#ENCOURAGE

We’ve all been there.  You look around and all you see is gray.  The sun can’t shine bright enough, you feel like you are under attack, there is no end in sight, and there is nobody there to help you. Yep. Been there and got the lousy t-shirt.

So, what do we do?  How do we get through?  Where will we find the strength to get out of bed, put on a smile and head out the door to meet a world that we feel is out to get us?  When will this feeling stop? What can we do for ourselves, and what can we do for those we love who feel this way?

#Encourage them.  #BeEncouraged yourself!

Webster’s defines the word “encourage” like this:

Digging In the Past – Part 2

DiggingSo, when I left off last I was 16 years old.  I was a Christian, but I was definitely not living a life of relationship with Christ.  My thoughts about God were that He was in control, but He must not have much interest in my life.

At sixteen my church split.  It was a pretty ugly one, and the result was a lot of people going different directions.  I was one of them.  For the next 4-5 years, I bounced back and forth between two churches.  I knew I needed to be in church, but I didn’t feel at home there anymore.  Too much had changed.  I had seen the ugly underbelly of a legalistic religious system, and I became very skeptical.  Could I trust a Pastor again?  I wasn’t sure.

Over that time frame I saw things that only kept me in turmoil as the leadership in each church turned over.  Things were said, people were hurt, attendance ebbed and flowed, and I was still very confused.  I could not settle into either church and felt like a perpetual visitor.  I still was a member of my little church where I grew up, but I didn’t feel like I belonged there.  I enjoyed the other church more, but felt like I couldn’t trust it.  If I did, what would happen?

After Tammi and I were married we kind of settled into the routine of going to church where she had attended through her teen years.  I said we got into the routine, and that was pretty much what it was.  Just a routine.  We kept hearing much of the same old story of how we needed to do this to gain God’s favor.  Avoid that or we would bring down God’s wrath.  Lots of rules, but not a lot of understanding what being a Christian meant.

As time continued to pass, we were blessed with a couple of kids.  We got into the habit of taking the weekends  for ourselves.  We went to church more when we felt like it, and that became less and less.  Eventually we realized that we were barely attending at all, and that bothered us because we wanted our kids to grow up to know Christ.  I think God started tapping our shoulders around that time and we decided that we needed to look somewhere outside our community for a church.

After talking to some people and looking around we settled on a church in Traverse City that had a Pastor who had been there for many years.  We figured if he had been there a long time that had to say something, so we decided to give it a try.  We were very glad we did.

Over the next few years we were challenged to change much of how we thought about God.  We started to hear a little bit more about how God’s grace is for living, and not just for salvation.  We started to understand that while we should obey God as believers, He is not taken by surprise when we sin, and He is standing there ready to forgive and welcome us back.

It was a great time for healing in our lives as we began to make friends, enjoy church for the teaching as well as the people, and I was finally able to feel like God did want to be a part of my life.  I had a hunger to serve.  I had a hunger to learn!

Our kids were growing, as they are prone to do, and we had them enrolled in the Christian school in Traverse City.  The financial strain of the commute every day for school combined with the time we spent on the road every week brought us to a point where we felt we needed to make a decision again.  We wanted to be more involved in church, but we felt that the distance was making it too difficult.  After a lot of talk, we decided that we needed to go back to our previous church and get involved there.  We were very unhappy to leave, but felt that it was our best opportunity to serve God.  After all, what good is a Christian who is not serving?

Looking back on that decision, I am not sure we made the right one at the time.  I believe God redeemed that decision, but I know that we did not make the decision with Him.  I do not remember ever praying about it.  It was a time and money decision that I made and covered it up by saying that I was going to put myself in a position to serve God better.  That would make Him happy, right?  I still had a very strong performance-based outlook on my standing with God.

When we got back in our old church, we got involved – deeply.  We were there for every service, event, whatever was going on.  We sang, played music, worked in AWANA, and anything else that came along.  We made friends and felt like it was a good place to be.

As time continued to pass, I ended up in leadership at the church.  I still wonder why that happened, but I think that God had a plan to use it down the road.  While I was a deacon, I began to see things in a different light.  I noticed that I was getting very critical of those who were not serving in the church.  I began to resent people who did not step up and “do their part.”  I was not alone in this thinking, and it was never hard to find someone else who felt the same way.

I started to judge people’s spiritual maturity based on how many ministries they worked in.   Seemed like a reasonable yardstick to use. That was how I had been raised, so it felt very normal to use that yardstick for those around me.  Measure with it, and then smack those not performing to standard with it!  “Rod of correction”, right?

This was serving to do one thing.  I started becoming bitter.  There really wasn’t any benefit in what I was doing.  I was just getting more and more bitter toward people, the church, and even toward God.  I kept a lot of that inside, but I know that it was leaking out as the number of friends we had began to decline, and I take the blame for that.

Right around this time I was asked to take on another ministry.  Of course, I did it.  I didn’t want to do it, but I was asked by my Pastor, and I was raised to do what the Pastor says.  I think back now and I don’t think he was actually trying to force me to do this.  I think that this was God at work.  I was not doing a very good job in coming around to where God wanted me, so God used my ingrained training to get to me.  Kind of like He was saying, “Well, Tom isn’t talking to me or reading his Bible.  I guess if I can get the Pastor to ask him to do this, He might pay attention.”

So, I began to teach an adult Sunday School class.  I was terrified for two reasons.  The first was that I was afraid to get up in front of people and talk.  The second was that I had been told through the years that the role of teaching God’s Word brought a level of responsibility on the teacher that was very heavy.  It was nothing to take lightly.

I didn’t.  I attacked it.  For the first time in my life I was in my Bible regularly.  I began to learn more than I ever had before.  I know I was learning  more than the people I was teaching!  The books that I used for my class material started to make me look at things differently, and I started to experience something that I had never really felt before.  Spiritual conflict.

I’d like to say it was growth, but it was conflict.  I was a believer, but I was not serving God.  I was a Christian, but my desires took precedence over God’s.  My comfort, my standing, my glory, my opinions – these were my gods.  The time I was spending in study was putting me in a position that brought me face to face with the facts.  The facts being that I needed to make some changes.  The changes that I needed to make started causing some conflict with people as I became hungry for change that others were not looking for.

I wish I could say that I handled that conflict well.  I didn’t.  I hurt people with my words and my attitude.  I kept trying to do more in hopes that I could get people to see what I was seeing, but all it did was take me to a breaking point.

Until this point in my life I had never put a ton of thought into spiritual warfare – the demonic realm that works on our hearts in hopes of stalling our growth.  I had read Peretti’s books and thought they were great stories.  I believed in angels and demons, but I never thought they were really interested in me.  Well, about this time I started having dreams that made me wake up sweating and scared, but I could not remember them.  I was not sleeping much because I actually reached the point where I was afraid to sleep.

One night I had a particularly bad dream.  I was in a dark place and was being chased by a horde of demons.  I had my family with me and I was trying to keep the demons from them.  I did everything I could do to fight them off and keep them from my family.  Then I realized that the demons wanted me.  The only way I could keep them from my family would be to give up.  My hope was that if I just gave in, my family could get away and I would be the only one to fall.  What a lie that would have been!

Well, in my dream I told them to run, and I stopped and turned around.  I remember vividly how I curled into a ball as they began to bite, scratch and claw at me; tearing me to shreds.  I was about to give up entirely when Tammi woke me up.  She said I had been moaning, crying, and shaking in my sleep and I woke her up.  Needless to say, we were pretty shaken up about it.

The next night a good friend of ours on the mission field “just happened” to call me.  Amazing how God’s timing is always so perfect.  He asked me how I was, and I just spilled it.  Everything.  He listened to me, asked a couple of questions, and then gave me the strangest piece of advice I had ever heard.  “You need to back out of everything.  Take one ministry and stay in that, but give up everything else.”  I thought he was crazy!

How can I stop doing all these things for God?  What will He think of me?  What will the church think of me?  Does he know what I am doing?  Well, I sat down and counted up the different ministries I worked in on a regular basis, and the count was 18.  I looked at them all and decided that I would drop half.  That seemed to be a reasonable thing to do.  I was afraid that God would be very upset if I did less than that.

Well, He was not upset.  I know I felt better. I started to see some balance in my life again.  I started to enjoy more of the things that I did do even if I didn’t enjoy all of them.  I wish I could say that it was received well by others, but the most important thing was that I was sleeping at night, and I was still learning.  I was learning to understand a truth that my friend told me the night of that “coincidental” phone call.  “God is much more interested in people doing things with Him than for Him.”

Necessary change was taking place, and there would be  more to come…

There’s A Snake In My Boot!

revo_woody05So we praise God for the wonderful kindness He has poured out on us because we belong to His dearly loved Son.  He is so rich in kindness that He purchased our freedom through the blood of His Son, and our sins are forgiven.  He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

– Ephesians 1:6-8 (NLT)

When Toy Story came out back in 1995, I remember watching it and thinking how incredibly talented these computer gurus were in putting together the world that existed in Andy’s Room when he was asleep or away for the day.  The cast, the script, the artwork, they all blended together to tell a funny, but touching story, and I enjoyed it immensely.

A couple years later we had our first child, and then two years after that, our second.  Life was beginning to change for us in so many ways.  We now had responsibilities that we had never thought about before.  Somehow we were responsible for two humans!  It obviously demanded that we grow up a little – if for no other purpose than to stay ahead of them!

Pixar was also growing.  They continued to crank out movies that were a lot of fun, but they were also really trying to help us identify with their characters by giving them even more depth.  The Toy Story guys went to the well two more times and gave us two more glimpses into the life of Andy, his sister, and the toys.

By the time the third film rolled out in 2010, our kids were getting to the age that a lot of their old stuff had taken the one-way trip to the garage sale or Goodwill.  Then, with a 13 & 11 year old, we started to see a whole new aspect in the films.  Time moves on.  Kids grow up.  We only have so long. I’m starting to tear up, better move on to my point before I lose it.

One thing that you see throughout those movies is that the toys struggle with their identity.  I am going to focus on Woody in particular, because he just kept falling into that same trap.  He would see himself for what he was, not for what Andy saw in Him.

I just started reading Mark Driscoll’s book, Who Do You Think You Are? The main point of the book is to help us as Christians find our identity in Christ.  If we don’t find our identity in Christ, we will try to find it in other areas that will leave us feeling hollow, abandoned, and worthless.

Dricoll uses the book of Ephesians and the teaching of Paul to help us see that as believers, our identity can only be truly found in Him.  We might have many things in life that we identify with, but if we do not focus on our position in Christ, we will struggle with a feeling of emptiness in life.

I say a picture of Woody today, and I could not help but think of this identity issue.  He felt his entire world come crashing down around him when Buzz came to town.  He compared himself to Buzz and he found himself lacking.  Why would anyone want an old toy with a pull string when they could have a toy with a lazer!

I compare myself to people too often.  Sometimes I feel like I win the comparison, but more often I feel like the loser.  The thing is, the moment I start comparing, I lose.  I don’t need to compare, because I just need to remember who I am.  I am a child of God!  I need to see myself as He sees me.

Once Woody realizes that he is loved by Andy, and always will be, his attitude changes.  He becomes confident – at least until the next time.  How could my attitude and outlook change if I really and truly saw in myself the value that God sees in me?

God has sought me out so He can pour His kindness into my life.  He is so rich in kindness that I cannot exhaust the supply that He wants to bestow on me.  His kindness is showered on me and gives me the life that I need to grow.  All of this because I belong to Him.

In the movie, Andy writes his name on Woody’s boot to show ownership.  God’s Word tells us that He has written our names in His hand.  He has told us that He has given us an identity in Him.  We are adopted into His family, and nothing can take us from Him.

All that is true.  The problem is that there is a snake in my boot.  That snake casts doubts into my mind about my worth, my past, my failures, my weaknesses…  Then I am right back in the funk again, running around looking for something that will make me happy rather than just looking to God.

I want this year to be a defining year in growing in my identity with Christ.  Every day, I want to be relentless in that growth. To attack it with all that I have. To do the hard things that keep my mind on Him, and allow me to see myself through His eyes.

Join me!  We can help each other by encouraging each other as we go along.  So, find your moving buddy, and remember that you’ve got a friend in me!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

%d bloggers like this: