The Only Time God Opposes You

Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was the United States General who led the coalition forces during the Gulf War. He once told a story of his first class at “charm school” which he attended when he became a general.

He and 35 other “one star” generals were all required to attend classes designed to help them get a broader view of their responsibilities as general officers of the army. The classes were also designed to teach them better manners and the political realities of a military that is under civilian authority (I guess that’s why it’s called “charm school”).

When the 36 men gathered there for their first session, they all expected to be affirmed as the best of the best the army had to offer. In the front of the class behind the podium stood the more seasoned general who would instruct them. His eyes grazed over his students a long time before he spoke.

When he finally began he said, “If you had all traveled here together in an airplane, and it crashed and killed you, do you know what would happen?” The young generals kept their eyes focused on him, hanging on his words. He continued, “We would go back out into the field and get 36 more colonels just as good as you to take your place.”

I love that story.  That general knew what he was doing. He just helped those men escape a trap. The trap that is Pride.

Pride is such a dangerous disease. It crawls into your mind and then spreads like a toxin into your whole body. It can make good men into fools. Let me warn you. Before you start elevating yourself in your job, or in your family, consider what the bible says about being proud:

Pride is dangerous because it not only causes God to resist you, He sets a battle against you….

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

To oppose means to square off in battle. It’s one thing to have an argument with a family member, but to have the Creator of the Universe designing strategies to humble you (in other words, bring you down)… Trust me, you don’t want that.

Pride is the precursor to calamity.

It’s like a road sign “Catastrophe up ahead”

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18 

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3

That is why we need good honest friends who can tell us if they see or smell pride on us. It blinds us. We usually can’t see it, but everyone else can. This price for pride is too great to be ignored. It will bring calamity on you and those closest to you.

So I encourage you, ask someone who knows you (and isn’t afraid to be honest with you) to give you a pride check. It will guard you in the long run.

Winning The Battle In Your Brain

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The table was a beautiful display of savory Chinese cuisine. Everyone was eating and laughing, having a great time. A good meal in China is about talking loud, laughing a lot, swapping stories, and enjoying each other’s company.

As we ate, I turned to talk to one of the pastors at the table to hear his story.  At one time, he shared, he had been a university professor. But because he converted to Christ, he was “dismissed” from his job.  He was forced to leave a prestigious career in Communist China to become a pastor in one of the underground churches. After losing his job, he was imprisoned and tortured. The guards beat him bloody and pulled out his fingernails. This was a man who had at one time been lecturing in the university. Here he was sitting at in a humble dining room laughing and enjoying his friends and openly sharing about his horrible experiences.

You’d assume a man like that would be bitter at somebody, maybe even bitter at God. But he wasn’t. I sat back and wondered, how did this man keep his mind from all that negativity?

My friend’s experience reminded me of the apostle Paul’s imprisonment in Rome in the first century.  He too had been beaten, nearly killed, and imprisoned for preaching Jesus Christ. Sitting in that cell, alone, after suffering such hardships, Paul must have had a serious war going on in his mind. But noticed how he decides to fight it:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything, worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

Dwell on these things, he says. Think about these things. Did you know that God could give you the ability to choose one way of thinking instead of another? If you let your mind wander freely, the power of your problems will dominate you thoughts. But God doesn’t want you to be subject to those things. He desires to give you a higher perspective. A godly one. That is a game changer. No more self-pity, no suicidal thoughts, no revenge. God is capable of making you win the war in your brain.

Here’s what He tells us to do…

Leave your old perspective.

…with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; Ephesians 4:22-23.

Ask and God will give you the ability to leave that perspective behind you and live a different way.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like to have control over your negative thinking and act different. When you ask God for a new mind, you set your past behind you and keep it from governing your life now. 

Get fit and stay fit mentally. We can’t just leave a perspective without picking up a new one. We need to empty our mind of the “flesh” mentality, and fill it with Holy Spirit truth.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13

There is a battlefield between your ears going on all the time. If you don’t have victory over it, it will drive your life into despair. If we want to live like Paul lived, or like my friend leading a church in China, we are gonna have to drop that destructive thinking and start thinking on God’s level.

How to Change The World

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He had this impression that he was supposed to travel to Rome.  Telemachus had never been there, and had never really thought about going. He was a relatively unknown monk in what we now call Turkey. Despite his hesitation, he followed what he believed was God’s direction and set out for Rome.

When he arrived, he was surrounded by the cheers and chants of the Romans who were headed to watch a fierce gladiator battle in the Coliseum. As he entered the stands in that great arena, his eyes fell on the unbelievable. He saw two men, clad in leather armor and girded with swords, fighting to the death while a crowd 80,000 screamed their support at the top of their lungs. Immediately, Telemachus knew why God had brought him there. In admirable and God-given courage, he walked down to the battle floor and stood between the two Gladiators.

“In the name of Christ, forbear!” he roared. “In the name of Christ, forbear!” He said a second time. The stadium began to quiet as the crowd focused their eyes on this thin and scraggly figure in priestly robes. Once more he cried out, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” This time, the stadium heard him loud and clear. Instead of pity, the spectators erupted in indignation. How dare this man interfere with their entertainment! One by one, they picked up rocks and chucked them towards Telemachus and stoned him.

Telemachus stood there and refused to defend himself as the stones smashed his head and broke his arms and legs. He refused to return their hatred with hatred. When the Romans saw this, something incredible happened. Silence once again crept into the crowd. Someone in the stands stood up and walked out. Then another followed him. And then another, and another. Soon, the stadium was empty. Their in the center of the massive stadium, the lone Christian lay in a pool of blood as a symbol of change. It was a sacrifice in the name of peace.

That was the last gladiator fight in the Roman Coliseum.

Throughout history, the Church has ushered in changes in cultures across the globe. The Christians were the ones who started hospitals and clinics around the world. Christians founded Harvard, Yale, and Princeton as centers to train men and women in the ministry.

I am so proud (the good proud) to be a Christian. What a heritage we have! Our heritage all starts with Jesus, our leader, who set the agenda.

How do we change the world?

  1. Christians are not just people trying to do good. We are designed by God to be influencers for good to the world.

    You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14,16

  2. God has built us to serve others. When we serve, we are following His model.

    For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

    I find that truth invigorating! We are created and set on a God ordained timeline to help others, our community, and our world, and see real change happen in people’s lives. That’s our calling.

  3. Christians are members of an ever-multiplying, ever-expanding family. What began at Christ’s resurrection with just a handful of followers in Jerusalem, has exploded to almost every corner of the globe. The number of people who call themselves Christians today is between 2.2 and 2.5 billion. Jesus told Peter he was going to build his Church, and guess what? The Builder continues to build.

If you’re a Christian, you are not just a member of some social club. This isn’t just some hobby to pass the time. You are part of a movement for change. Godly change. A movement that began when Christ was raised from the dead and will continue until He returns.

Nice Guys DO NOT Finish Last

I grew up thinking that living a Christian life meant giving into living a “less than” life.  It was as though if you really wanted to do something great or live a life of true success, the last thing you would want to be is a Christian. They don’t have any fun! They follow all those rules, “Don’t do this!” and “You can’t do that!” I thought being a Christian meant having a dissatisfied life. I mean, I thought it meant I would have to be a missionary in Africa with an unhappy family and live on pennies a day!

It all changed for me when I met men who loved their wives and wives who loved their husbands. I could see that they truly enjoyed each other’s company.  Their kids loved and respected them. And I saw how they prospered. One man who I became friends with did very well as a banker, and unlike so many people I knew, his family was a place of joy for him and not of stress. This challenged my idea of what Christianity looked like, and I started to change.

Of course, that was God’s plan the whole time. He was showing me a biblical principle through the life of my friend,

The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Again and again, I would run into men and women who chose to humble themselves before God and serve Him. From the outside, most would say they lived a fortunate life, but the truth is, they lived a “blessed” life. There’s a big difference there. Good things would happen for them that just didn’t happen to others. There were spiritual laws working in their lives changing their character. Principles that cannot be broken. The principles can break (i.e change) a person, but a person cannot break the principle.

Humility

At the end of the day, what separated these people from the rest of the world wasn’t what they did, necessarily. It was the position of their heart.

But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. Psalms 37:11

God Himself has said that one who humbles himself will enjoy a better life and receive things he/she does not earn. They become God’s children and become part of an inheritance. But just as their humility brings them under blessing, the opposite is true for the proud person.

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

That means God sets up a battle plan against the proud. Like lining up toe to toe on the scrimmage line. And trust me, you want God on your side next to you, not across from you.

How do you humble yourself?

Fear God

The fear of the Lord will keep you from doing things that will destroy your life, your marriage, your health, your soul.

How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You. Psalms 31:19

The truth is, God is a ruler. Not an elected official, but a King with absolute authority. But the beauty of it is, people who have come to accept that God is in charge have discovered that God is a good, kind, patient, and loving ruler. He’s not some malicious tyrant waiting for you to slip up. He wants what is best for you, and will make things work in your favor.

When you submit yourself and fear Him, you’ll live the true Christian life. A life of limitless favor and blessing.

A Heroic Response to a Hard Life

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I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for hero stories.  I don’t mean Marvel heroes, I’m talking about movies with men and women who face big trouble and then do something courageous. Those stories inspire me. What did they do when the bottom fell from under them? How did they handle betrayal? What did they do when the people who should have supported them let them down?

There is a story like in the scriptures. There was a man who was the youngest of eleven brothers. He was dad’s favorite. If you have a sibling like that (or maybe YOU are that sibling) you know what can happen. The ten brothers were full of jealousy. It seethed in them every time their dad showed him favor.  One day their resentment overtook them, and they planned to murder him (yeah, this was more than your standard soap-opera jealously). Fortunately, at the last minute the oldest son convinced them not to kill him, but instead to sell him as a slave.  

That youngest son, only 17 years old at the time, was taken far away from home and enslaved in a foreign country. A new language, a new culture, and now a slave to a family he knew nothing about.

But Joseph had one advantage, he honored God.  

For the next 13 years, his life was was a constant sway between favor and trouble. He would prosper in a job, and then be betrayed in the same job. At one point, after his boss had given him the highest position in the house, he was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. As he sat there in that grimy dark prison in the Egyptian desert, he could have focused on the good times he had had with his dad. He could have chosen to sulk in the memories of his pampered childhood. But like a compass that always points to true north, he continued to honor God.

The Heroic Choice

Honoring God was like a rhythm in his life. Because he honored God, God would honor him and change his trouble into favor.

When Joseph was 39, a full 22 years after his brothers sold him into slavery, those same brothers showed up needing food for their families because of a massive drought that had hit the land. Because Joseph had seen God’s help over all those years, instead of anger and revenge, he responded with mercy. Despite all the difficulties in his life, Joseph had overcome them. Joseph, to me, is a true hero. Look at how he overcame adversity.

 1. He kept his head clear by continually serving others. Even when Joseph was thrown in prison, he begins to serve other prisoners and the warden. 

The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper. Genesis 39:23

What do you do when you are rejected and demoralized, when those close to you abandon you? When that happened to Joseph, he found a place to serve.

 2. He believed that His God would make trouble work for his good, especially in times of testing.

He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in iron; Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the Lord tested him. Psalm 105:17-19

 3. Lastly, Joseph understood God was sovereign, and so he chose to live for His honor. For that, God rewarded him. That action of honoring God and receiving His blessing is is a universal law. Look at what the Lord tells us,

…for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. 1 Samuel 2:30

Let me encourage you. Honor God in everything you do, and you’ll see a reward that surpass all the trials life brings your way.

From Corrupt Politician To Man Of God

He got the maximum sentence.  He was convicted of obstruction of justice. They called him, “The evil genius in an evil administration.” After spending his life building a political empire, everything came crashing down. He went from briefing with the then President, to being handcuffed and headed for prison. Worst of all, it all happened on the evening news. All America saw it. His career was more than just ruined, it was dead and buried. “The bigger they are,” people say, “the harder they fall.” If you were watching this tragedy unfold, you would have probably judged this man as we all did, as a failure.

Except for one thing.

The previous year, Chuck Colson had become a real Christian. Chuck pleaded guilty when he was convicted at the height of the Watergate scandal. While in prison, this new born Christian began to take what seemed to be a failure and turned it into a blessing. He began to fail forward.

Failing Forward

He saw the great need of prisoners for God’s mercy and a changed life, and he set his attention to develop a ministry for them.  Chuck Colson devoted much of his life after his release from prison to his ministry, Prison Fellowship. It became the largest prison ministry in the nation. He wrote 30 books and received 15 honorary doctorates. He founded a Christian worldview teaching and think tank forum called, Wilberforce Forum. His life in Christ did not just “make up” for his failures. He lived an incredibly memorable life that influence many even today.

How was Chuck Colson able to turn something so terrible into a tool for greatness for God’s kingdom? Notice the steps he took,

He admitted his mistakes. The first step to failing forward is admitting that you failed. It requires true humility, but it is the only way to move forward.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Proverbs 28:13

Humbling yourself before God invokes a mercy from Him that you need for the rest of your life. Otherwise, that failure will define you.

Chuck allowed the pain of his consequences to work for him.

Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts. Proverbs 20: 30

Chuck Colson never went back to his old life. He chose to learn from his mistakes. When Christ set him free from his old life, it set the stage for the life of doing the impossible.

Above all, what I learned from Colson’s story is the amazing truth that God can take a ruined life and rebuild it into something greater than it was. Imagine that. A life once destroyed by one’s own doing becomes a life giving source for millions of people around the world. And Chuck Colson is just one story. God is doing this all the time. And He can do it for you, too.

He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:3 NLT

How To Be A Better You

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He sat in front of a prestigious and famous Admiral who would become known as, “The Father of the Nuclear Navy.” The Admiral was known for his high standards of excellence.  The young candidate sitting before him was a recent graduate of the Naval Academy who had graduated and done well in his studies. When the Admiral asked him about it, his chest swelled with pride as he said, “Sir, I stood 59th in a class of 820!” He sat back smiling, waiting for the congratulations. He was surprised when instead the Admiral asked him, “Did you do your best?”

The interviewee was aghast. He started to say, “Yes, sir,” but as he thought longer about the question, he came to realize that as successful as he was, he hadn’t. He tugged at his collar and gulped. “No, sir,” he admitted, “I didn’t always do my best.” The Admiral then asked a question the cadet would never forget. He leaned in close and fixed his eyes on the young man and in all seriousness asked, “Why not?”*

The question had a powerful effect on the man. He was so struck by it that it, it inspired him to author a book titled, “Why not the Best?” A book that became a stepping stone to a larger responsibility. He would eventually become the 39th President of the United States, President Jimmy Carter.  

Take the Challenge

President Carter took the challenge for excellence to heart. He realized that excellence is not working to be better than others, it is working to be better than you. It is working to do your best, to be better than you were yesterday.

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes him rich. Pro 10:4

President Carter became the President of the United States because he didn’t work with a negligent hand. He took the rebuke from the Admiral, decided to change, and lived in the reward of that change. Here are some lessons I learned from President Carter’s pursuit of excellence.

Excellence builds rulers. This is clearly the case in President Carter’s life. A man who goes above and beyond his job description will become an influencer.

A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers. Pro 17:2

Excellence in work gives leadership potential, and the opposite is also true. Take a look at what Proverbs tells us,

Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor. Pro 12:24

Men and women who work with excellence end up ruling over those who don’t. You know why? Because no one wants to work for a person who is lazy. No one wants to have to rely on someone who is apathetic.

The pursuit of excellence is an attitude. It causes us to crash through quitting places. Consider Paul, who was imprisoned for being a Christian, beaten almost to death for his faith. He was still encouraging others despite his hardships:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14

Let’s learn from our former President that excellence is not being better than others, but striving to be better than we were before. 

* Reader’s Digest, October, 1993, page 104

 

Be The Best at What You Do

It seemed he had a special luck to him. No matter who his boss was, whenever there was a change in management, his influence grew.

Everything he put his hands to worked out well. He committed himself to doing his work to the best of his ability. No sloppy work – that his rule. No “whatever” attitude.  Never, “well, it’s good enough” thinking. Because he functioned like that, each executive over him took notice of it. If there were ever any layoffs, they made sure it was definitely not him. People he worked with said he had an excellent spirit. Whatever he put his mind to, he did it with excellence, and consequently, he was always on top.

The man’s name was Daniel.

And if you live like Daniel, you really will rise to the top. But to be frank, something else comes with the territory. We call them enemies. Truth is, if someone has an excellent spirit in them, they will be loved and admired by many, and hated by a few.

Enemies, ugh! Such a nasty word. But let’s face it, there will always be those who want to pull you down if you excel and succeed. They will see you as a threat to their laziness and mediocrity. When Daniel excelled, his enemies sneered and hissed at him. “It’s not fair!” they cried. “Why does he always get noticed and not us?!” Their jealousy was so dense, it blinded them and led them to act out in vengeance.

It wasn’t like Daniel had a natural talent for his job. There wasn’t anything special about him other than his spirit of excellence. Those angry politicians who despised Daniel came up with a plan to “put him in his place” as it were. They manipulated the emperor to create a law that would punish those who worshiped Daniel’s God.

But here’s the thing, even when Daniel broke the law in order to live out the Christian life, he was still blessed. He still came out on top because Daniel’s God protected him.

I encourage you to read to book of Daniel and see how his pursuit of excellence opened doors that would have otherwise been closed. You’ll find that pursuing excellence is hard, but it always benefits you. As it says in Proverbs,

The hand of the diligent will rule, But the slack hand will be put to forced labor. (Pro 12:24 NASB)

I really like what Vince Lombardi said about excellence, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Regardless of what you’re doing, do it with greatness.

When reading through Daniel, you’ll also find that excellence is equal opportunity employer. Anyone can be excellent in what they do.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men (Col 3:23 NKJV)

When I was young, a mentor gave me this piece of advice, “find what you love to do,” he said, “and do it so well that people will pay you to do it.” Do your work out of your heart. Chose to love what you do, and do a job your proud of every single day.

I think the last lesson Daniel teaches us is that there will be those who hate us because we pursue excellence.  You just can’t please everybody as I’m sure you know. So I challenge you, be excellent anyway. You and those you love will reap the benefits.

The Line That Separates Success From Failure

Excellence is the difference between the “good” and the “best”

The line between success and failure is really more like a road. It is well defined and clearly visible (and believe me, it’s not luck).

There are real reasons why some achieve and others fail. There’s a principle that has always been at work that separates those who excel in their calling, with their family, and social environment and those who come up short. And this principle that separates the two is both simple and not so simple. It has always been and will always be.

It’s the principle of excellence.

What does excellence look like? Let me give you an example. One person takes a job and does what they are told and nothing more. When the boss asks for something else, they balk. In fact, they are a little put off that they are being asked to give more than expected.

But there’s another person who always gets to work before the time required. These employees do more than is expected of them, and they do it better. They aren’t afraid the boss will have some new idea to implement. In fact, they keep an eye out for how to improve the business and come up with ideas themselves! They break the comfortable mold of mediocrity and choose excellence. And since time began, it has been those who have chosen excellence who succeed where others failed. Choosing excellence is not just a smart idea, it’s a biblical mandate.

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men. Proverbs 22:29

“Don’t settle for average” Jesus told us “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” Matthew 5:41. Strive for excellence by putting these things into practice.

  1. Always give more than is expected. Even if it seems like a small thing, do not be afraid of doing your best. When you do little things well, you’re practicing excellence for when the big things come, and I guarantee your excellence in the small things will be remembered.
  2. Work at being consistent. Keep in mind that people don’t remember how fast you did a job, but rather how well you did the job. Whether you like it or not, your name is tied to the quality of your work. Keep a good name by doing good work.

    Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom. Ecclesiastes 9:10

  3. Serve the people in your life with excellence. People want to be around those who care for them. When you do a lousy job or help them begrudgingly, guess what? They don’t feel that you care. Instead, do the best job possible. Did they ask you to help bring in the groceries from the car? Help put them away too. That kind of excellence will help bind your relationships for the long haul. And remember,

    Don’t be selfish, and don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

Get Remarkable Change in Practical Steps

There was a time when I did not want to go home. If I walked through that door, I just knew there would be another confrontation, and all I wanted was to avoid it. How did it get this bad? What happened?  She was regularly mad and frustrated with me, and things weren’t getting better, they were getting worse. My marriage was in trouble, and I didn’t know what to do.  “It shouldn’t be this way!” I thought. “I’m a pastor!”

Looking for resources to help us, I found a small group class in a city an hour away from us.  The class was a bible-based study of what God says about marriage.  The class made crystal clear what the bible said about the role of the husband and wife, the vision of a covenant marriage, and how to love each other. Every Monday we would drive for an hour, attend the class for an hour and a half, and then fight all the way home.

But the more we went and heard what the Bible said, and the more we let the godly people rub off on us, the more we changed. The change so radical, it saved our marriage.

When you’re looking for change, remember these practical truths.

  1. Listen to what the scriptures says because it does something in your heart. In that class, it was as though the scriptures gave us power. A power to change.  It did something for us we could not do on our own.

    For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. [Heb 4:12 NLT]

     

  2. You need the influence of godly people. Listening to stories from others about how God worked in their lives and marriages truly encouraged us. The truths from the scriptures were challenging, but seeing it in the lives of others, and receiving their prayers for us, gave us the courage to obey.

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other. [Heb 10:24-25 NET]

I saw how these two things, the Word of God and His people, had always been His chief resources for creating change. Both of these things were stronger than my will power, and helped us make wise decisions. 

You see, God provided Christian community so as to help you follow His Word. The scriptures inform us of what godliness looks like, and then God lovingly brings us into the community of other Christians so that we can walk in that godliness

So I dare you. If you are looking for change, read the scriptures and seek out other Christians. The rest will be history.