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The Hard Work Of Freedom

In our previous post, we talked about 3 Reasons We Become Slaves. All of us have found ourselves bound to something at some point. The question is, what does it take to be free?

Freedom has never been achieved simply or easily either as a country corporately or for yourself individually. It does not matter if you want to be debt free, free from an addiction or escape a situation you feel has you bound. If you want to live a life of freedom, there are some specific things it will require. Here 3 things that you will need in living the life of freedom.

You Must Be Intentional

Freedom does not happen by accident. You must be intentional. Living a life of freedom must be done on purpose. The majority of people who are stuck in a situation want relief and may even find it temporarily. But to live in complete freedom, it will require you to be intentional about every decision you make: how you spend your money, with whom you spend your time, what activities fill your calendar. Rarely will we stumble upon the answer or some random act that solves all of our problems. It will not be a single decision either. One decision may put you on the right path but true freedom will require you to consistently make the right choices every day. Depending on how severe your situation is, it may require intentional decisions every minute of every hour. Your path to freedom will be lined with purpose.

It Will Require Patience

This is the hardest part for most people. We can make a decision to change things in our life. We can even start in the right direction, but we struggle with the patience it takes to achieve freedom. I have seen this play out in my own life at times and in countless other people as well. You rarely get into debt overnight and it is unlikely you will get out of debt overnight. That addiction will take time to defeat. Your health will require time to improve. Your marriage will get better over a period of months and years. Your few intentional decisions will not solve everything instantly. Freedom is a journey more than a destination.

You Will Need Help

It is rare for us to achieve the freedom we need alone; we usually need some help. This may come in the form of a course or book or it may come from a counselor or friend. A small group might offer us the encouragement we need or the guidance that is necessary. Whatever form help comes in, it is necessary for us to achieve freedom. Help gives us advice and offers us accountability. It gives us guidance and helps us stay the course when we are ready to give up. Most of us have some weakness or blind spot that has caused the problems we are attempting to solve, so finding the right people to walk along beside us will be critical to our success. We can get into bondage all by ourselves but we will rarely get free from it alone.

I want to encourage you today that no matter what your situation looks like, you can achieve the freedom you desire. Be intentional. Have patience. Get the help that you need. A life of freedom is the life you want to live.

3 Reasons We Become Slaves

Slavery is a strong word. It automatically conjures up images of human slavery in the United States many years ago. For some it reminds them of the struggles of human trafficking that are prevalent around the world today. We think of abuse and chains and the injustice of it all. But slavery is not just limited to human oppression. Slavery affects almost every single person.

All of us have found ourselves in bondage. For some it has been addictions or bad habits. For others it has been debt or unhealthy relationships. Bound by something from which we want to be free. Recently, I read a verse in the Bible from Proverbs that says “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.” (Proverbs 12:24 NLT) Hard work solves a lot of problems in our lives. I will address some of the benefits of hard work in the next blog, but today I want to talk about the reasons why we find ourselves enslaved to certain things.

Why do we find ourselves in situations where we feel trapped. Places we want to get out of but just can’t seem to break free. It is easy to have all of the solutions when we are not the one wrestling through a problem or addiction. When we find ourselves in those places we often get frustrated because we don’t know how we ended up there. We wonder “How did this happen to me?”. There are a lot of reasons why we find ourselves enslaved to things and situations. Here are three that might help you identify what happened in your life.

 

Need

Sometimes we have legitimate needs. Sometimes there are wants that we have confused with needs. But our needs often can put us in a situation where we feel trapped. Two of the most common places where people are enslaved are debt and substance addictions. The interesting thing is that legitimate need can lead to both of these. Sometimes we have a legitimate medical need that creates medical expense debt. That same medical need may require a prescription to pain medicine which for many can lead to addiction. The medical situation needed to be attended to but it had unintended consequences.

There are other times our perceived needs have landed us in some very unfortunate circumstances. We may have believed we needed to get married or we needed certain friends only to get those things and find we had chosen poorly out of what we thought was need. Poverty places people in some precarious places just by trying to survive. It is one of the drivers of human trafficking as people are just looking for a way to support their family or feed themselves. Need can lead us to places we don’t know how to escape.

Ignorance

Sometimes we just do not know any better. The Bible consistently refers to debt as slavery. It may be the most common thing that people get themselves into and then struggle to get themselves out of. Unsuspecting young people are preyed upon by purveyors of all types of goods with the promise of low payments while enjoying the benefits only to discover that the payment is more of a burden than the enjoyment of the product. People go to college and get into debt with student loans expecting a high paying job at graduation only to discover that getting a job is not as easy as they thought and the pay not as much as they hoped. These things often happen out of ignorance. We connect in a relationship and have no idea the track record of a person. We are just oblivious to situations or the consequences and we end up trapped and have no idea what to do about it

Laziness

Though need and ignorance can land us in some difficult spots, the majority of our problems come from laziness. I don’t mean we refuse to work or do nothing, it means that we are lazy in the things that have caused the problem. There are very few situations in which a little hard work, discipline and dedication would not solve. This is true of poor relationships, substance abuse, debt, health issues and many others. Many of the things we struggle with are just a reflection of the places where we have the least discipline and put forth the least amount of effort. We don’t budget. We don’t exercise. We don’t communicate. We don’t get help. We don’t follow through. It is not because the problems cannot be solved, we just don’t put forth the effort to solve them. Hard work doesn’t solve every problem but it will solve a lot of problems.

What has you trapped today? What led you to that place? Are you in danger of taking a path that could cause you problems later on. Being aware of the things that lead to being trapped may help you avoid some undesirable situations.

4 Reasons We Fail To Do The Will Of God

If you are a follower of Christ, one of the things that is a part of your faith is to know the will of God for your life. What does God want me to do? Where am I supposed to be? What is my purpose? It is something that deep inside, we all want to know.

The question that I want to address today is what keeps us from doing what we already know to do? It is one thing to have no idea what God wants you to do, but it is a different situation when you know, yet choose to do something different. Are their common reasons why people choose not to follow the path God has for them? Are there some common experiences all of us have in responding to the will of God?

I believe there are some common reasons why all of us struggle to live out the plan of God for our lives. I would contend that these reasons also apply to people not of faith, though you may not acknowledge the last one as valid.

Uncertainty

This is probably the first thing that trips us up; we are just not sure what we are supposed to be doing. Uncertainty will keep us from taking any action. When we are not sure, we usually do nothing. We feel like a deer caught in headlights paralyzed over which direction to take. We take none and get ran over.

Fear

Fear can bring life to a grinding halt. We are afraid we are going to do the wrong thing. Afraid doing the right thing will result in a disaster. Afraid of what people will think. How people will respond. The consequences if we are wrong. We are afraid that even if things turn out perfectly, it will be so drastically different from what we know now that we will not like it. Fear is a real obstacle to doing the will of God.

Attachments

I was not sure what word to use here, but attachment seems to sum it up best. We become attached to people, places and things and those attachments create difficulty in doing anything that may potentially separate us from any of them. Debt is another attachment that hinders us from living out our purpose. Letting go of what we have to receive what we need is one of the hardest things we will ever do.

Sin

It is has been said that the greatest gap in the world is the gap between knowing and doing. Often the very thing that keeps us from living out the purpose and plan of God for our lives is just deliberately ignoring things that we know we should have abandoned long ago. Rarely have I been surprised when I missed what God wanted me to do. Way too many times it has just been because I liked the poor choices I was making more than I wanted to do the will of God.

Why do you fail to do the will of God? Which one of these resonates most with you? If we are aware of where we consistently get stuck it will help us get past that obstacle and fulfill the purpose and plan God has for our life.

What Happens When We Are Stirred?

In the church tradition that I grew up in, the word “stir” or “stirring” was commonly used. You would hear phrases like “I feel a stirring in my spirit” or a prayer that might include something like “stir our hearts Lord”. From a spiritual perspective we all need stirring from time to time. Recently I have found my own spirit being stirred. The struggle has been that stirring does not not always mean the same nor does it necessarily create what we were hoping for. Stirring muddies things up instead of making things clearer. As a matter of fact, I have found that stirring rarely brings clarity as much as it brings awareness.

Being “stirred” has a different meaning for every person. Stirring may create things in your life that it does not in someone else’s. The outcome of you being stirred may be completely opposite from the result that someone else gets from being stirred. Here are four ways that you can experience stirring in your life.

It Can Cool Down or Rekindle

Stirring can cool something down or it can rekindle a fire. Hot liquids are often taken through a stirring process to cool them down while coals that are about to go out are stirred to rekindle a fire. Something that is too hot is not as useful and something that is supposed to be on fire but has gone out is not effective. Sometimes stirring in our lives is cooling us down to a more useful state while at other times it is rekindling a fire so that we can be used again.

To Combine Things

The first thing that comes to mind is a liquid that has separated, but there are so many other times when stirring is used to combine things. This method is frequently used when cooking. When a new ingredient is added, the mixture is stirred until it is completely integrated. Often new things need to be added into our life and we are stirred until that new ingredient is fully integrated. Without the stirring we would not have the unity.

When Something Moves

“Well, you are finally stirring” is heard quite often in a household with teenagers. It is a sign of life or a sign or movement. Occasionally, the stirring we need is just to get moving again; evidence of some sign of life. It is so easy to find ourselves on the sidelines of life while everything passes us by. Sometimes we just need to be moved.

To Provoke

I can relate to this one as I have been called a “pot stirrer” from time to time (I have probably been called a stirrer of something other than a pot as well). I find humor at times in provoking people. There are times when this can be harmful, but there are other times when people only act if they are provoked. Sometimes our stirring is a provocation to get us to do something – to respond. Otherwise, we just passively ignore things that should matter. Many of the greatest movements in history came because someone was provoked. Provocation may be the stirring you experience.

I don’t know if you are experiencing a stirring in your life right now or not. I am, and I can see several of these things playing out at one time. At least now you can refer back and understand that stirring comes in different ways for different results. What you are experiencing today may be pushing you toward the one thing you need the most in your life right now.

How To Fix A Fight

The last couple of weeks I have been sharing about tensions in relationships. We have talked about things that can lead to a fight and the anatomy of a fight . Though none of us want to end up with a relationship conflict, we need to be able to deal with the fallout when it is over. I hope that the previous articles have offered you some insight that will help you avoid some of the major conflicts that you could have in your relationships, but in those instances when it was not avoided, there are some things that I think you should do after the fact to try to fix the damage. Here are three things that can help you when you find yourself in those unfortunate moments.

Apologize Quickly

We all want to be right. No one wants to be wrong. But if we have arrived at a place where we have a major conflict or a fight in our relationship, there is usually plenty of blame to go around. The sooner you apologize the quicker you can begin the healing process. I know some people say that actions speak louder than words, but this is one instance when that is not true. Apologies are the starting point to reconciliation. It is the recognition that something is wrong and needs to change. You cannot apologize too soon after a conflict.

Speak Kindly

Undoubtedly there have been plenty of unkind words spoken in a fight; a lot of things that should never have been uttered. After apologizing, it is critical that we are intentional about speaking as many kind words as we did hurtful ones. There may be a need for silence, but it cannot last forever. We need to speak up with words of healing and affirmation. Words are a vital part of starting a conflict and just as important in overcoming one.

Be Affectionate

Every man just read the word “sex”. This may include sex, but that is only a part of it. A simple hug can speak volumes that words would never be able to explain. The touch of a hand or a head on the shoulder communicates loudly to our partner that we love them and care for them. The gentlest touch can resolve more tension than a thousand words. AT&T used to have a slogan “reach out and touch someone”. Being affectionate is critical to the resolution you need in your conflict.

None of us want to find ourselves in a major conflict, but we do. When you find yourself there, these three things will be invaluable in resolving the issue and moving on with life. I hope you don’t have to use them often, but when the time comes, I do hope you will.

The Anatomy Of A Fight

Last week I shared the things that I feel lead to a fight. All of us have seen at least one of those things lead to conflict or a fight in one of our relationships. We have seen minor things escalate into something that should have never been; things that could not be taken back or recovered. Sometimes all that is left behind is hurt and pain that remains for days, weeks or even years that we cannot seem to heal.

What if we could recognize where something was headed and stop it before it became a fight or a major conflict? I believe that if we know how things escalate and evolve, it will help us identify what is happening and hopefully help us avoid some of the pain or frustration that is experienced. Here is what I call the anatomy of a fight.

Disappointment or Misunderstanding
Usually everything starts with a misunderstanding or a disappointment. Something does not happen the way we expected it to. We take something one way when it was meant another way. The right thing is said at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Suddenly, we have a misunderstanding or we are disappointed. Almost every conflict in our marriage could be avoided if we could correct it at this stage. If we could overlook a disappointment or if we could clarify a misunderstanding we would not proceed to the next stage or end up in a major conflict. Most of this is dependent upon us to take the necessary steps to deal with it immediately. The longer we wait, the more likely it will escalate.

Tension
You know what I mean. As they say, “you can cut it with a knife”. Nothing is said at this point, it is all attitude. As a matter of fact at this point very little is said. Tension is that way. This is often the place where one person is attempting to get the other person to recognize there is a problem. Though it has gone a little farther than a disappointment or misunderstanding, it is still solvable and certainly an avoidable major conflict. This requires us to be self-aware of our own actions and considerate of the other person involved and their feelings. Unresolved tension will only grow until the silence is gone and the words are unleashed.

Unnecessary Words or Actions
Up until this point there has been the opportunity to move on and avoid a fight. Once this place is reached, a major conflict is close at hand. Once the silence of tension is broken, there is rarely any turning back. We have usually rehearsed and recited the incident, and possibly a few others, in our mind while the tension has been building. Often there is a trigger that pushes us over the edge and once that first word is breached, we can’t seem to help ourselves. Not just any words; they are usually hurtful and unnecessary words. We may even act out in ways that raise the conflict to a higher level. This is usually met with more of the same from the other side. It is at this point if we do not become aware of what is happening, long term damage can be done by something we say or do.

Anger
You might be thinking when you read this one word that you were angry well before now. I am not talking about being angry. You can be angry and get over it. However, when we allow the emotion of anger to settle in our hearts toward another person, it is not resolved easily. Usually this is the place that over time causes people to walk away from relationships. They no longer care what you say or do to work towards reconciliation – they are just over it. Anger is so very dangerous. It is one of the few things listed in the Bible that gives a foothold, or a place, to the devil in our life. It is not just dangerous for the relationship or for the other person, it is dangerous to us. Anger can destroy us before we even know it. Almost every situation is repairable, but at this stage, it will require work.

Fights are not uncommon. We all have disputes and conflict from time to time. A little awareness though can make that a little bit easier to manage and possibly even avoid. There is nothing like looking back after a conflict and thinking how much time and energy was wasted by simply failing to clarify misunderstandings or overlook a disappointment.

Things That Lead To A Fight

Every relationship has conflict. Some people call it fighting. Other people call it a disagreement. Whatever name you call it, there is still conflict in relationships. This is nowhere this is more evident than in marriage. I have had a few married couples in my lifetime try to tell me they never have conflict. I heard one speaker respond to this by saying, “then one of you is unnecessary”.

Sometimes conflict is necessary especially when there is an idea that needs to be refined or an issue that needs to be addressed. However, there are many times when we have conflict in our marriage that is unnecessary and could be avoided. It is the unnecessary conflict that I usually have the most regret about. Time lost. Words spoken. Things you can’t take back and usually over something very insignificant.

What leads to that unnecessary conflict? There are a lot of things that can cause a fight or dispute, but here are four of the most common things that will lead to unnecessary conflict in your marriage.

Unspoken Expectations

Everyone has expectations. We have expectations for our relationship and our spouse. The problem is that many of those go unspoken. Just because you have said it does not mean they have heard it. Thinking they will remember or follow through on something that you said in passing or when you were frustrated is probably expecting too much. If it is important, you should take the time to share with them when it is not an issue and at a time when they can pay attention to you. Many of our expectations we never express. We just go through the relationship frustrated because we have expectations that are not being met yet have not been communicated.

One of the most common unmet expectations deals with sex or intimacy. During premarital counseling, one of the questions I ask is “how many times do you expect to have sex each week?”. It is a little awkward, but the reality is they both have an expectation. If her expectation is once per week and his is three times per week then they have sex two times per week, she thinks she is exceeding expectations while he is disappointed and she doesn’t understand why. Verbalizing what your expectations are can help you avoid conflict in just about any area of marriage.

Assumptions

This connects to unspoken expectations. Often we assume they should know. In our mind, since it comes natural to us or it is important to us, then it must be important to them as well. Nothing could be further from the truth. The things that are naturally important to me are not so much so with my wife, and vice versa. If either of us assume the other will do what is important to us, then we will constantly have conflict. There is nothing more frustrating than to make an assumption about something that is important to you only to find out they were completely oblivious to what needed to be done. You have probably heard some form of what happens when you assume. If you haven’t, Google it. It is true way too often.

Attitudes

Another common thing that leads to unnecessary conflict is our attitude. When our spouse’s attitude is not quite right, we take it personally. We think it is directed toward us or is about us, when often that is not the case. When our attitude is wrong it doesn’t take long for everyone else to get theirs out of sorts as well. Sometimes, we are not aware of the way we are speaking or acting. Other times we do not work as hard on our attitude with our spouse as we might at work or in other public settings. The tone of our voice. The expression of our face. The body language that we have. All of this sends a message to our spouse and they are responding to it. When our attitude is off kilter we may say something that leads to an unnecessary conflict.

Timing

Just because it needs to be said or done does not mean it needs to be said or done now. Just because it is true does not mean the timing is right to say it. There are a lot of factors that should be considered when saying something to your spouse or taking an action, but timing has to be at the top. Have you ever said exactly the right thing at exactly the wrong time? It was true. It needed to be said. It was something that should have been addressed. But the timing was completely wrong and it had little or no positive effect. If anything, it had the opposite effect. Timing matters in relationships. Too many unnecessary conflicts have happened in marriage because our timing was off.

What things start unnecessary conflict in your marriage? I suspect these four make your list. Maybe you have some insight into some other things that lead to a fight. If so, share them with us in the comments section. If we can be more aware of these things, it will reduce the time we waste in conflict that is unnecessary.

How Do I Prepare A Sermon?

One of the questions that I commonly get asked is, how do I prepare a sermon? So today,  I want to give you a look into how a sermon comes together. It is not just a one-step process. Rarely do I have a stand alone sermon. Almost everything is connected to something else in some way. Let me take you into my world for a few minutes and share this process with you.

The Big Idea

Most series ideas are brainstormed in a group setting with the church staff as we talk about what we feel are our biggest needs, where we believe God wants to take us and what He is wanting to say to us. We will discuss broad themes as a group and nail down 5-6 things we think are needed for the next twelve months. Occasionally we will deviate from this process. Last year I felt a real desire to preach through the Pentateuch, so that was the focus for 2018. These themes are usually discussed at our semi-annual staff retreats, with series titles usually being decided as we get a little closer to that date.

Options

After we have a big idea, I begin the process of fleshing out the options within that framework. If there is a specific topic, I look at as many verses and stories in the Bible that relate to that topic as possible. I prefer stories instead of single verses as it is easier to explore an idea in a story without abusing context. Recently, my assistant Tyler has taken the role of sorting through many of the stories and verses. For example, for the Pentateuch this year, Tyler went through and divided each book into about 20 sections to make it easier for me to sort through. From there I choose which ones we will preach from on Sunday.

 

Theme

Once we have our options, I begin looking for a theme or an approach that ties the stories or topics together. In a recent series on Joseph, it was clear to me that there was a tension in Joseph’s life with every blessing that he received. So every sermon in that series examined a blessing and a tension.

Basics

On my weekly task lists, I have a portion called “sermon basics”. Essentially, it is dividing up the week’s sermon into the main points I want to tackle during delivery. It is a basic outline. Essentially, this is what will go on the screen for everyone to see. It usually includes titles and verses. I try to be two or three weeks ahead with this portion of sermon preparation. This allows our campus pastor at Bertie, or one of the other staff members who may be preaching, an opportunity to begin to get their thoughts around a sermon ahead of time.

 

Reminder

On Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. I read the sermon basics several times so that I start the week thinking about the next sermon, not the last sermon.

 

Outline

I preach with an outline on my iPad. Some people use manuscripts. However you choose to take on this portion of preparation is fine by me. By the time I preach it, the outline is mostly for reference to a quote or statistic. I try to have a the full outline completed on Tuesday evening prior to preaching on Sunday. Usually there will be changes throughout the week, but this will be the meat of what will be said on Sunday. This allows me to begin to think through how this should be delivered every day that week.

 

Outline Touch Up and Quotes

Saturday morning, the first thing I do is make sure the sermon is polished. I highlight any quotes I want to make sure are mentioned and I send those to Alyssa, our media pastor, for social media. I take out things that don’t work and adjust things that need improvement. I read through this a few times Saturday morning.

Read It Again

The last thing I do before I sleep on Saturday and the first thing I do when I wake on Sunday is read through my outline. This ensures it is the one thing on my mind while I sleep and while I am getting ready. I want that to be the only thing I have to think about on Sunday morning. I protect Sunday morning by doing simple things like setting out my clothes the night before. It is the only day I do that. It is simply to keep my mind clear.

So there you have it; a little peek into how a sermon makes it to the stage on Sunday. It doesn’t just happen. I would guess before a sermon is preached, there is at least 30 hours put into it as a group or individually. Maybe this insight will help you while preparing for something you are doing. Delivering a sermon is one of the highlights of my life, but it takes work to get there. But that is true with anything we want to do well.

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About Me

I currently serve as Lead Pastor at Open Door Church and I am a certified trainer & coach with the John Maxwell Team. I am also an Associate Trainer with EQUIP training leaders around the world. I currently own two businesses related to the foodservice equipment industry. I am a certified speaker, teacher and coach with the John Maxwell Team. I can offer you workshops, seminars, keynote speaking, and coaching, aiding your personal and professional growth through study and practical application of John’s proven leadership methods. Working together, I will move you and/or your team or organization in the desired direction to reach your goals.