One Year Later …

A letter to a 1-year-old

Happy Birthday, Grow Like Jesus!

You were years in the making, so it’s amazing to celebrate this day with you. It was one year ago today that you officially “launched,” which is book-trade jargon that means you officially became available to the public. There were pre-orders before that, of course, but it was on this day that those orders shipped and sites like Amazon.com changed your status to “available.” No more waiting.

I’ll never forget that day, especially when it comes to Amazon.com. It seems the big, bad online bookseller didn’t have much faith in the demand you would create, so it didn’t stock up. Within a few hours it indicated you were “out of stock.” I took it as a good sign, but it would have been better if Amazon had started with, say, 1,000 copies rather than … well, let’s just say it was far fewer than 1,000. Nevertheless, it felt like there was a gold rush of demand for you.

Truth is, sales have not been spectacular. That’s no surprise, frankly, because, as you know, salesmanship and marketing are not my forte. Oh, I know how to market books. I just don’t execute it very well. It’s a learning opportunity, I guess. But the truth is, I’m pretty content in the background. I don’t mind speaking to audiences, but it’s not my calling to be a sage on the stage. I’m not naturally self-promotional, and, unfortunately, it’s hard to promote you without feeling like I’m promoting me. I have friends who are great at this. They promote themselves and their books, and somehow they seldom come across as egomaniacs who are only in it for the fame and the spotlight. I’m happy for them and all, but I’m not gifted in that way. As a result, my “platform” is limited and, thus, so have been your sales.

That’s not to say sales are non-existent. People are buying you. In fact, several people bought 50 to 100 copies. You’ve been read and shared and gifted. You’ve had an impact on teenagers, as well as folks who are older in life. You’ve been there for people who are new in their faith in Christ, and there for people who are looking for new ways to experience growth.

In fact, I want to make it clear that modest book sales is not an indication of success. Indeed, my first measure of success for you is found in the reality that you actually exist. I felt called to write you and find a publisher and, albeit reluctantly at times, I followed that call. So obedience is one measure of success.

Another measure of your success is found in the feedback. Not everyone who has read your pages has provided feedback. But among those who have, only one offered what I would consider a negative review. He said the book didn’t “connect to his heart,” which, frankly, stung more than a little bit. Many others have found your pages helpful. Here’s a link to read some reviews, if you’d like a few ego biscuits. Aside from those written reviews, I’ve also heard positive feedback from several pastors and friends and business leaders.

The greatest measure of your success, however, is still unknown. Audrey (that’s my wife) and I have prayed from the beginning that you would make a difference in the lives of people who read you. We believe that’s happened, but that’s still our prayer – that God will use this book to help people who want to grow in their faith in Jesus.

Whatever happens, with sales or with impact, God gets the credit. Everything valuable in your pages, after all, came from Him. And everything that happens with you or through you will come by His hand.

So happy birthday, and here’s to many more bright days and deep influence. God willing, you will continue to make a difference in the lives of more and more people.

Oh, yeah. Sorry I didn’t bring a cake or presents. What would you do with them, anyway? You’re a book. But I love you just the same.

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Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

3 Phases of Spiritual Growth

One of the great paradoxical realities of life is that we’re continually growing while we’re continually dying – physically and spiritually. Our bones and muscles might stop growing during our teen years, but our cartilage never stops – which is why I’ll someday need a box truck to haul around my ears. Spiritually, we die to our sins every day, while longing for spurts of growth that bring us closer to God.

Our spiritual growth spurts typically happen in three distinct phases: Times of inspiration, times of desperation, and times of gratitude. (Side note: Attempts at alliteration resulted in frustration, so I’ll leave that to your imagination.) Those phases often start out sequentially, but then they tend to come and go and return again in no particular order.

Times of Inspiration

I originally saw this as the time of conversion, that period right after we surrender our lives to Jesus and we’re on fire to learn anything and everything about what it means to follow Him. We read. We listen. We are proactive in our pursuit of the head knowledge that strengthens our heart knowledge. Then someone in our Bible study noted that this period often repeats when we attend events where a speaker inspires us to greater obedience. These mountaintop experiences can happen during a Sunday morning service, a conference, while reading a book or a blog – anything that re-ignites a passion for spiritual growth.

Times of Desperation

Christianity isn’t a faith that offers the promise of happiness in this life; instead, it offers peace and joy in the midst of trouble and a trouble-free existence only in eternity. Jesus promised that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and our experiences confirm it. But it’s in times of trouble that we often experience the deepest dependence on the Father, and thus our greatest spurts of spiritual growth.

Times of Gratitude

We might never live on Easy Street, but there are times when life rolls along in ways we can only describe as blessed. For instance, God has blessed me with an amazing wife, consistent work, wonderful friends, and a great family. We have “issues,” but they are pretty small compared to those others face or even those we’ve faced in the past. This state draws me closer to God because hardly a minute goes by when I’m not overwhelmed with gratitude for all that He’s given me – so much more than I deserve. When my response is to run into His arms, my heart and mind are open to spiritual growth.

So why is it important that we recognize these phases of growth? Because we need to appreciate them when we’re experiencing them and we need to find our way back to them when we’re not. All three draw us to surrender to and dependence on God, two essential ingredients for spiritual growth.

If we attend a conference or worship service and hear an inspiring talk but greet it with indifference, we’re missing a growth opportunity. If we encounter troubled waters and fail to reach for Jesus in the storm, we’re missing a growth opportunity. And if we’re bathed in the blessings of our Father and fail to hug Him tightly in gratitude, we’re missing a growth opportunity.

What happens when we miss these growth opportunities? You guessed it. The only thing that’s growing is our ears. The rest of us is dying.

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Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

16 Lessons Learned in 2016

I guess this is further evidence that I’m getting old, but most of the lessons I learned in 2016 were lessons I learned earlier in life. In other words, things haven’t changed that much from my childhood: I need repetition for learning to stand any chance of sinking in. So, with that in mind, here are 16 things I learned (or re-learned) in 2016:

  1. The only time I ever hear from God is when I listen.
  2. You can never have too many grandchildren.
  3. “Trust God and do the next thing” (Oswald Chambers) never goes out of style.
  4. Gratitude drives attitude.
  5. Fake news is a real thing, and not just in The New York Times and Washington Post.
  6. There’s a reason the song says, “I surrender all” not “I surrender some.”
  7. God created squirrels to teach me humility and patience.faith_hebrews-11
  8. Hope is a good thing … as long as my hope is in the right thing.
  9. Jesus had “grit.”
  10. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Not challenging or difficult. Impossible.
  11. Doing little things to help others makes a big difference.
  12. My calling as a “follower” should significantly shape me as a “leader.”
  13. Our nation seems more flawed than ever and yet there’s still no better place on Earth to live.
  14. There’s no word in a cat ‘s vocabulary for “no.”
  15. I often resist giving to/sacrificing for others, but I never regret it.
  16. The worst day with my wife is better than my best day without her.

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For a limited time, you can still get 40% off the cover price of Forging Grit or Grow Like Jesus when you order direct from the publisher.
Go here for Grow Like Jesus and use GLJTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.
Go here for Forging Grit and use FGTHANKS as the promotion code when you check out.

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Gratitude Drives Attitude

Gratitude drives attitude.

You’ve probably heard that expression, or some variation of it. Is it true? I believe it is.

In our quest to grow like Jesus, our attitude goes a long way in determining our openness to whatever God wants to teach us. And an attitude driven by gratitude puts us in the right mind frame and heart frame.

When I start my day with prayerful gratitude and end my day with prayerful gratitude, I’m much more likely to have a grateful attitude during the inevitable challenges that come my way.

This morning, for instance, I had a frustrating customer service call with American Airlines. It was the second frustrating call with that airline in a week and one of several I’ve had with them over the last year or two. Ultimately, it was more customer disservice than service.

I’m not sure how my attitude came across to the person on the other end of the phone; frustrated, I suspect. But I am certain that my attitude was tempered by earlier prayers of gratitude. I was thankful that my wife and I were about to embark on what promised to be a wonderful trip. I was thankful for our marriage. For our health. For the chance to spend time with my mother, my brother, and my sister-in-law. For … lots of things.

As an exercise in gratitude, I challenged myself several weeks ago to think of different areas in my life in which I need to regularly thank God for the blessings He’s poured out on me. I challenged myself to think of five things in each category. As you might expect, I had no shortage of things for which I should be grateful.

How are you expressing your gratitude? I’d challenge you to start by expressing it in prayer and then by expressing it to the people around you. See what a difference it makes in your attitude and in your life.

If you need some categories, here are some of the ones I came up with …

Attributes of God, things I love about my wife, places we’ve been, times God has seen me through something painful, friends who love me for who I am not what I do, relatives, teachers, foods, smells, songs, events, personality traits, accomplishments, challenges that stretched me, clients, possessions, gifts I’ve given, gifts I’ve received, …

Need some verses about gratitude? Click here.

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Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

Celebrating Dependence Day

I love holidays largely because of the one thing they all have in common: A call to gratitude.

Holidays remind of us of who we are, where we’ve come from, our shared struggles, and our common victories. And if we aren’t too caught up in the surrounding hype – the food or the presents or the festivities – we reflect on all those things with shared gratitude.fireworks-710375_960_720

We live in a great country, don’t we? A country built on the sacrifice and service of men and women who fought for and, in some cases, died for the freedoms we share and enjoy. And while we might lament much about where we are and where it seems we’re going as a nation, we can still be grateful for all that we have.

So I’m grateful for our independence. And I hope you are, too.

At the same time, there’s an ironic twist to the strength of American independence: It’s founded on complete dependence. Thus Independence Day also can rightly be celebrated as Dependence Day.

Dependence, you say? On what?

Our country was founded and has grown to greatness because of the independence of a people who have been dependent on God.

George Washington said, “It’s the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”

The more we stray from that dependence, the more we risk the freedoms we’ve inherited. Our country simply is not designed for independence without dependence. As John Adams put it, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

So now that we’ve rightly celebrated our independence, let us live in full dependence to the One who allowed us to have it.