Halfway to 88? Happy B-Day to Me!

Wow.  I am 44 today.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  What is that “oldest age” you ever really pictured yourself as?  Do you remember?  It seems like I do, and it was right about here.  44 years old… (I don’t see that as any type of foreshadowing about what this next year holds, just kind of funny that it popped into my head this morning.)

This last year has been a crazy one, and it looks like I am poised to do it all over again.  Time to give a quick little breakdown about what has happened, what is happening, and how I hope I Relentlessly respond to it.  I like to share since I tend to stay more accountable to some of this stuff when people know about it.

Health – Well, as far as the diabetes goes, I am doing better than great.  My doctor actually stopped me in the hall the other day after my bloodwork hit his desk and gave me a hug.  If you knew my doctor, you would be amazed!   I have kept a normal blood sugar since my diagnosis, have stepped my meds down, and kept my weight down.  I also am showing great numbers in the cholesterol and triglycerides.  Probably the healthiest I have been in 20 years in that regard.

New challenge.  Just found out I have two herniated cervical discs.  Not sure what the treatment will be yet as I am waiting to get in to see the specialist.  Pain is terrible, and I feel basically useless.  Hard to enjoy the above success when I feel this way, but I am pressing on.  My son asked me the other day what the lesson God has for me in this, and I have been thinking about that a lot since He asked.  I still don’t have a solid answer, but I am wondering about something.

I have often wondered if I am modeling a life of dependency on God for my family and friends to see.  I have other friends who I look to and think that they are so dependent on God, and I wish I could be that way too.  Maybe I am starting to model it because my son is asking me what I learn from the trials I face.  He has heard me talk about how God used diabetes to remove food from the throne of my heart.  He has heard that I don’t always need to know why, but I need to trust that God will show what I need to see when I need to see it.

So, Zach, maybe the lesson in this is that God is telling me that while I have not arrived, I am definitely in the process of Relentless Growth in this.  He chose to give me a blessing in the knowledge that you are seeing me try to live a life of dependence.  There may be more to come, but I will take this in humble praise to Him for the moment.

Fatherhood – I am finishing up my last year of what I term as “active parenting”. My role as protector and guide is shifting into advisor and counselor/consultant as Zach will join Jessica at college this fall.  I am so proud of my kids and I know God is going to do great things in their lives.  It is definitely a bittersweet feeling to watch them at this stage and know just how much different things will be at Tanner Manor this fall.

My challenge is to be present, but not controlling.  Available, but not underfoot.  I have often found this balance difficult and tend to pull back rather than be a hassle to the kids (unless I feel they need a good hassling!).  Praying that God gives me the wisdom and insight to be there for them while they are at school.

Husbandhood – Tammi and I have had some amazing discussions this past year, and I hope she agrees that we have grown much closer as a result of them.  Seeing Jessica go to school last year and experiencing that change in our family dynamic has definitely turned me more toward watching Tammi. I see how I have taken advantage of her sometimes in how she always handles things for our family.  I need to be more present for her, attentive to her needs.  Actually think about what could be wrong and what I can do about it rather than just ask her all the time. (She will like that one!)

We are soon going to be just the two of us again, and that is going to mean a little more freedom, but also a little more responsibility.  She will still need to talk about her feelings, thoughts, and dreams, and I will be the only one there.  I will need to shift some of how I tend to love my wife in order to meet that need.  We have talked about it some, and we know we have always done these new things together.  We have been parenting actively for the last two decades, but we only had a little over two years before that as a couple, so this is still a somewhat unexplored realm for us.  It is kind of exciting to think I will be able to have her to myself again though! (Sorry kids, Mom was here first!)

Friendships – It has been a strange year in this regard.  The extensive change that has taken place has pulled us from being as close to some as we once were, but has brought us into new friendships with others.  I think I had set some unrealistic goals in trying to “fast track” some things that needed more time, and that left me feeling discouraged a few times.  This year I want to just be more present in those moments that come before me.  Take the time to identify what God might want me to be in that moment rather than just looking at how I want things to be or what I can get out of it.

My Walk – I started something new a little before my birthday last year.  Every day I post a verse of the day with an image and my thought for personal application.  It has helped me keep the thought alive in my mind every day since I do it before my feet hit the floor.  Over the last year I have gone through Proverbs a couple times, the book of Psalms, and am now going through James.  You can follow those by “Liking” my Relentless Growth Facebook Page.

This next year I would like to find time to expand my time of study and start spending more time in areas that I really need to grow.  I want to be realistic in that though.  For now, maybe the verse a day and writing here a little more often might be the best thing.  Something to pray about for sure.

Priorities – It has been a year of shifting and reassessing for us in many aspects.  Work, family, church, friends, service, and the list goes on.  So many things have shifted and will continue to shift as we enter another year of major change as “empty nesters”.  Praying that God will give me wisdom, grace and insight necessary to lead my wife well with a servant leadership that build into her as we face the challenges together.

I hope I don’t bore you with a long post like this that is basically about me.  I’ll admit that the biggest reason for this post is to take a minute to actually write down and think about what has happened and how I am going to respond to it over the next year.  I need that for me because it helps “reset” the panel.  I can look at everything that has happened. See a little bit better in hindsight and hopefully that gives me insight and if things REALLY work out some foresight!

Let’s face it. Life is Relentless.  It will never stop coming at us.  If we want to get anything of quality out of it, we need to be Relentless in our pursuit of God and in our growth for His glory.  Relentless Growth.  We all need it.

365 days to be 44.  Let’s do this!

A Kick in the Pants

Today I read a great blog post by a friend of mine named Danny Ray.  He is a loving husband and dad, a good friend to many, an award-winning, amazing magician, an inspiring speaker, and most important, a brother in Christ.  You can see more about Danny Ray and his ministry here at his website, and you can read the blog post here.

In reading his post today, he gives tribute to one of my closest friends, Joe Castaneda of Overboard Ministries for the blog posts that he writes.  He tells how a series of posts Joe had written were impacting people Joe didn’t even know about.  I won’t steal the story. I want you to go read it, and I want you to check out Joe’s blog here.

At the end of the article I got thinking about my little posts I put up.  I get all of the tracking data that says I have a loyal readership that amounts to grand numbers daily. (I am currently averaging an entire 3 people per day this month!)  I also have a Facebook Page where I post a daily verse, image, and thought that gets a few more hits, but still has modest numbers averaging into the double digits consistently. (Yes, as a result I often go out in sunglasses with a hat pulled low to keep the paparazzi at bay.)

I admit I sometimes fall prey to the pride that pulls at me in wishing that I was reaching more people.  Why aren’t more people reading?  I do work on these things!  Am I wasting my time?  What am I doing wrong?

I’m not saying I am perfect, but maybe I’m not doing anything wrong.  Maybe I am just sometimes not doing it for the right reason. The purpose of writing for me is not to gain a huge following.  I just want to share what God is doing in my life and hopefully inspire someone out there to get more interested in making God a bigger part of their lives too!  It’s not about me.  It’s about God.

I’m currently reading  great book by Paul Tripp called The Quest for More. In it, Paul talks about how we miss out on the MORE of serving God and His kingdom when we are focused on building up our own reputation.  He tells it a lot better than I do, but that is it in a nutshell. (Still, go get and read the book.  You won’t be disappointed!)

I have not been writing much here lately. I admit that a big reason has been that I have felt nobody is interested and it isn’t worth my time.  Read Danny’s post and you will see why that is exactly the wrong thing I should be thinking.  I am purposing to get more regular in posting here.  I might not write long posts, but just a thought a couple times a week would be something.

Thanks, Danny, for the kick in the pants.  I want to be Relentless in my pursuit of God and His kingdom.  I want people to be directed to Him through any means necessary, and if I get to play a part in it, that is all for God’s glory.  Thanks for being a “drive-by accountability partner” today.  You had words I needed to hear.

I owe you a $1 next time I see you!

Time to Study

This weekend I have been rattling around the house by myself while my wife and son are in Ohio at Cedarville University.  My son Zach had an audition for a spot in the worship program at the college (Which he got! Way to go, Zach!) and then they are spending the weekend there before bringing my daughter home for Thanksgiving break.  I posted the other day that I was going to make a list of things to do in order to keep me accountable for my time while they were gone, and I would say that things have gone well.

I had the bulk of my list done on Friday with the longer items held for Saturday and today.  The CHRISTmas lights are up, the house has been kept tidy, the garage is clean, the chest in our room has been reconditioned, and while not on the list, I have shoveled a ton of snow this morning!  There is only one thing left to do:8446-shhhhh-quiet-everyone-study-wallpaper

STUDY

Life has been pretty busy lately.  While that seems to be the norm, the intensity of life lately has made it difficult to have any real time to put into studying God’s Word.  I have my daily verse I post, and I get in the occasional Quiet Time, but there has not been any real opportunity for me to just sit down and really dig into anything.  Well, at least not any opportunities I have been willing to recognize in the moment.

So, this weekend I have been trying to use the extra time here at home alone to allow my mind to FOCUS on what I should do.  I started thinking about using this time when I realized I would have it a couple weeks ago.  I wanted to put some serious thought into what God wanted me to get out of it.

As I thought about it, I remembered something I had heard somewhere and then heard it again when my wife also mentioned it several months ago:

Every Christian should determine to become an authority on at least one book of the Bible.

That little thought has been niggling around in the back of my mind for a while.  I tell people that I want Relentless Growth in Christ, and what better way to do that than to really dig in and learn about a book of the Bible so well that through time spent in it I can apply it into every aspect of my life?  The Bible is the avenue to a closer relationship with God, and knowing His Word that well is a life-changing endeavor.

So, while puttering around, completing my list of chores this weekend I have been thinking about where God may be leading me to spend my time studying.  What book of the Bible would be the launchpad for me?  What does He want me to learn?  What does He want me to overcome?  What does He want me to share with others?  Where is He leading this Relentless journey of mine?

As I thought and prayed over it this weekend, I have felt a desire to look into two books.  The reason I chose these books just seemed to become more and more clear as I thought about my life and how God has worked in it over the last 10 years in particular. In some ways, I feel like I have a kinship to the authors as a result of my life.

I have mentioned in the past that I was saved as a young kid, and as a result I have struggled with the feeling that I wasted an opportunity to grow closer to God because my Christian life was basically all I ever knew. I don’t have a real “turn from sin to God” moment.  No radical life change where I left an old me and became a new me.  It was not fully appreciated until after I was asked to teach an adult Sunday School class and I finally started to really read and seek to understand the Bible.  Then I realized what I had!

So, as a good old-fashioned Baptist, fully indoctrinated to feel guilt and shame over things I had done wrong and unwilling to forgive myself for past sins, I began to try to learn how God actually wants me to live my life.  It was time to move on past the feelings of missed opportunity to get to know God better as a teenager and young adult, and just get down to the business of knowing Him!  God doesn’t close the window of opportunity to know Him better to His children.

Thinking about that this weekend I began to think about people in the Bible who might have felt the same way.  Eventually (I am slow sometimes), two names came to mind.  They were both men who had similar opportunities to mine to know God REALLY well when they were young, but didn’t take advantage of it in those days.  It wasn’t until later that they fully realized the opportunity they had been given, and then they made the best of it, being willing to be used by God to the point of being the instruments the Holy Spirit used to write two books of the Bible!  Talk about getting it together!

So, who are these guys?  They are half brothers of Christ, James and Judas (Jude).  They grew up alongside the God-man, Jesus, but didn’t fully realize who He was, what He was here to do, and what it really meant for them until later in life.  See the connection?

I have spent time studying James before, but I have never spent any time in Jude other than a quick read.  In truth, I have avoided it because I connect it with a very hard time in my teenage years.  A former pastor used one of the verses in Jude as his “life verse” and  after how he spiritually abused me and many others I have not been willing to give the book much of a look since.  Funny how we blame God for how people mess up…

bible-jude4So, after looking at these two books, reading some commentary about them, and praying about it even more, I feel God is leading me to dig into the book of Jude.  It’s a short book, but I think it is going to be more than just a book to learn.  I think it is going to be an opportunity to dig into some stuff that might be hiding in me over past hurts.  Some bitterness that still needs to be dealt with.  Some confession of anger and forgiveness that needs to occur.

I don’t know exactly what will come of this at this point, but that is the joy of it!  I am open to what God wants me to get, and I am excited to take the journey.

My goal for the rest of the day today is to begin breaking some things down for a framework of study.  Not sure what I will find, but I am excited about it.  I look forward to sharing thing I learn with those interested or those who happen across the blog in days to come.  I’ll to make promises about timetables or schedules, but I do plan on sharing as time permits.

So, time for me to get to work.  I hope in some small way this is an encouragement to others to dig into the Word as well.  We have so much to learn, and are blessed with a God who is so willing to teach.  Dig in.  Be Relentless!

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What To Do?

build-a-pc-checklist-featured-imageSo, as of this morning I am going to be a bachelor for a long weekend.  Other than making sure none of the 4-legged beasts here at Tanner Manor go without food or water, keeping the place tidy, and putting up CHRISTmas lights, I have a pretty responsibility free time ahead of me.  I guess that is supposed to be the trade off of having those I love most being away for a short time.  Some might think it is great, but I am not looking forward to the empty house.

Old farm houses are too quiet when there are no people banging around in them.  I’m a big guy and do a fair job at making my own amount of racket, but it’s just not the same.  There is a gentle feeling of warmth and love when you know there is someone in the next room or upstairs.  (I’m not afraid my house is haunted – really!)

So, to battle the empty feeling in the house and the expanse of extra time, I am going to make a list of things to do this weekend to keep me busy and out of trouble.  It would be nice if the weather forecast this weekend was not calling for  a cold snap and snow storm, but I will have at least that window to hopefully get the lights all up before it gets too nasty outside.  Beyond that I need some indoor entertainment/activity that will be more productive than just testing the resiliency of the couch cushions.

So, at some point today I am going to make a little list and get myself organized to do some stuff I have been putting off or have not been able to have time to do.  I just want to be sure I am using my time well, not getting bored and sitting with a plate, bag, or box of food in front of the TV the whole time.

So, this blog post is going to serve as a form of accountability.  By putting this up, I am letting the ENTIRE WORLD WIDE WEB know that I have some free time that I need to be productive with.  I will welcome people who read this to ask me what I did with it next week. (That should generate at least 2’s and 3’s of comments!) If I want to be able to feel good about my answer then I better do something!

Paul said in his letter to the church at Thessalonica:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

That’s usually all I need to do the right thing.  Just a little admonishment, encouragement, help, and patience.  When I am provided with that, I tend to rise to the occasion.  I bet most of you do too.  It’s not that we set out to fail, or that we don’t care.  Sometimes we just need a nudge, or the reminder that someone is counting on us.

So today, let me encourage you!  Make a list.  Leave it out so people can see it and be willing to answer for it.  Don’t be defensive, just be accountable!

Take it a step further and encourage someone else today to do something  they have talked about.  Give them a  smile, a hand, a pat on the back. You just might change their day!

Relentless Living by definition cannot be idle.  We need to be passionate about moving forward and growing every single day!  Even the days where things seem to pull us down (talking to myself again here), we need to keep driving because we might be the encouragement for someone else.

So, I’m off to work now. Got a lot to do today and a list to make.  Have a good day!

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You Wanna Fight?

Risk-War-RoomAll my life I have been taught that it is important to pray.  I grew up in church, went to a Christian school, watched my parents and grandparents pray, and attended prayer meeting on Wednesday evenings where people would pray what I called “marathon” prayers.  While prayer has always been a part of my life, lately it has become something that is getting more of my attention, and I’m not alone.

With the recent success of the movie War Room, prayer has become a big topic.  It has been interesting to listen to people discussing their take on the movie and its message (whether they have actually seen it or not!), and while some people may not agree with its message, you have to admit that the viewing public is putting up their votes at the box office.  In its first four weekends, it debuted at #2, moved up to #1, dropped to #3 and finished this weekend at #6.  That’s a pretty respectable showing for a movie that talks about praying strategically to God, the Father of Jesus Christ in the name of the Holy Spirit – especially in our politically correct nation.

A couple of months ago I started to read a book by Cliff Graham called Cover Me that also hits extensively on prayer.  The book speaks specifically about the war that takes place in the spiritual realm around the life of a believer and how he can actually join the fight the right way.  The primary weapon he discusses is prayer and having a relationship with God.  As a believer, I know that God is there with me at all times, but do I really believe that I can speak to Him and that He hears me?  That’s a tough question to answer, and I wish I could say that more of my decisions reflect that belief, but sadly there is more evidence that I tend to do things my way.  I could go to Him for counsel, for wisdom, but I just open my mouth and insert both feet!

What would my life be like if I was more in tune with Christ?  What kind of difference would it make in my life?  My family? My workplace? My community? My church?  My Country?  A few weeks ago, a conversation took place in our home that centered around a verse:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 CHRONICLES 7:14 ESV

This was God speaking to Solomon at the dedication of the temple.  It was a moment of celebration for the people of Israel!  The temple finally stood in Jerusalem, and the Ark of the Covenant had a permanent home.  Everything looked good, but the first night after the celebration was over, God appeared to Solomon in a vision to talk to Him about what His presence in the temple meant, and His message starts out kind of dire.

12  the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13  When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,” – 2 CHRONICLES 7:12-13

So, basically God is telling Solomon that He is there, right where the people wanted Him to be.  He is in the temple and everyone can find Him.  He goes on to say that when things go really really bad, (not IF, but WHEN) then they can come to Him with humble heart, pray and seek His face, and turn from their sin.  If they do all of that, then He will hear them and things will get better.  I have one question for you.  HOW SIMPLE IS THAT?

Today, we as Christians carry His name.  Are we truly praying as we should for the healing of our nation?  Are we praying for our families the way we should?”  Are we praying for our friends? Leaders? If we want to see change, that is what we should be doing!

As we go through life, things come at us that are difficult.  We end up getting beat up and bashed around by events at work, feelings that are hurt by family members, fears about what is happening in our country.  Disappointment comes in so many different shapes and sizes, and we are just not always able to stand up to it.  How many days do you crawl into bed and think, “I’m just glad I made it through the day.  Please, God, just make tomorrow be better than today”?  We get tired, and sometimes we don’t even realize why.  The truth is, we are tired because we have been fighting a battle and we don’t even realize it.

My friend Joe over at The Overboard Life wrote a blog last week regarding a real battle and the faith of a man named Barak.  You can read more about that right here.  The main thing I took from his post was this quote:

“…the more you know about God, the more you’ve walked with Him, the higher the measuring rod for your faith.”

That thought is very freeing when you really stop and think about it. We can’t have a strong faith without a strong relationship. It doesn’t matter how long we have known Him, what matters is how much we know Him! The best way to get to know someone, to experience a relationship with them, to experience the benefits of a relationship, is to TALK TO THEM!

A person that spends time talking to God in prayer will begin to see Him at work in different areas.  It is not that God wasn’t there and doing things, but we are blinded to it because we are not looking for Him in our situations.  We see what we are doing and how our attempts at things are influencing our surroundings, but that is not a complete picture of what God is doing.  His reality is bigger than the scope of our vision!  The reality of God and a relationship with Him will bolster your faith!

All of this stuff that I have been reading and thinking about came together last weekend after we watched War RoomI was brought face to face with the reality of my relationship with God.  I’m a believer, and I know Him, but how well do I know Him?  How much time have I spent getting to know Him through conversation?  Not much.  Not much at all.

Blending what I have seen in the movie and read in the book, I then look at the verse in 2 Chronicles again.  I am a Christian, called by His name.  Am I humble? Not really.  Am I seeking His face? Not like I should.  Am I taking steps to turn from sinful behaviors? Yes, but not as fast as I could be.  Why not?  Why am I not doing these things like I should if I am a believer?

Because I am not always willing to admit that I am in a war, a battle going on around me every day.  I believe that Satan wants me to rely on me.  He wants me to keep my eyes on the task at hand. He wants me to focus on what I can do in any given situation because if he can keep my eyes on what I can do, then I am going to go through my life completely unaware of what God can do.  Well, I have thought about it, and I’m not happy to live that way.

In the movie, we are encouraged to find a place that we can be free of distractions and have our time with God in prayer.  They used an empty closet.  My wife and I talked about our current closet deficiency, and we quickly came to the conclusion that this was not an option for us!  My garage is a distraction. My office is full of distractions.  But I am not going to settle for excuses.  I just need to try harder if I want to win.

So, for now, my war room will travel with me.  While reading Cover Me, I have begun writing in a journal that has been set aside as my “Battle Book.”  It is the place I process my thoughts on what I read, journal my quiet times, and set my goals and strategies for living a life that battles sin and brings God glory.  I’ve decided that while generals sit in big war rooms and create strategies against an enemy, the grunts on the ground are often scribbling on a map, a scrap of paper, or even in the dirt when they get a minute.  I will use my journal as my portable war room.

I’ve been doing it for a few days now, and it is starting to take shape.  I have a plan for my day to do battle over certain things, and it is making God much more visible to me.  Need an example?  Last night I prayed that God would bless the staff that I work with and give me opportunities to share grace and the gospel with them.  This morning I was blessed by a staff member that did something nice for me because she wanted to thank me for being a forgiving and caring manager.  Two hours later I had a very in-depth conversation with another person regarding faith and why I believe what I believe and why I don’t look down on her for what she believes like other Christians she knows.

Coincidence?  I don’t believe in them.  It is a war, and making a plan and seeking help in doing something that God wants me to do resulted in me being able to be a part of something God is doing.  It might sound like circular reasoning, but it’s not.  It’s simply God at work as He gently brings me into a position to join Him.  I have asked for and been given opportunities to show grace and live the Gospel in front of people as I share what He has done for me.

I know this post has been a long one, and I have probably sounded a little more “preachy” than I usually do, but I hope it has acted as an encouragement to you to be Relentless in your growth in Christ.  Relentless Living is best in relationship with God, and the best way to build that relationship is through talking to Him in prayer and reading His Word.

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The Road to Hell…

Pasture with lots an' lots of daisies
Pasture with lots an’ lots of daisies

About fifteen years ago, Tammi and I decided to put in a nice little flower bed behind the house.  The plan was a “natural” looking bed that would be in the middle of our mowed yard. We pulled together some field stone we had collected and set it in a little circle, planted a Rose of Sharon shrub, and then we sat down to decide what we needed to add to finish off the bed.  The final decision was to purchase and plant a wildflower mix.  Sounded like a great idea.

That summer the flowers all came up, and it was really pretty.  I believe the botanical terms for the flower mix was something like, “little yellow weed-like flower”, “little pretty blue flower that grows for one year and is never seen again”, “little purple flower that puts out a vine that chokes little yellow weed-like flower,” and daisies.  That first summer was great, but the next couple years it just turned into a bed of daisies as they choked out everything else there.

Now I have daisies all over the place.  They are in the pasture, in the hayfield, and in the yard.  It’s not that they are not a pretty flower.  They are a happy little flower, but let’s face it, folks, they are a weed.  Yep. I said it.  They are right up there on the list with dandelions.  A happy little flower that runs rampant if you turn your back for even a second.

We never intended for this to happen.  Our hearts were in the right place.  We had good intentions…  Yeah.  How does that old saying go?

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

When the Israelites went into the Promised Land, a buzz began to go through the region.  The cities and people had heard about Jericho and Ai and how the God of the Israelites was basically handing cities to them.  This news made some cities band together to fight the Israelites, but for the people of Gibeon, a different plan was formed.

The leaders of Gibeon hatched plan to put on old clothes, take a bunch of rotten food, and go out to meet Joshua and the Israelites in hopes of tricking them.  When they met the army of Israel, they told them all about how they had travelled such a great distance just to make a covenant with the Israelites.  The Israelites asked, “How can we know for sure about that?  After all, you could be trying to trick us!”  The Gibeonites were ready with their defense.  “Look!  We are wearing old clothes and have old food!”  I guess that was enough to satisfy their curiosity, because they went ahead and made a covenant with them.

Later on, the secret came out and the Gibeonites didn’t waste a second showing off that covenant.  Israel was stuck, because they had made the covenant not only with the Gibeonites, but had made it by swearing to the Lord that they would honor it.  If they broke their promise, they would be in violation of a covenant not only to the Gibeonites, but also to God.  They had to honor it, so they put these people on the indentured servant list from that point on.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it.

A few things stick out to me here:

1. People who want to do wrong things, can present themselves in a way that not only looks right, but can get you to do wrong.  – The Gibeonites were well aware that they were messing with God and His people.  They knew they were going to fall just like Jericho and Ai, but they looked for a way to survive that did not require them to give in to God.  Instead, they coerced God’s people and tricked them into doing the wrong thing in a binding way.

I’ve been a coercer and a coercee.  Not proud of either one.  At this point in my life I am much more aware of how my actions might pull someone else down with me.  Just thinking about the other guy has gotten me to turn away from some decisions that were definitely not good.  Not because I didn’t want to do them, but because I didn’t want someone else to suffer for my stupidity. I’m not calling that a victory, but at least I can call it progress!

2. When something smells fishy, take minute and look for the tuna! – The Bible says that the men of Israel did not seek the counsel of the Lord.  They did ask couple questions about the Gibeonites, but then just looked at each other, nodded their heads and said, “Seems legit.”  If they had taken a little more time and, I don’t know, said something like, “Hey!  Why don’t we take minute here and ask God about this?  It seems like He said something about driving everyone out, and these guys might just be trying to pull a fast one on us!”

Big, binding decisions NEED to be bathed in prayer and wise counsel MUST be sought.  That’s not to say that you cannot live a life of abandonment to God, but I am seeing that most people who “impulsively” follow God are living a pretty close life with Him. So even though it might not make sense to you or me, it is painfully obvious to them that it is time to jump Overboard. (Shameless plug for my friends Joe and Traci.)

3. Bad decisions don’t always feel painful right away. – The Gibeonites knuckled under and went to work, but this was not the end of their story.  They were a pain in the behind of the Israelites for many years, and their idols and way of worship were a part of what drove a wedge between the Israelites and God and eventually led to the kingdom of Israel being ransacked and the people exiled.

Those “wildflowers” we planted were pretty for a couple of years.  Now, I look out across the pasture and I see a ton of work that is necessary to pull them so they won’t eventually just choke out the grass the horses eat.  It’s ridiculous, and I’m pretty sure that a lawsuit is in order, but I threw the wrapper away so I got nothing to go on… No.  If I had just asked some questions, read that label a little more closely, and thought about it for a few minutes I might have realized that the word “wild” has more than one meaning.  It grows in the wild on its own, AND it is a voracious plant that will decimate anything around it!

Jessica came in the house with a nice little bouquet of daisies yesterday morning and said, “I thought I should pick some of these before you mow them all over.”  I should have picked them all several years ago.  If I had I would not be shaking my head about them now.

Relentless Living requires us to look at the things we are going to do and think about them.  We might have the best of intentions, but if we are not in-line with God’s intentions, well…. Let’s just say that there is a better road to follow.

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“What Are Those Rocks For?”

a7e550f037ee595ae8d89a7e0fbe4245Last night I made a call to some friends to ask them for some prayer.  My wife and I have been working on getting ready for our daughter’s graduation, and that has led to a lot of hard work and stress.  We have been leaning on each other a lot, and I know we would be struggling more if we were not such a good team! Yesterday it became painfully obvious to me that I was on the verge of losing it at work.  At the end of the day I actually closed the door and worked in the dark for the last half hour so people would think I was gone!

I identified the source of my problem in fighting off feelings of anger, apathy, and a general “Leave me alone!” attitude as a lack of sleep and time in God’s Word.  Once that hit me, I sent a message out asking my buddies to pray for me, and also telling them that I intended to get in the Word last night.

This morning, one of the guys sent me a text to ask how my time in the Word and a good night’s rest helped me.  I felt like telling him that it was great and I felt better, but I “fessed up” and told him the truth.  I didn’t do it last night even though I knew I needed to. Then I told him I was going to take the time to do this morning what I needed to do last night and get in the Word.

I did it.

I read in Joshua 4 how the Israelites set up stones of remembrance on the bank of the Jordan after crossing into the Promised Land.  The stones were to be a reminder to future generations that God had showed up in the lives of His people.  Those stones had two purposes in my mind:20150522_094200

1.       They drew the eyes of those unfamiliar with a living God, and made them ask a question.  God’s plan was for His people to continue to tell His story to those that didn’t know it.

I have a paper on the door of my office where I have written things I am thankful for, and I have encouraged my staff to use it as well.  It has prompted some good conversations, and in a way it is like those stones.  A visual indication that something has taken place.

2.       They made the person who knew the story actually think about what God had done as they told the story.  They had to recall how God did His miracle there, and it probably brought back the feeling of awe at seeing God at work.

After reading my Bible this morning, I came back to my door and read through some of the things I have written and I remembered how I felt when I wrote them.  It was a great reminder to me that God wants to be at work in my life, and is actually there every day – even the days I choose not to notice it.

There was another thing I noticed when I read the paper on the door.  It had been two weeks since I had written anything on it.  Maybe if I had been thinking about what God has been doing for me, I would have been in a better frame of mind.

So, to the guys that were praying for me, I say, “Thank you!”  God used your prayers to turn my heart this morning.  I am still fighting the weariness and irritation, but I am very aware this morning of God at work in me, and I am relying on Him more today than I have been the last week or so.  I guess those stones on the banks of the Jordan still get the job done!

I could have just wallowed in my misery and enjoyed a big old pity party, but Relentless Growth will not allow that.  I want to thrive in the life that God has given me, and I am glad that He has loved me enough to give me His living Word and good friends I can talk to that care enough to talk back!

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What Lies Beneath

My daughter graduates this weekend.  Pretty crazy to think how fast time has flown.  She was a little girl just yesterday, and now she is a beautiful young woman getting ready to take on the world.  Graduation has pretty much consumed our thoughts and spare time lately as we  get ready to celebrate, but I’m not here to talk about that today.  We’re going in a different direction.

Getting ready for the open house has brought a whirlwind of activity to our home.  There was a fence to build, rocks to move, flower beds that need work, a barn to decorate, food to prepare, and worst of all… a house to paint.  My wife knows the dread that I feel when it comes to painting the house, and I will admit she is probably feeling even more stress about food and decorations, but for me, the house has been the big thing that has been hanging around my neck.  The main reason?

Rot.

Dry-rot-siding-and-trim-1I live in an old farm house built around the turn of the century.  (That would be the 20th century.)  When you live in a house this old, there are always things that need to be maintained, and one of the things that I just hate dealing with is the caulk.  It would be bad enough if you just had to go out and slop a brush around for  a few days to get the job done, but there is more when you live in a piece of history.  I have the joy of all the scraping and caulking before I do the painting.  Seriously, the amount of caulk that goes into getting my house ready to paint is staggering, but necessary if I want to keep the outside out and the inside dry.  When I get lax in it, I get…

Rot.

We have had to attack rot a few times in the past, but it is getting harder.  Some of that is because the time I have to put into staying on top of the painting process has been limited over the last few years, Things just get a little worse before the planets reach the proper alignment for me to get after it again.  I have to admit though, that a bigger part of it is that I just don’t like to do it.

So, this year we need to get the house painted to make it look nice before the open house.  As I started into it I found what I was expecting – Rot.  Some of it was visible (and a little overwhelming to look at), but when I would start removing the visible, I would come face to face with worse.

We had some ant damage in one wall, and the time frame (and checkbook) does not allow for a major repair at this time.  So, I pulled out as much as I could, installed some new wood with rreeeaallllyyy long screws, and caulked things back up again.  From the outside it looks great, but I know what lies beneath.

When I’m honest with myself, I can say that I am a lot like my house.  There are times that I really don’t want to take a hard look at making any changes or improvements on myself because I just don’t feel like putting in the time and effort.  I know the effort would be worth it, but I’m comfy right now, so I want to let it go “a little longer”.  The thing is, that just makes it, “a little harder”.

There are things I can see that need work (getting in shape), but when I start picking at them, I end up finding larger problems underneath (lack of discipline, laziness).  It is easier to not look too hard, because I might just have to keep digging (pride, idolizing food).  You see the dangers of looking inside?  It makes me face what is at the root of the problem.

Me.  My wants, thoughts, opinions, habits, and tendencies.  It all comes back to me.

I made some honest assessments about my house.  Some repairs were made that should last, but others were just a bandaid.  I will need to come back to them and make things right.  If I don’t come back and do what needs to be done, then I will see things continue to decline until I wake up one night looking at the stars, not through an open window, but through a hole that has appeared in the wall!

The honest assessment of myself also requires a response.  Some things I can take care of quickly, others will take more time, and some of them require resources that I do not have available to me yet.  That’s okay as long as I don’t fool myself into thinking that I have arrived and all is well.

In manufacturing, there is a philosophy called LEAN, and one of the LEAN tools is the PDCA cycle:

P – Plan – Come up with an idea using what you know.

D – Do – Put your plan into action.

C – Check – Check how the process worked.  Be honest and look at the facts.

A – Adjust – You may need to change how you do things to get a better result.

Relentless Growth requires that type of philosophy to avoid letting rot take over your heart and mind.  If you just go through life without thinking about how your action or non action is affecting you and those around you, I guarantee rot will grow.  Plan with God what you need to do in your life. Do what you need to do.  Check how you are doing, or be willing to listen to what someone else is seeing. Adjust your actions to bring yourself back in line with the Plan.

These steps will help in identifying those “soft spots” before rot can bring your life crashing down.  Relentless Living requires us to be willing to address what lies beneath.

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Calling Him Out & Up

11205113_10206541655531169_195957320906306357_nThis past weekend was my annual Men’s Retreat.  I have been doing these things for  along time, and I have enjoyed each and every one of them, but this year the reason was a little different.  My son, Zach, was along for the adventure.  Let’s be clear, this is not one of those strip down and put on a loin cloth while dancing around a fire in the middle of the woods kind of things.  Trust me.  NOBODY wants to see that!  These retreats are opportunities for a group of guys to get away, hear some good teaching, and just enjoy some time as men.

Men need times like this.  It’s not that I wanted to get away from my wife. She’s AWESOME, and I love being with her.  The thing is, as much as I love being with her, I need to be with guys too!  She is my best friend.  She is intelligent, cultured, refined, kind, and sweet.  Basically, she is very much NOT a man. (I thank God for that each and every day!)

So, on these retreats, one of the things that we have tried to do for the last 5 years or so is to get the guys that do go on this trip to put a good amount of time into talking about the things that we struggle with.  Sometimes we will take the material that we are being given and use that as our springboard, but often it is just the things that we are dealing with in our lives that brings the best conversation.  Then, we will talk about what God would want us to do in that situation and set up  some type of plan for making a change that will bring us more in line with what God would want us to do.  Then, we assign a little bit of accountability. If you want to read a great article on THAT “dirty little word” then just click here.

I joined a great men’s group several years ago with my buddy Ray (He wasn’t my buddy until about half way through the class.) where we did a study called Authentic Manhood.  It was a great study, and it has opened up many doors for growth in my life.  It talks about how a man should live in the home, at work, and at church.  It gives insight into why we are the way we are because of things from our past, but it gives us a promise that we are not prisoners to that past.  We CAN change!  It tells us how to be better husbands, fathers, employees, bosses, financial managers, and pretty much anything else you would want to be.  Like I said, it opens up MANY doors for growth.

11180295_10206547099467264_1789966459726332317_nOne thing taught in the study is the importance of building into the lives of our sons through intentional conversations, activities, and friendships.  As we do these things, there are moments where it is good to “call up” your son into manhood.  It’s not an “all-at-once” thing.  It happens in stages, and those stages are marked by ceremonies that the young man will be able to look back on as he grows as moments where he was called out to be a man among men.  It’s not just tied to his age.  It’s more than that.  He is called out by men who believe in him and want to see him grow.  Those men will offer their advice to him and will stand with him as he grows.  This is something that we need!

So, this retreat was very special to me because I had asked four men that God has brought into my life as my closest friends to help me in calling up my son.  There were a lot of things that we did at the retreat, but this was by far, the most important thing that happened there that weekend.

The men that spoke to Zach are men that I love and respect.  Yes, I said I love these guys.  They are men that I pray for every day, and I know they pray for me too.  We have shared things that are struggles in our lives, and we have been building a strong bond that encourages us when we are getting weighed down with the stresses and trials of life.  I need these guys, and I hope they all need me too!

Me talking to Zach about a legacy of Faith
Me talking to Zach about a spiritual legacy

I asked each them to speak to Zach about something important.  They spoke about Discipline, Integrity, Faith/Following God, and Friendship, then I ended it by talking about the importance of building a spiritual legacy that carries into eternity.  At the end, I presented him with a gift.  He now owns a shield that has a Tanner family crest on it.  My hope is that he will always keep that shield and look back on this day when his dad and his four friends told him that he is becoming a man, and that they are going to help him grow into a good one.  I want him to remember the respect that they showed him that day as men who are living out principles that they talked to him about.

As Zach grows over the next 5-10 years, there will be a couple more of these “ceremonies” that we will do.  The topics will change, and there may be some other men that enter the mix, but one thing will stay the same.  There will be an intentional focus on helping Zach to see the importance of men in his life.  We were not designed to go solo, and it is a foolish man that thinks he can do it and get away with it.

11150650_10206570837340696_2142947637021693128_nI want there to be men that tell Zach the same story.  Men who will echo my words that he should have a Relentless pursuit of God and relationship with Jesus Christ.  I want him to love one woman with all his heart and to raise godly kids that he can teach the same things to.  I want him to see the importance of giving his best at work, but knowing when it is time to set it aside for family.  I want him to learn to identify his shortcomings and not just stew over them, but to determine and purpose in his heart that a failure is an opportunity to learn and be strengthened by God for a future victory.

I hope I pass this legacy on to Zach, and that he will take it on to his kids and almost as importantly, to other men.  Let’s face it, we will all impact out own kids on purpose or accidentally.  There is no arguing that, but think about what could happen if men were intentional about not inly impacting their own kids, but the children of their friends as well!  Now we are talking about Relentless Living!

Many thanks to the four men who spoke to Zach this weekend.  Mike, Tom, Joe, & Ray, I appreciate it more than I can ever tell you.  Justin, Noah, Phil, and Marty, I am glad you were there too as witnesses and as participants in a weekend that I know I will never forget!

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“He Just Kept Going!”

11169918_10206751378810895_8385502505395207127_nThis past weekend was the 79th Annual National Trout Festival here in our little town.  I often joke that it is the time of year when everyone climbs out of their winter dens to show off their new tattoos (present company excluded).  It’s your typical display of small town flavor with parades, a carnival, flea market, and a lot of other stuff too.  I haven’t been to any of the festivities over the last few years due to scheduling conflicts, but this year I was able to make a long overdue appearance.

This year I got to experience a part of the Festival I had never seen before.  Every year, the Rotary Club of Kalkaska puts on a race called the Trout Run.  It is a 1 mile fun-run combined with a 5k and a 10k race for those people who feel a need to have their heart pound hard (I don’t understand such things).  This year my schedule was different, and for the first time as a Rotarian, I was able to be there at the race to help out.  I had a blast!  It was  fun seeing all the different people who came out to run for the fun of running!  We even had one guy who ran the 5k in waders!

It was a beautiful morning Saturday.  Clear skies and a good bit of sunshine made the 30 degree temperature during set-up feel tolerable.  By the time the first race race began we were looking at a balmy 40 and a lot of sun with just a bit of wind that would be in the racers face as they headed out, but would be a nice benefit on the way back.

After the 1 mile run was completed, everyone was ready to go on the 5k and 10k races.  They all lined up together for the start, we counted it down, and the siren went off for the start.  After that it was a lot of milling around for us non-racers, but it gave us the opportunity to talk to the crowd a bit and just enjoy a good morning of community fellowship as we caught up with old friends, met people from town,  or from as far away as Kentucky!10653394_10206499225830453_4074547252641429684_n

After the 5k runners had been coming in for awhile and the 10k runners had started showing up as well, we started hearing a bit of concern regarding one of our contestants.  The parents of a young runner, I heard someone say he was 5 years old, were starting to ask runners if they had seen their son on the course.  He had set out to run the 5k, and they thought he should be back by then.

After a few minutes, a report was given that he had been spotted on the course safe and sound – WELL PAST the 5k turnaround point.  He was running the 10k!  I can tell you that there were a lot of people waiting there at the finish line to cheer this young man on as he crossed with a smile on his face. (With no hint of jealousy in my voice I can tell you he wasn’t even really out of breath!)

After he had a chance to reunite with Mom and Dad and all the questions got answered we found out what had happened.  Apparently in the past, there has been a cone on the course to mark the turnaround point for the 5 and 10k runners, but this year the cones were not put out.  When he reached the turnaround for his race, as one person said, “He just kept going!”

11174764_10153334467509047_3988499782460960483_nWhen all the racers were in and the awards were given out, there was an extra award given to that little guy.  He was given a gold medal for being the first runner in his age group to finish a race he didn’t set out to run!  His parents were understandably proud.  Who wouldn’t be? As I thought about this kid who went the distance, I was reminded of a verse:

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

– Matthew 5:41

I can assure you that if you saw me on that course, you can safely assume that someone forced me into it.  If I had to do it, I would do it, but I can tell you that I would not have done a single step more than I was forced to do.  Running is not a fun activity for me, and I would definitely consider that the least amount of effort required would be more than enough.

Some days I get that way in other aspects of life too.  I know that there is always room to do better.  There is always room to improve.  The thing is, it’s too easy to say, “I’m a good enough…

  • Husband – After all, I come home every night and I don’t fool around on my wife.  I tell her I love her.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Dad – I keep a roof over their heads.  I never beat them.  They have clothes to wear and food to eat.  I tell them I love them.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Employee – I show up for work.  I put in my time.  Everything is getting done that needs to be getting done.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Friend – I talk to my buddies from time to time.  I try not to take advantage of them.  I follow them on Facebook.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Christian – I go to church.  I read my Bible.  I put money in the offering plate.  Isn’t that enough?

By the standards of some people I know, these are all acceptable levels of performance in different areas.  They would look at results like this and be happy with them.  They did what was required of them.  They did “Enough.”  But is it really enough?  Is that the kind of memory you want to leave in the minds of others?

Imagine your funeral:

“We are gathered here today in this place to remember the life of (insert your name here).  He was an adequate man in most things.  Always managed to do the minimum that was required of him.  He is survived by his wife who says she will now be able to watch her television shows, but does admit that she will need to kill the occasional spider in the house.  His children say that they will appreciate the extra car left behind, but will miss having him put gas in it.  

Today he will be carried to his final resting place by 6 day laborers as his friends in attendance said that while it is good to see him off, he is not worth pulling a muscle.  His employer has sent this lovely vase of flowers this morning after realizing he had not been at work the last three days as his work was being taken care of by two of the people in his department and somebody finally realized he was gone when it was his turn to bring in the donuts and they weren’t there.”

That’s not what I want.  That is not a life that screams Relentless Growth!  Relentless living is the kind of living that just breezes right past the turn around and keeps going.  Now this little guys didn’t know he was about do a 10k, but he knew that there was a race to run, and that was what he was there to do!  I have a race to run too!  I’m  not sure what the half-way point is of my life either, but I know that I don’t want to live in a way that is looking for the turn around.  I want people to say, “He just kept going.”

How about you?  Are you living an “adequate life”?  Do you aspire for more?  If you are, here are a few things I would suggest you do to make a positive change:

  • Take a good, hard look at who you are.  If you want to be really bold, ask your spouse or siblings evaluate you honestly.  Get ready for the feedback and take it not as a criticism, but as a baseline to work against.
  • Find a mentor.  When you see a weakness in yourself, look for someone that is strong in that area and ask them for help to improve!  A good mentor will always love to share what they know.
  • Set a goal.  Make it small at first.  Taste a victory or two in an area.  If you like to eat entire pies at a sitting, set a goal for 3/4 of a pie.  Baby steps!
  • Accountability is key.  You need someone that can talk to you without dancing around the issues.  Someone that can say, “Tom, 3/4 of a pie is not a goal that is going to help you no matter how you try to rationalize it.”  Let them help you with your goals.
  • Talk to God about it.  Honestly, if you are going to try and make any lasting change in your life in an area that you are really struggling to grow in, you need help that is stronger than you.  You need to know God and allow Him to be the strength in your decisions.

We all have a race ahead of us.  We don’t know our half-way point, and we can’t see the finish line.  Do you want to be the guy that ran a little while and said, “Enough.”  or do you want to be that guy that just kept going?  Go big.  Be Relentless!

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