and will.  In turn I direct my children there.  It is not simply forcing them to church, and strong-arming them from misbehaving.  It is planting FIRST an identity within them that begins to grow outside of them.  The goals are the same (doing some things and not doing others) but the results are immeasurably different.

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12 Months to a Better Believer: Confidence


The word “confidence” is a word that is made up of two latin words: “con” which means “with” and “fidere” which means “faith”.  So we might define “confidence” etymologically as “with faith”.  I like that definition.  When playing softball (as a crazy 51 year old I still have the “confidence” or maybe it is just insanity) you need to have confidence.  At third you often get sharply hit balls (there is a reason it is called the “hot corner”) that challenge your confidence.  I can’t see as well, I can’t move as quickly, I can’t react like I once was able, I can’t bend over as far, jump as high etc.  All of these phrases challenge your confidence, the faith that you have in your abilities to accomplish the task.  So part of the mantra of any good ball player is the inner conversation that you have as the ball is being pitched.  It goes something like this:  “hit it here;”  “I’ve got this;” “he can’t get it by me;” or any of a number of positive, faith and confidence building statements.  If you don’t do this, you will fail, you may get hurt.  It doesn’t matter if you can do it, if you don’t believe you can, you won’t.  It doesn’t matter even when you  are at the height of your skills, if you don’t believe you can, you won’t.  Confidence in this instance is believing your skills are with you.  Often this kind of confidence is manufactured, so depending on the individual and the task at hand this kind of self-inflation can result in “over-confidence.”

Confidence in the spiritual realm is not the same.  It is not confidence in my abilities (real or feigned), it is confidence in the person who is with me.  The disciples gained confidence from the physical presence of Jesus.  Present day disciples gain confidence from the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It is the discipline of confidence that we work on in month 2 of 12 Months to a Better Believer. Ultimately confidence comes from being with God andthe Spirit is our assurance of God with us.
Study the following passages:

  • John 1:32-34: Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13)
  • John 14:16-18:  Identity and Presence
  • Romans 8:14-17 & Galatians 4:4-7 Confident sons/daughters
  • Romans 8:26-39:  Nothing can separate us…
  • Hebrews 10:19; 11:35-12:2:  Confidence to enter the holy place
  • 1 John 5:13-15:  Confidence before Him

Confidence is rooted in our identity in Christ, His work on our behalf, and His gifting to us of the Spirit and the accompanying benefits and blessings He brings.

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12 Months to a Better Marriage: Trust, Rights,Responsibilities

Trust, Rights, Responsibilities

This months marriage assignment is to adjust our ideas about the place of rights in a marriage. I have challenged every couple I counsel with this adage: “You have no rights in your marriage, only responsibilities.”

So here are some exercises, more additions in the comments section as the week and month go on…

  • How important is trust to a marriage?
  • How much trust is present in your marriage?
  • How can you increase the trust in your marriage?
  • What place do rights have in a marriage?
  • How do you square your answer with the Scriptures?
  • What are your responsibilities in your marriage?
  • Are you living up to them?

Read Ephesians 5:21-33.

  • What are the commands listed for the wife?
  • What are the commands listed for the husband?
  • Using Jesus as your model, what does it mean to submit? What does it mean to love?
  • Biblically, what is the difference between submission and love?
  • Who has the harder set of commands, the husband or the wife? Defend your answer biblically.
  • If Jesus is to be our model in marriage, discuss how the servant passages in the gospels help us understand love and submission (Matthew 20:26, 28; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43, 45; Luke 22:26)

Finally, read Philippians 2:1-8.

  • How would you amend any answers or statements made above in light of this powerful passage?
  • How is Jesus’ attitude described here? Do you share the attitude of Jesus?
  • Discuss “selfishness and empty conceit”. How are you displaying selfishness and empty conceit in your marriage and what is the result of those actions?
  • Notice that regarding others as more important than yourselves is an attitude of the mind. How do you think about your spouse?

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12 Months to a Better Family: Identity

The first task for Family development matches the first task for Personal development.  It is an identity task.  So we turn to a passage of Scripture that has as its focus our primary “family” attachment, the book of Galatians.  The reason we start here is that much of parenting today has to do with behavior modification or control.  It is as if all we want is to make sure our children “behave” rather than developing a disciple of Christ. Parenting is essentially discipleship.  This is why you can’t parent as a Christian without developing as a Christian yourself!

I recently had a dear friend make this comment:  “I will be happy if she makes it out of high school without getting pregnant or being on drugs!”

This comment reflects a partial approach to parenting.  Now I know my friend wants more for their child than this, but often this statement reflects our parenting style.  It is insufficient.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to behave.  I disciplined them so that they would behave.  But as they grew up I had to teach them how to live, not simply how to behave.  This is why parenting must have as it’s highest priority the issue of identity.  It changes the focus of parenting from “control” to “empowering”.  There are three areas in which we transmit, pass on  and affirm identity:  Trust, belonging, sharing.

  • Identity is transmitted through relationship, trust.
  • Identity is passed on through a sense of belonging
  • Identity is affirmed through sharing.

Behavior and Purpose in life is a direct result of identity, fruit of the Spirit; gifts of the Spirit.

Trust.  Belonging.  Sharing.

Here are some things to help us create an identity creating atmosphere in our families.

Trust is a by-product of two factors:  faithfulness and proximity.  In order to develop trust you must be present and you must be regular.  It is a very simple principle:  trust comes when I begin to rely on a particular behavior.  Regular, repeated, positive, and affirming behavior develops trust.  As you can see from this definition – a quick fix exercise will not develop trust.  Trust is developed over time with regular behavior.  Develop a routine with your family.  Make sure you are spending time with your family.  There is no replacement for regularity and time.  Large quantities of time is especially important for younger children.

Belonging is a belief that I am a part of a whole.  Belonging is achieved when we have confidence and security.  Belonging is communicated to a child by removing doubt and fear and establishing a peaceful and secure environment where they can live and move.  Assurance, encouragement, affirmation, are all characteristics of the home where belonging is a value.  Belonging is also achieved by role definition where we find that we have a critical place in the home.  It is the crucible of determining strengths and gifts which catapult our children into the world where they find purpose and meaning in their contribution to the whole.

Sharing communicates unity, which is critical to identity.  We share space, provisions, resources, wealth, heritage, lifestyle.  Identity is affirmed in this sharing. My children drive my car.  Sharing affirms trust; I trust you in my car to handle the liability and responsibility.  Sharing affirms belonging; the car is not mine, it is ours.  We belong to one another.

Passing on identity is much more of a by-product of having identity and living out of the strength of identity than it is a program.  Here is how it works:

Individuals who are healthy have a strong sense of identity.  They are confident in their physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational make-up.  “Settled” is a good overall term for this state of being.  From this vantage point of settledness, individuals are able now to make a contribution in a marriage and a family. A settled person is not seeking a wife to make him whole, she is not seeking children to fulfill her.  These things may occur, but they are not the driving force to the relationship but the result of the relationship.

Two individuals who are healthy, or settled, when joined together in marriage are well positioned to create a healthy family and pass on identity to their children.  A settled couple will operate out of a set of shared values as they are equally yoked to borrow the Pauline description in Corinthians.  A settled couple will recognize that their children are unique individuals who need direction, not simply control.  The misbehavior of children is not taken as a personal affront or failure, rather an opportunity to teach and train.

Families who have their being in this foundation of strong identity exhibit a strength and attractiveness that embodies the true nature of “family”.  These families are not perfect but they deal well with failure and the family is a healthy place to experiment and challenge.  Values are clearly defined and rationally founded.  They are not capricious or random.  Children who grow in these families exhibit confidence, strength, acceptance, and achievement.

These three areas (trust, belonging, sharing) are applicable in the individuals process to identity, a marriage identity, and a family identity.

In my personal life I must begin my identity journey by trusting Christ.  I am then adopted into a family where I belong to Christ and to His body.  Then I share in the benefits of the family inheritance.  My contribution is a by product of these three things.  I function within the body according to my giftedness.

In marriage we begin the relationship by learning to trust one another.  This trust is epitomized in the vows that we share.  We live together and affirm that we belong to one another in the relationship consummation and priority.  We share all things in common as we have adopted a one flesh attitude in all that we do.

These three arenas are affirmed in the family unit as we expand and welcome new additions.  Trust, belonging and sharing are practiced and established in the home as expressions of the new identity personally and in my marriage.

Read the book of Galatians, especially 2:15, 16, 20; 3:7, 28-29; 4:4-7, 9, 19; all of chapter 5 and 6.  Look for how Paul links the Christian life (walking in the Spirit) with a new identity.

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12 Months to a Better Marriage: Expectations etc.

12 Months to a Better Marriage

Expectations are the starting point in any marriage equation. You have them. Lots of them. Some of them are conscious; some of them are unconscious. Some of them are legitimate; some of them are not. Most of your fights center around expectations. Since we are married to a human we are often disappointed by their imperfections, especially when those imperfections trespass on my expectations.

So here is my first marriage assignment.

Use this sheet using a notebook for your responses or download and printout the 3Questions document.

Follow these instructions in filling out the form:
Each of you will fill out the form individually and privately. The initial part of the exercise is solo.
There are 3 questions with two parts (His and Hers) that require 5 responses for a total of 30 spaces to fill in. You must fill in every one of those spaces

Once you are done with the filling out part…

Set a date with your spouse. Sometime between now and Valentine’s Day (this cannot be your Valentine’s Day activity) you need to have a date with the following parameters:

  • It cannot take place at home; you must go somewhere.
  • Just the two of you (no friends or children allowed).
  • The date will last for a minimum of two hours.
  • The date will consist of conversation.
  • If you go to dinner, it must be at a restaurant that will be comfortable with you taking a table for up to three hours.
  • Exhaustively cover all three questions on the 3 Questions Questionnaire.

The goal is to express and understand each other in what we expect from one another, what we like about one another, what we are afraid of with regard to one another and the future. Ask clarifying and probing questions.

Here are the three sets of questions:


Expectations are the starting point in any marriage equation. You have them. Lots of them. Some of them are conscious; some of them are unconscious. Some of them are legitimate; some of them are not. Most of your fights center around expectations. Since we are married to a human we are often disappointed by their imperfections, especially when those imperfections trespass on my expectations.

  • What are your spouses (future spouses) 5 top needs?
  • What are your 5 greatest needs?


Strengths make a marriage. Emphasizing strength is the building block strategy that smart couples adopt in their marriage and family. A healthy marriage is based upon two healthy/strong people joining together and working together to accomplish the God given goals of marriage.

  • List 5 qualities that attracted you to your spouse (future spouse):
  • What are your 5 best qualities?


What are you afraid of in your marriage? Often these fears are left unspoken in the hope that marriage will change things. That is unlikely. As you look into the future and have an honest discussion about what you will be fighting about you will likely discover what it is you are afraid of

  • In Order of importance, list 5 potential problem areas you foresee in your marriage:
  • List the 5 areas you think your future spouse thinks will be problems:

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12 Months to a Better You: Conversion II

12 Months to a Better You  Step #1: Conversion

Conversion is the foundation for all change. All change is conversion. The first conversion is the conversion of power. The conversion of power is a conversion of who is in control of not only my life but every area of my life: relationships (marriage and family); occupation; destiny; money, time, possessions, my body, etc.

The major picture that is used in the Bible to help us apply sovereignty to life is the metaphor of Father. The sovereignty of God is transferred to our life through relationship with the Father. Both the Son and the Spirit have as their goals to lead people to the Father and to glorify the Father. The work of Christ and the work of the Spirit in our lives is to connect us with the true Father of us all. The first Father imprint on his children is the imprint of identity.

So your conversion assignment is to truly believe that you are a son or daughter of the Father. Our first lesson in conversion is a lesson of identity.

First, list how you describe yourself. How do you see yourself and what are the phrases you use to describe yourself, to yourself. This the language we use when we ponder our worth, value, strengths and weaknesses. This is not a list of how you are “supposed” to think of yourself, it is a list of how you actually think. Since you aren’t going to show it to anyone, be honest.

Second, read and study and memorize the verses below. Read them in context. Allow the Scriptures to reorient your thinking. This is the first step to renewing your mind and transforming your life.

John 1:12-13 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Galatians 6:15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 4:24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Revelation 21:5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

Third, make some lists.

  • First, make a list of how you think God views you.
  • Second, make a list of what the Scriptures say above about the identity of the believer.
  • Third, revise your first list with the truth of the Scriptures from list two.

The renewal of your mind that will lead to transformation with regard to your identity is to have your lists match. I truly see myself how God has made me and sees me (that is believing). I have an accurate view of how God sees me. I agree with God (that is submission).

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