Calling Him Out & Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture3

Advertisements

2015 – “Whatcha Doin’?”

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.

 – Exodus 33:13-18 (ESV) Emphasis mine

Many years ago, and by the date in the pic it was in the neighborhood of 14 years ago, I was sitting at the computer one night and Zach came over and asked a question.  He had a very good vocabulary for a little guy less than two years old, and I’m not sure why I did it, but I got the microphone down close to him and recorded the audio in the clip below:

He loved anything and everything about the computer and was always hopping up into my chair and grabbing the mouse.  He was a natural.  I don’t know how many times I would come back to the computer and find all the icons rearranged – or gone.  Some of it was his natural bent toward tech.  Some of it was he wanted to be like Dad, and Dad worked on the computer.

Over the years, we switched out computers a few times, but I have never gotten rid of that sound file.  It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it because it takes me back to the days when he was so little and interested in everything that I did.  “Whatcha doin’?” was a very common phrase in our house as he would toddle along behind me.  Whether outside, in the garage, at the computer, in the basement, or just coming in the house, it was almost a greeting, but I see now it was more than that.

That little guy’s query was a constant reminder of his desire to be a part of what was going on in my life.  He wanted to know everything!  Sometimes the answer would be enough in itself and off he would go to do his own thing, but other times it would prompt second questions or a request to help – to be involved.

wpid-2014-12-30-10.14.06.png.pngThis little guy will be 16 in five months.  Hard to believe how fast time flies.  He still asks the question from time to time, but the voice is a bit deeper now.  The hair on his head is a little darker, and there is a definite shadow of a beard on his face.  He doesn’t look up at me to ask the question like he did back then because he can just about look me in the eye now.  So much has changed, and it seems like a blink or two ago.

When Zach would ask me that question as a little boy, he was in pursuit of something.  I was too thick to notice it all the time, and really only picked it up as I started writing this post, but he was looking for a way to be a part of what I was doing.  I was focused on a task, an obstacle, a schedule, or a demand, but he was focused as much on getting to know me as he was on the work I was involved in.  Like I said earlier, sometimes the knowledge of what I was doing was enough, but other times he would join me in what I was doing.  In hindsight, I probably too often  turned him aside with excuses ranging from, “I don’t have time to let him help. It’s not safe for him. I want it done right.” I could have done better.

2015 is here.  Just like every year, people are thinking about the future.  What will this year hold?  Where will we be in twelve months?  We always get this way in late December and early January as we think about the unknown.  How will we get to the goals we have set?  Who will help?  Will I be happy?  Those questions have something in common.  As well-intentioned as they may be, they are about ourselves.  They’re not bad, but could we possible find a better option? Could we focus on our new year in a more Relentless way?

There are things I want to see happen this year, but there is something that I want to start doing particularly in my Quiet Times with God.  As I look at this new year, I am taking lesson from my son. I am going to take more time to ask God, “Whatcha doin’?”  In my life, my family, my job, my friends, my church – God, Whatcha doin’?

Three reasons I want to do this:

1. I want keep a daily focus on God. Keeping  daily focus on God by reading His Word and talking to Him about my life, the lives of those I love, and the  things that cross my path will keep my heart soft toward His direction.

2. I want to join Him.  If I am looking to God and asking Him to tell me what He is doing, I will see opportunities to join Him in things that He wants me to join Him in.  I won’t join Him in everything He is doing because I might not be the person He wants involved in it, but I will never join Him in anything if I am not asking what He is doing.

3. I need His help. I can do things on my own, but I need Him to show me the things that I am doing poorly.  I want Him to grow me, and if I am left to myself, then I will never be anything like what I can be with God.

When my son was little, I so very much enjoyed watching him trying to be like me.  Now that he is older, the feeling is more of a satisfaction.  I am pleased when his interests are in tune with mine and he wants to join me in the things I do.  I take joy in his individuality and in watching him pursue his passions, and I take joy in those times he wants to be like me.

I think God is the same way.  He made us all to be different, but He made us all to seek relationship with Him.  He made us all to have a free will, and He made us all have a desire to be a part of something bigger.  He has great joy in watching us use the gifts and talents He gave us that have no “real spiritual value”, and He loves it when we engage in activities that draw our hearts closer to His.Slide1

So, this year, this is my challenge to you.  Ask God, “Whatcha Doin’?” Look for Him in His Word. Get to know Him better.  See how He worked in the lives of His people in the Bible.  Seek out those around you that are showing Him at work in their lives.  Look inside yourself and see if there is anything holding you back from getting involved in something big for God, and let me say this.  If it is with God, it is big.  He is a big God, even in the little things.

So, can you do me a favor?  If you are reading this, could you share it with your friends and then do one more thing for me? I’d love to know something.  This year, “Whatcha doin'” to know God better?  “Whatcha doin'” to be Relentless in your growth in Christ?  “Whatcha doin'” to build relationships with others?  Message me or comment below.  I’d love to pray for your year too!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Picture3

 

 

You Never Really Go It Alone

Mentor1Ask anyone in a management role to list some of their biggest challenges, and I would almost bet that on that list you will find some semblance of the word “hiring”.  You might call it “talent acquisition”, “managing resources”, or as I have heard a manager in my grocery days refer to it, “seeing if I can find someone smart enough to fog a mirror.”  Yeah, sensitivity training was lost on that guy… (No, it wasn’t me)

It is a challenge to hire.  I am working on that particular job right now.  I enjoy getting to meet and talk to new people and see if we can find the right person to fit our team.  I have a list of questions that are used to get a feel for the candidate, and I always try to use the same questions so everyone gets a fair shake.  Some are based on technical knowledge, but most are fun questions when people answer them because they tell a story!

One of my favorite questions to ask doesn’t do that though.  This question gives me a glimpse into the mind of the applicant and lets me see something different.  I know, you’re begging to hear what it is, so here you go:

“Do you answer important questions independently, or do you tend to be the kind of person that seeks out the advice of others?”

Not so bad, right?  Pretty straightforward, and it provides a lot of room for talk with a simple follow-up question:

“Why?”

Ooooooo!  Now we are learning!  there are several reasons you can ask someone this question, but one of them is to get an idea of how well a person might take constructive criticism, or allow themselves to be mentored.  I still remember what I thought was the best answer I have heard to that question.  They thought about it for  a few seconds and then said:

“If I know the decision affects me, and me only, then I will probably make the decision on my own.  If I think that the decision could have a harmful effect on anyone, then I would ask for advice.”

Wow!  That was a good answer.  I almost forgot to ask, “Why?”  Almost.  Their response?  Well, it wasn’t that bad either:

“I don’t want to be a bother to other people.  If I have the knowledge and understanding to do something on my own, and even a wrong decision will still only disrupt me or my day, then I can go it alone.  After all, it’s only me.  I just would hate to be in a rush and be overconfident in a situation where I might hurt someone else because of my actions just because I didn’t want to take a minute and ask, or run the risk of looking foolish.  Better to take the time and the risk of looking foolish than do something that will hurt someone.”

Yeah.  Pretty cool answer.  That person came to work for me.  They had a lot of other good qualities too, but that was just the best answer to that question I had ever heard.  It sounded like a person with their head on right.

The Bible has something to say on this topic as well:

“Plans go wrong for lack of advice: many counselors bring success.” – Proverbs 15:22 (NLT)

When I think of that fantastic answer, I only see one hole in it.  The decisions I make rarely, if ever, affect only me.  I am not an island unto myself.  I am a husband, a father, a manager, a son, brother, uncle, cousin, teacher, friend, disciple, and mentor.  As I go through a day, my life touches other people directly or indirectly almost every single minute of that day.  The decisions I make will almost always impact someone else.  How  is that for an almost paralyzing thought?!

So, it behooves me to seek advice, good counsel, mentors, friends, and other resources that will help me make good choices.  Not for my benefit all the time, but for the benefit of those I may be impacting.  I have a duty to be responsible and find out what I need to know before I make a decision, because it will affect someone else.

How about you?  Are you looking for advice?  A place to get some wisdom?  I have a suggestion.  Start reading the Bible.  Get a Bible you can read and understand and dig in.  Start with the book of John and read about God’s love for us.  The Bible is the best place for truth and wisdom.  Its counsel will never lead you astray.

Then, you need to take the next step and find someone you know that loves God and wants to tell others about what He has done in their life.  Ask them to help you dig deeper into an understanding of God, and to connect you with some other people who can help you learn more and grow.  Have them help you into a church where the Bible is taught and you can build relationships with other believers.

helping-mentorA growing believer never stands alone.  He is always next to someone who is teaching him or he is teaching someone else.  I don’t want to use a phrase like, “It takes a village”, but too late now!  It takes a group though.  We need to have other people who want to see us succeed in our lives.  That is where life happens and growth occurs.

Relentless growth is most evident in the act of mentoring in the Christian walk.  We must ask advice, be teachable, accept criticism, and be willing to learn from the mistakes we make.  We must also be willing to give advice, to be loving in pointing out areas of weakness or wrong choices while lifting them up and helping them on to the next challenge.  Seek advice. Ask for counsel.  It’s the smart thing to do!

I hope this was an encouragement to you.  If there is ever anything I can do to help, please message me and I would love to talk more.  Feel free to share this with anyone!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

Pass The Ketchup. This Might Go Down Hard.

eating crowAs a rule, I really try to make it a point to never discuss anything about work on this blog.  I do that for a few reasons, but the main one is that I never want to say anything that might cast my employer, client, or co-workers in a bad light.  So, why am I going to break that rule?  Because in this story, there is only one person that really comes off looking bad, and since he is the one writing the story, I think we will be OK.

Wednesday I was trying to accomplish something with a person outside the organization, and I was having a very difficult time in getting anything done.  At one point in the conversation I began to feel as if I was being accused of not knowing what I was talking about (which I did) and that I was actually lying about it (which I was not).  Those of you that know me or have read some of my blogs, might recognize that these are two things that really bother me.  I have wrestled with them for years, and while I am getting better, I’m not where I want to be yet.

As the conversation continued, I began to feel myself getting angry. (Score a point for recognizing it!)  As I realized the anger was beginning to rise, I calmly requested that the person check their facts and they would see that I was correct in what I had said.  In fact, there are others that can corroborate the validity of my statement. (Score another point for being calm!)  At this point I politely requested that the person refrain from speaking to me in a manner that was condescending and accusatory. (Score another point for talking about my feelings as a path toward a reconciliation!)

We then carried on for a few moments in a civilized manner and progress started to be made as plans began to take shape.  I was pleased.  I had been heard.  I was right. I was recognized as telling the truth.  Then it happened…

“Well, since we are the subject matter experts, we will look into this to see where you made a mistake.  Once we figure that out and put together what you think you did, we will get back to you.”

*SNAP*  (All points fell off the board when that 30 megaton nuke hiding behind that little hangy-thingy in the back of my throat went off drowning out all other voices and laying waste not only to the conversation, but also any vestiges of cooperation that had been achieved.)

When I had finished my rant, I hung up the phone and sat back for them to make their little investigation knowing full well that they would find that I was correct.  Within a couple of hours I received a short and very direct e-mail stating that while the things I said were correct, it never should have been that way and there was something that had been wrong in the process in the past that needed to be rectified.  “We are looking into that and will let you know when we have come up with a solution.” Ha! Vindication!

Thursday morning when I woke up I could not stop thinking about the way I had acted the day before.  In my mind I realized I had been too hard on them.  Maybe I should have done things differently, but they were wrong and they refused to acknowledge it.  I had a duty to point it out! I came to work and needed to contact one of those people and received no response after a couple of attempts.  Later I did exchange an e-mail or two, but they were very short, direct, and cold.   I thought, “They’ll get over it.  It was their mistake. Not my problem.”

When I got home I sat down to have my daily Quiet Time in the Word.  I opened the book of Titus, where I have been reading and was faced with the following verse:

“Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience.” – Titus 2:2

I was hit hard between the eyes with what I had done.  Nothing in the way that I had acted was controlled, worthy of respect, wise, filled with love or patient.  In a nutshell, I was a jerk.  I sat there staring at my Bible and began an argument with God.

“How can You show me this right now?  I was right, and they were acting out of their own interests in complete disregard for me and what I was trying to accomplish with them!  Why are You drawing my eye to this verse? There must be something in here that would better suit me for today!”

No.  This is the lesson for the day.

I walked away for a few minutes and did some other stuff in the house.  Refusing to even sit down and finish my journal entry.  Not because I didn’t want to confess it to God, but because I knew what else I had to do.  Something really hard.  Something I had seen my buddy Ray model for me earlier this year.  I love that guy, but in the moment I wished I had never met him so I would not have seen how God took him through a similar situation.  He had done the hard thing.

Eventually I returned to my desk, Bible, and journal.  I confessed my sin of anger and my lack of all those things that I should be showing in my life as a believer.

Then the really hard part.  I drafted a letter to the men that I had mistreated:

Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith,

As I have gone through my day today, I have felt badly about yesterday and how things took such a rough turn with Mr. Jones. It was a very frustrating time, and I did not come off well in that conversation. Thinking back, I can only imagine what you guys thought of me afterward, and deservedly so. Right or wrong, in that situation, I behaved wrong. Regardless of the subject matter at hand, who was correct or any of it, I was wrong in the way that I spoke to you in anger and with little to no respect.

Today when I got home from work, I sat down to do my daily Bible reading and I read this verse from the book of Titus:

“Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have strong faith and be filled with love and patience.”

Guys, I teach at my church. I lead a group of men in Bible study. I’m supposed to live out what I believe and teach. Not because it makes me look good, but because it is the right thing to do. Yesterday I didn’t do that. You can probably read back through the verse and tick off the things I botched up. I see it, and I am sorry.

I am asking your forgiveness for the way that I acted. I hope you can do that. I also ask that if I start to act out like that in the future, that you will remind me of this. Just say the word “Titus” either on the phone (then hang up on me) or in an e-mail. I will get the message. I will still do my job to the best of my ability, and there will be times that we will disagree, but I do not want to get angry and act that way. That is not who I aim to be.

Again, I am sorry, and I ask for your forgiveness.

Tom

I sent the letter off and while I was uneasy about how they would respond, and admittedly, I was nervous about sharing this part of my faith, I felt better as the night went on.  I knew I had done the right thing even when it meant sacrificing my “position” of being right.

This morning, I received responses from both of those men.  They were very gracious, and gave me the forgiveness I had requested.  It felt better than being right.  A lot better.  I’m not sure if in doing this a door to speaking to them more about Christ has been opened.  I do know that they saw the work of Christ in a life through it though.  I hope that will be a seed used in the future.eat crow

Relentless living is not about keeping score.  It is about staying close to God.  I messed it up.  No doubt about it.  the thing is, I was closer to Him now than I have been in the past when I have had similar outbursts, and I came face to face with it faster and through Christ I had the courage to do the hard thing.  Not just because it was right, but also because I had a friend show me the way to do it.  Thanks, Ray, for being Relentless in your growth as well.

So, I had to “eat crow”.  It wasn’t fun, and I know the result might not always be as good as it was this time, but it was the right thing to do. The hard thing to do.  The Relentless thing to do.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

War! What Is It Good For?

239902Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). – Judges 3:1-2 (ESV)

“War… what is it good for?”   Well, if you are channeling your inner hippie, you would answer that question with (all together now), “absolutely nuthin’!” Is it? I’m not asking about violence for the sake of violence. I’m talking about war. Warfare is defined as – the process of military struggle between two nations or groups of nations; war. 2. armed conflict between two massed enemies, armies, or the like. 3. conflict … For all intents and purposes, we are talking about the ability to fight.

I know some people think there is no reason to fight. We all just need to learn to get along. We need to be tolerant. Tolerant to the point of surrendering our thoughts and ideals because someone else has voiced theirs. Fighting has been replaced with simply stating an opinion? If that is what we are supposed to do, then I would suggest we are still in a form of fighting because that would mean the first person to speak wins!

Conflict is all around us, and I am not going to try and argue that all conflict is good conflict – it’s not. It is always good to learn how to deal with conflict though, and that is a type of warfare! Dealing with conflict is a battle inside ourselves to arrive at an outcome that is good without an escalation to violence IF possible.

I might start losing some people if I don’t get right to my point here, and if I am pushing any buttons with anyone, I want to let you know that my goal is not conflict in through this post. I have a direction here, and if you bear with me, we will get back around to it. I promise!

When the children of Israel came into the Promised Land they had some fighting to do. God had given them the land, but there were people in it that did not serve God and He wanted them gone. He promised the Hebrew people that if they would go out and take the land, He would drive their enemies out. They just needed to act on it. Well, they went to work, and they took much of the land – but not all of it.

Through many little slips, compromises, and probably a little laziness, they allowed several of the nations in Canaan to stay in the land. Long story short, those nations were full of pagan religions that eventually led many of the Israelites away from God. Why did the Israelites let this happen? Would a better question be to ask why God allowed this to happen? He could have just driven the rest of them out by Himself. He could have just made them all drop dead on the spot. Why did He let them stay if He knew that the Israelites would stray from Him?

They needed to know how to fight for what God had given them.

The generations that had fought were dying off, and the young men coming up had no experience on the battle field. They needed to have opportunities to learn and strengthen their skills in defending what they had been given. They needed to be able to stand strong as God’s people in the face of enemies. They needed to be tested.

Think of those pagan nations as the sin in our lives today. Wouldn’t it be easier to live the Christian life if there was no sin? Think about it! We could go through the day and never need to feel that tweak of the conscience that we had done the wrong thing. We could end each day with a clean slate and know that tomorrow would be the same thing! We could stand before God and say, “I am without sin!” Hmmm. Wouldn’t that be a bit prideful?

God has allowed sin to still be in our lives for a couple of reasons that I can see:

We need to learn to lean on Him

There are things in my life that I cannot have victory over by myself. I have weaknesses that Satan knows how to exploit. I get tired, bored, self-absorbed, and he pounces. I need to have God with me to give me strength, to keep me alert, and to keep me so focused on Him that sin cannot gain a beachhead in my life. Sin is a reminder of how much I need God.

We need to learn how to teach others

I have sinned too many times to count, and some of those sins have brought me great pain. My hope is that by sharing my experiences with others and allowing them to see how I failed and how I was able to get up and keep fighting with God holding me up, I will be able to help someone else struggling with the same sin. Help them avoid the pain and be victorious!

Sin will one day be taken away. Until that happens, I have a life ahead of me that requires warfare. It requires a dedication to training myself to fight against sin and its temptations. The presence of sin in the world makes it necessary for me to equip my friends, to train up another generation for the battle. Relentless Living is not putting my head in the sand and thinking that if I don’t offend I will not need to fight. The fight is always there. The question is, am I ready for the battle?

The best way to fight and win a battle is to prepare for it. I’m not sure when I am going to fall in to a trap of temptation, but I know that if I am spending time with my God in the Word and in prayer, I will be better prepared when the battles come. The best offense is a good defense.

So, my challenge to you is this. What are you doing to make sure that you are preparing? Are you devoted to Relentless Growth in your life? It’s going to mean conflict. It’s going to mean a fight. There is no better way to be ready than to be in God’s Word.

Picture3

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

I’ve Had My Phil…Moments

phil-robertson-238x300If you have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you might not know who Phil Robertson is.  If you have been off planet for the last 10 days, you might not know what Phil Robertson said.  If you want to hang around for a few minutes, I would like to offer a thought or two on this.

I have had several “Phil” moments.  When I say a “Phil” moment, I don’t want to sound like I am putting him down.  I am talking about those times when I said something about something I believed in, and somebody got upset. Really upset.  Not burn my house down upset, but drag my name through the mud, tell all their friends, shoot me ugly looks kind of upset.

When I look back at those moments, I think about what I was thinking at the time the words left my mouth.  I’m ashamed to say that there have been times when the wrong motive was at work.  I’m very ashamed of some of those moments.  They might not be the majority, but still too many for comfort.

What I see most often when I look at those times is that I was not paying attention to the people that were about to hear the words that were going to fall off my tongue.  What would they do with those words?  Would they take them in and understand them, or were they looking for something to bludgeon me with?

“I was not paying attention to the people that were about to hear the words…”

The motive behind the words is important because that is where our decision is made to disrespect people, to hurt people, to tell people they anger us.  Our motive can be to merely share what we think, to invite a discussion, or to share information that we believe can help them, but our audience will determine what is heard if we are not careful.

I have angered friends and family with words that I thought were simple, straightforward, and necessary.  I have hurt people with words that I had thought would be beneficial to them.  I have pushed people away with words that I had intended to help bridge gaps.

The audience that hears our words is so important to the message we want to convey.  If you want someone to hear you exactly for what you mean, there must be a trust in place that you are going to be speaking in their best interest.  If they don’t trust you enough for that… it probably won’t be pretty.

I believe that Phil spoke from his heart not to condemn, but to share his belief in the Bible.  I believe he did not call out a group of people for the purpose of shaming them or angering them, it was just what came to mind at the time.

We as humans do not like to be reminded of our sins.  I know I don’t!  But I am a sinner.  I have done things that the Bible clearly outlines as sin.  That makes me a sinner.  Have I done them all? Nope. I don’t plan on it either!  The thing is that it only takes one to be a sinner.  That is what I believe to be true based on what I have read in the Bible.

Since I believe the Bible to be true, I do try to live my life a certain way.  There are times that the way I live my life does not “jive” with how another person wants to live their life.  Those are the moments where I need to be careful.  Those are the moments where the people misunderstand, get hurt, get angry.

“There are times that the way I live my life does not “jive” with how another person wants to live their life.”

I don’t want to hurt people with my words.  I want to try and reach people with the things I have to say.  I have been given so much by my God, and I want people to experience those gifts for themselves.  That is why I want to be aware of the people I speak to.  I want people to know that I am not in the business of judging.  I want people to know I care – even if I don’t agree with them.

I guess the one thing that this has brought up in my mind more than anything else is this:

When was the last time that I made a statement of my belief in the Bible and its truth that resulted in me being in hot water?

Been a long time.  Probably too long.  I am not saying that it is time for me to start looking for people that I can expose their sins in order to start a controversy.  That would be wrong, and I don’t think that was what Phil did.  I am just saying that I need to be more aware of the truth that is in me because of the belief I have in God’s Word, and look for the opportunity to share that truth.

That’s what Phil did.  He did not target, he did not chastise.  He spoke his belief in what the Bible has to say.  He did not attack, and he also expressed his desire to show God’s love to people.  The entire message was not heard by most.

Some heard hate.  Some heard a battle cry.  Some heard anger and judgment.  Some heard a call.  I think very few heard his heart.  Not because he didn’t speak it, but because people saw him as a man with an agenda.  I really think he was just a man, sitting down to share his thoughts.  He didn’t expect all that happened afterward.  It’s a shame that it all went the way it did.

Tolerance.  We hear the need for it all of the time.  We need to understand the meaning of it.  It means that I will not look down on your for your beliefs, but that does not mean that I need to change mine.  We might not agree, but we do not need to hate.  We do not need to be angry.  We do not need to tear down.  We just disagree.

Relentless growth requires coming to grips with what you believe and finding the way to defend that belief without attacking a person.  We, as Christians, are not here to judge.  We are sinners as well, and have no right pointing a finger.  Our job is in reflecting the light of Christ into lives, and you cannot do that with a pointed finger or a closed ear.

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear them.  Please comment below.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Two Steps Forward…

flat,550x550,075,f“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.  They fill their hearts with God’s law so they will never slip from His path.”

Psalm 37:30-31 NLT

 Over in Empire on the Lake Michigan shore, there is this little hill that runs down to the lake.  I say little, but it is stinking huge!  I have climbed it twice in my life, and I can tell you right now that the last time I did it was just that – the last time.  It was the most difficult day at the beach I have ever had.

All the way up that hill you are sliding.  It is the literal equivalent of two steps forward and one step back.  The sand just will not support 100% of your forward movement, and you keep sliding backward.  At first it isn’t so bad, but after your first 30 minutes of climb, it starts to get a little tedious.  By the fourth 30 minutes of climb it is downright discouraging!

As you struggle up the dune, your eyes tend to focus at your feet.  This gives a very good view of what seems to be the futility of the effort.  You see that spot where your foot goes into the sand and how far it slips.  That is tough!

Other than the fact that you don’t want to die on that hill – and it feels like you will at some point – you need an encouragement to get you to the top.  That is when you need to look in a different direction.  Two of them. (Not at the same time unless you can do that weird thing with your eyes)

Look up and see the top of the hill.  You are closer than you were a few minutes ago.  Progress is being made!  It still might feel like you will never get there, but you are still moving forward. Look back and see how far you have come.  At first that will feel like nothing, but after some time, it starts to give you a lift to see how far you have gone.

I see the Christian walk as being quite similar.  I have a goal, and that is to be like Christ.  That, my friends, is a steep goal!  I have to look at it honestly and admit that while I will never be as good as Him, the more I climb, the closer I get to Him, and that is what I want.  Looking to Christ and fixing my eyes on His example gives me the desire to keep going.

If I take my eyes off Him and focus on my struggle I get discouraged.  If I allow that discouragement to build I might not even be encouraged by looking to Him anymore.  It’s too much. It’s too hard.  I’ll never make it and the struggle is not worth it.  That is when I need to look back and see how far He has brought me.  I could still be wallowing at the bottom, but by following Him, I am not what I used to be.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  Not where I want to be, but not farther away from where I don’t want to be.

I have been reading the Psalms lately, and I have been finding a lot of encouragement from the prayers of David.  I see a relentless man, committed to knowing God better through prayer.  Whether David is enjoying a good season of life or a hard time, he is always reaching out to God.  He sees the importance of the balance of looking ahead to the goal, looking down at his current state, and looking back at how far God has carried him. I think that is a defining factor in the relentless life.

As I struggle with life I must not yield to the circumstances I find myself in.  Good or bad, those circumstances can pull me from God.  If they are too good, I lose sight of my need for Him.  I gain too much pride in my own abilities.  I can get side tracked and feel like I am still moving forward, but I am not following God any more.  If things get bad I can turn inward and feel like God isn’t there at all, He left me and now I am on my own to struggle.  I might as well give up.

Only through communication with God will I stay on the path.  My feet will still slip because I will lose sight of Him from time to time, but if I am relentless in my journey, I will keep moving forward.  I will not veer off the path.

A relentless life for God.  That is my desire.  I want to grow in His grace and reach out to others to show them what He can do for them as well.  Through all of it I want to give God the glory.

How about you?  Are you finding yourself on the side of a dune?  Slipping and sliding and feeling like there is nothing that you can do?  We all do at times.  I hope this has been an encouragement to someone out there.  If so, I would love to hear from you!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

One of the Best Days of My Life

My Grandfather - Milo Tanner
My Grandfather – Milo Tanner

The other day I was talking with someone and we hit on the topic of fond memories with people who are not here anymore.  It was fun to share some memories about someone that we each knew, and a he said that one day he had spent with my Grandpa’s brother was one of the best days he could remember.

Over the time since, that phrase “best days” has been popping into my mind over and over again.  We all have “best days” that we can remember.  How many of them can a person have? Well, I guess that is up to the kind of person that you are.  If you have a mega catalog brain and are willing to categorize and weigh each of them accurately according to some scale, then I guess you could have a bunch.  Me, I think I would be willing to come up with a top 5-10.

As a believer, I would place the day of my salvation as #1. (Don’t worry folks, we aren’t going to go through all 10)  After that would come the day I got married, the days my kids were born, a couple of special trips that we have taken as a family… You know, the things you would expect.  But this conversation with my friend brought back a memory of a day that was definitely one of the best I have ever had.

I was about 12-13 years old when my Grandpa – the handsome fella at the top – called and asked me if I would like to take a trip the next day.  His brother, Thad, had a job as a driver for the local car dealer, and he was going to be taking a car from Kalkaska down to the Detroit area and swap it with another vehicle.  He said it was just going to be a down and back and I was welcome to come if I wanted to.  I was in.

The next morning they picked me up and we headed into town.  When we got to the car lot I was impressed to see that we would be taking a Camaro on our trip.  Obviously I had to sit in the back, but this was actually the best seat in the car for this ride because I had the opportunity to watch and enjoy the ride.

Both men were in their mid to late 60’s at the time, retired, and in my young eyes, well… old.  As I write this I am smacked with the fact that my Dad is about the same age now as my Grandpa was then.  He doesn’t seem that old.  I don’t think this means I am getting old or anything like that. (My friend Ray is working on a snide comment right now about my age.)  Anyway, back to the story.  These were a couple of guys that I had never seen outside of a certain realm.  They were family patriarchs.  Serious.  Determined. Not given to foolishness or immaturity.

I had never seen them in a Camaro.

As we headed south they just talked about the stuff of life.  Before long I could tell that I had kind of faded into the background.  Not in a bad way, but they were engaged in quality relationship with each other.  Looking back now, I would say it was less sibling and more friendship.  They talked about life as retirees, health issues, financial concerns, and a lot of other stuff.  As the miles rolled on, I saw them less as a pair of old men, and more as a couple of guys that I wanted to be around.

That just grew after we stopped for gas at one point.  Uncle Thad was getting ready to pull out into traffic and the traffic was heavy.  Grandpa commented on the small holes in traffic and said something along the lines of, “If you’re ever going to get out of here you’re going to have to stop driving like an old man.”  I’ll never forget what happened next.

Uncle Thad looked over at him, smirked, looked back at me and said, “Might want to grab somethin’.”  Then he gave a quick look left and right and punched it.  That Camaro jumped out of that driveway like it was on fire.  We shot across the first two lanes and when the front bumper hit the left turn lane he finally spun the wheel left.  That threw the car into a four-wheel drift that slid us through the left turn lane , across the first lane and into the outer lane and then we were gone.

As I picked myself up off the floor of the car – I hadn’t listened to Uncle Thad’s advice – I heard them both hooting and laughing like a couple of crazy kids.  From that point on, the day changed.  These two retired grandfathers not only spent the rest of the day goofing with each other, they also brought me into the goofing as well.  I had never seen these men laugh that much and seem so at ease.

The trip home had its own adventures  as we drove back in a standard cab truck.  We were all scrunched in the cab together.  Elbows were thrown back and forth, and with me being the (barely) smallest I was riding the hump so I had them talking to me and over me the whole trip back.  We also nearly ran out of gas.  The truck had dual tanks and they had told Uncle Thad it was full when we left, but apparently that meant one tank – the smaller tank.  When he hit the switch to the other tank it was bone dry.  We made it in on fumes.

A few short years later our family lost both of those men in a very short period of time.  Grandpa died of a heart attack and Uncle Thad from liver cancer.  It was a tough year that started with the loss of my Grandmother as well.  I’m so thankful for the memories I have of all of them.  They were great people, and they taught me so much.

I’m getting older now (Ray! Let it go!), and I am starting to look at some of the things I do a little differently.  While I like to be alone, I am starting to want to spend more time with people – especially one-on-one or two. I think it is because that is where life happens the best.  It is the most real because when you have few people, there is just less junk in the way.  You get to see more of who a person is, see their heart, and connect.

This is another of those areas I want to be relentless in.  It is not always easy for me to make new friends, or to open myself up to people I don’t know.  I relate well, but I tend to back off and maybe miss out on a good relationship because the other person has walls that I either can’t see a way around or don’t have the energy to scale.  I’m working on that.

So, Dear Reader.  I have two challenges for you.

  1. Find someone to share a bit of your life with.  Take a step and do it.  I’ll admit, my Grandpa taking the time to ask me to go for a ride was not a huge step for him, but it might be for you!  The point is, DO SOMETHING!  Make an investment – especially in someone younger than you.  We all sit around and talk about how today’s youth doesn’t seem to understand how things used to be and they don’t act the way we would like them to.  Well, take some time with them and see what you can both learn and teach – try to learn at least as much as you teach.
  2. This is a request for me. I like stories, and I would love to hear what one of your best days was.  If you would like to share a best day, please do so in the comments below.

Thanks again for reading.  I am just sharing a bit of me.  Take all you want!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Relentless Determination

327I will thank You, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.  I will be filled with joy because of You.  I will sing praises to Your name, O Most High.  – Psalm 9:1-2

I like movies.  Of course, we like to watch the really good movies, but sometimes it’s fun to watch a movie that is known for some really good cheese too.  I think that Independence Day was one of those movies.  It had some amazing special effects, but there was a lot of cheesy scenes in it too with corny dialogue and over the top theatrics.

One scene in the movie was different though.  When the President gives his speech just before the world goes out on an attack against the aliens, he gives a speech that actually roused the spirit.  I’ve never thought of Bill Pullman as an actor that could pull off that kind of clout, but in this scene he did.  When he stood in front of those pilots he gave them a challenge.  They faced a seemingly undefeatable foe, but even in the face impending destruction, he was encouraging something in them:

A relentless spirit.

They would not go quietly into that dark night.  They would fight, and they would keep fighting as long as there was breath in their bodies.  There was a spirit of unyielding desire for victory in that speech, and I know that even though the movie was far-fetched, that speech spoke to the heart of every man that watched it.

Several thousand years ago another speech was made by a young man in the face of an unbeatable opponent.  A giant of a man whose size, voice, and reputation made the entire army of Israel tremble before him.  There was no one willing to go out against him.  Then a young boy named David came to the battlefield to bring supplies to his brothers.  When he saw Goliath mocking the people of Israel he spoke out and asked why they were not fighting.  Eventually he was brought before King Saul:

David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.”

– 1 Samuel 17:32-37

David stood in complete and total confidence in the God of Israel.  There was no option other than forward.  There was no thought of defeat.  That is a relentless attitude.  That is an attitude born out of dependence on God’s ability rather than his own.

I am sure that over the years as David watched his father’s sheep he lost sheep to bears and lions.  It would be foolish to think that it never happened, but that did not change the fact that David knew His God had put an opportunity to show the glory of God working through one of His own, and he was going to do it.

Some say that David took extra stones in case he missed with the first one.  Others say that it was because Goliath had brothers that would possible come to his aid.  I wonder if David had wondered if he would have the chance to get a few more after he dropped Goliath.

One of my commentaries says that the verses at the beginning of this post were written after David defeated Goliath.  He wrote them in praise to God for giving him that victory.  The commentary goes on to say that he was also speaking of his resolve to continue in that spirit of following God and ultimately praising God for Christ’s victory over Satan.  Both are possible.  David was not only a king and song writer, he also spoke prophecy in several of his Psalms.

When I look at these verses I see something else.  An affirmation.

If you’re my age, just hearing the word “affirmation” takes you back to Saturday Night Live and Stuart Smalley as he sat in front of his mirror saying, “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough. And doggone it, people like me!”  (Anybody else remember those pastel sweaters?) Just about the only thing Al Franken ever did that made me laugh.  Anyway, I digress.

I’m trying to live my life in relentless pursuit of God.  I want to grow closer to Him, to know more about Him, to see others come to know Him!  I want His teaching to permeate my marriage, my parenting, and my relationships!  At the end of my life, I want people to remember not me, but the things that God did through me.  I want to leave a legacy that resulted in others adopting the same pursuit of a relentless desire for God.

Just as I am sure that David walked home dejected a time or two after losing a lamb, I am going to have moments where I feel like a failure.  I’m only human, born to make mistakes. (Two thousand points to those who got that.)  What made the difference for David is that the next day; David got up and went back out with the sheep again.  I will need to go back to the point of my failure and face it with God’s help.  Be honest. Learn from the mistake. Reject the lie that Satan will use to try to keep me there. Press on, wiser, and stronger with God’s grace strengthening me.  That is a relentless attitude.

There is an old Japanese proverb that says, “Fall seven times. Get up eight times.”  With God’s help that is possible.

So, back to the affirmation.  (Yes, I rabbit trail sometimes.  Stick with me. I get back to the topic.) This morning I made a little poster and put it beside my desk where I will see it every day at work.  I took those two verses (Psalm 9:1-2) and changed them just a little.  I want to read these verses every day, not as a little mantra to make myself feel good, but as a battle cry.  Every day of my life brings spiritual warfare, and some days I do better than others.  I see that many of the days that I fail are the days that I am not focused on God.

So, this is my battle cry:

  • This day, I will thank You, Lord, with all my heart for what You have done for me.
  • This day, I will tell of all the marvelous things You have done.
  • This day, I will be filled with joy because of You.
  • This day, I will sing praises to Your name, O Most High.

My focus is not on tomorrow.  His grace is for today.  My strength is not a factor. I can do all things through Him.  My emotions will not control me. God has put joy in my heart.

There will always be obstacles and challenges in our paths, but we do not have to admit defeat.  Be relentless in life! Live a life of purpose that brings glory to God.  Commit yourself to growth in Him.  I won’t promise it will be easy, but I will promise that you will never be alone!

I welcome your thoughts!  Feel free to comment below and let me know if this was an encouragement to you.

In HIS Grip,

Tom