Perspective Shift

Vertical-Church-Log2587CF31-1
Borrowed from Harvest Bible Chapel and their Vertical Church resources.

See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

– Ecclesiates 7:29

This week on our Porcupine Mountains trip, I have had the chance to spend a lot of time outside and enjoying creation.  We have hiked mountain trails, walked through old growth forest, crossed rivers, and swam in Lake Superior – a lot!  All of this time in such a pristine environment has really made me think about what it must have been like in the Garden of Eden.  I saw all of the decay and rot in the woods, and I know that man has been trudging around there for centuries, but it felt so clean and untouched.  It was lush, green, and full of life!  The Garden was like that, and man had been put in charge of it all.

Man was formed by God’s own hands, was given his breath from God Himself, and was even created in God’s image as a reflection of His glory!  He was intended to live a life in close relationship with God, to know Him, be with Him, worship and glorify Him.  Where did it all go wrong?

John Wesley eludes that a lack of contentment was a factor:

“(Adam and Eve) Were not contented with their present state, but studied new ways of making themselves more wise and happy, than God had made them.”

We still do that today.  It is sad that just like us today, Adam and Eve were searching for a complete life when the fullness of that life was right there.  We look for life in the transient things rather than in the sufficiency of God and who He wants to be in our lives.

I have been reading Vertical Church by James MacDonald this week, and while He wrote it in regards to the church, I am a part of the church, and this book is very easily applied to the life of an individual as well.  MacDonald would probably agree that Adam and Eve were looking at their lives with a horizontal perspective rather than  a vertical one.  When we do that we will drift away from God.  It doesn’t happen quickly, but it is a subtle shift filled with “good” things that pull us over time. Eventually we have drifted so far from God we struggle with guilt, habit, and regret that will keep us from going back.

So, what am I supposed to do about this verse?  Well, I see it as a call to a Vertical life.  A shift in perspective that requires a new action in life.  Horizontal living is passive, but Vertical takes work!  It means being purposeful. Intentional.  Every moment of every day is a chance to be Vertical!

This week I have come face to face with my need to get Vertical.  I see there are several areas in my life that could improve if I did get Vertical:

  1. My own walk with God
  2. My relationship with my wife and kids
  3. My career
  4. My friendships
  5. My church

These are all important, and that is where I have always struggled.  I keep working so hard at trying to keep the right priorities that I don’t get any of them done the right way and I go horizontal.  And as Solomons said at the beginning – that takes us downward. So, the first step is to see the problems with my prioritization of life events:

  1. Discipline – I struggle with making myself do the thing that needs to be done.
  2. Discernment – It is sometimes very hard to pick the right thing to be doing at any given moment.  I’ll let the urgent get ahead of the important.
  3. Distractions – There are many things that pull at my mind.  It isn’t so much that it takes me completely away from a task, but it will pull a part of me away that will keep me from doing a task to the best of my ability.
  4. Delight – Some of the things I have to do are just not things that I want to do.  It might be that it is not fun, or that the “payoff” is negligible or so delayed that I lose heart in it.
  5. Doubt – Is the thing I am doing even worth doing?  Does God even care?  Is He going to come through on His end?

These five things that I struggle with show the horizontal thinking that I have been struggling with and how it has infiltrated just one aspect of my life – prioritization.  I wish that was the only thing it had gotten into, but it’s not.  I have many more of them, and some of it goes back a very long way.  Evidence of it comes out in the most unlikely places, but that is a story for another time.

It all boils down to this.  I am a man.  I was created by God, and while I have a sinful nature, my innermost being longs for what Adam had in the garden with God.  While I will never know what it is like to live as a sinless man, I can choose to not live a life with a horizontal perspective that will lead me downward in my character and away from God.

I can choose to live Vertical.  I want that lifestyle!  I want to think of God being at work in all aspects of my life.  I want my thoughts to be on Him and how the things I do impact the Kingdom.  That is my goal.  All I have to do is keep looking up!  Focus on Him and what He wants FROM me as well as what He wants FOR me, and seeing all of that in light of what His Son has done FOR me and Continues to do IN me and THROUGH me.  It should all come back around to Him!

I hope these thoughts impacted you in the same way they impacted me.  If they did, I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to message me or leave a comment below.  It would also be nice to encourage each other as we go Vertical!

In HIS  Grip,

Tom

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Reputation

reputation7 A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.  In the same way, the day you die is better than the day you are born.

 -Ecclesiastes 7:1 New Living Translation (NLT)

One of the things I am enjoying the most about this vacation is the chance to sit in the morning and listen to he waves as they hit the shore.  I admit I was hoping for some bigger waves as I have never seen Lake Superior this calm, but the sound is soothing, and it is a great place to sit and meet with God in the morning as I read, pray, and journal.  I wish I had a spot like this at home.

So as I was continuing in Ecclesiastes this morning I hit chapter 7 and was a bit confused at the first verse.  The first half made sense, but as I read the second I hit a wall.  I was not sure how the day I die is better than the day I was born.  (At least for me anyway. I am sure there are some people who think that will be a fantastic day!) Combine that with the phrase, “In the same way…” and you can see my confusion.  I started to read on, but I kept coming back to that verse as this was something that I needed to look at and chew on.  Well, I am not a seminary student, but this is what I believe God gave me from the verse.

Reputation and Death

We all earn a reputation during our lives.  Some of it we want, and some of it we don’t, but when we leave this earth, that is all we are going to leave behind.  A reputation is something that we earn through our responses to the events of our lives. It is the choices we make in how we treat people, how we conduct ourselves, how we react to the hard things, the way we help people.  All of these things culminate in our reputation, and they all require one thing – action.

Our lives are full of working on our reputations.  It is a 24 hour job whether we realize it or not!  We can decide what we want to focus on, but we can’t choose to decline reputation building.  There is only one way to get out of it and that is our death.  When we die, the struggle for reputation, position, notoriety comes to an end.  We are who we were.  Our memory may fade away, but we aren’t making any  more changes.

Perfume and Birth

Perfume was originally used in ancient times as a way to give an offering to gods.  We read in the Old Testament how incense was burned in the Tabernacle and then the Temple to God.  Eventually, perfume became something different, and people started to use it to cover up their body odor.  It became a mask to prevent people from “sensing” certain things about you and your bathing habits.  It was a false representation of a reality.

When we are born, we are “perfect” in the eyes of our parents.  we coo, giggle, and laugh.  We do all sorts of cute little things that make us appealing to those around us, but when you think about it, we are still harboring within us something that is bad.  We have a sin nature that is there underneath it all, and we are going to have to come to grips with that some day in the same way that a person wearing perfume will eventually have to face the fact that they need a bath!

I realize that a baby is not consciously covering a sin nature, but the truth of the matter is that it is there.  There is something there that will eventually come to light, and it will have to be dealt with.

So, What?

I have a reputation.  I am working on it right now as I write this blog.  I will be working on it later today as I tour waterfalls with my family.  The question is who am I working for?  I will leave a reputation behind me one day, and I want that reputation to be one that brings honor to God, not me.  I want people to look at my life and say that they saw God working in it.  I want people who come in contact with me to be changed for the better because of what God is doing in me.  I want to continue to grow and learn from others through relationships.  I want to be real and not a perfumed fake!

When I die, I want a legacy left behind rather than a clean slate.  There are so many possibilities in youth, but the experiences of life are what really matter.  I am finding it strange as I grow older that while I might miss the stamina of youth, I would not want to go back and repeat it.  There was fun, but there were a lot of painful lessons as well. I’m smarter for them, but I would not want to repeat them.  Why go back? There are still things to learn, and there are still choices to make.  There is still a reputation to be built.

I started out this morning very confused by a verse, but I am now very encouraged by it.  I have a real life, and facing the reality of it is better than a fake life or a life not yet lived.  God is with me, and He is guiding me even when I struggle with that fact. I’m just thankful that He cares enough about me to continue to work on me for His glory.

I hope this made sense to anyone who is reading it. Comments and discussions are always welcome!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Let’s Have Fun!

IMG_2705For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to  kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

The last few days I have really been thinking a lot about the importance of the moment.  Some of it might have something to do with the reading that I have been doing in Ecclesiastes.  Solomon comes back time and again and talks about how we need to enjoy where we are rather than focusing on where we could be.

The picture at the top of this blog was done by my daughter the other night while we ate supper.  She had started to draw a horse, but she made a mistake and said she needed something she could see to draw.  I said use me!  So, she began and this was the result.  I am always amazed at her ability, but that evening I was amazed at something else.

As we sat there around the table and watched her draw we were haveing a great time talking, laughing, and just really enjoying the moment we were spending together.  I think this is something my family is very good at, but it is something that I personally struggle with.  We were just having fun and were completely engaged with each other.  I can honestly say that it was the most fun I have had in months, and it probably has made the top 10 in my life!

Why?  Why would sitting at a table in a cafe just north of Buttcrack, MI watching my daughter doodle on a placemat bring me such joy? More importantly, how can I keep doing it?  I have been thinking a lot about that the last couple of days, and this is what I have come up with:

I was THERE! – I was completely in the moment.  I was focused on my daughter’s drawing ability, on her insecurity when something didn’t look right to her.  I was focused on my son as he cracked jokes about how big my head was in the picture, I was watching the smile on my wife’s face as we all “played” together.  There was nothing on my mind at the time other than what was happening at that table.  It was a moment of complete joy and a family memory was born that will never fade.

It was IMPORTANT! – So many things pull at my mind in the course of a day. Even on vacation I think of work, things that need to be done at home, what we need to accomplish today.  I have even already had the thought of how I am going to pack the truck for the trip home, and that is 5 days away!  How sick is that?  The thing is, while those things do have a level of importance, they are minor issues unless I make them major.  At that time, the most important thing in my life was seeing the happiness of my family, and it made a huge impact on the moment.

It was a MOMENT! – A moment is not a life, but my life is made up of moments, and how I live each of those moments will define my life.  A moment doesn’t take a lot of time, but I tend to think of a moment as some amazingly huge integer of time that cannot be wasted by thinking of only one thing!  Truth is, they call it a moment because it is not a significant amount of time, but so many important things happen in a moment, and you will miss them if you are not paying attention.

Today, August 20, is my 19th wedding anniversary.  I am married to an amazing woman, and we are so much alike in so many ways.  One of the ways we are alike is that we are both big picture people.  We are dreamers.  We are planners. We are organized.  This trait gives us the ability to work together to accomplish some amazing things as a couple.  I’m so thankful for a wife that I can do those things with! We “get” each other!

However, the other night at dinner a light bulb went on in my mind as I saw something in her that I do not have.  Tammi has the ability to pull back from the big picture and see the moment.  She sees the importance of taking the time to be completely engaged in what is going on in front of her.  She sees the importance of what is important!  Maybe this is why she seems to smile a lot!  (She says I scowl a lot, but I never see it!)

So, I have something new to work on.  While the big picture is important for keeping a life on track and organized, I need to do a better job of shifting gears to the moments that make up my life.  That is where life happens. That is where the joy is found. That is where I will look back one day and say I had a good life.  That is giving everything its season in my life.

I’m so blessed to have spent the last 19 years married to this woman given to me by God.  She has taught me so much, and I know that is why God has given her to me.  I’m thankful that I know her better now than I did 19 years ago, but I know that there are going to be many more moments in our lives that will allow me to know her better!  It is going to be a fun life, and I want to do a better job at being there for it!

How about you?  Are you living your moments?  I hope this makes you think as much as it has made me think.  Feel free to let me know if you have had a moment that you can look back on as a real moment of life!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Surrender

surrenderThe last week of July I was fortunate to be able to be a part of a Senior High adventure trip to the beautiful Upper Peninsula.  It was filled with a lot of laughter, fun, great food, and some new games.  We took kids to Tahquamenon Falls, Mackinac Island, the Lake Michigan shore, and a rock quarry for swimming.  I have never been with a group of twenty kids for 3 hours and heard them laugh as much as I did at that quarry.  It was a fantastic trip!

One of the things that we did was to put together a series of “chapel” times at night and in the morning where we would discuss five topics and the importance of them in the life of a teen today.  We talked about Respect, Wisdom, Grace, Destiny, and Perspective and how mastering these five “Life Threads” would provide them with:

  1. A healthy Respect for God and the people He has put in authority over us – like it or not.
  2. Wisdom in how to face the trials of life when they come – and they will.
  3. Grace to overcome the hurts that people put us through time and again by realizing that we are recipients of the grace that God has given us for hurting Him time and again.
  4. A sense of Destiny as we learned that God has a plan for our lives, and He will nudge us toward that plan.  He wants us to come to Him, and He has certain things that He wants to see us accomplish
  5. A godly Perspective as we view the world around us. The world has lost its moral compass. And there are so many things that are eagerly jumping up to grab the attention of our kids today, and even though things are more blatant than they used to be, it is still the subtle things that pull us away from God and lead us astray.  We need to see the world for what it is, and see God for who He is!

So, we had some great teaching, but this year we also added the element of a worship time.  I’m going to brag a little bit here, so hang on and bear with me.  It will come back around the right way!

This year my son Zachary brought his guitar and together we led worship for the group.  It was so much fun seeing him do so well at something he loves to do (play the guitar) and to be doing something together that we both really enjoy (music).  He is growing as a young man, and is starting to flex his leadership qualities a little more.  He is still young, and is going to make mistakes, but I am so blessed that he is doing so much better than I was at his age.  I can’t wait to see what God does with him.

One really neat thing about Zach leading the worship is that we brought a new song to the group.  We sang it at almost every chapel, and then on our last night when we sang it, I shared with the group that the song had been written by Zach.  They were all really impressed, and I know that positive feedback did something really good to Zach’s confidence.  I can’t wait to see how that pans out moving forward!

Here are the lyrics to the song:

“I Surrender” – by Zachary Tanner

 Verse 1
We say You’re in control,
But do we mean it?
I’ve said it before,
But I just don’t feel it.
I don’t want to give up the reins.
We say God is good; God is great,
But do I trust You with my fate?
It seems all You give me is pain.

Chorus
God, I surrender.
I give it to You.
No matter what, I know
You’ll pull me through.
You know my story
You know what I’ll do
God, I surrender.
I give it to You.

Verse 2

It’s easy to say.
Not so easy to do,
Especially when things take the place of You.
We call out to family and friends.
We stew in anger, but we just don’t see,
Maybe we should call out to Christ the King.
And do what Your will intends.

Bridge

I give it all to You, my God.

I give it all to You.

I give it all to You, my God.

I give it all.

After we got back from the trip we saw several of the teens posting comments on Facebook about the song, posting lyrics from the song, and had leaders from the trip tell us how that song is stuck in their minds.  Someday we are going to sit down with Zach’s guitar teacher and we are going to record it so we can share it with more people.

I see the song as not just something I can be proud of my son for writing, but something I have started to see in his life simply in getting to the point that he would be willing to get up in front of people and share his gift with them.  He struggles with that, but he has been working very hard at surrendering his fear to God and allowing God to strengthen Him to do things outside his comfort zone.  I think that sometimes he feels like I am the one giving him the “strength” because I just force him to do it, but I am seeing a growth take place in him – bit by bit.

The song is striking a cord in me as well.  I’ve shared with people the struggles of growing up in a legalistic church where religion was used as a rod on my back, and it put a lot of disrespect for the church and distrust of church leadership in my heart.  I have seen some terrible things done to people in the name of “godly interest.”  I was not allowed to think for myself, to ask questions, or to do much besides blindly follow.  I felt many times like my life was nothing but surrendering what I wanted to do in favor of something that somebody else said I should do.  Surrender is not what I thought it was.

Surrender is a yielding of my strength, wisdom, desire, and direction in favor of someone else’s.  It is a voluntary thing that shows a heart that wants something better than the current situation.  I don’t have to surrender just the things I want, but I can also surrender the things I don’t want in my life.  That is what God is asking for when He asks us to surrender to Him.  He wants us to enter into a trusting relationship where we can delight in what He has for us rather than what we can do in ourselves.  He wants us to give Him access to the things that are holding us back.  Sometimes we realize it, but sometimes we don’t.

Our lessons were about Joseph, and when the topic of Joseph was chosen, the words to Zach’s song were not in my mind.  When we decided to debut his song on the trip, I was not even thinking about how the message of the song tied in so well to Joseph’s life.  Joseph lived a life that had a lot of pain and betrayal, but he lived a life of surrender to God.  He knew that God was taking him somewhere, and in the end, he was able to say with confidence that God meant it all for good.

I’m thankful for the opportunity we had to share the message of Joseph and the 5 life threads.  I am thankful that Zach was able to share his song and that it had an impact on the teens.  I am thankful that I get the opportunity to not only have fun, but to work with youth and with good people.  The trip is one of the best trips I have ever been on, and the things I took away from it are going to stick with me for the rest of my life.

So, how about you?  Is there something you need to surrender?  Let it go.  Give it to God.  He’s got a better way of handling it!

If this was encouraging to you in any way, I’d love to hear from you!   Feel free to comment below.

In His Grip,

Tom

P.S. – By the time I am posting this on Monday morning I am face to face with the need to surrender some stress that has been thrust upon me in the form of water well issues and some disgruntled people outside of my home.  Taking the time right now for prayer and asking God for peace in my heart and mind and for wisdom in handling the things that  must be handled.