Adopting the Mindset of Jesus

The daily struggle to grow like Jesus typically begins between our ears. It’s strange how that finite space at times can seem totally empty while at other times feeling overwhelmingly cluttered. But if we want to grow “in favor with man,” as Luke 2:52 advises, then we have to free ourselves of both the clutter and the emptiness. We have to adopt the mindset of Jesus.

What does it mean to have the same mindset as Christ?

Philippians 2:5-8 lays it out for us: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

First of all, Paul is applying this to human relationships. So while it’s also important to have the mindset of Christ in our relationship with the Father, Paul’s advice in this passage is about getting along with people.

Here’s what I unpack from these verses about my mindset when building relationships:

Be humble, not self-righteous.

If anyone had a right to be self-righteous, it was Jesus. He was and is fully righteous. But He lived with a humble spirit that invited others into His life and His heart.

Serve others.

The humble spirit of Jesus gave Him the “nature of a servant.” He took care of the needs of people. He didn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” He didn’t say, “I’ll help you after you stop sinning.” He didn’t demand the gratitude He deserved. He served out of love, sacrificing Himself for the needs of the world.

Be obedient to God.

Love calls us to service and service requires sacrifice. It’s easy to serve others when we don’t have to go out of our way or give up anything of value. But God often calls us to step out of our comfort zones, especially when dealing with other broken people. Jesus loved the Father and loved us so completely that He was “obedient to death.” Will we be obedient in life?

If our mindset is steeped in humility and reflects service to others and obedience to God that are rooted in love, then we’re on the right track to toward building relationships with “the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

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How to Define a Good Year

We’re nearly three weeks down the road known as 2017, and I still can’t quite shake the dust off of 2016. I’m not writing the wrong date on my checks. I don’t even write checks. Well, not very often. But I find myself strangely perplexed by this question: Was 2016 a good year?

What’s your initial response to that question?

The consensus across this great land seems to be that 2016 was a stinker. Many people were dismayed by the political rancor that reached an all-time low (or high, depending on how you measure your rancor). It was even worse for liberals, because their candidate lost the presidential election. And since liberals have the most microphones, their cries are heard the loudest. It was strange (to me) to see how many people seemed to have their self-worth tied to a political candidate. I know of one liberal who “unfriended” a long-time conservative buddy because that friend voted for Trump. He didn’t just unfriend him on social media, but in life. Seems extreme, and not particularly helpful to the healing process.

My immediate reaction to all the end-of-the-year angst was to take the opposite view. The presidential election was a no-win event for me, but we’ve survived many bad presidents over the years – some would say over the last eight years. So I didn’t define the quality of my year based on the election or the political campaigning.

But was 2016 really a good year for me personally?

Well, I made less money in 2016 than I made in 2015, and twice we had what the business folks call a “cash flow” issue. So, financially speaking, it could have been better. And while Grow Like Jesus and Forging Grit both hit the bookstores and were well-received by those who read them, well, frankly, not that many folks read them.

On the other hand, I was incredibly blessed by the work God gave me. I finished books with the CEO of a global PR agency, a former rodeo bullfighter, and the family of an incredibly inspiring quadriplegic; I interviewed the fastest man in the world in Jamaica; I wrote book chapters featuring (among others) a female Syrian refugee living in Boise, a film director who immigrated from Mexico, and the Indian-born CEO of Adobe; I started a project with a former Israeli super spy turned rabbi who teaches people to deal with stress; and I started another project with a couple from Australia who has created an amazing framework for understanding how the attitudes of our heart shape our behaviors.

On the home front, we added two kittens and a grandchild to our family. In addition to the work-related Jamaica trip, my wife and I visited South Padre Island, the Dominican Republic, and Hawai’i. While our income was down, we gave away more money than we gave in 2015, and we never failed to pay our bills, never went hungry.

But here’s how I really know that 2016 was a good year: I grew like Jesus. Not every day, but overall, I’m confident I grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). My relationships improved with my clients, my friends, family, and, most importantly, my wife and my God. I struggled through many, many days. I sometimes lost confidence in myself. I worried too much about the future. I battled the thing we call life. But I never felt alone. God gave me a wonderful wife to help me through it and His rod and His staff, they comforted me.

So was 2016 a good year? No doubt about it. And if I fix my eyes on Jesus, 2017 will be, as well.

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The Growth Benefits of Fasting

Some followers of Jesus like to start the New Year with an intentional time of prayer and fasting, a practice that I’ve found helps me grow like Jesus.

The church my wife and I attend (Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark.) is among those that promotes this spiritual discipline. We’re blessed to have leaders who value the things Jesus values and who challenge us to live like Jesus. And it’s encouraging to know we’re going on this journey as a collective body.

We know that Jesus went through an intentional Spirit-led fast as he launched his earthly ministry (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-4). We know He was tempted during this time. We know it prepared Him for what was to come. We know He gave us instructions on how (not if) to fast (Matthew 6:16-18). And we know there are many other examples in scripture of people fasting to strengthen their walk with God.

So there’s no doubt that followers of Jesus should follow Jesus by fasting.squirrel-monkey-1438538_1920

There are many ways to fast. Our church asks us to sacrifice something for 21 days. Some people give up food and live on juice and water. Some give up television. Some stay off of social media. The point is to give up something (or some things) so that you can focus more intently on your relationship with God. My wife and I adjust our diet and scale back our television hours.

Here are some benefits I’ve experienced:

  • Hunger pains (or the “off” button on the TV remote) become a reminder to have a conversation with God.
  • We start the fast by updating our prayer journal, which lists 63 things we regularly pray about throughout the year. This is an amazing opportunity to re-focus our prayer life.
  • We eat a pretty healthy diet to begin with, but the fast helps cleanse us physically and that makes us feel better in every aspect of life. (The Daniel Plan is an excellent resource for a healthy approach to food and exercise.)
  • Some of our most transforming spiritual disciplines began with a fast. God has used it to help us create good habits.

A fast isn’t something you only do at the start of the year or only in one prescribed way. I’ve fasted to help me make what I saw as life-altering decisions, to seek God more desperately during times of trouble, and to support a friend who was going through the ringer.

I’m no expert, but God has always connected me when I’ve sought Him in this way. As you continue to grow like Jesus, ask God how He wants to use this discipline to help you on the journey.

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Grit: A weapon against enemies of the good

There’s an old saying that we should never let great become the enemy of the good. You’ll see it written in different forms, but they all pretty much draw on the idea expressed by Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”

So I almost didn’t write a blog this week because I felt certain I couldn’t give it my best. I had several ideas for things to write about, but I was slammed by a variety of projects. I didn’t want to give them less than my best, but I wanted to keep my personal commitment to write a weekly blog. It’s an exercise that helps me grow as a writer and as a person, and that hopefully helps a few readers along the way.

So what to do?

I started by reflecting on Voltaire, and then I made the simple decision to act by writing something. Anything. And this is what I produced.front-cover

Frankly, I don’t know that this blog reflects my best, but then again, I seldom finish anything I write without thinking I somehow could have done better.

In Forging Grit, the short book Mike Thompson and I authored that was published last year, we tell the story of a business leader who survives a plane crash in Nepal and finds himself in a seemingly hopeless situation. He learns about grit from the women in a village and he develops the grit he needs to survive. We define grit as a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.

There were no overwhelming obstacles preventing me from writing something this week, but there was one significant obstacle: My initiative. So I needed some personal grit to put down these words. Hopefully they weren’t a waste of your time. They weren’t a waste of mine.

As Helen Keller said, “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. I must not fail to do the something that I can do.”

Are you feeling a bit stuck? Is the best becoming the enemy of your good?  Take Helen’s advice. Show some grit and do the something that you can do.