In his book, "8 Principles for a God-Centered Church," Jim Johnson (justapreacher.org) offers Godly wisdom from the Bible for both individuals and churches.  Over the next weeks I will be sharing some teachings from his book as well as offering some insight of my own.

 

There are so many valuable lessons to learn in life.  Wouldn't it be nice if we learned those lessons the first time they were taught to us?  Unfortunately we don't always learn the first time.  Sometimes we even have to suffer discomfort or pain on some level before we really learn.  We've all been there.  Jesus' disciples were no different.

Jesus chose 12 men to help him change the world.  These men were common and ordinary.  Some were fishermen and one was even a tax collector who worked for the opposing Roman government.  They all came from different walks of life but had several things in common: they were sinners who stood in the need of God's grace, they were all given an invitation to abandon the ordinary and follow Jesus, and they all had lessons they would need to learn.  In other words, these men were like you and me!

One such lesson they would need to learn is the lesson of the loaves.  In Mark 6 we read where Jesus sent his disciples out in teams of two.  He instructed them to take nothing on their journey except the shoes on their feet, the clothes on their back, and a walking stick.  No money, no extra clothes, no food, nothing.  Nada!  Zip!  Yet, he assured them they would have a place to sleep and food to eat.  Later, when the disciples returned to Jesus, they gave him a glowing ministry report and bragged of all they had accomplished (Mark 6:30).  Notice:  Jesus called them, Jesus empowered them, Jesus gave them his authority over evil spirits, and Jesus provided for them.  Yet when the disciples reported back to Jesus, they were quick to share all that they had done.  So how did Jesus respond?  He told them to get in a boat with him and they set off on cruise across the lake.  Oh did Jesus have a lesson to teach his friends!  

Supposedly heading to a solitary place to get some rest, Jesus led his disciples straight into a hungry crowd of people.  Jesus saw the needs of these people and he had compassion on them.  First he met their spiritual need by teaching them about the Kingdom of God.  Then he met their physical need of hunger in such a way as to teach his disciples the lesson of the loaves.  Noticing the hunger, Jesus' disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd away to go get food.  Jesus had a better idea.  "You give them something to eat," he instructed.  "What?!  It's not in the budget!  We can't afford to feed all these people?"  Ok, the disciples didn't necessarily say it that way, but that's the idea (Mark 6:35-37).  

It was as if Jesus was saying, "You came back and told me all that you had done.  So feeding several thousand people shouldn't be too difficult for you."  You see, the disciples failed to realize they hadn't accomplished anything on their own.  It was Jesus who called them, empowered them and provided for them.  They stole his glory.  They took credit for what God accomplished through them.  But instead of rebuking them harshly, Jesus essentially said, "Apparently you don't me.  You can do this on your own.  So go ahead, you feed the people."  When the disciples saw the impossibility of accomplishing such a task, Jesus told them to gather what food was available: 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Jesus blessed it and fed the crowd.  Then he instructed his disciples to gather the leftovers: 12 baskets to be exact.  Hmmm...one basket for each disciple.  

Surely the disciples learned the lesson of the loaves by now!  Or did they?  In the very next set of verses (Mark 6:45-52) we learn that the disciples were in a boat when a storm blew up.  They were terrified and didn't recognize Jesus walking on the water towards them.  Jesus climbed in the boat with them, and the wind died down.  The disciples were shocked at this.  They still had not learned the lesson of the loaves because their hearts were hardened (v.52).

So what is the lesson of the loaves?

  1. God is sovereign.  Jesus calmed the storm.  
  2. God is our provider.  Jesus provided for the disciples when he sent them out in teams of two.  Jesus met the spiritual needs of the crowds of people.  Jesus met the physical needs by feeding the masses.  
  3. God empowers us to do all that we do.  Jesus called and equipped his disciples.  He sustained them for success.  
  4. We should never attempt to steal God's glory.  It's so easy to brag about the good we've done.  However, living with an awareness that it's God who empowers and provides for us keeps us humble, protects us from an inflated ego, and positions us to receive God's best.  

For more on this, watch the full message!

Do you want your life to count for something?  Sure!  We all do!  For most of us, we care about the legacy we leave.  Everything we do and say and the actions we take towards others leaves an impression.  As Christ followers, Jesus wants us to impact our world.  I don't mean the world, I mean your world: your family, friends, workplace, school campus, and your sphere of influence.  

So how do we impact our world?  Let's look at Scripture to learn:  Daniel 6.  Daniel was a Hebrew who, as a teenager, was taken captive into a pagan Babylonian culture to serve at the pleasure of the king.  He served faithfully while never compromising his faith and loyalty to God.  When Daniel was 90 years old, King Darius allowed officials in his kingdom to talk him into issuing a decree that everyone must worship him and anyone caught praying to another deity would be thrown into the lion's den to be consumed by the beasts.  Regardless of the decree, Daniel never wavered in his love and devotion to God.  He continued to pray 3 times a day with his face towards Jerusalem.  As a result he was thrown into the lion's den.  However, God shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel's life was spared.  When the king learned of Daniel's survival, he rejoiced and issued a decree that all must worship Daniel's God.  The men who conspired against Daniel were thrown into the lion's den along with their wives and children and were consumed by the beasts before their bodies hit the ground!

This amazing story shows us how to impact our world:

  1. We must have a good reputation (Daniel 6:1-4)
  2. We must form holy habits (Daniel 6:5-10)
  3. We must respect authority God has placed over us (Daniel 6:11-22)
  4. We must have an unwavering faith (Daniel 6:23)

When we do this, we will impact our world!  We will prosper (Daniel 6:24-28).  We will be blessed.  We will leave a Godly legacy for our children and future generations.  

For more on this, watch the full message!

We often say, "God bless you" when someone sneezes or needs comforting.  We say it perhaps without even thinking of what that really means.  God wants to bless you.  I mean really bless you!  In Psalm 23 we read where the God not only meets our needs but he overflows our cup!  In John 10:10 Jesus said he came to give life to the fullest.  So how do we realize God's overflowing blessings in our life?

For life to even begin, we have to have a rebirth.  Sin killed our spirit and without Jesus in our life we are a walking dead man.  We have a body, but our spirit that lives forever is dead.  Jesus said in order to truly live, and live forever with him in heaven, we must be "born again" (John 3:3).  Our first birth was a physical birth.  To be born again is to allow God's Holy Spirit to revive our spirit that is dead in sin.  Once we trust Jesus as our Savior, we are on our way to experiencing God's abundant blessings.  

Colossians 2:6-7 says, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught."  These verses tell us there is a 1) Spiritual birth,  2) Spiritual growth3) Spiritual maturity that follows our growth that ultimately leads to a 4) lifestyle of obedience.  This process is how we experience God's abundant, overflowing blessings!  

We have to make a choice to obey God.  We can't do it apart from God's Holy Spirit empowering us.  We have to die to self and choose to follow God's Word.  Just like we make the choice to obey, we can also choose to disobey.  However, when we walk in disobedience, we miss God's best and we gravitate to the worst.  

Choose today to walk in obedience to God.  Choose to be thankful.  You will have the peace of Christ in our life, and you will experience God's overflowing blessings! 

For more on this, watch the full message.

Did you ever play Follow the Leader in school?  Or how about this: were you ever blindfolded and had to navigate solely by someone's voice commands?  In both cases there is a necessary ingredient to being a good follower: you have to trust the leader!  

In my last blog I talked about being a Godly leader.  Whether you are in a leadership position or not, all of us have been called to follow Christ.  If you've answered the call to follow him, there are two things you must do: trust him and obey him. 

In Proverbs 3:5-6 the Bible tells us to trust God in all our ways and to not lean on our own understanding.  Our trust in God must move us beyond a casual approach to following Christ.  Because we trust him with our very life, we trust his motives.  We move when he says move and we stay when he says stay.  God, your will be done becomes the truest desire of our heart.  Our trust in Jesus steers our actions we take and the words we use; the places we go and the things we do.  We don't waste time doubting God's character.  We read God's Word for direction.  We do what it says, even when it challenges us and goes against our flesh.  

Secondly, we must obey.  A natural offshoot of trusting is obeying.  You see, all disobedience is sin, and all sin is rooted in an attitude that doubts God's Word and God's character.  Obedience is 1) the right way (attitude), 2) right away (punctual), and 3) all the way (100%).  Anything less than that is not true obedience. 

Jesus is the best example for one who lived an obedient life.  Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that Jesus became obedient to death on a cross.  Why?  Because he loved us!  As he followed the will of the Father, so should we.  

For more on this, watch the full message!

Arrogant.  Wealthy.  Powerful.  Unapproachable.  Intimidating.  Busy.  Perhaps these are a few words that come to mind when you think of leadership.  Many of us have had leaders in our life that displayed a less than honorable character.

Unfortunately, because of that, our mindset towards being a leader or following a leader may be more worldly than Biblical.  However, as Christ followers, we must have a Biblical understanding of leadership.  God has called many of us to lead, whether in our homes, our churches, our communities, or our places of business.  We're all called to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Good leaders are good followers of Jesus.  But what does that mean?  How does that look?  Maybe it's time we renew our mind towards leadership.  Here are 6 realities about Godly leadership:

First take a few moments to read Acts 20:17-24.

  1. Godly leaders have unwavering integrity that is constant.  One of the most valuable assets we have is our word.  One of the greatest gifts someone can give us is their trust.  When we are honest, people trust our word.  When our actions match our words, we have integrity.  Others under our leadership will pay way more attention to our actions than our words.  It's been said, "More is caught than taught."  That's so true.  When people observe our actions, they should see God's Word being lived out.  
  2. Godly leaders serve with humility.  The greatest model of Godly leadership was Jesus himself.  And how did he lead?  He served.  How did he serve?  With humility (Philippians 2:6-8).  On the night before he was crucified, Jesus shared a very special meal with his friends, his disciples.  At that meal, he assumed the role of a servant and washed their feet.  Then he told his disciples to serve each other in the same manner.  Godly leaders are not "too good" to do anything they would ask anyone under their leadership to do.  
  3. Godly leaders carry a burden for God's people.  Fact: if Godly leaders don't have a burden for those under their leadership, they won't lead effectively.  What motivates a parent to train and discipline her child?  A deep desire to see that child grow, learn and mature, and to learn lessons that will benefit her and protect her later in life.  In other words, a burden for the child motives the parent to lead!  When we have a burden for people, as leaders we resist the urge to become impatient and short-tempered.  When we carry a burden for others, we understand that leading is a process and we practice patience and understanding.  
  4. Godly leaders will be tested.  Leading is not easy.  For many it doesn't come naturally.  Leading is a skill and in most cases has to be learned.  Therefore, there will be tests along the way.  Some people will challenge your leadership.  Some will refuse to follow.  Others will mock you.  But in every test there is an opportunity to learn, grow and mature as a leader. Just as stress on our bodies builds strong muscles, the stresses of leadership can build us into strong leaders.  Resist the urge to take everything personally.  In most cases, others' poor behavior towards you usually has more to do with them and nothing to do with you at all!  Keep your focus on Christ.  And that leads me to the next crucial point:
  5. Godly leaders don't compromise God's Word.  God's Word is truth.  According to Jesus, if we put his words into practice we are like a wise man who built his house (life) on a foundation of rock so that when life's storms beat against the house, it would stand strong.  There will be times we have to confront those under our leadership because of something they are doing that is wrong.  Don't shy away from confrontation.  Lovingly and firmly approach them and point them to God's Word.  The truth is not always easy to communicate, but it always set us free!
  6. Godly leaders remember they belong to Jesus.  Any authority we have is because God has put us in a position of leadership.  We should never become arrogant about our position.  Ultimately, we have to answer to God for how we lead.  Every action we take and every word we speak to those around us should be wrapped firmly in love (I Corinthians 16:14).  Leaders are not defined by their role as leaders, but have willingly lost their identity in Jesus Christ.  That means God gets the glory for anything a Godly leader accomplishes.  Why?  Because without God, nothing is impossible; especially being a Godly leader!

For more on this, watch the full message!  

 

Let's face it:  we value good service above most things.  Think about it.  You can go to a restaurant that serves incredible food, but if the service is lousy, chances are you won't go back.  We appreciate good customer service no matter who we are doing business with.  As much as we value good service, Jesus values it more.  As a matter fact, he valued it so much, he did something radical, and then told us to do the same thing!

In John 13:1-15 we read where Jesus washed his disciples' feet.  As they were preparing to share a very special meal together just hours before Jesus would be arrested and eventually crucified, Jesus displayed an incredible act of love:  he took the role of a servant and washed the dirty feet of his friends.  Don't miss that!  The King of the Universe refused to grieve for himself over the agony he would face later that night and instead turned his focus toward serving.  After he washed their feet he asked them a simple question: "Do you understand what I have done for you?"  He explained that just as he, their Master, took the role of a servant and humbled himself to wash their feet, they were to do likewise.  

Galatians 5:1 tells us that Jesus died for our freedom!  In Galatians 5:13 we're told that we are not to use our freedom to indulge in our own selfish desires, but to use our freedom to serve one another!  This is contrary to the patterns of this world's thinking.  Many use their freedom for selfish gain.  Many use their freedom to say hurtful things or behave in cruel ways all the while flaunting their freedom to do so.  But as Christ followers we are to use our freedom to serve one another.  Let me give you three simple takeaways from this:

  1. You are FREE in Christ!  Jesus stated that he was the truth, and the truth indeed sets us free.  Freedom is the removal from illegitimate bondage so that you can maximize your full potential.  Sin entangles you.  Jesus sets you free.  Guilt entangles you.  Jesus sets you free because there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1).  Sin leads to death.  Jesus sets you free and gives you eternal life!
  2. Because we are free, we need to help set others free!  Imagine you and a friend have been kidnapped, tied up and left alone to die.  Miraculously you slip out of the bondage of being tied up and are freed!  What's your next move?  Do you help free your friend or leave him or her there to die?  Of course you help set him or her free!  If you are in Christ, Jesus has set you free from the bondage of sin and guilt.  You should actively pursue opportunities to set those around you free who are still in bondage.  This is called ministry!  And the greatest act of serving someone is pointing them to the Word of God.  Jesus promised us that if we build our life on his words, we can withstand the storms of life and not be destroyed.  Do you have a friend hurting right now?  A family member in bondage? Serve them!  Point them to the Word of God, teach them, encourage them, and pray for them!
  3. Authentic serving happens when we are actively involved, not sitting on the sidelines watching others serve.  When we "sit in the stands" instead of being on the team that's playing on the field, it's easy to become very critical of the team and practice a good dose of "Monday morning quarterbacking."  When we sit in the stands, we don't see and hear what the team sees.  When we're not on the team, we don't have a relationship with the coach.  When we're not on the team, we don't take ownership and responsibility.  If you want to authentically serve others, you must get on the team and take ownership of what's happening in your church.  It's very difficult to become overly critical of that which you've taken ownership of.  Serving people are happy people.  Serving people are on the field.  Disgruntled people stay in the stands. 

For more on this, watch the full message.  And don't forget to "like" my Dr. Jeremy Gates Facebook page!  

A couple of weeks ago I was having "one of those days."  Nothing really bad was happening.  I was just tired, I had a lot on my plate, and feeling a little "blah."  That afternoon I received a card in the mail from a young lady who was a former youth of mine many moons ago when I was a youth pastor. 

In the card was written some of the sweetest and most encouraging things a person could say to me.  As I read the letter she inserted into the card, I began to tear up.  I called my wife and told her what a blessing it was to receive such encouragement.  

Encouragement.  We all need it.  The Bible even tells us to encourage one another.  Let's face it: life is hard.  And we all need a little encouragement from time to time.  It seems we are lacking that today in our busy and self-focused culture.  But encouraging someone is good for the other person and for you!  One of the most powerful ways we can be an encourager is found in Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."  That, quite possibly, could be so simple that we miss it!  So let's not miss it...let's look:

  1. Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Remember when you were a kid and you accomplished something you thought was amazing?  What did you do?  If you were like me you wanted to show someone!  "Look what I did!"  I was blessed to have parents who celebrated my victories and shared in my excitement.  It was encouraging to me for someone else to rejoice with me!  On the contrary, have you ever been enjoying your favorite food and had someone come along and say, "Ewww....you like that?!"  As someone once told me, don't yuk someone else's yum!  It's rude and not encouraging.  We much prefer it when someone rejoices with us when we are rejoicing.
  2. Mourn with those who mourn.  If you've ever been in the midst of grieving and had someone come along and sit with you, maybe even cry with you, you understand the power in mourning with those who mourn.  In other words, we are to help bear the hurt and pain of others.  One of the most powerful ways we can mourn with those who mourn is to share our own story of hurts and pain.  Some of the greatest moments when I've been encouraged is when someone would come alongside me and share with me stories of his or her own times of testing and hurts.  It relieved me to know that others have gone through pain just like me and came out victorious.  I've learned as a chaplain in law enforcement, after having delivered a number of death notifications, the greatest ministry I can do for the hurting family is to sit beside them and be with them.  I don't have to say much if anything.  There's value and comfort for the family in just my being there.  Don't try to solve all the issues or feel you have to answer all the questions when you're with someone who is mourning.  Just mourn with them and be.  There'll be time in the future to go deeper.
  3. You can't rejoice with them, or mourn with them, if you're not with them!  So build relationships!  We're created for relationships.  We need each other.  We need to laugh together, cry together, joke with one another, laugh at each other, tease each other, comfort each other, rejoice with each other, and mourn with each other.  We're not designed to go through this life alone.  So choose to connect to God's people.  Be part of a church where you can find encouragement and be an encourager!  

So who do you need to encourage today?  Live with an awareness that at any moment you may be called on to encourage a hurting person.  Rejoice with them.  Mourn with them.  Connect with them.  For more on this, watch the full message!

 

I have to brag on my daughter:  she is a giver!  From the time she was barely a toddler to now a teenager, she's always been a giver.  My office is wall papered with her drawings she's given me.  I drink out of a coffee mug that she gave me.  My wife and I are constantly finding love notes and small gifts left around the house from her.  And it brings her so much joy to give!  It should bring us joy when we give to God and others!  

In II Corinthians 9:6-8 we're given some realities about giving.  Let's look:

  1. You reap what you sow and only how much you sow.  If you plant an apple seed, you're going to get an apple tree!  We would be foolish to expect a rose bush if we plant an apple seed!  In Galatians 6:8 we are told that if we sow seeds of our selfish nature, we will reap death.  If we sow seeds of the things of God, we will reap eternal life.  In II Corinthians 9:6 we're told that whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly and whoever sows generously will reap generously.  That makes sense.  If we want a field of corn we must plant a field of seeds!  We are foolish to think we can give of ourselves little and and yet reap lots.  If you want to reap many blessings, you must sow many acts of giving.  
  2. Giving is a thought out decision based on love.  We shouldn't give because we're guilted in to it or for any other reason than because we want to express our love.  If you don't believe giving is an act of love, consider this:  Several years ago my daughter needed open-heart surgery.  When the cardiologist diagnosed her with ASD and told us he could correct the issue, we didn't ask "how much is this going to cost us?"  Our response was "How soon can you get her in to surgery?!"  Our love for our daughter overshadowed any thought of the expenses the surgery was going to incur.  Fast forward, my daughter's pet rat got sick.  Believe it or not, I called the vet and was informed that for several hundred dollars we could have the rat seen, diagnosed, and treated.  Hundreds of dollars?!?!  Our love for the rat was certainly different than our love for our daughter.  Because we didn't love the same, we didn't invest the same.  We made the rat comfortable its last few days on earth.  Giving is an act of love.  What we love and hold dear, we invest in.  Jesus said to love God and love others.  We should give to others because of our love for God and man.  II Corinthians 9:7 says we should give based on what we have decided in our heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.  
  3. God loves it when we give with joy in our heart.  II Corinthians 9:7 goes on to say "God loves a cheerful giver."  When we give, it should be done with the same spirit my daughter gives to us.  She can't wait for us to open her gifts.  She's eager to please and it brings her so much joy to bless us.  Our Father delights in our joy of giving to Him and in His Name. 
  4. God gives to us so we can give to others.  We're blessed to be a blessing.  II Corinthians 9:8 says God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."   God loves you.  He gives to you because He loves you.  But He also gives to you so you can give to others.  When we do that with joy in our heart, it pleases Him and positions us to receive even more blessings from Him.
  5. If you have a need, plant a seed!  Do you need encouragement?  Be an encourager!  Do you need a friend?  Be a friend!  Do you need financial help?  Give to others in need!  When you ask God for something, tell Him how what you are asking for will be a blessing to someone else.  

What seeds will you sow?  For more on this, watch the full message and make sure you "like" me on my Dr Jeremy Gates Facebook page!  

Several months ago I was helping some friends clean out a house.  The lady that lived in the house had to be moved to an assisted living home.  She had been widowed for a number of years and the house was full of reminders of her late husband and their marriage of over 60 years.  

After several hours of hard labor, we were about ready to wrap things up and leave when I noticed some items left in a loft area above the garage.  I grabbed a ladder and climbed to see what was there.  Way in the back, almost escaping my view, I noticed something.  I reached for my flash light and discovered it was an old footlocker.  I brought it down and opened it.  What I saw was amazing!  The footlocker was filled with old love letters the man had written his wife while overseas during WWII.  I also found pictures of them and even his old military uniform.  For several minutes it was like stepping back in time.  What was almost lost and forgotten had been found.  I was able to pass these treasures on to the family who was unaware of this footlocker.  

Jesus tells 3 stories in a row about lost things: a lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7), a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10, and a lost son (Luke 15:11-32).  In the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd leaves the flock of ninety-nine to go and find the one missing.  In the story of the lost coin, the woman empties her house until she finds the coin.  In the story of the lost son, the father gave to the son his inheritance only to be disrespected.  After squandering all of his money, the son comes home in hopes of being able to work as a servant for his father.  Instead, the father welcomes him home as his son and throws a banquet in his honor!

In each of the stories the object lost was something precious to the owner.  The owner did what was necessary to find the lost object.  The same is true for you and me...

There are some beautiful takeaways from this:

  1. God loves you and created you so He could have a relationship with you.
  2. Because of sin, you were lost.  Because of the mankind's fall, your heart which was created to be filled with love for God and others instead was filled with love of self and selfish desires.
  3. God, the Creator, the Owner, did what was necessary to find you.  He came in the flesh (John 1:14), lived a perfect life for us to model, and then laid down His life for you to pay the penalty of your sin (Romans 6:23; John 3:16).  He then rose from the grave, conquering death and sin, and offers to you the same victory over that which would seek to destroy you.
  4. You have to accept His gift.  You have to come to a place in your life where you admit you've messed up (Romans 3:23), believe that Jesus died for you (Romans 6:23) and confess that belief to Him (Romans 10:9).  
  5. You belong to Jesus!  When you receive Him as your Savior, you belong to Him (I Corinthians 6:19-20)!  You are valuable.  You matter.  

Something is only as valuable as one is willing to pay for it.  Jesus paid for you with His life!  You belong to Him!  For more on this, watch the full message.  

Happy New Year everyone!  2017 is here!  Most of us think about making some changes in our life during this time of the year.  Some call it New Year's resolutions.  I don't know about you, but that word congers up some unpleasant memories of my past failures.

 

So this year instead of making resolutions, I've made some new, fresh commitments.  Making a commitment seems to make it "stick" because I'm making a commitment to myself and to the Lord.  

If you've ever played Tug-O-War, you were either on the winning team or the losing team.  The losing team is always pulled into the mud pit in the middle.  No fun.  This year, I don't want you to be on the losing team.  I don't want you to be pulled into the mud pit.  

We can read about a spiritual tug-o-war in the Bible.  In Romans 7:21-25 we read where the Apostle Paul struggled in his faith.  He desired to do good, but acknowledged that evil was always close by tempting him.  He confesses that this spiritual tug-o-war leaves him feeling like a wretched man!  How does he resolve this?  He gives thanks to God for grace given through Jesus Christ.  That, my friend, is our hope!  Not that we will live perfectly.  Not that we won't be pulled into the mud pit from time to time, but that when we mess up, we are covered by God's love and grace, forgiven and allowed to move forward with a fresh start!  

So how can we avoid the mud pit?  I Corinthians 16:13-14 gives us a simple yet powerful formula:  "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love."  To be on guard is to be aware you have an enemy who comes only to steal, to kill, and to destroy you (John 10:10).  Living with an awareness is not living in fear.  We aren't to fear our enemy, the forces of evil, but we must live with an awareness of our enemy so we can properly pray for protection and prepare for battle (Ephesians 6).  To stand firm is to not be swayed by anything that would compete for your obedience to God's Word.  To be courageous is to have the spiritual "guts" to do the right thing even when it's not the easy thing.  To be strong is to have the attitude you can do all things through Christ who is your source of strength (Philippians 4:13).  Doing everything in love keeps your motives in check.  Love wins.  Love never fails (I Corinthians 13:8).  

Finally, let me encourage you with this from God's Word.  Don't live in the past.  Quit condemning yourself over past failures.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).  Self-condemnation will get you nowhere.  It will only leave you in the mud pit.  Embrace the "now" that God has given you.  Anticipate with excitement the future that God has for you.  In Philippians 3:12-14 the Apostle Paul writes, "Not that I have already obtained all of this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  

Make sure you check out my Dr. Jeremy Gates FaceBook page.  I'll be posting more videos and challenges.  I'd love to hear from you.  ALSO, for more on this article, watch the full message!