On Time – Not Early

I have been asked again  to share some of my writing with my church family in the form of a devotional for our church’s fall campaign.  I thought I would go ahead and share them with anyone else who might be interested in reading them as well.  So, here it is!  I will share the others every other day  until I get through them all.  Hoping by then I have had an opportunity to do some more writing on some of my current thoughts!

On Time – Not Early

timing-is-everythingPhilippians 4:12-13 – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Back in 2010, my job came to an abrupt end on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in April.  I had gone to work that day feeling like I was on top of the world after a very trying time showing my employer that I was the guy they needed in my position.  I had fought hard to meet every demand and had even surpassed their expectations.  I was feeling pretty good, and then I got a phone call telling me that they wanted to meet with me later in the day.

I went home that day in a cab with a little cardboard box on my lap that contained the remnants of 11 years of hard work and a pile of paperwork explaining my severance package.  When I got home to face my wife and kids, all I could say was, “I don’t have to get up in the morning!”

Over the next couple of months, we watched as our savings went away and the job offers did not come in.  Unemployment was taking forever, but the bills showed up right on time.  We managed to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid, and through the generosity of family, friends, and church family, we even had food in the fridge.  It was not looking good, but we always managed to find just enough when we really needed it.

Then the day came when I was leaving to go do some handyman work for some family members that had been paying me $100 a day.  The plan was that I would go and work for two days, but I would spend the night away since gas money was tight.  As I was leaving, my wife looked at me with fear in her eyes and told me that we needed $300 by Monday to make the mortgage payment.  What were we going to do?  I knew that I was going to make $200, but where would the extra come from?

I remember looking her in the eye and saying that I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but God was going to provide it.  I think back to that moment and remember that for some reason I really believed it.  I couldn’t explain it!  After all, it was Friday morning and I was leaving for two days.  What was I thinking?

On my drive downstate I had an hour with myself and I used it talking to God.  I prayed Psalm 27:13 to Him and talked to Him about the fact that my family needed to see His goodness by Monday.  I shed tears, and I praised Him for what He was going to do.  I didn’t know how, but I knew He would take care of it.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 27:13

I spent the next two days under the floor of a cottage crawling around in a damp crawlspace, and finally it was time to go home.  I collected my check, folding it in half and putting it in my pocket without looking at it, hugged goodbye and got in the car to head north.  I was still wondering what the next day might give me in work so I could make that mortgage payment.

wp-1474253527844.pngI got a call from my wife when I was about halfway home.  She asked me if I got paid and I said of course I did as I reached into my pocket to fish out the check.  When I opened it I saw that it had been written for $300 instead of the usual $200.  God had come through with a whole day to spare!

Since that day I’ve seen God do a lot of things “just in the nick of time.”  I have seen how He has changed my level of contentment.  I have seen Him bring me from pride in myself to a dependence on Him.  Our mortgage payment was not made because I went out and really worked hard.  God honored that, but I believe with all of my heart that my mortgage was kept current because I had faith and He held the solution.

  • Where do you need to have a moment of humility so God can work His miracles?
  • Are you willing to truly trust God with the big things and the little things?
  • Do you see worry as a sin that hinders God from working in your life?

Father, sometimes we need to know despair before we can truly know what it feels like to feel dependence on You.  Let my pride be brought low so that I may be in the position of humility before You.  Open my heart and eyes to see You at work in my life, and let my faith grow RELENTLESSLY as I praise You for the mighty things You do!

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Frazzled

logo_frazzledI’m feeling it.  That pressure that sits right behind the eyeballs.  The pressure of knowing there is more to do than can be done, and that leaves you feeling paralyzed and unable to do anything.  Sleep is not the answer because once it happens, the dreams wake you up again.  You end up going through the day feeling like you are constantly trying to catch up as you see yourself falling farther behind.

Yep.  That’s where I am right now.  Call it what you want, stressed, frazzled, tired, deprived, or half crazy.  I just know that I have had a headache for the last five days, and have averaged about four hours of sleep for the last 4 nights.  I’m beat.  Feeling like I got little or nothing left.

So, I guess I only have one of two choices.  I can either continue to feel sorry for myself or I can give it to God.

Pity Party for One – The problem is, I know that having a pity party for one is not possible.  You just can’t feel sorry for yourself without affecting other people.  They will either fall into your funk, or they will get fed up with your funk!  Either way, you will end up dragging others down.  I know I have done that today, and I need to apologize to my kids this evening.  Tammi is gone tonight, so she avoided my party.  (At least today’s party…)  Tammi, I’m sorry for the last couple days!

Give It to God – Psalm 27:13 says – “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”  I have looked at that as a prayer in the past, but what if it was a statement of war against Satan’s constant attacks at my joy?  Would I see a difference in my attitude?   Probably so.  I think that is going to be my “mantra” tomorrow.  (That should have some old Baptists cringing! Tom is chanting!)  I need to keep my head focused on looking for God’s goodness.  A Relentless view of God’s hand at work in my life and around me.  That should help with the joy problem!

Relentless living doesn’t mean you can’t have rough days, but it does mean that as you think them through, you can and will find your joy again.  It probably won’t be in the events around you, but it can always be found in God!

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Probably Time To Get This Wart Removed

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

We are currently on a much needed vacation in Florida, and I can honestly say that am completely chilled out! It has been a long time since I have been able to enjoy this much time away from work, and I have come face to face with the fact that I need to make sure I don’t wait this long again!

Before we left, my wife was telling me that it was so nice to be able to stop worrying and just relax after her last shift ended. I told her that I will not stop worrying until we are at the hotel. She asked why, and I said that is just the way I am. I worry about things. I know it is wrong, but I do it anyway. One could even argue that it is just the way God made me, but that would be an invalid argument.

When I read the verses above this week in my devotional time, I had a thought hit me right between the eyes. I have heard people say that worry is a sin because it takes God out of the picture, but it never really hit home the way it should. As I thought about worry the other day though, I realized something:

Worry is NOT a part of how God designed us!

Back in the Garden of Eden, God made a man and a woman and He gave them everything they needed. They had food to eat, a job to do, and fellowship with their Creator. Nothing existed to worry about. All needs were met, and everything was literally “perfect”.

You don’t read that Adam worried about finding a mate. You read that God saw it was not good for him to be alone. You do not read that Adam worried about irrigation for the Garden, you read that a mist came up from the ground. You do not read that Adam and Eve worried about friends, they had each other and God.

Then you read about the fall, and the worry starts immediately. Sin brought worry with it. Plain and simple. You could say that there was not a need for worry since it was perfect, but honestly, I believe that we were not designed for it.

Think about the adverse affects of worry on the body. Ulcers, hair loss, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, depression. These things should stand as proof that worry is not a good thing for our bodies. If worry was a good thing then our bodies would actually thrive from it, but they don’t. Worry slowly kills.

What is the antidote? Getting close to God. The closer we are to Him, the better we see His hands at work. The easier it is to see His love and comfort in the tempest. The easier it is to feel the protection of the one and only omnipotent God. Whom shall I fear? If I am where I should be, nobody and nothing!

This doesn’t mean that everything will always feel wonderful, but it is a promise that God will clear the worry, anxiety, and fear from our minds and replace it with peace, comfort, and confidence if we just draw near to Him and take our problems to Him first rather than trying to solve them ourselves.

There is an old hymn that echoes this facet of a Relentless life:

“Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now.
He will save you, He will save you,
He will save you now.”

Sounds too simple, but that is how God works. Just like our salvation comes from simply believing we are sinners with a need of God’s forgiveness and recognizing Him as Lord. God doesn’t want to confuse us in these important things.

How about you? First of all, do you want to avoid worry? Then I ask if you know God. If you don’t then that is the first step. After that, it is all about staying close enough to Him that your problems cannot be allowed to be seen as bigger than they really are.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

Running Scared

This past weekend, we were at the Michigan 4-H Dog Show at the MSU Pavilion in East Lansing.  If you are not familiar with the Pavilion, it is the agriculture and livestock arena at MSU.  While I am a Wolverine fan, I do enjoy my trips to the Pavilion, and that is probably because I don’t see a whole lot of football stuff there!  Sorry, but I love the Big House!  Anyway, back to the story.

1526980_10202671943578215_1812938245_nJessica’s Aussie, Sydney, is a wonderful dog.  I have never seen a dog before that showed as much intelligence as she does.  When you look into her eyes, you are almost positive that she understands you.  We have taken to spelling things in our house because she knows what words mean and gets all excited when we don’t want her to be excited!  Unfortunately, she has now been showing signs that she understand the spelling as well!  There are times that we all find ourselves talking to her.  I don’t mean talking to her like you would a regular dog, but a real, conversational talking!  When I catch myself in that, there are times that I am almost surprised that she does not answer me.  Who knows?  She is still young…

If there was one thing I would change about this dog, it would be her fear.  Sydney is terrified of thunder.  A rumble in the sky and she is immediately shaking and panting.  She will go and hide in the basement, under a bed, anywhere where she can feel like she has put something between her and the sky.  We try to get her to come to us so we can console her, but nothing works.  She is consumed by her fear.

When we arrived at the Pavilion Saturday, Sydney was fine.  She trotted up to the building as if she was the queen of the world, ready for the show.  That all changed when we got inside.  The Pavilion has huge exhaust fans in the ceiling that rumble.  There are very loud speakers that are constantly going off as people give information overhead.  Often those people would tap the microphone, and those taps were loud booms through the building.  Within 5 minutes, Sydney was reduced to a quivering, panting mess with nowhere to hide.  To make matters worse, she had to go out and perform.

Jessica was discouraged and torn.  Here she was, ready for the show, and full of confidence in her dog’s ability to do well, but she was conflicted seeing her baby so riddled with fear.  I could tell that she wanted to stay and go home with almost equal measure.  We spoke to her and tried to encourage her, but I know that she still felt miserable because her dog was miserable.scooby-running-scared

The competition began, and in the first event, while Sydney did well, all things considered. She did not place in the event, and it is an event that she almost always does flawlessly.  She was just too scared to listen to Jessica.  Too scared to do what she knew how to do.  Too scared to just listen to her master’s encouragement and love.  Too scared to anything.

Watching her, I could only think of myself in some of the situations I have faced.  The fears of life begin to weigh on me.  I feel the rumbling thunder of the coming storm and I begin to worry.  I see the flash of lightning, and I just want to hide.  The darkening skies make me knees go weak. I can’t do this!  I run in circles. I’m inconsolable.  I pant and whine.  I hear nothing but the perceived threats around me.  God, where are YOU?

As our day wore on, Sydney began to calm a bit.  She never really relaxed, but as Jessica worked with her and spoke to her and calmed her, you could see that she eventually began to come around.  By the end of the day, she was still a little shaky, but she was doing a very good job in her events, and overall had her best show ever at MSU.  We were proud of both of them.  What made the difference? Jessica.  She never left Sydney.  Sydney’s surroundings never changed, just her focus.  As the day went on she shifted her focus back to Jessica, and she did well.

When the skies are dark, the thunder is rolling, and I can’t see or hear God – HE IS STILL THERE!  He never leaves me.  He is there to give me instruction, to calm me, to encourage me, to show me His love for me.  He is there to direct me and help me accomplish the task He has for me.  My circumstances may never change, but when I shift my focus to Him, the rest fades.  It is still there, but I am so caught up in Him that the rest of it pales and seems manageable again.  It might not be comfortable, but His love compels me to keep going.

Lately I have been faced with some very hard times, and last week they came in a crushing wave that caught up with me hard.  I was not aware how loud the storm had gotten until it had overwhelmed me.  I felt empty, worn, and torn.  I was getting good counsel, reading my Bible, and spending time in prayer.  I was looking so many places for help that I couldn’t hear His voice.  It finally came to me, and it was quiet when it did.  It came out of left field where I did not expect it.  It grabbed my heart and completely wrapped it up in His love and tenderness for me.  Sometime I will write about how He did that, but this is not the time.

I am thankful for a God that never leaves.  He is committed to His work in my life, and He will not give up on me until it is accomplished no matter if I am paying attention to Him or not!  If God is that Relentless in His pursuit of my heart, why am I not on the edge of my seat and eyes on Him at all times?  Too much of me gets in the way.

I want to be Relentless in all aspects of my life and in my relationship with God.  I learned some things this past week.  Being Relentless means I can’t just sit and chew on that.  Relentless Growth requires me to act, to take steps, to move into that next step of maturity in Him.  I’ll mess up again, but I hope that the next time I do I will recognize it earlier.  I  hope that I will not allow my eyes to drift from Him for too long.  I hope that my ears will stay tuned to His still, small voice that leads, comforts, and encourages my soul.

Sydney was running scared in all directions.  When I am scared, I want to run to my God.  My Protector. My Savior, Father, & King!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

What Scares Me

halloween-scary-houseI used to really like watching horror movies. I hate to admit that out loud, but it’s the truth. It was never to see the blood or gore or anything like that, I liked it for the suspense and the fear. Instead of sitting there dreading the moment that the bad guy would jump out, I was eager for it. I liked the adrenalin rush that fear would bring.

Over the years I began to lose interest in those movies. Some of it was because the filmmakers were adding so much blood to the movies. It got to the point that it was just ridiculous and in a way, comical. The real reason that I stopped was that it got to be predictable. I knew who the bad guy was, who was next, when it would happen, and often the bad pun that would come with the death of the unsuspecting victim.  It just got boring. No fear = No fun.

I believe God gave me the gift of an analytical mind. It comes in handy most of the time. I look at a problem and see the options, the possibilities, and somehow I can usually put together the outcome.  As a result, I have really come to depend on that ability as I go through the “routine” of life.  Problem comes up, weigh options, formulate and apply solution, move on. Most of the time it works. My life has a lot of routine, so the formula works for me. Even when things are crazy, the things I face are part of a period of routine craziness.

Sometimes though, things break from the routine. The thing that does that the most is the future. It is unpredictable. Too many variables when you start looking out more than a few weeks. Too much could happen. Too many people might be involved. Too much of it ends up out of my control or my sight. Then it happens. The fear sets in.

What I used to seek out and enjoy now unsettles me. It steals my sleep, clouds my mind, and isolates me from others. It takes up my time in thinking, planning, protecting, strategizing, and evaluating.  I will look at what I want, what I need, what I can do, what I need others to do, what the effect could be for myself and others, who I will anger, who I will hurt, who I will disappoint. I see so many possibilities for good and for things to go wrong, and I feel terrified.

There are things I am working on in my career right now that are full of variables. There are choices that we are looking at regarding where we might live in the future. There are decisions to be made on our finances that are the result of past mistakes. Then there is the thing that really unsettled me. I am the leader of my home. I have a wife and two teens that I am responsible for, and those kids are getting uncomfortably close to getting ready to fly. Are they ready? Did I do enough? Have I hurt them?

These are things that are much more terrifying than a crazed, knife-wielding maniac. This stuff is important! These things matter in ways that affect future generations and kingdom work as well. They cannot be ignored, but they also can’t just be figured out.

So, there I am. Walking down the gravel road in the middle of the moonlit night. I’m looking around. I’m checking for escape routes. I’m taking inventory. What have I got? What is at my disposal? In a word, what I have to bring to the table is nothing.

Paralysis starts to set in, the sweats take over, and I get that clench in the gut that just makes me feel sick.  I think that if someone were to look at me at that moment they would see that same wild-eyed look that a horse gets when it has been spooked.  Then I hear the words in my heart:

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13

God brings this verse to my mind now whenever I feel that fear.  Fear is the first step to despair when it comes to a lot of the matters I am talking about here.  It is fear unchecked that takes us to the place that we enter into despair.  We can’t see a way out in spite of all of our plans and we feel that we flounder in this place until we lose hope.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  – Proverbs 3:5-6

Here is the hard part – trusting God.  The struggle with faith in the face of an overwhelming feeling of fear.  God tells is that He will lead us, but it takes trusting Him.  It takes saying to Him, “I’m scared!  I don’t know what is going to happen with the finances!  I’m not sure if I am doing a good job as a husband or as a Dad!  I’m scared about the lack of momentum I am seeing in those who are in charge of parts of my career!  God! Where is this going? Please, I’m asking You to show me!  I need to know that You are there and that You care!”

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

God wants good things for me.  I know He does.  He tells me over and over again that He cares for me and that He will meet my needs.  He sent His Son for me and anyone else to receive the gift of salvation.  God is a loving Father who wants to give His children the things they ask for, to see us blessed so we can tell others about how great He is.  He just wants our focus to be on Him.  That is where I fail – where many of us fail.  We see inside and horizontally, but we are not looking up to God the way we should.  It’s hard.  I want what I know about, the things I see.  I fear the things that are crowding around me, the unknown, and the unreachable dreams.

“Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You.” – Psalm 38:9

“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

And there it is.  The thing I want to do, but the thing I struggle so much with.  My desires are known to God.  He hears my sighs and my frustrated cries.  He knows every thought in my head even better than I do.

He wants me to put Him ahead of it all.

He wants me to be fulfilled in Him.  He wants me to want nothing but Him. He wants me to be so close to Him that the things around me that bring me the fears and the frustrations fall so far away in comparison that they cannot touch my spirit with their power.  There is the place that I will find the desires of my heart – as mine grows closer to His.  It is there that I will see His hand at work in the things that have brought me fear as He works them out for His glory.  It is there that I may see my desires change to bring Him glory.  It is there that I may see Him bless me so I can give Him glory.

Then, after I think about all of these things, I feel the fear recede.  I wish I could say it goes away.  Some people might look at me sometimes and think it has, but I can assure you it hasn’t.  It just lessens as I learn to trust Him more.  It is a process, and it must be done on purpose, for a purpose.

The purpose is to believe the goodness of the Lord will be seen!

I hope sharing this little insight into my struggles with fear and despair will help someone else.  If it has, I would love to hear from you.

In His Grip,

Tom

A Recent Struggle with Prayer

warThe other night I was with some friends and we were discussing how we should pray.  My response was, “With faith.”  I was questioned, and I shared that the recent physical struggle and subsequent death of a childhood friend was still bothering me.  I had prayed that he would recover physically and be reunited with his family, but I am working through the fact that I did not believe it would happen.

Let me clarify something.  I do not believe God was incapable of doing it.  I just did not believe that even while I prayed for it, that He would do it. I prayed even using the phrases, “Have Your will,” and “Be glorified in this.”  I have to be honest and say that I was not using them for the right reasons, but rather as a way to pacify the guilt I felt for having such a doubt about the healing of my friend.

So, the result, my friend is in Heaven. I have no doubt about that.  Things turned out just the way I thought they would.  So how do I process this as I move forward?  How do I look at my prayer life in the future when faced with a need for prayer?  Should I hang a little sign that says my prayers cannot be trusted?

I guess I am struggling with guilt.  God is sovereign, and He will be glorified in the things He does.  I know that and I understand that He has a plan that I may not understand with my limited sight. If I had prayed and believed, and my friend was still taken, I would still feel grief, but I would know that God had a plan.  My struggle is with the fact that I asked but did not believe.  It was not unbelief of His power, nor was it a defiant attitude of my will rather than His.  It was something else, and it is not easy to put my finger on it – or explain it.

So, this leaves me in a position of trying to figure out what to do with something I don’t really understand and cannot really explain.  I need to move forward, and I need to trust God that He will help me with that.  Enter FAITH.  It is the only thing that will open the door to the peace and understanding that I need.  As I see it at this point I have a few things that I need to address as I look back on this:

  1. Was my unbelieving prayer a lie to God?  As I think it over, I’m still not sure.  If nothing else, it still needs to be addressed as something I should and have acknowledged with Him.  I am reminded of the man in Luke 9 who told Jesus that he believed, but asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief.  The actual exercise of prayer is what is required to help us with our belief.  As we continue to take that request to God, and stay close to Him, He may change our hearts as we begin to see a part of His plan.  That would transition unbelief to belief.
  2. Was my prayer sincere?  In the fact that I wanted healing for my friend, yes it definitely was sincere.  When I asked for His will to be done, I’m not as sure.  If I really wanted His will to be done, would my prayer have been different?  Probably so.  I would have focused less on His power to heal and more on His power to transform lives through this.  I would have focused less on physical healing and more on spiritual growth.  I would have focused less on not wanting my friend’s family to suffer loss, and more on the peace that He would provide them no matter the outcome.
  3. What is the source of my guilt?  Do I feel that I let my friend down and that he is gone because of my lack of faith, or is it because I have sinned against God?  Well, I think it is a bit of both, but in reality, I know that he did not die because my prayer was not what it should have been.  Rather it was for God to do a work in lives that would not have been done in any other way.  There may be things that his family will face with God at their side that they might not have been able to do before.  There are people who will hear his wife’s story of love, devotion, and faith that will be touched. So, I can (and have) ask God for His forgiveness and I know that it will (and has) be given to me as it says in I john 1:9.  I also need to address the lie that Satan is putting in my mind that says it is my fault my friend did not survive – If only I had prayed harder and really believed.  This is an attempt to pull me away from prayer.  There is nothing he would like more than that.

The importance of prayer has been hitting me from several angles lately.  It has always been a weak part of my Christian walk, and I am recognizing that more now.  The events of the past few weeks have made it clear to me that the spiritual battle that goes on around us is always the most intense in the area of prayer.  If Satan can pull me from prayer, he has effectively cut me off from communicating with God, and if I am cut off from God I will fall.  I can read His Word, but my communication with Him is the other part of that relationship that I desperately need.

I am working on developing a new strategy for my prayer life, and I am starting with the prayer that it becomes a more natural communication rather than a ritual.  As I work to grow in this I will ask God to help me, and I believe that He will.  He tells us of His desire to hear from us as children speaking to their father.  I want to model this for my family as well.

Am I completely over this bad feeling? No.  Not yet.  But I know I will be.  I recognize God’s open hand to me as He wants to help me through it.  He gets the glory in taking my weakness and carrying me through with His strength.