I’ve Been Watching You, Tom…

CJafsnmWcAMDNUH

*This took place the morning of August 27, 2015*

I need you to know I have been watching you closely the last few weeks.  I think it is time that we take minute and talk about what has been going on.  It might be hard for you to hear, but I need you to hear it. Not because I want you to feel bad.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I need you to hear this because I love you.  I care about you.  I’ve been concerned about you, and I don’t know that you have realized just how much those things are true.  It’s time for you to hear Me.

For the last  month, I have watched you struggle with holding it together.  You have been facing a lot of uncertainty about some of your dreams and whether they are coming to an end.  You have been struggling with concerns about the future and your kids going to college.  You have been working overtime to help your wife feel loved, supported, and important when it has not been easy for her to feel those things.  You’ve been concerned about your friends and how they are doing when you have not had the time or energy to contact them the way you feel you should.  You are worried about responsibilities and promises that you have made, and how you will follow through.  You feel like you are dropping the ball in many different areas of your life – Family, Friends, Work and more…

I know you feel that way because I have heard you talking to yourself about it.  (Do you  realize how much you talk to yourself?)  You look at your circumstances and you try not to grumble about them.  I know it isn’t easy, I’ve had hard times that I had to get through without complaining too.  You take an inventory and then you develop a plan and move forward.  You look at the results of previous attempts and try new things.  You really have a knack for banging your head against a problem, you know that?  I gave you that trait to see what you would do with it.  Sometimes, you are a little Relentless about some things…

As I watched you this week, I noticed that your attitude had started to slip a little more.  I saw a more cynical approach to your problem solving, the complaining was a little louder, and sadly, you started to let your temper slip with people.  I know you were feeling ragged and worn, but that doesn’t make it right.  I hoped you would realize that blaming your circumstances is nothing more than a crutch to hide a bitterness that is building in your heart against those you feel have wronged you even when they might not even think they have.  I know that sometimes you have to forgive people BECAUSE they don’t realize what they are doing.

Yesterday I think you hit the wall.  You reached a point where you knew that your actions haven’t been right, but you felt too numb to do anything about them.  You knew you were about to leave town for a couple of days, and I was pleased to hear you tell yourself that this might an opportunity to unplug from the normal and get your head and heart right.  I was excited about where this work trip might take you even though you didn’t want to leave home, and I don’t think you even believed for a moment that you would see any change.

So, this morning you left in the dark hours of morning and began your drive.  You turned on some music and just drove.  You also did something you haven’t done in awhile.  You were quiet.  You weren’t talking to yourself.  You just listened to the music.  That was when I was able to do something that I haven’t been allowed to do in a while.  I was able to speak to you.  I chose a song, but you heard Me.  You weren’t ready to talk to Me yet, but I could see that you had heard Me speaking into your heart through the words of this song:

As the song came to a close I heard something I had been longing to hear again.  Your voice speaking to Me.  You acknowledged that you needed Me. You told Me that you were hurting, struggling, trying to hold it all together and you needed Me, but then you said that you felt like I had left you alone to get through all of it.  You were tired, and you had been doing so much to try and understand and cope, to be heard, to be help to others.  Through all of that, you were sure that you had been alone, so I spoke to you again to remind you that I never left you alone for a moment:

You see, Tom, I was there the whole time.  I listened to you as you tried to work things out for yourself, pulling different strings and throwing different plans and ideas together to see what you could build that would be a help to your weary soul, for your family, for all the stuff you have going on in your life.  I listened, and I tried to speak to you through the loving words of your wife, through the book you have been reading, and even through the encouragement of your friends and people at work, but you didn’t hear me.  You were too busy building, and this morning you finally noticed that you had been building on something else instead of Me.  I was to be the Cornerstone that you build your life on:

I want you to know, that I saw the brokenness in your heart this morning as you wept.  It made Me hurt to see you in pain, but it also made Me happy to see your heart open to hearing Me again – that you were willing to acknowledge my desire to be with you and to work with you in the struggles of life and that you were willing to say that you couldn’t do it anymore and I would need to do it for you.  It’s what I have been waiting for.  I want you to feel My power working through your heart and soul, for you to listen to the wisdom of My Word as it changes your thoughts and gives you words to say.  That you would be willing to set your agendas aside and abandon yourself to My will and to trust Me:

It’s what I was waiting to hear, Tom.  I love you, and I forgive you for trying to go it alone.  You’re probably going to mess up and do it again, but I want you to know I AM here.  Forever and always I AM here, and I will never let you go.  Just look to Me and keep talking to Me.  You’re Mine, and I want you to share in the glorious things I am going to do.  Be Relentless in your pursuit of knowing Me more deeply.


 

This post has been a little different for me.  I might have shared more than some of you realized has been going on in my head, but maybe you did know.  I’m not sure.  You see, I think that with a few exceptions, I have been putting together a pretty good front in my struggles, but I was not fooling Christ.  He has been watching the whole time, and waiting for me to realize I needed to step aside and allow Him to come in and rescue me with the power and strength only He can give.

As I drove this morning, These songs played on my Pandora station, and I really believe that I heard Christ speak many of the words that are written above.  I have taken liberty to speak for Jesus in this post, but as I have gone through my day, I really believe that He was there, speaking to me as I finally started to put the pieces together.  I felt His loving correction for my stubbornness, and I believe that He was pleased.

Why did today work?  I think it was a combination of hitting that wall yesterday, a long drive with nothing that I really had to think about, and the choice to put some good music in my head this morning.  My playlist for this drive was random from Pandora, and “coincidentally” every song I heard built on the one before as Christ spoke into my heart to take me through the stages of lamentation, repentance, and restoration.  I can’t explain it all, but I know I have a peace that was not there when I left that house this morning.

Relentless Living requires a time to check in with God.  It’s not just a prayer at meal time, but a real time of worship through song, prayer, and examination.  I stumbled into that this morning, but I want to be more intentional about it moving forward.

Dear Reader, God is watching you too.  He is feeling that same yearning to hear you address Him in your struggles.  Are you willing to do it?  It takes a moment of humility, but let’s face it, we can all use a bit of that!  Please, if you could do one thing for me, take a block of time this week to be intentional about talking to and listening to God.  Also, please share this post with anyone else that might benefit from reading it.  My prayer is that it will be a help.

Picture3

Advertisements

Loving Pain

painThere are a lot of words we can use to describe heartache.  Despair, discouragement, stress, struggles, difficulties, trials, loss, hurt, and probably a few more before we even get into the actual causes of some of those heartaches.  Words like death, divorce, job loss, financial calamity, and acts of nature all bring a tug at our hearts because we all know someone that has experienced one or more of these even if we have been able to avoid them ourselves.  The one thing they all have in common is that they all bring some sort of pain into our lives.

Why?  Why are we asked to face these things?  It goes back to the old question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”  Why do innocent people suffer?  Why are we given these portions of pain that we must carry?

The simple, old-fashioned, answer is that we live in a fallen world. There is evil in the world that mankind introduced with his first sinful act. (Yes, I said his.  Adam failed his wife before she ever took a bite.)  Because of that, sin did enter the world and as a result, we are not living in the perfect, hazard free environment of the Garden of Eden.  The question I ask after that though is “What is the point of it then?”

I’ve heard a lot of answers to that question over the years, and I don’t want to sound cynical, but it is hard to hear them when you are in the middle of the pain.  They sound trite.  They sound too easy.  They sound insincere when the person has no idea what kind of pain you are dealing with.

A couple days ago, I stumbled across an article on Fox News that linked to an interview of Steven Colbert for GQ magazine.  Joel  Lovell interviewed Colbert about several different things, but one part of the interview really stood out to me as Colbert talked about the loss of his father and brothers when he was 10 years old.  Colbert was the youngest of eleven kids, and after the tragedy, he was the only child left at home with his mother.
Stephen-ColbertLovell asked Colbert how he could have suffered the losses in his life, but somehow still arrived where he is today, about to take over the microphone for the legend, David Letterman.  The thing that struck Lovell was not that Colbert did not exhibit anger or open woundedness, but that he appears to be “genuinely grounded and joyful.”  Colbert answered by stating that he did not want people to  think this was a pat answer, but it was because of his mom.
Colbert lost his father and two closest brothers in a plane crash when he was just 10 years old.  He would go on later in the article to say that it was “a bomb” that went off in his life.  In the aftermath he watched his mom cope with the loss, and the thing that hit him the most was that she was not bitter.  He said, “by her example I am not bitter.  By her example.  She was not.  Broken, yes. Bitter, no.”  He said he thinks that she drew on her faith in those horrible days of grief so that she would not be swallowed by it.  He also said that her faith may have been what allowed her “to recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy…what is sorrow in the light of eternity?”  What a phenomenal example for a mother to give to her son! To be open and honest with the pain, but also showing that it need not take over your life.

As Colbert continues, he shares that we need to remember that acceptance of a terrible thing is not the same as being defeated by it.  We need to be real and accept that a bad thing happened.  The “bomb” went off, and it caused a huge explosion, but he said that he learned to love the bomb because of what he learned through it from his mother.  He said. “That is why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons on-stage.  It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

Tolkien believed that death was not a punishment from God, but that it was a gift. God’s desire to give us a way back to Him makes that true!  Colbert echoes that belief today when he asks, “What punishments from God are not gifts?”  I believe that he really understands the crux of this through this last quote, “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude.  It doesn’t mean you want it.  I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

Let’s face it, we all have faced, are facing, or will face something terrible in our lives at some point.  It isn’t that God hates us, or that He has given up on us.  He has simply allowed it into our lives for the purpose of telling the story of His redemptive work in His most prized creation – us.  We go through things so we can help people go through things so they can help people go through things too, and it is all because God is working in hearts and minds for His glory and to help us grow.  That’s it.

I’m personally watching some people go through some of these things right now.  Some are near the point of coming out of the bad time, others have been in it for awhile now, and one in particular has just entered it.  I have also been able to see them all reaching out to each other for help or to give prayer support, and even to thank God for allowing them to suffer a similar situation so they could fully understand the hurt of another!  That is the answer to the question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”  It gives us the opportunity to be the hands of Christ in the life of another.

fogging-bombRelentless people living Relentless lives.  People who can see the importance of hurt, not to be a martyr or to gain sympathy, but for the expressed purpose of using it to help another.  I can say I have been on both sides of it, and it brings back all the pain when you enter into it with someone else, but I know the power of the love that flows from that person into me when I see that pain in their eyes as they share their hurt not to show me how they have gotten through it, but to show me that I can get through it.

So, the next time a “bomb” drops in your life, remember Steve Colbert’s words, “You gotta love the bomb.”  Remember these words too:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (ESV)

He has a purpose for each of us. Sometimes it will involve pain.  Embrace it. You will never know who God is planning for you to help one day.

Picture3

 

 

Tomorrow I Am Dropping a Load.

d0e3072a5eb59ceacee00b148c090c0cDo you ever get that feeling that you are carrying too much? That feeling like you have a heavy armload of something too important to drop, but you can’t find a place to lay it down? Before long, you can’t even move because of the weight of the load and the fear of dropping it paralyzes you.

You don’t get that feeling? Oh. I guess that it’s just me…

Lately life has had a lot of stuff going on for our little family. The weight has been heavy, and the spots to set things down are few and far between. To complicate matters even more, we seem to pick other things up along the way. Yep. Gluttons for punishment, we are!

Why do we do that? Well, I can’t answer for my family, but I can answer for myself. I think it is based on two things that are very different, but both lead to the same thing – a worn-out Tom! Why yes, I did plan on sharing, so here we go!

FEAR

Of what? Failure. Disappointment. Loss. Hurt. Damaging a relationship. Career suicide. Watching someone else go through pain. Being seen as “not good enough. Take your pick. Some days it is one or two of them. Lately it has felt like all of them at once at least once a week.

What do I do about it? Well, I have tried worry. That hasn’t worked out very well, even though it does seem to be the “go-to” method for most of us. I have found that all it does is make the fear worse. I’ve also tried thinking about other things. Surprisingly, the head in the sand approach will only work until you take your head out to get a breath, and then it all comes crashing back on you again.

HEROISM

What? How can heroism be a bad thing? Well, I think one of the reasons I have been so heavy-laden lately is that deep down, I want to be the guy that can come in and be a hero for someone. I hear of a problem, and I want to step in and take care of it. It sounds noble, but I am coming to understand something. Helping people is not a bad thing, but needing to help people might be.

When I overextend myself by helping people at the expense of my responsibilities, I am not making a wise choice. Instead, I might be robbing someone of a chance to grow and do new things just so I can revel in their adoration of me. (Was that too much?)

So, how do I stop this? What can I do tomorrow to drop a load that I never should have been carrying? How can I just let go and feel that release?

Look at who should own what I am carrying. – Some of the stuff that I carry is not mine to carry! Some of it I should be carrying, but maybe I am carrying more of it than I should. Is it that the other person is not doing their part, or am I just trying to take it onto myself for one of the two reasons above? When I figure out whose load I have, it is time to drop what is not mine and let that person have it back. It might take some apologizing, and grace, but I have got to let it go.

Look at what I am carrying. – Is it even worth carrying? I’m not going to make fun of “preppers”, but I am thinking that a drop in the DOW over oil prices should not make me start putting a bunker in my back yard tomorrow night. Some of the load just needs to be set aside because it is only impacting my life because I have refused to set it down. Bitterness, hurt feelings, concerns about the future. So many things that I cannot impact or influence. Do what I can, but drop the rest of it.

Look at what I might pick up. – Should I take this load on? That e-mail that might have had a snarky tone? The request for something that is simple enough for the person to do for themselves? Is it something that needs to be done? What do I expect to get out of it? Is it an option or an order? The ultimate measure of whether or not it should be done – will it bring God glory?

The last few days have felt quite heavy, but I am in a spot right now to drop the load. I want to live my life in a Relentless way, and that means I can’t carry everything. I just want to have what God wants me to have. He had asked me to take His yoke and pull with Him. If I am keeping my focus on God and what He wants, I will see more clearly what I should take up.

How about you? Are you carrying too much? Are you feeling a load on your shoulders that is slowly pulling you down? Stop. Take an inventory. Give it a hard look and see if you are carrying things that you shouldn’t and let them go. It is easier to fight the battles that come along when you aren’t carrying things you don’t need, and every day is a battle.

Picture3

Serving Closer to Home

1424375067663-2My wife and I found something out about ourselves a few years ago.  We love camp ministry.  Not just camping, but camp ministry.  We knew that our kids loved camp, but it was not until we started attending Bible Baptist in TC that we were able to get more involved in camp  ministry by becoming Camp Captains at Lake Ann Camp.  It was a great opportunity to get to know the kids in our church better and to give them opportunities to go to summer camp where they could have opportunities to grow spiritually and as individuals.

For the last five years, we have been doing that, and it has been a wild ride.  We have seen kids come to Christ, new relationships formed, accountability increase in the teens, and an excitement about camp grow as well.  God blessed the kids in our church greatly through that ministry, and we give God glory for it.

We have also seen a lot of changes in the camp and the people that we worked with.  We were able to build friendships with staff that were strong even though we did not have a ton of time to spend with them unless we were at camp with the groups.  It has been hard to say goodbye to many of them, but we rejoice in the short time we spent with them.

As this year was starting up, an opportunity began to present itself that would allow us to be a part of a camp ministry closer to home.  Less than 5 miles from home!  Needless to say we were excited about the chance to do so.  As things started to come together, we came to the conclusion that we will not have the time to support two camps with our time, and we would really love to be able to spend more time at the camp just down the road.

God has brought some of our best friends to this camp to serve as well, and while it is very different from Lake Ann, we see it as a very relevant way of doing camp ministry, and we are all really excited to see what God is going to do with it over the next couple of years.

So many details are still being worked out, but I thought it was time to say publicly that I will now be a part of ministry at Starwood Ranch here in Kalkaska.  I look forward to being able to be there as much as possible to help out and be used by God however He sees fit. You can expect to hear more about it as we get further into things.

A chapter of life has come to an end, but I am excited to see what God has in store for the next one.  It’s gonna be great!