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America witnessed one of our saddest days this week when nine innocent people were gunned down while attending a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. There are few events in my lifetime that brought me the profound level of sadness, grief and devastation as this senseless act in Charleston. Unfortunately innocent people lose their lives everyday in our country, but when acts of violence take place in a school, or house of worship, it’s about as gut wrenching as it gets. Watching the news coverage on the Charleston shootings made me reflect back on three other horrific events that occurred in recent memory: The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, 9/11 and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that claimed the lives of so many innocent children and their teachers in December of 2012.
How do you make sense of events like these? The short answer is that you can’t. However, I do believe that God can take even the most horrible and sad situations and use them in a positive way. One of the most amazing displays of grace and forgiveness was shown when the families of the shooting victims actually forgave the murderer just two days after losing their loved ones! The first time they get the chance to look at the killer and directly address him, many people actually forgave him for his terrible act.
How do we explain this inhuman reaction to an inhumane act? There’s only 1 explanation: God. One must have outer worldly grace, compassion and peace to be able to address the killer of their loved ones in this way. We need look no further than Philippians 4, verse 7, which says “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The men and women who lost their lives this past week were by all accounts wonderful human beings. They were pillars in Charleston who served their church and community with kindness, compassion and humility. That fateful night they demonstrated this same level of kindness, compassion and humanity to a complete stranger, who sat among them in the Bible study for almost an hour before he decided to gun them down. The nine victims will be greatly missed by those in their church and the Charleston community.
The family members showed that they, too, possess the same level of compassion, grace and kindness that only God can bring. If God can deliver them in a time such as this, then surely He will deliver you from whatever difficult circumstances you or a loved one may be experiencing. Make a commitment to God on behalf of the memory of these fine men and women that you will always place Him first in your life. For it is only through God that we will ever be able to experience this same level of grace, humility and care for each other. I can think of no greater gift you can give yourself and your children then demonstrating a peace that surpasses all understanding. This is truly what the world witnessed this week in Charleston.
Many of us know and value the importance of regular prayer sessions, but what about meditation? What exactly is meditation, and how is meditation differ from praying. Perhaps the easiest way to explain the difference between prayer and meditation, although some may disagree and it’s much more complex than this answer, is that prayer is us seeking and speaking with God, while meditation is us allowing God to speak to us.
I pray pretty much every day, and have done so since my youth. My prayers are on any number of things. I thank God everyday for all my blessings, health, loved ones and family members in my life. I pray for my loved ones, family members and friends. I ask God to forgive me daily of my sins, and for guidance in my daily decision making. I pray for God whenever I’m going through sad or difficult times, and ask Him to lead me through whatever storm I may be going through, and allow me to use whatever comes across my path as a way to grow, learn and be a blessing to others. Sometimes I may pray for someone I’ve never met before in my life. I may see a sad story on TV about someone battling cancer, or I may see someone in the grocery store that may be in seemingly poor health. Of course when and where I pray won’t always look the same. I wouldn’t get down on my knees in the middle of the produce section at a grocery store to pray like I would in my bedroom at night before I go to sleep : ) Driving in my car is also a good time for me to pray to God.
As you can see, prayer is our way to communicate to and speak with God about whatever is heavy on hearts. It’s amazing that we can seek God in prayer at any time we choose. God is always there for us.
Meditation for me requires a little more patience and discipline, as meditation requires us to sit still in silence and give our complete thoughts over to a unique, calm and relaxed state of consciousness, without becoming too immersed with those thoughts. We allow God to come to and speak to us in meditation through however He chooses to reach us. God doesn’t audibly speak to us, but rather He speaks to us through our intuition, and gut feeling during our state of consciousness during our meditation.
Meditation also has several scientifically proven health benefits! This should give all of us even more reason to meditate on a routine basis. Harvard University did an MRI study, which found that beginners who took an eight-week meditation course literally had thicker gray matter in the areas of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness. The regions associated with stress actually shrank.
Scientists at UC Santa Barbara found meditation to help students reduce their mind wandering, and perform better on their Graduate Record Exams. Three studies from the University of Miami found that meditation reduced stress in all groups who incorporated short periods of daily meditation.
With all the positive benefits of meditation, I intend to do a better job in 2015 of incorporating meditation as part of my daily routine.
As we find ourselves upon another holiday season, many of us will gather with family and friends to have large meals and exchange gifts. For many this is a special and joyous time of year. Yet for others the holiday season is one of loneliness, sadness and bitterness. For many people the holidays represent the most depressing time of the year. Perhaps they recently lost a loved one, maybe they’re battling some health issues, or they may be in between jobs and dealing with the added stress of a financial hardship over the holidays. The sadness, hurt and despair when dealing with these types of difficult situations are often intensified during the holidays.
Most of us have been in difficult or depressing circumstances at one point or another in our life. Maybe it’s not during the holidays, but if we live long enough we can virtually be assured that there will be some dark days in life. During these dark days it can sometimes be difficult to still feel thankful and grateful to God for what He’s done in our lives. 1st Thessalonians 5:18 calls for us to be thankful in all circumstances. In all circumstances? How are we to be thankful if our health is failing, if we just lost a job, or even worse, just lost a loved one? It’s not easy, but it can be done if we maintain a Christ focused perspective. A Christ focused perspective puts Him first, by being thankful for what God has done for us in the past and what our faith in Jesus has promised for us in our future.
A Christ focused perspective is being thankful and blessed that God put that loved one in our life for the years they were here with us on earth. Of course we’ll miss our deceased loved ones, and it will be a huge loss to us, but be thankful that we had them in our life for the time we did. A Christ focused perspective is being thankful to God for the job He provided you in the past, and trusting Him to provide another job opportunity for you in the future.
One of my favorite pastors is Charles Stanley, and one of Pastor Stanley’s favorite sayings is to trust God and leave all the consequences to Him. This sounds simple, and although it is simple, it’s easier said than done when you’re dealing with some of life’s most difficult and painful circumstances. This holiday season let us make it a point to give thanks in all things, trust God, and leave all the consequences to Him. Thank God for all that He has done in your life, and you can trust Him through Jesus for what He will continue do in this life and the next.
You need not be a basketball fan to have heard the news this week that basketball superstar LeBron James is returning home to play for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. James was drafted # 1 out of high school after a fantastic school boy career in Ohio. James played seven years for the Cavaliers, before leaving for Miami, where he felt he could do something there that he was unable to do in Cleveland: Win an NBA Championship. James was right. He spent four years in Miami and went to the NBA Finals every year, and won 2 NBA Championships during his four years playing for the Miami Heat.
James departure from Cleveland four years ago was not without controversy, as many people criticized the young superstar for the way he handled leaving. Instead of personally contacting the owner, management and his teammates in Cleveland to inform him of his decision to leave, James held a nationally covered press conference to announce his decision to the world. People in Cleveland were angry, heartbroken, bitter and extremely disappointed to see their native son go. This news was particularly difficult because Cleveland has a very passionate fan base who desperately wants to win a Championship. Cleveland has not won a major professional sports championship in 50 years! The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers blasted James in an open letter calling James a “coward” for leaving. Cleveland fans took to the streets to voice their displeasure and even burned their LeBron James basketball jerseys.
After so much bitterness and hate, how could LeBron James ever consider returning back to play for a city of fans who despised him for leaving, not to mention an owner who called him out publicly and criticized him to the entire world? Yet that exactly what LeBron James did this week. James buried the hatchet between himself and the Cleveland Cavaliers owner, and showed a true character and professionalism that all of us should be inspired to emulate. James could have taken more money to stay in Miami, but he said in an open letter released by Sports Illustrated that he understands that his presence in Ohio is “bigger than basketball.” He also wants to finish out his career by doing his best to bring Cleveland and its fans at least one NBA Championship.
Most of us will never have the fame, notoriety and platform that LeBron James has as the greatest basketball player in the world. You don’t need to be a LeBron James fan, or even an NBA fan to take a page from LeBron’s playbook of life. I believe we’ll all find in life that if we learn to do the right things for the right reasons, life is usually easier and less stressful for all of us. I’ve always enjoyed watching LeBron James, although I’m not a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. That being said, I do want to see James get his full redemption, which will only happen if and when he helps lead the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland their first major professional sports championship in over 50 years. I think when his career is all said and done James will lead Cleveland to multiple NBA Championships. I can’t wait to see it. It will be a great fairy tale ending, and both LeBron James and the city of Cleveland deserve it.
Peace, balance, health and happiness,
Independence Day is a special time of year because it’s the one national holiday that is most often associated with the summer. This means picnics, barbecues, cookouts, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and nightly fireworks celebrations around the country. Who doesn’t love Independence Day? For 2014, our Independence Day happens to fall on a Friday, which couldn’t be better, as we can celebrate our independence on a long holiday weekend. When you think about it, shouldn’t we celebrate Independence Day on the first Friday of every July, instead of on July 4th? This would give everyone a 3 day weekend every year! Besides, we already have two holidays that signal the start and end of the summer months for many of us. Memorial Day and Labor Day are both always celebrated on a Monday. I say we should always have Independence Day celebrated on a Friday! We’re already up late celebrating with fireworks. Let’s start a petition to get this done. While we’re at it, let’s all jump on board to end daylight savings time, since it serves no purpose other than having it pitch black outside at 5 pm for part of the year.
Independence Day is much more than barbecues, picnics and shooting fireworks. Independence Day is an official federal holiday commemorating our independence from Great Britain, as written in the Declaration of Independence and adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Today this holiday is more often referred to as the 4th of July. If we observed Independence Day on the first Friday in July every year perhaps this holiday might take on a different meaning for many Americans.
As we celebrate our country’s independence in 2014, let us not forget that our independence is due to the freedoms and liberties we have today. These freedoms and liberties have come with a steep price, with many men and women giving their lives in order for us to have a free America.
The most important person to ever walk the earth also gave His life for us. He died to cleanse all mankind of all sins forever. When we celebrate Independence Day this year, let us remember to always keep our dependence on God and His Son. Everything we have comes from God…our bodies, mind, intelligence, skills, abilities, compassion and love all starts and ends with God. We can live in peace and experience true joy and freedom today because Jesus died on the cross to repent for all the sins of the world. Let’s celebrate our nation’s independence by also celebrating our dependence on Christ. We can accomplish this without a petition, regardless of whether or not Independence Day is changed to a Friday.
Peace, balance, health and happiness,
Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States, and he’s known for many famous quotes that are still referenced today. Prior to becoming President, Roosevelt served as the second in command with a group in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry known as the Rough Riders. The Rough Riders were called into action in the Spanish-American War, and it was during this war that Roosevelt said ”Do what you can where you are, with what you have.”
Roosevelt’s quote serves as an excellent strategy for churches looking to add fitness ministry. Churches from around the world contact us every year inquiring about adding fitness as an outreach ministry for their congregation and community. Church Fitness ministry is extremely rewarding and fulfilling, and it’s an outreach that any church can launch, regardless of its size. It’s fantastic if your church has the budget and space to launch a full-blown fitness center with the latest strength training equipment and cardiovascular exercise machines. However, this is not the reality for most churches. Most churches looking to begin fitness ministry need to start off on a much smaller scale, but the key here is STARTING! Famous evangelist Dawson Trotman once said ” The greatest time wasted is the time getting started.”
A few ways your church can start fitness ministry on a small scale, with little to no budget include hosting some group exercise classes 2-3 days per week. Fitness and fellowship go hand in hand, and group exercise classes are a great way to keep each other encouraged and motivated. Classes can be held in a multi-purpose room, meeting room or gymnasium at your church. Hosting group exercise classes, fitness boot camps, obstacle courses, TRX, indoor cycling classes and small group personal training are great ways to make use of extra space in your church. Have a certified instructor ( perhaps one or more of your church members meets this criteria ) lead the classes, and make sure all participants obtain medical clearance from a physician prior to beginning any church sponsored exercise program.
If your church lacks any extra space to hold group exercise classes on the church grounds, seek out an alternative location. Schools, cafeterias, meeting rooms, hotels, outdoor parks and play grounds, or even a warehouse space can all be suitable to host small group exercise classes. Members in your church could have a relationship with a facility or business that may be able to allow your church group to utilize some space to exercise each week. You can also seek out a local fitness center or YMCA to host your church group, or provide a special church group discount rate for weekly and monthly exercise classes. Most of these workouts can be held indoors or outdoors, weather permitting. The key is to foster a fun, energizing and creative way to encourage your church members to exercise every week.
Get your church fitness ministry going, and please contact us with any creative ideas your church has formulated that may help other churches in launching their own fitness ministry!
Peace, balance, health and happiness,
When I was a child growing up in Hampton, VA, I didn’t always have the best attitude. I often got into trouble at school and had more physical altercations (okay they were fights) with other kids than I care to remember. Fortunately for me I discovered football at a very young age, and quickly fell in love with the sport. Football proved to be a healthy outlet that enabled me to harness my aggression in a positive way. I started playing little league football when I was 9 years old, and continued playing all the way through high school.
The game of football helped me develop as a person more than I ever imagined, and I’m so thankful I was blessed to play this game. Football, as do many sports, help kids to develop life long habits and skills that transcend the playing field. Team work, preparation, discipline, physical conditioning, sportsmanship, respect and leadership skills were some of the important attributes I learned through the game of football. I was fortunate to play for some great coaches who taught us so much more than just the x’s and o’s of football, but were also interested in seeing us grow and develop into responsible young men.
The demographic breakdown of where I lived also meant that almost all of my teammates on my football team every year were of a different race. I recall some years where there was only one other Caucasian on the team besides me out of thirty kids. This experience brought me many great friendships with kids from all walks of life. I became extremely comfortable early on in life socializing, learning and playing with other kids, regardless of their skin color, or socioeconomic status. I quickly learned as a young boy that it’s not how someone looks on the outside that matters because all of us as human beings have the same core needs in life: the need to be loved and accepted, and having a sense of purpose and belonging.
I would also be remiss if I failed to mention the role faith served as a guiding principle in my youth football playing days. Although my grandmother certainly had the single biggest influence on my Christian faith, all of my little league football teams always prayed together before the start of every game. We recited the Lord’s Prayer, and to this day I can honestly say that the reason I know this prayer by heart is from all the times this white kid kneeled down and held hands with a bunch of black kids in football cleats and shoulder pads every Saturday in September and October.
Yes, another football season has come and gone. The NFL season culminated with a very disappointing finish in a blowout Super Bowl victory for the Seattle Seahawks over the Denver Broncos. The game was seemingly over as soon as it started. Although each year, football only lasts for a season, I’m thankful that the game I love has taught me so many valuable lessons that last a lifetime.
Peace, balance, health and happiness,
Recognizing that change is an inevitable part of our life was part of our last message. Sometimes changes are sudden, and beyond our control. Other times in life we are the ones who need to be proactive in making a change for the better. In order for us to receive God’s best for our lives, and be as positive and productive as possible, we need to be honest with ourselves about some of our behaviors that hinder our time, health, productivity, and personal relationships with others. If you were to evaluate your life right now, what are some changes you could make that would improve your life? Take a few minutes and jot them down. Some of us may have several areas of our lives we feel we need to change. However, I’m sure we can all come up with one behavior that would greatly improve an area of our life if we could commit to making that one change. Healthier eating habits, exercising on a regular basis, or improving a negative relationship with a co-worker can all have a profound impact in how we feel about ourselves and view the world. Once you consider making a change for the better, what are the steps involved to move forward?
The Transtheoretical Model of Change
The Transtheoretical Model of Change, also known as TTM, is a model of intentional change where the decision making of the individual is the impetus for the positive change in behavior. TTM was pioneered in the early 1980s by psychologist James O. Prochaska, PhD, and researcher Dr. Carlo C. DiClemente, who used this model to help treat addiction problems, such as overeating, smoking and alcoholism. Understanding that change is a process, TTM consists of six stages of change:
Stage 1 – Precontemplation
Individuals in the precontemplation stage of change have no intention of taking any action in the foreseeable future. They often don’t view their behavior as a problem in this stage. According to Prochaska, people underestimate the benefits of changing and overestimate the costs or cons in the precontemplation stage. People in this stage have usually been talked to about their behavior by family, friends, or health care workers. For example, maybe your spouse and doctor have both suggested that you lose weight to improve your high blood pressure levels. Dr. DiClemente cites four specific reasons (the Four R’s) that many people are in the precontemplation stage: reluctance, rebellion, resignation and rationalization.
Stage 2 – Contemplation
People in the contemplation stage are now thinking about taking action, but are still on the fence and uncertain as to moving forward with the change. They are open to new information and feedback at this stage, and are considering the pros and cons of their current behavior, as well as the risks and rewards of initiating a change.
Stage 3 – Preparation
People in the preparation stage are now committed to making a change, and have a plan of action, such as enlisting the services of a certified personal trainer to aid in their weight loss plan. It is recommended that people in this stage set a specific target date to begin their new change. I always like to use the SMAC formula here, as goal setting can be vital to charting your success. SMAC stands for specific, measurable, achievable and committed. Set a specific goal, such as I will drop 20 pounds in the next 2 ½ months. This goal is also measurable because you are quantifying it with a number that can be calculated over time. The goal needs to be achievable, in the sense that it’s a realistic target to complete within the assigned time, with a consistent effort on your part. Last but not least, you commit your goals to writing on paper. I cannot overemphasize the importance of writing down your goals. The majority of successful people I have met or read about in life constantly write down their goals. Think about your goals, pray and meditate on them, envision yourself being successful and accomplishing every one. As Joyce Meyer likes to often say, “Where the mind goes, the man will follow.” This is true of both unhealthy behavior patterns and positive behavior modifications.
Stage 4 – Action
This may be the most difficult, but most rewarding stage. You are now at the point where you are actively engaged in implementing your action plan. For example, if you’ve been told you have a drinking problem and you’re now in the action stage, you’ve started to attend AA meetings. If you’ve made a vow to save your marriage, you’re now meeting with a marriage counselor or church pastor. This is a break through stage because now you have sought out counsel and services by professionals who have the expertise and education to help you attain your goal and follow through with a healthy behavior change. Be sure to count all the small successes along the way. Your ultimate goal of change is like climbing a ladder, with each rung on the ladder representing one smaller goal of accomplishment, which brings you a little closer to your primary goal each day. As former President Theodore Roosevelt once said “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
Stage 5 – Maintenance
The maintenance stage represents three to six months of continuous new behavior patterns within the action stage. In this stage your new behaviors have now become normal and routine, with the threat lessening that you return to your older behavior patterns. Congratulations are in order, as you are well on your way to making a permanent, life-lasting change. Don’t look back; forge ahead and continue your quest with a quiet humility and confidence. Sustain your efforts through God’s help with daily prayer and meditation. Maximize your efforts in making your change a permanent part of your life. Make some important changes to keep your old behavior away for good. You may need to frequent different establishments, or sever some long-term relationships. For example, if you quit drinking, but still have some friends who want to invite you out to a bar for a drink, then you should probably find some new friends who will help encourage you to stay the course of sobriety.
Stage 6 – Termination
According to Prochaska, only about 15-20 percent of people successfully reach the termination stage. People who reach the termination stage have successfully transitioned to their new behavior change, and the temptation to revert back to their older behavior pattern is completely gone. A couple examples of people successfully reaching the termination stage include the person who lost 60 pounds, and has been able to maintain this weight loss for several years. Another one is a former 2 pack a day smoker who is now going on their fourth year without having a cigarette. The key for long term success upon entering the termination stage is to continue to educate yourself on the behavior, and stay active in helping others with similar challenges that you once faced. No one knows more about the challenge of giving up smoking and the power of nicotine addiction than a former smoker. People who have been able to beat the same temptations are often the best sources of inspiration and encouragement for others who are desperately trying to make the same behavior changes in their own life. We’re all blessed to be a blessing. Now that you’ve reached your goal, help someone else reach their own goal!
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2
Change on many levels is an inevitable part of life, and every one of us will undergo seasons of change at different times throughout our lives. Some changes in life can be anticipated or known well in advance of occurring. Graduating from high school, or the birth of a new child are changes that come with some advanced notice, which allow us to plan and prepare accordingly for this next phase of life. Other changes can come suddenly, without any forewarning. Abrupt changes can sometimes be a joyous blessing, such as a surprise promotion from your employer, or a thoughtful gift from a friend. Other times unexpected changes may cause deep pain and sorrow, such as a failed personal relationship, or the unexpected death of a loved one.
Our attitude plays a large role in how change affects us in moving forward with our life. Some people embrace change as time of new growth, and recognize that this is a normal part of life. Accepting change in a healthy, positive manner will enable us to become better people in all aspects of our lives. Our personal, spiritual and professional growth in life is not limited by the changes that come our way, but rather how we respond to these changes. Choose to accept that changes in life are an absolute certainty, and we can choose to make the most of them in every situation.
I’ll continue to address change in my next post by covering some key steps necessary to initiate positive changes in our own lives.
Peace, balance, health and happiness,
As millions of people around the world celebrate Christmas, let’s not forget the true meaning of Christmas. Giving gifts is a great way to show our love and appreciation for those who mean the most to us. However, we can’t lose sight of the significance of Christmas, and the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ is the greatest gift of all, and His gift of eternal salvation is freely available to anyone at anytime. No other gift you will ever receive will be this great.
As we venture into 2014, let us make the decision to honor Christ by committing ourselves to being better people in 2014 than we were in 2013. We all have areas we need to improve on, and we must realize that we never have to go at it alone. Christ is there for us always. Here’s to a great 2014!
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me – Philippians 4:13