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If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, you’re probably already planning for Easter. It will be here before you know it. I was talking with a church recently and they said they wanted to help people get “from the street to the seat.” That’s cool and it’s what I do. I also help you turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

As a “secret shopper” in churches nationwide, I report specific reasons why I wouldn’t return for a second visit and why, most likely, their guests aren’t coming back. Whether it’s a church plant, established church, a small church or mega-church, some details are universal and quickly determine the first impression your church makes. Let’s look at eight:

The Front Door

Before a guest ever steps foot on your church’s physical campus, he or she has probably already checked out your church website. What every church should have clearly visible on their homepage is a section or button for first-time guests. Once clicked on, this should take you to a page that addresses FAQ’s, service times, directions, parking instructions (Is there a side of the building that is better to park on if one has kids?), what to expect (upbeat music and relevant, practical, Biblical preaching in a come as you are atmosphere, etc.), what to wear (Are jeans okay? Are shorts okay?), and encouragement for them to be sure to stop by Guest Central or your church’s Information Booth to pick up a first-time guest packet.

What Stinks?

It’s important that no church ever underestimates the sense of smell. While sight is the strongest sense for short term memory, the sense of smell is the strongest and most vivid for long-term memories. If you’ve ever smelled something and had memories you hadn’t thought of in years come flooding back, that’s your sense of smell in action. Every church has the potential for positive or negative smells. Mold is a bad smell. Coffee is a good smell. Bleach is a bad smell. Citrus is a good smell. Many churches have restrooms that are disgusting and smell like urine. This lack of attention to detail can be costly and discourage many from ever returning. As best you can, try to walk into the lobby or entrance of your church with a new nose.

Park Here

One of Tim Stevens’ three “growth lids” that he thinks every growing church should have is someone who is constantly watching parking. Tim says, “This is why Visitor Parking is so crucial. If it’s difficult for newcomers to go to your church, they won’t go.” Some would argue that guests want to remain anonymous and don’t want special parking. Of course some want to go unnoticed and will choose to park in regular parking (a minority), but for the rest of newcomers, they are appreciative for a close parking space; it’s a kind gesture in an already intimidating and nerve-racking experience of attending a church for the first time, especially a large one with a huge campus.

This Way Parents

One way to assure guests will not return is to have a confusing, long or hard to find process, for getting their kids registered and in the right classroom. Wise churches have signage for first-time guest kids’ check-in and make the process quick and painless. Regular attendees may know to go up to the check-in kiosk and enter their phone number or swipe their card, but guests will be clueless and need a manned station that is clearly marked for guests and have a volunteer walk them through the registration. Then have that person or another helper walk you to your kid’s class explaining what will be going on and how to go about picking their kids back up. If they must have a sticker with corresponding numbers on it to get their kids, this needs to be explained to them. Signage for the kids check-in should start in the entryway of the guest parking. Do not assume people know where to go once they enter the building.

Give It Away

Something subtle, but powerful is a church that has a generous spirit. Chris Hodges at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, AL is big on this. They have a coffee shop, but they also have a designated area where people can get free coffee and not pay anything. They also give away their message CDs. Too many churches charge for everything and wonder why no one buys CDs of the message. If you want to bless people and create a generous spirit throughout your church, give away free coffee and message CDs (and other surprises throughout the year). I know churches that will have ice cream trucks pull up outside the church doors and give away free ice cream to congregants leaving on a hot, summer day.

Security Counts

One issue that is huge to a secret shopper and visiting families is security. If a parent is worried about their child’s safety, they will not enjoy the service and will likely not return. A children’s classroom must be clean, safe and secure. Security also includes the check-out process. If anyone can walk into a classroom and pick up a kid, you’re asking for trouble and will turn off potential newcomers. It’s important that your kids’ volunteers are trained well and know to ask for the parent’s sticker when picking up their kids. This is vital and goes a long way to ensuring a tragedy doesn’t occur and a parent has peace of mind.

The Visible Pastor

Accessibility of the senior pastor is another subtle and powerful statement of a church. Even pastors of the largest churches in America make an intentional and strategic effort to be seen, greeted and hugged after a service. They may have a bodyguard present for security reasons, but they are available and willing to pray with people that need to speak to their pastor. Some churches have a designated “Guest Central”, like Steve Stroope at Lake Pointe in Rockwall, TX or Brady Boyd at New Life in Colorado Springs. Some have a “Meet and Greet.” Some pastors stand down at the altar and meet and pray with people like Kevin Myers at 12Stone in Atlanta. Some walk around the campus shaking hands like Don Wilson at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix. Erwin McManus at Mosaic LA has an “After Party”, at which the pastor is present and available to meet with newcomers. This, especially in a large church, goes a long way toward countering the rock star or unavailable pastor stigma that so many guests walk into the church expecting.

Finish Strong

It’s simply not enough for greeters and parking lot attendants to say “Hello” or “Welcome” when one walks into their church. To go to another level, have your first impressions team stationed at their posts when the service ends to say “Goodbye” or “Have a nice week”. This goes a long way to wrapping a bow around the entire morning experience and will send them off with a lasting positive impression.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but these are some of the most crucial things to have on your radar. I cover all this and more in great depth in my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper. You can check out that book HERE. If you’re interested in hiring me to serve you as a church secret shopper, go here for more info.

Look out for and be sensitive to these 8 things and you’ll see a greater return of second and third-time guests. Happy Easter!

*This article originally appeared in Outreach magazine and on Pastors.com.

I thought I’d take a look back at the most popular blog posts of 2016. Important to note is that there are a few that are targeted to pastors and preaching. There are also a few focused on Easter – which is good for this time of year.

There are also a couple on my church secret shopper ministry. You can go here to learn more about hiring me to evaluate your church’s weekend experience.

Also, please check out my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper – which goes into great, practical details on how to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

HERE ARE THE TOP 20 POSTS FOR 2016:

Leadership and the Power of Momentum

Ministry, Leadership, Worship, and Expectation

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Life, and Lies

Preaching and the Power of Imagination

5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

Digital Real Estate Matters

Always Point People to the Church Website

The Seasons of a Church Secret Shopper

Help Your People Say “No”

5 Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

7 Tips for Guest Worship Leaders

Easter 2016 Review and Learn

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Easter

Don’t Quit! We Need You.

Don’t Tell Me Men Don’t Sing

You Don’t Always Have to Hustle

Have You Ever Considered a Church Secret Shopper

7 Lessons from Peyton Manning for Pastors

99 Questions When Hiring a Worship Pastor

little-drummer-boy

Some close to me know my favorite Christmas song is “Little Drummer Boy.” Something about it resonates deeply with me.

I think we all long to see Jesus smile at us and know that he loves us just as we are.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

 

 

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The following are the results of the 2015 Pastor Survey conducted by ExPastors.com. I think you’ll find them very insightful. I also encourage you to participate in the 2016 Pastor Survey, which is currently going on and has new and improved questions to help us collect more data to better serve the ExPastors community. Please know these surveys are totally anonymous.

We wished to concern ourselves with getting accurate information on issues ranging from burnout and finances, to work hours and the demands on families With this objective in mind, we also chose to make our survey confidential and allow the option to answer basic demographic questions, the only exception being the initial question of whether the person filling out the survey was or was not currently serving in the role of pastor.

The 2015 Pastors Survey

Of the following, which is most accurate:
I am a pastor (170 / 62%)
I am an ex-pastor (89 / 32%)
I stepped away from the pastorate but am now serving as pastor again (16 / 6%)

At any time during your pastorate, have you doubted your call to ministry?
Yes (165 / 60%)
No (110 / 40%)

Would you consider yourself overworked?
Yes (166 / 60%)
No (109 / 40%)

At times, do you feel unable to meet the demands of the job?
Yes (222 / 81%)
No (53 / 19%)

Do you feel there are/were unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations of you and your family?
Yes (225 / 82%)
No (50 / 18%)

Have you ever considered leaving the ministry?
Yes (234 / 85%)
No (41 / 15%)

Do you constantly fight depression?
No (146 / 53%)
Yes (129 / 47%)

Do you consider yourself lonely?
Yes (174 / 63%)
No (101 / 37%)

Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout?
Yes (212 / 77%)
No (63 / 23%)

Do you have anyone you consider a close friend or someone you can share your struggles or burdens with?
Yes (207 / 75%)
No (68 / 25%)

Have you or a family member experienced a conflict with a church member within the last month?
No (158 / 57%)
Yes (117 / 43%)

What is the size of your church?
40-200 (147 / 55%)
200-450 (41 / 15%)
400-800 (28 /10%)
Below 40 (27 /10%)
800-2000 (21 /8%)
2000+ (4 /1%)

Next Step

Please fill out the 2016 Pastor Survey so that ExPastors.com may better serve you. Thanks.

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I recently turned 41 years old. The older I get, the more thankful I am for God’s grace, mercy, and patience with me. As we look back on Thanksgiving and forward to Christmas, I want to briefly touch on patience.

We just kicked off the season of Advent. Nothing represents waiting and patience like Advent. Just as the faithful of old waited for a Messiah and Savior, we now wait and watch for the return of Christ.

As a Christ-follower, I have had to learn to have patience and trust God even when I don’t see His whole plan.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:9

I have some big things currently happening in my life. After a year of waiting, wondering and wandering, I can finally start to see God’s hand at work behind-the-scenes. But it’s been nearly a year of waiting, praying, fasting, learning patience and trust.

Through it all, God is faithful.

Even when I’m not faithful, God is faithful. Even when I screw up, stumble and fall, God is patient with me. He never gives up on me and I am forever grateful.

Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me

 

 

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Each year around this time, I take an inventory of my life and I give thanks. I also take the opportunity to teach my kids about living a life of generosity.

I’ve taught my kids about giving, but giving is so much more than money. We are to give of our gifts, talents, and our very lives.

We should seek to be generous with everything we have.

I pray that this Thanksgiving you would teach those you love about living a life of generosity and sharing our lives with others.

Generosity is a way of life.

Take time to give thanks! And HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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I was watching football recently and was struck by something I’ve seen a thousand times, but it jumped out at me. I realized how far back the running back lines up behind the quarterback.

The running back is usually 5 to 7 yards deep from the line of scrimmage. It occurred to me that if he was directly behind the quarterback or the offensive line, he would have no momentum to run forward, but with his placement on the field, he has a chance to build up his speed and gain momentum.

Momentum is a priceless thing – in leadership, it’s essential.

Momentum is something that every leader longs for, but unfortunately, most don’t know how to create it or sustain it once it occurs. I was at Catalyst One Day awhile ago and got to hear Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel speak on the power of momentum.

Here are some of their thoughts from Andy Stanely‘s opening talk:

  • Businesses immediately respond when momentum decreases, but for some reason the church will ignore momentum declines for years as long as the bills are being paid.
  • Momentum is always disruptive, so it scares some churches.
  • Momentum is all about moving forward, which is why leaders like momentum.
  • If you lack momentum and you don’t understand these principles, you are one dumb decision away from losing it all.

Three components of sustained momentum:

New – Anything new, negative or positive, triggers momentum…

Organizational momentum is often triggered by one of these three things:

  • New leadership
  • New direction
  • New product

New doesn’t guarantee sustained momentum, but new is an essential trigger for momentum.

Improved – The new must be a noticeable improvement over the old.

Improving – Momentum is sustained through continuous improvement.  This improvement must be continually evaluated.

So pastor, what are you doing to start and sustain momentum? How much of momentum do you think comes about from the God-factor? How much does the leader help create? How much would you say are the work of us partnering with the Holy Spirit?

contempating

Do you talk to yourself?

I don’t mean when you’re wrestling through your taxes or walking through your to-do list. But do you talk yourself, really? When you are fearful, do you command your soul to trust in the Lord?  When your affections are low, do you command your heart to bless the Lord? As Paul Tripp is fond of saying, “No one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.”

In the particularly difficult moments of the day, how do you talk to yourself? How do you specifically exhort yourself to hope in God?

Psalm 103 has been immensely helpful for me as a pattern for commanding my soul in seasons of low affection. The Psalm begins (Psalm 103:1–2) and ends (Psalm 103:20–22) with David’s exhortation to his own soul to bless the Lord. While there is much to draw out of this rich text, I’d like to highlight two observations:

  1. Remind yourself of what the Lord has done

Sin, pain, or sorrow can blind us to God’s present work and, occasionally, even the miraculous ways He’s worked in our lives in the past. And while we might argue with our journal or with our memory, God’s work in redemptive history is unassailable. David helps us by reminding himself (and us) of God’s irrevocable work for his people in history:

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

David takes us (and himself) back to the most pivotal event he can think of. And it’s not in the valley of Elah with three smooth stones in his hand and a sling by his side. In fact, it’s not even an event from his lifetime.

Instead, David brings us back to Sinai (see Exodus 6:6–9). He brings us back to the moment when the Lord worked powerfully and victoriously and decisively to redeem his people out of Egyptian bondage. He brings us back to the moments when God demonstrated his covenant-keeping love.

In the fight to command our souls to bless the Lord, we not only call to mind the things in general that are true about the Lord (see Psalm 103:3–5), we follow David’s example to get our arms around concrete, unassailable realities of his work in redemptive history. We lift our gaze above our own circumstances and fix it upon the Lord’s acts of provision and deliverance in the past. We tell ourselves what God has done — in history, for us.

  1. Hold fast to a specific truth about the Lord

David does something very instructive next. Having reminded himself of who God is and what God has done in redemptive history, he latches on to a particular text, specifically Psalm 103:8,

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

David is quoting Exodus 34:6. At the heart of David’s self-exhortation (cf. also Psalm 145:8!), he has a particular text in mind — one frequently recalled by Old Testament authors in the midst of sin (Joel 2:12), sorrow (Lamentations 3:21–23), and pain (Psalm 86:15).

David, Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, Joel, Nehemiah, and Hezekiah — they all went here for help (Jonah 4:2Nehemiah 9:162 Chronicles 30:9). And David, having to mind this text, begins to spin out all its implications — God’s anger does not last forever, sin has been cast as far as the east is from the west, God’s compassion will not fail because David is his (see 103:9–19).

David is moved. A heart that was faltering is now soaring. A deeply wrought gratitude now swells up to expression. He cannot keep it in: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (see Psalm 103:20–22).

When you’re talking to yourself, are you reminding yourself of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus?

Do you have specific texts with which you exhort your soul? When the days are darkest, don’t let your soul take command. Summon your soul to bless the Lord.

Find specific texts by which you can fight the fight of faith — perhaps some short ones like these: Matthew 28:20Hebrews 13:5–6Isaiah 41:10) and long ones (Romans 8:26–39John 10:7–18; Psalm 103!.

“May the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . .” (Colossians 3:16).

  • The following was a post by Ryan Griffith that originally appeared on desiringGod.

Ryan Griffith serves as the Assistant Professor of Christian Worldview and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

  • Check out THIS video of Paul Tripp talking about preaching the gospel to yourself.

A photo by dan carlson. unsplash.com/photos/oTQVwECws8o

Believe the unbelievable.

Expectation is the act or state of looking forward or anticipating; an expectant mental attitude. The mindset and posture in which we should approach God are one of expectation. We expect God to show up, move, lead, and guide. If He doesn’t then we are simply leading in the flesh and won’t make an eternal difference.

William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

The innovative and strange leader expects great things from God. The innovative and strange leader leads by faith and is rooted in hope.

Christian artist, Steven Curtis Chapman, wrote a song entitled “Great Expectations.” Let’s look at his lyrics to the chorus:

Believe the unbelievable. Receive the inconceivable.

And see beyond my wildest imagination Lord, I come with great expectations.

Can we really “believe the unbelievable” and “receive the inconceivable?” Several years ago, I got to hear Joel Hunter preach at Buckhead Church in Atlanta. He taught on expectation and defined it as “a belief that is centered on the future.” Joel said, “We can expect God to be: available, wise, gentle and tough, patient, comforting, strong, and relentless.”

Does your belief in God to be wise and strong affect how you lead and make decisions? If God truly knows what is best, do we trust Him no matter where He leads and no matter what He asks and requires of us?

I wait expectantly trusting God to help for He’s promised —Psalm 130:5 (LB)

I pray to God—my life a prayer—and wait for what he’ll say and do. —Psalm 130:5 (MSG)

My friend, Steve Komanapalli, who used to be special assistant to Rick Warren and a pastor at Saddleback wrote a guest blog for me a while back. In it, he said, “A farmer doesn’t plant some seeds and go to Hawaii for a year! He spends the time anticipating, expecting a harvest.” He also encouraged my readers to check out James 5.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. —James 5:7

Steve went on to say, “If I’m going to wait, I need to wait confidently. Micah 7:7 says, “I wait confidently for God.” Rick Warren says, “When the outlook is bad, you look up. That is what hope is.” It’s confident expectation.

The God factor

To lead an innovative organization, you must lead from a place, posture, and mindset of faith mixed with hope in Christ. The difference between business innovation and ministry innovation is the supernatural factor. We seek to be led by the Holy Spirit and not just think up new ways of doing things.

Once you’ve done your part of prayerfully seeking God and reflecting on His word, you must believe God will answer, lead, and direct you and your team. As you know, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)

In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation. —Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

Psalm 5 is my encouragement to you, friends. Lay your requests before God and “wait in expectation.” This does not mean to sit on your hands and do nothing until you hear the audible voice of God. Sometimes we act, move or lead in expectation and anticipation of something we believe God has said or promised He will do.

If God has spoken to you through His word, His Spirit, or given you a vision for something, you should confidently expect God to move mountains on your behalf. Be humble and trust in God for the victory. Check out Ps 62:

I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. —Psalm 62:1 (NLT)

An innovative leader is strange, prayerful, bold, courageous, decisive, a risk-taker, organized, motivated, commissioned, visionary, and on mission— as well as full of faith, hope, and an expectation God is going to show up and come through.

It reminds me of the lyric from Delirious band’s song “My Glorious,” which says “God will save the day and all will say my glorious!”

Do you believe “God will save the day?” When you’re backed into a corner, confused, scared, nervous, or just plain don’t know what to do in a situation, where do you turn? Do you expect and anticipate God to answer your cry for help and lead you down a new trail of adventure?

I do. I believe God has a plan for me, my life, my mission, and my ministry. I believe He is listening to my prayers and stands ready to answer and come to my rescue when I sincerely seek Him. And He will do the same for you!

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. —Ephesians 3:20–21 (NIV)

 

*Parts of this post were excerpts from my book Strange Leadership.

rsz_fall_photo_of_life_and_benchesI have lived with fear and anxiety for my entire life. It’s exhausting. I used to think that trouble was around every corner and lay in my bed paralyzed from a panic attack. You see, I had believed a lie from the enemy. I thought that because my dad died of a massive heart attack at the age of 60, that I too could expect to live 60 years or less. It was something I had accepted.

When I got diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder in 2006 (I can’t believe it’s been a decade now), my psychiatrist at the time told me I was off the charts with anxiety and he had never seen anything like it.

This was after I had taken an anxiety test at one of the largest mental health and psychiatrists office in the United States (based in Dallas, TX) and the doctor that told me this was and is known all throughout the country and has been recognized by many mental health publications as having one of the top practices in the country.

My dad died when I was 21 and it was sudden. He had no prior heart issues. It so totally shocked and surprised me that I vowed that I would never be surprised again. Side note: It’s dangerous to make such vows. So, at the age of 21, I developed what they call “a sense of impending doom.” If my wife was late getting home, I thought she had been in a car accident; not only that, I had accepted it and started thinking about how my life would be without her.

If one of my kids was sick or going through a health crisis, I always thought the worst. When I had health issues, I always thought the worst and had accepted the lie that I would die young. This is how sick I was.

You see, I thought I could beat God “at His own game.” I thought I would beat Him to the punch-line and news that something horrible had happened. Remember, I vowed to never be surprised again.

My therapist (yes, I see a counselor and you should too) has helped me to see that anxiety is about control. I seek to control the outcome of everything and like I said, “It’s exhausting.”

I always joke that I become fully aware of this illusion of control when I fly. When the plane lifts off the ground, I feel helpless and I pray, “Okay God. My life is now in YOUR hands. Please guide this flight safely to my destination.” As if, I’m in total control of the events of life when I’m on the ground, but I allow God to control my life when I’m flying.

This sickness of impending doom and my lie about accepting “the fact” that I would die young started to crash around me at my church in Missouri. At this church, some of the biggest servants, partners in the gospel, healthy, strong, vibrant people in our church were over the age of 60. And not only that, they would ask me to pray for their parents! Say what? You still have parents alive when you’re in your 60’s?

These great men and women of God (in their 60s and 70s) not only served the church faithfully and ministered and prayed for me, but I went on mission trips with them to Haiti and they could do and lift things that I couldn’t do. They were stronger and healthier than me in my 30s.

Recently, I was at a retreat for consultants. I was by far the youngest man in the room. Every other pastor there was in their 60s and had been in ministry for 40 years or more. The man leading the retreat had been a consultant for 40 years. I was shocked. I came home and told my wife about these men that were still serving God in their 60’s and had not retired. Again, I had believed the lie that I was going to die at or before 60 because my dad had.

I was watching the second Presidential Debate on television along with tens of millions of other people and all I kept thinking was how sharp the minds of both candidates (who are about 70 years old) are. Say what you want about either politician, but they both were very quick-witted and knew every single talking point that they wanted to get across to the audience and the viewers from around the world.

I thought to myself, “Will I be alive when I’m 70?” and “Will my mind be as sharp as theirs?” I don’t know, but I’m going to live my life in such a way that I seek to be healthy physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I started exercising and eating right in the past year. I’m losing weight, seeing a therapist weekly and trying my best to be healthy in every way.

So, how have I made a complete 180 turnaround in my life and mindset? Well, it started by asking friends, family, mentors and godly men in my life to pray for me. It started when I opened up about my struggles. It started when I became vulnerable and asked for help.

I was at a men’s prayer gathering recently in Charlotte. (I go every Monday night) – I had a man come up to me and ask if he could pray for my anxiety and against the “spirit of death” hanging over me. I hadn’t told him anything and had never met the man before.

He prayed for me and I could feel God doing a work in my own spirit. The spirit of oppression started to lift as I settled things once and for all and stopped believing the lie that danger is around every corner, and that I’m about to die.

This man (who I had never met before) told me to read Psalm 118:17. Let me share it with you:

I will not die; instead, I will live
to tell what the Lord has done.
– Psalm 118:17 (NLT)

This is now the passion and cry of my heart. This is my mantra! This is my life verse. And guess what? I have never seen the man since. This took place half a year ago. I had never seen him before and I have never seen him since. God placed that man in my path and brought him into my life at just the right time – God’s timing. And I’ve never been the same.

Now, I look at life differently. Now, I plan for a long life with my wife and I take seriously saving up for retirement. I plan to see my kids get married and have kids of their own (which I never thought was possible before).

Why do I share such a personal story and open myself up to you like this? Because I think some of you, my friends, have believed a lie and may have a spirit of heaviness surrounding you. Maybe you’ve believed another lie from the enemy. Maybe you think because of your past, no one (especially God) could love you.

Hear me: Listen for the voice of truth and stop believing lies that don’t line up with the Word of God. I’m praying for you. I welcome your comments. I welcome your emails. I’m here for you. Your family and friends are here for you. And God is for you. He loves you. He’s close to the brokenhearted and ready to rescue you from the pit (Psalm 103).

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. – James 4:7-8

I just wrote a devotional entitled “Take Courage: Winning the War on Fear.” You can read it daily on YouVersion and The Bible App. I share stories and Scriptures that have ministered to me on my personal journey over the last two decades.

You see, I was 21 when my dad died. I just turned 41. I wasted two decades plagued by fear and anxiety and frankly, I’ve had enough. I’m walking in freedom and newness of life now and I pray you will, too. May you live life to the fullest!

Please check out my devotional and may God rescue you from your pit.