I Hope to Be Sober in 2018

So, I have a confession to make.  I have a problem.  I get better for awhile, but then I slip and I find myself right in the middle of it again.  I know I need help, and I know that I have friends and family that want to help me, but sometimes their help just drives me deeper into it.  I need to get sober, and I hope that this is the year.

Now, before we go any further, I am not struggling with any type of alcohol or drug addiction, and I am not mocking those who do.  My struggle is one of a different nature that while not physically damaging, can be just as destructive to the relationships I value.

Anger and a lack of self-control.

I have had a rough time with this since I was a teenager.  If I felt mistreated when I didn’t deserve it, I would get angry.  It would be even worse when I KNEW I was right.  It has been a part of me for years.  It ebbs and flows enough that I don’t think  that I am known as a hot head (I might be wrong about that), but I am sure that there are enough people out there who have had a peek into that part of me to know it is there.

This past week it rose up again.  I lost it and got pretty loud.  I realized it right away and made my apologies, but that doesn’t make anything go away.  I’m tired of those apologies.  I want something better for the people I do life with.

One of my favorite characters on television is from the show Blue Bloods.  Tom Selleck plays NYPD Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (Francis to his Dad).  Frank is a Marine.  He is the son of a cop who also was the Police Commissioner.  He has three sons who became cops, and a daughter who works as an assistant district attorney.  The family gets together for Sunday dinner every week, and while not perfect, they are always trying.

Week after week I watch Frank come face to face with some seemingly overwhelming obstacle and no discernible right answer.  Sometimes he is caught between two of his kids that want him to take their side in an argument.  Sometimes he is caught between his church and his work.  Sometimes it is the mayor or some publicity issue that is waging war against his personal convictions.

No matter what it is that comes up, by the end of almost every episode, we see that he is able to come to some type of resolution.  I know.  The magic of television would be VERY convenient if we could just sprinkle it over our own problems!

So, where was I going with this?  Oh, yeah.  One thing we rarely see happen is Frank “losing it.”  His voice gets a little high and he might wave his hands and arms a little as he expresses his frustration with the situation, but even when that happens, we always see the same move take place at that moment when you think he is about to REALLY tee off on someone.  I call it the Frank Reagan Scowl of Sober Deliberation. (FRSSD for short)

Rather than lose his temper, Frank pulls out the FRSSD.  On screen that usually leads to a soft fade, commercial break, or a quick switch to one of the other story lines that the episode is covering.  We don’t get to see how Frank wrestles the problem, and we don’t always get to see how much time the FRSSD needs to be employed before we get to the next step.

What we see is a man who is willing to confront his fears and his anger and hold them in check rather than lashing out.  We see a man who looks inside and examines the nuances of not only the situation, but also what his responses might be along with their consequences.  He doesn’t react when faced with these tough spots.  He thinks about how to face the situation in a manner allowing him to maintain his character and bring about the most equitable solution possible.

I don’t want to say that he is holding it all inside rather than spilling it all out.  He spills!  However, he only lets out what is necessary for those around him to reach an understanding that he is in turmoil over something, but not willing to lash out while he works on getting to the next face.  I call that one the Frank Reagan Face of Bold Resolve.   (FRFBR for short.)

When the FRFBR comes out, you know that the situation is now in hand.  Frank is getting ready to move ahead.  He knows there may be some consequences, but he has measured them and sees them as acceptable.  He knows that feelings may yet be hurt, but he has determined that it will not be done in a careless manner.  He builds his heart into his response.  He usually ends up giving a little more of himself in those situations and plants a seed for growth in the relationship that will help with future confrontations as well.

In 2 Timothy, Paul is speaking to his disciple, Timothy, and telling him how he should conduct himself in his role as a young pastor.  Paul knew full well the challenges Timothy would face. Churches are not easy places to live, and it is even harder if you hold a position of leadership.  One piece of advice he gave Timothy was this:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:5

That sober-mindedness he refers to is that Frank Reagan-type of mind.  A mind that chooses not to rage at the injustices he sees around him, but to slap on that FRSSD and work on a solution that will allow him to fulfill his ministry as a pastor and reach souls for Christ.  He has a job to do, and losing his head will not get it done.  He needs to get to that FRFBR and move boldly forward for God in love for those he serves.

Peter also tells us that there is another need for taking the time to wear the FRSSD.  It is because there are bigger things at play than what we are facing. Just like there are layers to Frank’s problems and our problems, we have a bigger problem in the wings.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

Satan wants to get believers to “lose it. ”

If he can get us to “lose it”, he gets to see us hurt the reputation of Christ and His redeeming work.  People look at us and see our flaws, but not necessarily the work that God is doing in our lives as a whole.  They are just more likely to remember the guy who loses his temper.

If we allow ourselves to “lose it” too many times, we will develop the habit of lashing out and hurting people.  Over time that will cause people to pull away from us and also cause us to withdraw to avoid causing pain when we realize that is what we are doing.  Once you pull back too much you will find it hard to crawl out again.

So, with 2018 just around the bend. I have decided to make a greater effort at being that SOBER man that Paul and Peter admonish us to be.  I like to pick a word every year to focus on, and the year it is #SOBER.

I would love to end this next year looking back and not being able to remember when I had to apologize for losing my temper and saying rash or hurtful things.  I would like to be able to see where I put on the FRSSD and worked it out to get to the FRFBR without needing to hang my head in between.

I’m going to need to work at it, and I will need to put some reminders in place over the next year. (My wife and co-workers might start to think I have crush on Tom Selleck because of having his picture taped and tacked up in are different places!)  I’ll also need some accountability from my friends, family, and a few co-workers.  Tell me to get my “Frank Face” on instead of letting myself get loud.

I’m living a life that is imperfect.  I make mistakes, but I am not settling for living that way.  Relentless Growth is a determination to not live as I am, but to grow in Christ even when it is hard.  This is going to be hard.  I am attacking one of my deepest weaknesses in this.  What better place to ask for the unlimited strength of God!

I hope you have a great new year and that you find something you are going to focus on as well.  Feel free to comment and share this post with others.

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Should I Miss What I Never Had?

Alright folks, I’m gonna get a little bit personal here.  Don’t worry, the kids can still read over your shoulder.  I’m just going to share a little story because I feel like when I share my struggles and publicly set a course out of them, I get a little better and grow a little more.  Accountability works like that.  So, here goes.

It is that time of year for the annual bonus to hit.  My wife and I had decided back in June or July that we were not going to set a whole lot of expectation on what that bonus may look like because it is money that we were not going to plan for until it was in hand.  We knew that we wanted to do something good with it (read “not stupid”), but we were determined that we would just welcome it as a gift and find a good way to steward that money.

Fast forward from July to early October.  The weather is finally starting to show signs of fall, and I start getting e-mails about the upcoming “Annual Incentive Program” and the wheels begin to turn.  We started having conversations about where we could best use the money.

We knew his would not be a windfall, by any stretch, but we  were building a plan on how to maximize the gift by doing things like vehicle repairs, home repairs, & a couple of other items that we really have been wanting to get taken care of, but the extra cash was never there.  I assure you that there was never a mention of a trip to Tahiti or a big screen TV.  We were living in the realm of practicality.

The more we talked about this money we had not yet seen, the more real it became.  We began to move from the hypothetical into the tangible.  Research was done on upcoming purchases to take care of some of these issues, online shopping carts were loaded and waiting for us to push that button the day the basket of hope landed in our checking account.  We were excited and expectant.

November 3 came.

Tammi gave me a call at work and said there was a deposit in the account.  Did I know what it was?  Surely it was not the bonus?  That number is WAY too small to be the bonus.  It was nothing like what we were looking for. So, I sent an e-mail off to ask what this little gift was that I was seeing in hopes that there had been some kind of mistake.  Certainly a digit had been forgotten.

Nope.  Just like the pig says:

A kick in the gut would have been preferable.  To see a number so much smaller than what we had expected was very hard.  I expected more.  I planned for more.  I felt that I deserved more.  I worked hard, and this is what I got?  Something is wrong. I have been slighted and I want this fixed.  My wife and I had plans and they have been pretty much decimated.

It was a rough day to get through.  A lot to process, and a lot of disappointment needed to be waded through.  After work (and some talk), supper (and some talk), and some Netflix with enough popcorn to strangle a mule, we went to bed to sleep on it.

I woke up this morning and the first thing that popped into my head was the word:

BONUS

Webster’s says bonus means: an amount of money added to wages on a seasonal basis, especially as a reward for good performance.

So there it is.  I worked all year, and I got a paycheck on-time every time for the work I did.  That is all I really have to count on.  Anything else is an add-on, and I need to be grateful for it.  I may believe that I have been slighted, but at the end of the day, I got what was coming to me all year, and this was just something extra. (A little something…)

Before anyone thinks that is all it took for me to push this aside and move on with nothing but happy thoughts, I can tell you that as soon as that popped into my head this morning it prompted about 30 minutes of debate inside my skull that ended with the “ticked off” me just walking away from the argument.

He tends to do that when he knows he is going to lose.

He’ll come back later and take the lump, but for now he is avoiding that by writing to all of you who choose to read about his feelings of indignation and mistreatment at the hands of the global entity that has done him wrong.  See?  Told you.  This isn’t over yet…

I know that I am going to get to the place where I will be alright.  Though the skies are gray today, I feel a little more brightness than I did yesterday afternoon when I walked out of work in the sunshine.  I know that God was not surprised by this, that He knew how I would react, and that He is waiting to see how I will process it and grow.

So… Grow already…

I know that this is a moment where God has allowed me to be placed in a spot where I can either hang on to something I never had and mourn the loss of it, or I can take solace in the things that I do have and have joy.  I know that I can wallow in self-pity and allow bitterness to take over my heart, or I can choose to step up and see what I can do to improve my work and know that by doing hard thing – moving past this – I am doing the right thing.  Trusting God and allowing His grace, peace, and comfort to reign in me.

If I want to live a Relentless Life, I really only have one choice.  I’m going to have to send that little sulker back to the table where he can take his medicine and do the right thing.  Let’s be realistic.  He can be pretty stubborn and it is probably going to take at least a couple of days.

I’m thankful for a God who loves me even when I don’t “get it” right away.  I’m thankful for a wife who believes in me even when I am not able to bring home as much bacon as we thought I would.  I’m thankful for a healthy family and two great kids in college.  I’m thankful for a good job that allows me to work in a place where I know God is using me.  I’m thankful for friends who pray for me.

I guess anything beyond those things is truly a bonus.

Thanks for reading.  Got some things to go do to start the journey.

 

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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Race Is Not the Problem. It Is a Symptom.

3.-Root-causeYesterday I heard the information unfold about the shooting of police officers in Dallas.  11 injured and 5 dead at the hands of one man who felt he needed to set something right.  This act was the result of two very publicized deaths of two black men in the past week.  I have watched a lot of video and read a lot of articles, and I am emotionally battered and bruised as a result of all of it.

There are a lot of hurting hearts out there today.  I speak not only of the families of those officers, but also of the families of the men who were killed by police.  No matter which side of the law those killed were on, their families are hurting today, grieving the loss of loved ones.  In that, all are equal.  I pray for God’s peace for them.  I also pray for an end of this.

Our country is sick right now yet we continue to look for a solution to the illness my treating the symptoms of the illness.  We add laws and programs. We spout rhetoric and demands.  We speak of rights and injustice. We point fingers and call for action.  What has it done?  Have we seen improvement?  No.  We might see momentary calm, but then the sickness returns stronger than ever and seemingly immune to things that once held it at bay.

I would like to say that I am angry, but I am at that point that we come to after anger and outrage.  I am almost in a state of complete despair regarding the future of our country and its ability to maintain any type of unity.  We are divided, and as long as we stay that way, things will continue to decline until the point that there is nothing left that is good, sacred, or safe.

So, what brought this on?  How did we get here?  Is this because of economic inequality, social class, race, educational opportunities, or bigotry?  Which of these or a hundred other things have brought us here?  Honestly I don’t think it is any of them.  They are just symptoms of the bigger problem.  The sickness is evil and it has been around a long time.  We like to think that we always recognize it, but it has been growing under different guises, hiding behind symptoms, building its strength and weakening our nation.

America is still a great place to be, and I am proud to be an American.  We have freedom like no other nation in the world.  It was sought out for that freedom by the Pilgrims, and then it was fought for by the early colonists. It has been defended through wars, both here on our land to deliver freedom to those in slavery, and abroad to give a part of our freedom to other countries that were in dire need.  Freedom is a good thing.  It is important to us and is should be defended, but in it I feel that evil has been allowed to flourish.

I think that in our pursuit of happiness and protection of so many of our rights, we have given birth to the most dangerous symptom of evil in our country – moral relativism.  The belief that what is right and wrong is based on my view of the world in any given moment.  When this type of mentality gets played out, it leads to one person’s “rights” being more important than another person’s “rights”.  Then, if those two “rights” are inherently opposed to each other we get conflict.  Over time, that conflict grows and becomes something out of control.  Here we are.

How has this happened?  I think C.S. Lewis summed it up quite well in the post below:

quote-satan-always-sends-error-into-the-world-in-pairs-that-are-opposites-his-great-hope-is-c-s-lewis-38-71-56

Saw this quote yesterday paired with an image of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  While that is a whole different discussion, I think it applies very well to a discussion on how evil has been able to thrive under the guise of freedom and the development of moral relativism.  Satan likes to see us in a state of reaction because reaction is generally done without thought.  It takes us places we might not have gone if we had spent some time contemplating the issue and searching for what we truly need – truth.

We can list all kinds of things we see around us that live in the extremes and we can react to them with a total opposite action.  There are always going to be extremes.  There is crime, but that does not mean we should have police brutality.  There has been police brutality, but that does not mean we should have open season on police.  There has been racism, but that does not mean reverse racism is an answer.  There has been gender inequality, but that does not mean we should erase gender.  Answering an extreme with an extreme does nothing more than tear down the moral fabric of our country.

I know it is easy for me to sit here and type these words as if I can solve the problems all over our country.  I am not that naive.  I also know that there will be people who may be upset by my words, thinking I am minimizing the effects of heinous acts in both directions.  I apologize if I make you feel that way.  My intent is not to belittle anyone in this.  I merely want to point out that it is time that we take a stand and stop talking about the symptoms as if they are all that matter.  We need to take the fight to the disease!

What if everyone in the country stopped their arguing for a day about who was right and who was wrong?  What if we just stopped and asked the question, “What is right and what is wrong?”  Remove the person from the equation because people will have differing views.  We must have a proper understanding of what is good and what is evil before we can agree on how to move forward.  If we aren’t all playing by the same rules then we will never play well together.

God’s Word used to be seen as a yardstick to hold right and wrong up against.  For me, it still is.  The Word of God is not only true, it is True.  The standard.  The thing that all should be measured against.  It is a measure of how we should treat our families, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, our employees, and how we should conduct ourselves in society.  If we could go back to holding up Truth as the standard instead of a person’s beliefs then we would finally be able to start rebuilding the damaged relationships in this country.

I am not saying we need to throw out our laws.  we need them because we will always have evil. We will always have those who will try to lift their agendas above all others.  We can’t let that stand in the way of putting things right again though.  We must stand and do the right thing.

I know I am a white guy from northern Michigan who grew up in a little town that has literally had almost no ethnic diversity for most of my life.  I also know that as I have grown up we have had crime.  We have had murders. We have had theft.  We have had violent behavior, and it has happened on both sides of the law.  I can also say that it has been committed almost solely by white people.  Does that mean that white people are the problem?  No.  Not any more than crime in a predominately black, hispanic, asian or any other ethnic area is indicative of crime being attributed solely to their color or nationality.  The problem is that we are all PEOPLE. We are people and we sin by doing evil things.  Evil is the problem, not skin tone.

My heart breaks for the fear and anxiety in the world today.  I have not said much about it, and I am not going to pick a side because the lines are so boldly drawn and far apart that there is simply too much room for ambiguity and falsehood to wreak all kinds of havoc on both sides of the issues.  I cannot choose one over the other because I think that sometimes both sides in any issue are wrong.  Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. and if we can find it, we will be free to live our lives as God so desperately wants us to live.

Jesus Christ is that Truth.  He came so we could have that life we all want. An abundant and rich life.  A life that our founding fathers really had in mind when they penned the words “pursuit of happiness”.  I am not saying this is a Christian nation, but I am saying that it was founded on biblical principles because they saw and understood the Truth in God’s Word.  They saw that following those rules would give us our best shot at the happiness and freedoms we were designed for by God to have through a relationship with Him.  They wanted us to have freedom through those principles because in the principles of God’s Word, true freedom is found.

I have been challenged in my devotional reading yesterday that it is important to realize when enough is enough and it is time to stand up and say what needs to be said.  If I am going toe Relentless in my life, then that is what I need to do.  I want to be a man of God, obedient to Him and reaching out to those around me with Truth.  Not my truth. God’s Truth. So, today I am calling out those who read this to do the same.

1 Corinthians 16:13 says:

“Be on alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

So, how about it?  Do I stand alone, or will you stand with me to pull back the cover that shrouds evil?  Are you willing to look past the symptoms that are tearing us apart and Relentlessly seek the root cause of the decay we are experiencing around us?

Let’s stand up.  Speak Truth into the circumstances around us. Pray for our country. Pray for our families.  Pray for a return to Truth.

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My Take On Election Year 2016

DvELet me start off this post by saying that this year I have made a point of trying to stay out of the political arguing and banter going on out there.  I have made it a personal goal to not get into any political arguments or take off on any social media rants like so many are fond of.  I might slip a time or two, but for the most part I am trying to stay out of it for my own sanity as well as the heath of relationships.  We all have opinions and those opinions are not always held by those we call friends.

That being said, I want to make a couple of comments here and address what I feel to be a big issue in these times in which we live.  You may not agree with me, and that is your right.  I just hope that we can all take a moment and think about things like adults.  I admit to being a little handicapped in that area, but I promise to do my best.

I read an article the other day asking Christians to avoid voting in this election because there are no candidates that would be a good choice in God’s eyes.  While I do agree that the moral integrity of the candidates that are basking in the media spotlights right now is somewhat suspect, I don’t think that is a good reason for us to abstain from voting.  We need not be fearful of making a “wrong” or “flawed” choice.  We are all human, and flawed humans picking a leader from a pool of flawed humans will always succeed in selecting a flawed human as their leader.  Face the facts.

I have often walked into the voting booth picking “the lesser evil” with my vote.  Not exactly an inspiring thought when putting someone in a position of authority like that, but it really is about all I can do.  When I go into the booth I am doing my part to make a good selection, but the system does not always allow for us to have a “best choice”.  We do what we can with what we are given.  Frankly, I am not going to get that worked up about it.  I will continue to vote and be a good citizen, but I often feel that my part in the process does not matter in the grand scheme of things.

My family has been talking extensively about the candidates still available to us for next week’s primary, and we are discouraged.  There are no candidates that match our values.  We see the frontrunners as untrustworthy and dangerous to not only the dignity and safety of our country, but also to our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy.  It is disheartening to sit and look at the choices available and not only feel a sense of malaise, but an actual fear.  What does all of this mean for the USA and for us?

Allowed to run unchecked, these fears can bring us into a near panic over our situation.  What will happen to us?  Isn’t there anyone that can save us in this troubled time?  What is happening with our country, and why can’t the majority truly see the truth of who these candidates are?  There must be better choices than those we are allowed to actually vote on.  What am I supposed to do as a believer?  Where does my sense of responsibility begin and end?

Basically, I have decided I can do four things:

Pray – The Bible tells me that it I should worry about nothing and pray about everything.  The thing to remember is that I need to be praying for the right things.  God’s will to be done is the first and foremost thing to remember.  He will allow the person to be elected.  That is not mine to decide.  My part in this is to ask God to show me how to rightly respond to how that person will eventually lead this country.  I might not agree with what they say, but I can still respond appropriately.  I need to pray in preparation for whatever God decides to bring into my life.

Learn – We are told to be wise.  That means that we are supposed to learn about the candidates.  We shouldn’t just listen to the media sound bytes and read the stuff on social media.  What are the real facts about the candidates?  Take some time and dig in to see what is actually there.  A Christian should never vote based on what they saw on Twitter. C’mon, everyone.  We need to be smarter than that.

Vote – We have a duty as citizens of our country to vote.  God is OK with it. I promise!  Christ showed us the importance of paying our taxes and the apostles wrote of the duty we have to be subject to the authority that God has placed over us.  Why would God tell us to pay taxes and be subject to our rulers set over us if He did not also want us to be involved in the process?  It might not be a command, “Thou shalt vote/not vote for the _____________party”, but there is definitely an understanding that we have a governmental system that God intends us to work with.

Pray Some More – After the election it will be time to pray some more!  The person in office will need to be lifted up in prayer.  The leader of the USA is probably under more pressure than any other leader in the world.  Like the old saying, “Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.”, we need to be praying for wisdom, protection, and guidance for our President as they will be under a heavy burden while in office.

At the end of the day, all the talk, arguing, and shouting about politics pretty much just leads to a ton of anxiety and anger.  I’ve decided that I don’t need that.  I would rather FOCUS on living a Relentless life.  The political environment breeds fear, and emotional turmoil.  I choose to try to live in the peace that God brings to the situations around me.  Peace like God tells us about in Isaiah:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

The election is coming and there will be a President.  God already knows who that will be. He will not be surprised, and He will still be on the throne of the universe.  I’m going to rest in that.  It gives me peace no matter what happens in the arena of politics.

Pray. Do your homework. Vote. Pray some more.  In all of it, TRUST GOD!

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I Got Robbed

cat_burglar_by_croonstreet-d3ce6mqHad a sad moment today when I realized that I had been a victim of petty theft.  Somebody had taken it upon themselves to get into my desk and remove a couple of items of mine.  They were not big things, but they were my things.  It saddened me, and it made me angry.  Why?  What gives them the right to take what was not theirs?

A few hours have gone by now since I realized my things were no longer mine.  I’ve calmed down, and things are coming into FOCUS.  My anger has faded, and I am now thinking about this in a bigger picture.  Am I better than this person?  Honestly, no.  I have nicked a thing or two in my lifetime, and I’m sure I made someone else feel the same way I felt today.  I’m not going to call that karma because I don’t believe in karma.  It’s a depraved world – nothing more, nothing less.

The thing for me to FOCUS on today is not that I was robbed, but what my response was.  I was angry – VERY angry about something that really wasn’t that big of a deal.  It wasn’t the items that were taken as much as it was that someone had dared to take from ME!  It was MINE!  I wanted justice! Uh-Oh…

You see, when I want justice, I am putting myself in a spot where I am asking to be put under a microscope myself.  I am climbing up onto a throne of judgement and I am going to let the hammer fall on someone.  That might feel good, but is that the way to show grace?  No. I want to be right in that moment, and I want justice for wrongs done against me, but in reality, the wrong was not against me, and I have no rights in it.

Once I had a chance to think about it, I realized that God must often feel the same way about me.  He bought me with His Son’s blood, and now I belong to Him.  My body and soul are no longer mine to control, but sometimes I steal control of my life.  It’s not long term, and you could “rationalize” it and say I was only borrowing it, but the truth is, I steal control because I want it.

God has the right as a holy God to punish me, or even end me, but He responds to me with Grace.  I might have to suffer some consequences, but He lets me have grace and forgives me, restores, me and grows me.  His example of grace and mercy are provided for me so I know how to live and interact with those who are around me.

So, RELENTLESS LIVING demands that I shift that FOCUS off myself and put it on God.  The thing to do is to FOCUS on the lesson that God has for me in this moment.  Something temporal may have been taken form me, but in the midst of that, He also provides an opportunity for me to experience some eternal growth.  In the end, that is a definite positive on the balance sheet.

I’m not sure if the person will step forward or try to return my things.  All I know is that I’m thankful for a God that cares about me enough to talk to me and show me where I can grow even in something like this.

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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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Hands and Heart – Part 2

unnamedI guess when I posted the first part of this blog, most people would have rightly assumed that the second part would come next.  Sorry about that, but as a loyal reader, you are now being rewarded for your patience with me!

For those of you who are on Facebook, you have probably seen a few posts from your friends using the Timehop app.  Timehop is an app that accesses your Facebook and Twitter feeds to bring up the things that you posted on the present day in history.  It is a nice little window into what you may have been thinking about, sharing with others, or in the case of many, the pictures of what you ate.

A couple of days ago my Timehop hit on a post from 5 years ago.  It was a Facebook post where I mentioned a trip I had to take down to Big Rapids to meet with my District Manager and Zone Manager with Kellogg’s.  It was not a good meeting.  In that meeting I was cut apart, had my character questioned, and was told that I was not a good employee.  They had all kinds of papers and charts to show how their numbers proved it, but many of those numbers were twisted and out of context to the point that they were terribly untrue.  The problem was, I was not in the position to make the rules.  I left that meeting on probation.

On my drive home that day I remember battling feelings of depression, anger, doubt, and fear.  I needed this job.  It was a good job, and if I had been allowed to run it the way that my customers were asking me to do things, I could have been very successful at it for them, the company and for myself.  The problem was, I didn’t make the rules, and I was not honest enough with myself to admit that I felt miserable in that job.  By the time I got home I had closed my fist as tightly as possible around the false security of that job though.  I refused to let go.

I went to work with a renewed vigor and did whatever it took to meet the demands that had been placed on me.  They were unrealistic and required me to work as many as 16 hours a day at times.  I decided it was worth it though.  It was something I refused to let go of.  I put myself in a position where I was unwilling to look at anything other than what I wanted, and that was to hold that job.

Over the next several weeks I will probably share some more of how God took me through the process of His opening my hand.  It will be a bittersweet journey for me.  I don’t like to remember the pain, but I do enjoy looking back and seeing how God worked things out and brought me to a better place.

The journey taught me the importance of letting God have access to what is in my hands.  I could close them like a fist and keep things, or I could open them to His purposes and see what He wanted to do.  It sounds easier than it is.  I felt like after God opened my hands through losing that job I was pretty much all set.  When you have had your hands opened up like I did, you are reluctant to hold tight again any time soon.

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The problem was that I didn’t open up all the way.  I had a couple fingers that were still closed.  They couldn’t hold much, but in my heart I was still hanging onto things that I didn’t want God to have.  Some of them were just things I was unwilling to trust Him to handle.  Did I think He couldn’t? No.  I just wanted that feeling of control in an environment where I had almost none.  I had so much taken from me in a short period of time, and I had such a tenuous grip on the rest that I was living in fear.

I was blessed to have a supportive wife who built into me and was also an example for me as we went through that time.  Through her, I saw an openhanded example, and while it took me a lot longer to grasp it, I believe that she was the one that planted that seed.

I also had a mentor and some friends who showed me how they lived an openhanded life, and as I spent more time with them and in my Bible I began to come face to face with the fact that I was still living a selfish life.  I didn’t have as many things to be selfish about, but I was clinging to what I had left!   Funny to think that I was hanging on to things so hard even then.

Over the last year I have learned that the key to joy in the Christian life is in the simple phrase “Thy will be done.”  When I give myself  over to what God wants, open my hands to whatever He deems right to put there, allow Him to remove the things that should be gone, I will be a happier person.  It might be painful at times, but the result has always proven to be better for me.

Relentless Growth is living in the pursuit of a relationship with God. The way to do that is to approach Him with a humble, open spirit, willing to accept what He has for your life.  It is a willingness to ask God to give me the desires of my heart that are in line with what He wants for me.  A willingness to accept what might feel hard for a time in order to receive a blessing over time.

Relentless Living requires open hands and an open heart.  I know I still stumble in this, but I have some great people that help me in it, and God keeps showing me opportunities to grow.

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Hands and Heart – Part 1

The Hand In Your HeartAt the end of my arms are these things called hands.  They are “handy” to say the least. (OK, that was bad, but if you know me, you know I like a good pun, and I really like a bad one!) Hands can be used to do anything from brain surgery to automotive repair to plunging a toilet.  They can wage war, build buildings, and comfort the sick.  Some are big, some small, but all of them have one thing in common – they are servants of the heart and mind and will reflect the attitude of the person that owns them.

I have been thinking a lot about hands lately, and how they can be a reflection of the heart.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that God made the human heart about the size of your hand when closed in a fist.  How we hold our hands can be a picture of the heart.  Take a minute and think about how your heart feels and put your hands in that position.  Are they closed in a fist? Open?  Are they trembling?  Limp? Are they clenched in anger or fear?

10 years ago I would tell you that my heart and hands were pretty hard and closed.  I didn’t really intend it to be that way, but my default was usually a fist.   A fist has its benefits:

  1. I could hold things tightly. – I didn’t want to lose the things that I had.  There were things that I had worked very hard to get, and at time I felt that I was having them taken from me.  That made me very fearful, and I would hang on with all I had to keep those things close.
  2. I could keep things away from me. – Ask anyone in law enforcement, and they will tell you that in some circumstances the way a person stands will tell you what they might be willing to do, and a closed fist is a sign to be very cautious.  I would let people be around me, but I know that I didn’t attract many either.   That “closed fist” aura was around me, and I was fine with that.
  3. I could fight at any time. – It doesn’t take long to make a fist, but I was already set to go.  I was willing to wade into a war at a moment’s notice.  If I felt the threat it was go time.  If I saw a cause I wanted in on, it was time to throw down.  It didn’t need to even be my problem, I was willing to make it my problem.  I wasn’t physically fighting, but my heart was a closed fist and ready to go to defend anything.

Slide3As time went on I began to see that this closed fist mentality also had some real problems too.  I had an opportunity to join a men’s group about 5 years ago, and as a result I learned that I had some changes to make.  Our leader saw some things in me that needed change, and as we reflected on them together, he helped me see some of the negatives of a closed fist way of living:

  1. I was pretty much alone. – Like I said, I did a good job of keeping things and people away from me.  I knew I had people that could hang out with me, but I didn’t really have anyone who knew me well.  I lived a life where I didn’t trust people or want them to get inside a certain level of friendship because it could cost me something.  They might want to get into my hand and take something from me.  I couldn’t let that happen.  It was “better” to be alone.
  2. I had alienated people. – My words, actions, and selfishness had driven some people away from me.  I needed to be heard, understood, and most importantly, I needed to be right.  To that end I would escalate simple differences in opinion to the point of pushing good people out of my life.
  3. I was unable to give. – My hands were so tightly closed around what I perceived to be mine that I was not able to even comprehend what it was like to have a generous heart.  I saw people enjoy giving gifts, or helping others and I just could not understand how they could do that.
  4. I was barely able to receive. – Make a fist and then have someone throw you an apple. Try to catch it with that hand.  I was so clamped down on life that I know I let opportunities pass me by because I was more concerned with what was in my hand than what better things might have been available.

I’m a child of God, and when God has a child that He wants to speak to, He will send gentle reminders from time to time in order to bring them around.  Looking back, I can see a lot of them that He sent my way, but I missed them at the time.  When a person is a closed fist, they tend to miss a lot of things – did you catch the apple?  Eventually, God may decide it is time to put His hands into the process.

When my kids were little, they would sometimes grab things that they were trying to shove into their mouths.  We would tell them to stop and try to take it from them, but they would squeeze their little fist as tightly as they could to hold onto that prized morsel of indeterminate and probably unsanitary nature. We would grab their little hands and pry their fingers apart to take it away.

God’s hands are bigger than mine.  Almost 5 years ago He used His big hands to pull my fist of a heart open.  My heart that was determined to do things my own way needed to be pried open as only God could have done it.  I lost my job, and that was the beginning of the release of a lot of things.  I lost my income, and in a lot of ways, I lost my identity.  I lost some pride, but that was a good thing!

I’m glad I no longer had a fist in my heart.  It was finally open, but I can tell you that it was broken.  I was dislocated in a lot of areas, and that was difficult to get past.  God had broken my closed-fisted heart in order to get me to see what I was and my need for Him to be in control.

Looking back, I am glad He did.  It set me on a journey, and that journey has brought me where I am today.  It led me to an understanding that the call of my life is to be Relentless in my pursuit of what God may have for me.  I can tell you today, that it is becoming clear.  God is making some changes in my life and that of my family as well.  We are very excited to see how things will play out as we continue to see His leading in our lives.  I look forward to telling  you more about it next week!

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Humility: Your Best Escape From Satan’s Reach

9.1.ChristLikeHumility_610947592I mentioned in my last post that I was going to start reading my Chronological Study Bible, and I have really been enjoying it.  Even as I go back through some of these old stories I have known since I was a little guy, I am excited at what God is showing me at this stage in my life. Yes, I am older now with gray hairs and all, so maybe I am just seeing things through an eye that has had to come to grips with a bit of life, so this is making more sense to me now…  Anyway, moving on…

In the account of Adam & Eve in the garden I read something the other day that got me thinking, and then some things happened, I read a quote, and another verse dropped in my lap and I got thinking even more. I have chewed on this for a few days,and now I am ready to write down my thoughts. So, buckle in if you want!

We all know the story of Adam & Eve and the fruit of the tree.  God had put them in the Garden with so many things they could eat and he told them to not eat just one thing.  In reading the account, the command was given specifically to Adam in Chapter 2, but when the serpent made its way into the Garden in Chapter 3, we can see that Adam did pass the message on to Eve – although he might not have been clear.

You see, Adam was told very clearly, “Don’t eat.” However, when the serpent confronts Eve she delivers a slightly different version of the rule to the serpent, “Don’t touch OR eat.” Why the difference?  Not sure.  Is it possible that Eve added that bit herself?  Is it possible that in an effort to protect her, Adam recommended the extra step?  Not sure, but I think in adding that little item, whoever tacked it into the job description, it could have been a contributing factor to the Fall.

See, after Eve tells the serpent that she can’t even touch it, the snake knows that he has her.  There is a falsehood in play now that he can use.  In chapter 3 we see the following exchange:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

– Genesis 3:1-6

After the serpent told Eve she would not die, I think that she stepped up to the tree and gave it a harder look.  I think Adam was there behind her and was watching to see what was going to happen, but didn’t step up and stop anything.  Eve probably reached out tentatively and very slowly touched the fruit of the tree with a finger tip and NOTHING HAPPENED!  Then she probably took the fruit in her hand and NOTHING HAPPENED! Finally she pulled it from the tree and NOTHING HAPPENED!

At this point what is she supposed to think?  a full 50% of her knowledge regarding behavior toward this tree is now out the window and she is seeing no problems.  Then she looks at the fruit. It looked like it would be good for food, it had a pleasant appearance and looked ready for a bite, and the clincher, “What if it really makes me as wise as God?”

*Crunch*  “Here, Adam, you try.” *Crunch*

And that was all it took.  The temptation had set in, Satan’s trap had sprung, and mankind was now facing a death sentence.  Why?  Because of a lack of humility.

Slide1Jonathan Edwards said it very well, and when I saw this quote the day after reading this passage, I knew I wanted to use it:

“Nothing sets a person so much out of the Devil’s reach as humility.”  Let that simmer for a bit.  Really let it bubble.

What would that have looked like if Eve had chosen humility?  She would have recognized her desire to be like God as a matter of pride.  She would not have eaten the fruit. She might have realized that the serpent was trying to destroy mankind in telling his half truths.  She may have even had Adam step over and do a little pest control!  I’m not sure, but she allowed her relationship with God to be at a place where she considered herself at the minimum, equal with God in that moment.

We all have moments that we are like this.  Think about the times that you just want to other person to admit that you are right.  The times when you just want to have your way.  The times that you just want to be heard.  None of this things are inherently wrong, but what do they potentially lead to?

In my case they have led to harsh words with no thought to the other person’s feelings.  They have led to angry words intended to tear someone down.  They have led to yelling that accomplishes nothing at the end of the day other than, yes, I was heard.  They heard that I was loud, opinionated, and basically, a jerk.

Humility would be a better choice.  If I look at my position and actions as a way to better someone else rather than make myself look good, then I am acting with humility.  If I take the time to determine whether I am looking for something to make someone else feel better by enduring or not allowing myself to lash out, I am acting with humility.

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I am not a humble man by nature.  I have struggled with a need to be right, to be heard, to be acknowledged for much of my adult life.  I hate that about me, but I am not content to stay that way.  Relentless Growth demands that I put myself in a back seat, but it is more than that.  Like Mr. Edwards said, humility is not just sitting back and taking a lump for somebody else.  Sometimes it is a conscious thought-out decision to stand up against Satan and say:

“No.  I have no right to this feeling of indignation.  I have no right to this feeling of injustice.  I am a child of God, bought at a high price that was not deserved.  By allowing my feelings to override what I know to be right according to God’s Word, I am placing my desire to be right over His command to do right, and I will not do that.  I will humble myself to avoid the sin.”

Peter also said it well:

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

– 1 Peter 5:6 NLT

Relentless Growth.  Sometimes it might feel like you are dying to do or say something, but when you choose to be humble in Christ, you are throwing roots down so deeply into Him.  Maybe that’s all we really need to remember.  When we choose humility over exercising our “right” to be heard or obeyed, could we really be acting more like Christ?  Probably not.

Thanks for reading.  I really just wanted to share this with everyone because it really spoke to me.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

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