18 Years to Prep for Battle – Happy B-Day, Zach!

The birthday blog has become tradition here at Tanner Manor, so here is my letter to my son on his 18th Birthday.  A fine, young man he has grown to be, and Relentless in his pursuit of God and life.

Today I met in the woods again with Zach, my Dad, and my friends Ray and Joe.  These important men in my life all had words of encouragement and affirmation for Zach, and when I was done, I presented him with a gift.  I did this two years ago, and it was time to do it again. We need to recognize moments like these in the lives of our children.  Milestones are  important, and they need to hear from their parents just how proud they are of them.   I have been both waiting for and dreading this day since day 1, and it is here.  I know they will always need me, but still…

Zach,

18 years ago today, you entered this world. You were quiet. Too quiet. I immediately thought that the son I had waited for was gone before he had the chance to live. I remember the fear in my heart, what was wrong?  Why is he so quiet?  What’s going on?  Is he ok?  C,mon, son! Fight!

After what seemed to me to be an eternity, you finally began to stir and then you found your lungs.  I was the Dad of a healthy baby boy, and I could not have been happier.  I had a daughter and now a son.  Our family was complete, and it was all smooth sailing from that point on…

Not exactly. It didn’t take much time for me to figure out just how little I knew about being a husband and dad.  I was getting by alright with the occasional bump or hiccup, but there was a lot of stuff that I just didn’t have the answers to, and truth told, I still feel that way sometimes!

Over the years there have been a few things I have done that I know were good moves, and one of the biggest was doing the men’s group and the Authentic Manhood studies.  That study showed me a lot about myself, and the importance of trying to teach those principles to you.  They showed me that there are battles that will take place in life that I would need to fight for you, but also I would need to teach you to fight for yourself.

There have been good and hard times on this journey.  I want you to know that I own the responsibility for the majority of those hard times as I have been growing and changing and making mistakes along the way.  One of the most important things I have wanted you to learn is that we are not perfect, and our decisions have consequences and impact on those around us both for good and for bad.  No man is really an island.

During this journey of your life, I have been trying, along with the help of your Mom, to give you the tools you need to thrive as a man.  Lessons, examples, books, mentors, and stories from my life are just a few of the ways I have done that.  I have always said that the experiences of others are the best teachers because you can learn the lesson without personal pain or loss.  We have shared victory and defeat on that front, but we have continued to learn and grow – me as a Dad and you as a son.

Two years ago we took some time with some friends and had a celebration of you at the age of 16.  Men God has brought into your life shared with you some of their own insights and wisdom as they encouraged you to continue to grow in God and as a man.  It was a good time.

That was when I presented you with your shield carrying the family name on it.  The shield represented the period of life you were entering where there would be attacks that would come to you as Satan desired to tear you down and destroy your reputation.  You would see trials and struggles that would strain relationships, and, unfortunately, see some fall away.  The battles would be real, and you would need to learn to defend not only who you are, but what you believe.

Through the last two years, I have seen you grow in your ability to stand strong in trial.  You have become more resolute in your faith, and you have served as an example to others as well.  I have enjoyed watching you grow and have been very proud of you.  You have been tested, and some of those battles have appropriately hardened you – tempered you for bigger challenges to come.

Now you are 18.  You will be leaving the house this fall for college, and you will be stepping out into the world as a man.  My time for instruction, while not completely finished, is undergoing a change to an advisory role. I will be there when you need me, but the day is coming that I might not be a part of your daily life.  This will be a hard adjustment for me, and in some ways for you, too.

For the last 18 years, it has been my responsibility as your Dad to stand and fight for you, to be the one who stood guard over your heart and to fight anything of this world or any other who would dare come for my son.  As your Dad, that was my job, and as hard as it was sometimes, it has been one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had.

Along with that job has been the charge to teach you the things you need to know about life, how to defend yourself against the attacks Satan will be certain to throw against you, and how to fight for those you care about, as well.  I have done my best to do so, and in spite of my shortcomings and failures along the way, I believe that you have learned much of what you need to know, and I want to commemorate this moment as well.

So, today, I give you this sword as a picture of my belief in you and the man you have become.  It signifies that I believe that you are equipped to do battle against Satan and his influences.  The sword means that you are no longer simply one who defends, but now you are carrying the battle with you as you walk with Christ.

You will now step into the lives of those you see struggling and offer aid to them. You will not just endure, but you will overcome.  You will be a warrior for Christ in all aspects of your life and give Him the glory in the victories that God gives to you.

Stay in the Word.  There is nothing you can do that will give you more than that for the battles you will face.  God’s truth will guide you in the hard choices, and will comfort you in your moments of doubt and pain.  Stay close to God and allow Him to guide you.  He knows your heart and your needs even better than I.

For the last 18 years, you and I have been preparing for this day.  I love you as my son, but also as a man of God, and a warrior for His kingdom  You have made me proud in so many ways, and I know that God is going to continue to do great things with you and through you as you strive to walk with Him.

I’m always here  for you when you need me.  I got your back and am always willing to fight at your side.

I love you, Zach!

– Dad

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The Words Coming Out of My Mouth

Here is the second piece I wrote for our church’s Daring Faith campaign.  Feel free to comment and share!

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

wp-1474424742028.jpgAre you like me? Are you a little concerned at times that sharing your faith in Christ might offend someone?  Has it kept you silent in those opportune moments when you have a person in front of you who needs to hear the truth of God’s Word?  Yeah.  Me too, and if we are honest, we all would admit to having those moments.  So how do we change it?

Growing up, I always viewed this verse as a mandate for me to share the Word of God with every unsaved person I meet in order to give them the opportunity to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, but is it possible there is more there than that? I think there might be.  I see Paul’s words here in Romans 10 as a challenge to us, just like I was taught, but I also see something that should make us all pause and think for a moment.

What if this verse is talking about my faith as a believer being the catalyst for someone to come to know Christ?

I sometimes feel that sharing my faith will fall on deaf ears or that I might offend, but when I am honest with myself, I think it is more like I am not always able to show a true belief in what I am saying.  I believe in Christ, and I trust Him for my salvation, but my faith in Him is not strong enough to compel someone to ask a question or engage in a conversation.  It’s not that an unsaved person is dependent on anything I bring to the table, but am I making a strong enough case for what Christ is doing in my life that it makes them want the same thing?

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The time I spend in God’s Word has a direct effect on how well I am able to speak to the spiritual needs and concerns of those I come in contact with.  My time in the Word provides insight to situations, points our deficiencies in my character I can address with God’s help, and knowledge to know just how to do those things as God provided His wisdom and the opportunities to use it.

That time in the Word develops my faith in the living God and it keeps Him in the front of my mind.  It gives me strength for the day, and excitement to share what He is doing.  It provides instant recall to His promises and His record of provision.  Having all of this at my fingertips as a result of my time hearing the Word allows me to provide a more compelling testimony to those who are searching.  We might not realize it, but they are always listening for real faith.

That is why I want to be Relentless in my growth as a believer.  I am not going to do it right all of the time, and I will have periods of time when it seems like nothing is happening at all, but I never want to settle.  The actions I take toward knowing Christ better and the experiences I share about how He is working in me are all opportunities for someone to hear that little thing that may draw them to know Christ as well.  It’s not me.  It is Christ using me.

  • Do you have opportunities to share God’s work in your life? Are you capitalizing on them?
  • Are you spending time in the Word on a regular basis?
  • Who can you start talking to about what God did for you this week?

Father, we have a hard time believing those we don’t know, and we have your Word to show us how to know you better.  Help us to take those moments in Your Word and treasure them.  Use them to build our faith as we listen to Your Spirit speaking into our hearts and give us the opportunity and excitement to share Your good news with those who need You.

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The Next Chapter Of Life Will Not Be As Sweet

sweets_2623400kLast October I had one of those moments that take your breath away. I wish I could say it was from looking at a beautiful sunset, a display of human compassion, or even the peace of watching the horses in the pasture. It wasn’t. For me, it was a flight of stairs. 10 steps and I was sucking wind like a jet engine.  I was 42 years old and stairs had become the thing I dreaded most. Whether it was the knee that gave constant pain, or the knowledge that I would not be able to talk at the top of the stairs, I had begun to avoid them at all cost.

The next morning after a shower and with  a smile I stepped gingerly on the scale (It is a glass scale, so you will understand my caution in a moment.) to see my situation. I was at the heaviest I have been in my life. Just 3 pounds short of 300. I remember the sense of dread that hit me when I realized I was about to cross over into a world where my weight began with a three. That had not happened since I was 2 years old, and something needed to change. Immediately.

I went to work on it, and started changing my diet. Not huge changes, just being a little more aware of how often I would go back for seconds (or thirds) and not allowing that. I also started eating a salad a day or two a week, and set a hard rule about eating after 9pm. Again, not huge changes, but I was huge, so any change was good!

Results started quickly with me and the first ten pounds were gone in a month or so.  The holidays came next and I got through them with only picking up a couple pounds.  After that I started to average about a pound a week with the occasional stall, but the stall never bothered me as long as it didn’t turn into an upward trend. The stall would result in another little change, and then weight would start to move again. It was going well.

Last Thursday I went in for my annual physical and was actually excited. I had lost 25 pounds and was lighter than I had been in almost 4 years, and felt better than I had in at least that long. The Doc was pleased and we actually did a “high 5” at one point. (If you know my doctor, you would be surprised!) As I was getting ready to leave we briefly discussed the lab work I was about to have done, and how the results of those tests (cholesterol) couldn’t take away from the fact that I had done a good thing and I felt healthier as a result. We left the room with smiles on our faces.

That evening I was at a birthday party for my father-in-law when I got an e-mail to check my patient portal for my test results.  The cholesterol was not bad, but I got a shock I had not been expecting.  There were some bold lines of type with results on my blood sugar and a note from my doctor in all caps telling me I had diabetes and I needed to see him ASAP.  (That sound you heard was the sound of my good feelings being crushed.)

I am a diabetic.

To say that night was a hard night would be an understatement.  I understand now why they offer counseling groups for people who are getting news like this.  It rocked me all the way back on my heels.  I was doing a good job!  I had been losing weight and getting healthier.  Why?  What on earth is going on here?

That night as I lay in bed trying to wrap my head around this while clinging to the encouragement of my wife, I came to the conclusion that there is a reason for this.  God has allowed this into my life for a purpose, and I needed to figure out what it was.  God was good in that He didn’t make me take a long time to do it.  It was pretty obvious to me.

I love to eat.  I don’t just like food.  I love food.  I will sit and think about food I will eat in two hours, for supper tonight, for supper next week!  I will plan how to make sure I get to have the maximum amount of food when it is available even if it means short-changing someone else.  I have shared this sinful pattern before on this blog, but I have not really gotten control of it.  Food has continued to rule my life, and now something is going to need to change.

Things come into our lives for  reason.  Sometimes we get to experience really good things that cause us no pain while giving us the simple pleasure of feeling the love of God.  Sometimes God allows hard things to come into our lives in order to teach us something or to make us realize that we need to stop something or make a better choice.  No matter what is going on in your life, it is there in order for you to look at it and see where God is speaking to you in that moment.

Lying there in bed, I realized that God had allowed this to happen in order to teach me that food is a god that will leave me wanting.  In every way it is temporary, and when fully in control, it is damaging.  It is a substandard god.  It is an unworthy god.  It is a bad god. It was a god that THE God decided I needed to see in a different light.  The next morning I told Tammi that it was like God had just walked in and kicked food off the throne in my heart and said that it had been in His seat for far too long.  It was time for me to learn how good it is to have Him on the throne instead.

The last few days have been a little rough at times.  I’m on a new diet now that has me on a pretty tight leash.  I’m checking my sugar, taking my medicine, and looking at my food in a different way.  I have been very careful, and I have the support of my amazing wife and kids and some good friends and family praying for me as I walk this new path.  It’s a new chapter of my life, and while in some ways it will not be as sweet as it used to be, in others it is already tasting so good!

IMG_20160506_181517I’m still losing weight.  This is a picture of me last summer on our Wyoming vacation where I had not yet hit my peak weight along with me today being down 30 pounds.  I am committed to losing more while controlling my sugar in order to reach a healthy weight.  I’m not sure if God is going to allow me to get off the medication, but right now I believe that is a goal He has allowed in my heart, and I intend to follow it with Relentless determination.

The sugar levels are already moving in the right direction, and my prayer is that when I go to see my doctor in a month, he will tell me that I am on the right track.  It will be three months before I can get my A1C checked again to see just how much movement I have had.  I’m placing that in God’s hands.  He is writing this chapter of my life, and I am open to His direction.  My prayer is first of all to honor Him in this process.  He has placed me here for at least one reason I have already mentioned, but I believe that is going to lead to even more.

I would appreciate your prayers, and I will share my journey with anyone who wants to read or ask questions.  Please keep my wife and family in your prayers as well.  This is something we are all experiencing, not just me.  I am blessed with a family that loves me and is supporting me as we do this together, but I want to show them love and encouragement as well.

Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be encouraged by it.

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Open Bar At The Wedding

Jesus Turns Water Into Wine ClipartI’ve started a new devotional book and it is taking me through the book of John over a 40 day period.  I loved that when I hit that first couple of lessons I was met with the instruction to put the book away if I was going to use it to simply go through the motions.  The author was very clear that his words were not important.  What he wanted to see is for the reader to FOCUS on the daily scripture passages and really let God’s Word sink in.

Today the passage I read was John 2:1-12.  Here we get the story of Jesus’ first and probably most controversial (at least among some of the “Old Guard” Baptists I know and love) miracles – the turning of water into wine. (Yes, I believe it was wine and not grape juice. Sorry if I have let anyone down.. Nah.  Never mind.  It’s good!)  I read the passage this morning and kinda let it run around in my head the rest of the day. (There was nothing in there to really keep it from enjoying the space!)

By the time I sat down to go through the devotional reading I had kinda cut my focus to a couple of things.  First, Mary had some pull.  She tells Jesus there is no wine left at the wedding.  Jesus tells her His time has not yet come, and she just turns to the servants:

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” – John 2:5

I don’t know exactly why Jesus changed His mind after His response to Mary, but I wonder if it might have been related to her words immediately after His apparent refusal to help.  His time had not come, but she turned and said to the help that He was in control and something was about to happen.  Whether she intended for Him to go and get some wine at the local 7-11 or what, I am not at liberty to say.  She just took a step of faith and asked some others to do the same.

Right after that, Jesus puts these guys to work:

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. – John 2:7,8

Who were these guys?  Did they know anything of Jesus?  Were they there at His Baptism?  Had they heard Him teach?  What did they know about Him that made them just step into immediate obedience like that?  I wish I had an answer. Put yourself in their position.  There is no wine, this woman tells you to do what this guy says, He tells you to go and fill some pots with water and then take some of the water to the guy in charge so he can taste it.

And. They. Did. It.  Think about that.  They did it.  They just did it! and Voila! Wine!

We read that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.  Well, I see here that the obedience of a waiter/bartender can result in taking tap water and turning it into a fine Chardonnay.  If they had not done as they were told, do you think this story would have gone the same way?  I think not.

Here is the neat thing about obedience to Christ.  When you step out and do something that Jesus tells you to do, you have positioned yourself to be in the perfect position to see Christ do something amazing!  Sometimes the crazier the act of obedience, the bigger the “payoff”.  These guys jumped to action when asked and they were soon partaking in the finest wine ever to be served.  What do you think that did in their lives?  Do you wonder of they followed Jesus after that?  I do.

The devotional asked me a question I am going to ask you.  I came up with an answer, and I challenge you to do the same.

“What do you believe God has been asking you to do that you have been sidestepping?”

Ouch.  That was a big step on the toes.  I know I have something that I have been making excuses over for a while now.  I keep looking for that perfect excuse, and I have been pretty good at coming up with one every time I feel that little “push” the Holy Spirit gives me.  That needs to stop.

If I am going to live a Relentless Life for Christ, I need to go ahead and do what He asks me to do.  He knows best, and He will pour into me and then unlock whatever He put inside me that is necessary to accomplish the task.  If it is His plan and goal, it will get done, and I will be blessed to be involved!

I have some work to do, and I’m not sure how it is going to shake out and look like at the end of it all, but I believe it is time to get myself out of God’s way and just do what He asks.  I don’t think it is going to result in an open bar or anything, but all that matters is that God’s best is poured freely into those around me!

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The Difference a Day Makes

0d2d09c6-55ab-4c1a-8597-92c7f66d48db-large16x9_SheriffDeVolI sat down yesterday to read my Bible and journal before going out to spend the day with some friends.  I had plans of sitting down to write a blog post when I got back home.  That didn’t happen.  The plan was to write about how to make positive change in difficult relationships.  Even relationships that are thrust upon us with no choice of our own.  I might get back to that one later, but yesterday was not the day.

Shortly after getting home yesterday I noticed on my Facebook feed that there were a number of profile pics that had changed to a picture of the Kalkaska Sheriff’s Department badge on a black background with a blue line over it.  It was not the traditional black line over a badge, but I was pretty sure I knew what it meant right away, and I began praying for those I know in the Department as I scrolled through the feed looking for more information.

Before too long I had found a reference to my friend Abe DeVol, Kalkaska County Sheriff.  It hit like a sledgehammer.  I began looking at news outlets to see if I could figure out what happened, and eventually found a news story stating that Abe had died unexpectedly of natural causes.  I spent much of last night in a fog, thinking about my friend.  He was only 44 years old.  Just two years older than I am.  Much of last night was spent thinking and worrying about my own health and asking the question no one likes to ask, “What if it was me?”  “What if I went to work on Monday and didn’t come home?”

Just a couple months ago Abe and I spent some time talking and he shared with me how he struggled with the demands of the job and how it made it harder for him to be there for his wife and daughters.  He loved them all, and he did everything he could to make sure that they knew he put them first.  I was glad to see that over the last couple of weeks he was posting pictures of himself with his daughters out in the woods together enjoying his passion of hunting.  He was that kind of Dad. Heavily involved in sports, and always willing to brag about his three girls.

Sleep last night was a little rough with all the thoughts that kept waking me up.  “Have I prepared things for my family if I am gone?”  “Why didn’t I spend more time thinking about my health?” “Why didn’t I spend more time with them?”  “How much time do I have?”  “What am I supposed to do?”

This morning I sat down to open the Bible and my study plan dropped me in Matthew 6.  Near the end of the chapter there is a section that is marked off in my Bible.  It is a bold section heading that states:

DO NOT BE ANXIOUS

The last verse of Matthew 6 says:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:34

In light of Abe’s passing, this verse really spoke to me and the worries that I had been experiencing through the night.  As I read through it, I had three thoughts that came to mind.

  1. Don’t Worry About Tomorrow – This isn’t a pass that takes away all responsibility in life, but it is a reminder that tomorrow is going to come no matter what.  It might have some good in it, and it might have some bad in it.  Either way, I am going to be facing it with God.  I can make plans, but I need to remember that plans don’t always work out.  Even that great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
  2. Tomorrow Is Coming… Quickly – There are so many things that are going on in our lives today.  It is a fast-paced world with technology, information overload, schedules, demands, responsibilities, and sometimes even some fun stuff too!  We need to make sure we are in the moment and not focusing too much on the past or the future.  Another great philosopher, Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  3. Today Is Enough for Today – At work I have been taking the time each morning to lay out my day.  I use an app called Trello to keep everything organized, and it has allowed me to attack my day more efficiently.  Part of that daily planning is to assess my progress during the day and see if the task is possible to complete.  It might not be possible to do it all in one day, but I can make a little progress and then jot a note for the next day and return to it then.  I find that doing this is allowing me to come home in a better mood at the end of the day, even if the day was a little rocky.  I am seeing an improvement, and I want to take this same discipline into other areas, arguably the more important areas of my life.

I don’t want to live a life of worry.  There are too many things that I will miss out on if I live that way.  I want to know that at the end of any given day I have had a good day.  I want days that leave my family feeling loved and fulfilled.  I want my wife to know how important she is to me.  I want her to know that she has been an encouraging force in my life that has kept me moving in times that I didn’t feel like I could go another step.  I want my kids to know that I am proud of them, love them, and that I cared enough to equip them with things they need to know for life.  I want them all to know that there was never a place I wanted to be more than with the three of them.

These are things that I believe Abe wanted his family to know as well.  I’m sure when he went to bed Friday night he didn’t know what Saturday held for him, but I know that if he could talk to us today, he would tell us that we never know when it is time to leave and we should take the time to be sure to take care of the important things like our families, our faith, and our friends while we still can.

I am thankful that as a child of Christ, I know my future is secure.  I have a home in heaven, and I know that I will see my family again one day.  That faith stands strong to carry me past the point of worry to a place where I can stand resolute in my belief that tomorrow will be okay no matter what comes.  I’m going to continue to do the smart things of trying to getting in shape, to make sure I teach my kids what they need to know, and to shower my wife with love, but I don’t need to worry about tomorrow.  God has my tomorrow in His hands, and He is much more capable of handling it well than I ever could be.

Relentless Living doesn’t mean I don’t care about my tomorrow, but it does mean that worrying about tomorrow need not keep me from living today.

Our little town is a different place today without Abe in it.  He will be missed greatly, and I know that there are a lot of people here who are better for having known him.  He knew the importance of making a difference in his community, and that is something we all need to remember to do.  Please remember to keep his family in your prayers.

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Stress Level – High

thThis past weekend my daughter graduated from high school.  Friday we rehearsed, Saturday we did pictures and graduated, and Sunday we had the Open House.  Sounds simple, right? A nice little three-day operation…

NOPE!

It was a good two weeks in the making as we painted the house, did a bunch of yard work, decorated a barn, bought a bunch of food, and took care of a lot of other details as well.  We had some much needed and appreciated help from our parents, and our friends, and without that help, we would not have been able to pull it off.  We cannot thank them enough for how they all came to our aid by making food, helping with set-up and tear down, filling bowls, running grills, and so many other things I cannot even begin to remember them all right now.  On top of all of that, things were very busy at work for both of us.

In a word, we were stressed.  I don’t mean just a little bit, I mean staring at the ceiling at 2am stressed because you are wondering if you have bought the right amount of relish to feed a couple hundred people that you think are going to show up, while you are hearing some of them say they aren’t going to be able to make it, and wondering if you have hedged your bet just right to come out okay between those that can’t come and those that you didn’t expect to come!  Throw a national holiday into the mix and that makes it even more unpredictable. See!  I’m twitching just thinking about it right now!

I hit a wall last week on Thursday and reached out for help from my friends for some prayer support.  They came through for me, and I wrote a little about that here.  Friday was a better day, but even though we were in a pretty good spot by Friday afternoon for the open house, I still went into the weekend feeling the after-effects of too much anxiety over all that we had needed to get done.

I began my day today feeling tired, wishing for a day at home.  I just wanted one day to be able to catch up on a few things that I had to let slide while we did party prep, but I had to go to work.  Not long after I got here I got a notification on my phone from my Bible app (learn more about that here) that a friend had posted an image.  I looked it up and found this:

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Verse image from my friend Mike W.

 Yes.  That was a good thing to see.  A promise of God’s peace that I can claim.  A simple statement of faith in God’s power to get us through the times that the stress dial is turned ALL THE WAY UP!  Keep your mind focused on God, and you will be able to face things around you with His perfect peace, not because the problems will necessarily go away, but because that trust in God just makes them pale in comparison.

I wish I had experienced more of that over the last couple of weeks.  I probably would have been nicer to my wife and kids, and I definitely would have been nicer to be around at work.  I might have slept better too!

You see, as wonderful as the promise of Isaiah 26:3 is, there is an unwritten opposing promise in that verse as well.  Allow me to paraphrase the verse to show what I mean:

“You will allow a stressful turmoil into the one whose mind is not stayed on you, because he does not trust in You.”

That’s kind of the spot I was allowing myself to live a lot of the last couple weeks.  My mind was not on God, but was on the stuff that I had to do.  It wasn’t necessarily that I did not trust God, but I definitely was not seeking His help in keeping my head right as I dealt with the stuff that had to be done under my power alone.  There is a word for that kind of thinking, and I think the Bible likes to use the word “foolish.”  Yep.  That word works better than any other I can think of.

Relentless Living means disciplining myself to look at my circumstances through the filter of God’s presence in my life.  There are days that I lose that perspective, but it is imperative that I don’t let my mind wander from Him, my trust in Him, and His perfect peace.

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42 – What Happens Next?

Answer_to_Life“42 was found to be the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Unfortunately, it was not known exactly what the question was, so nobody is any the wiser.”

– ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’

Well, another year has come and gone, and I hope that I am a bit wiser for the last 365 days of spinning around the sun.  I know there are several people who would probably like to weigh in on that one, but they will have to do so in the comments below, and since that seems to be a fairly untrodden patch of dirt,  I feel pretty safe.

I have been trying to think of something witty to say for my 42nd birthday blog.  What type of topic would best fit such a year of significance?  Douglas Adams gave us the number 42 as the answer to everything, but as he said, if we don’t know exactly what the question is, 42 just falls kind flat.  So, that makes me ask, what has been the big question of my last 12 months?

“What happens next?”

Yep.  That has probably been the biggest question of the last year.  It has led us down roads that felt ominous, filled with worry and concern.  What is Tammi’s job going to be like?  What is my job going to be like?  What does school look like for the kids next year?  What is my Men’s Group going to look like?  What should I do about teaching? What should I be thinking about my future ministry opportunities?

Well, Tammi’s job smoothed out and things are going well.  I’ve seen a lot of change in my role at work and things have been getting steadily better there.  We are seeing the college situation for BOTH kids coming into focus.  I think the Men’s Group is in a state of change, but may very well be on the cusp of something amazing.  Teaching is still in the air, but future ministry opportunities are looking more and more interesting, even if they are on a slight pause at this time.

Monday I was reading in Joshua 1.  Joshua has just taken up the mantle of leadership for the nation of Israel, and is standing at the border of the Promised Land.  Moses is dead, and he is looking around at all these people who are looking at him expectantly.  I imagine the thought, “What happens next?” went through his mind.

I like to wonder if God saw these doubts in Joshua’s mind.  It makes sense that He did since He immediately came to Him to have a chat:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. – Joshua 1:5-6

Imagine that. God Himself speaking to you and saying, “No man can beat you for the rest of your life. I am with you. Always. Get ready to be strong and show courage because I am going to use you to fulfill MY promise to these people!” Got any goosebumps yet? I do! God goes on to tell Joshua two more times to be strong and courageous; reinforcing His promise to Joshua and the people of Israel.

I would think that after that, Joshua had to be feeling a bit better. He had been reassured by God and had been given a promise of protection and victory! The next step was to address the people. He told them to prepare for battle. He reminded them of promises made by God to them, and of promises made by the people to God. Things are looking pretty good, and then the people answer him:

And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” – Joshua 1:16-18

What a coincidence!  These people, who I do not believe heard God talking to Joshua, tell him the exact same thing that God did!  Why it almost makes you think that God might have used them to reinforce what He had just told Joshua!  That would probably be because that is exactly what He did!  God used this interaction with the men that he led to speak truth into Joshua at a time and in a place that he would know God was at work.

I have had a lot of these moments over the past year. “Coincidences” that just seem to come out of nowhere as someone tells me something “out of the blue” that I had just read that morning in the Bible.  I have had people walk up and make offers to do things that were direct answers to prayers that I had just prayed about that morning!  Some people would call it coincidence, luck, karma…  I call it God, and when it happens I find myself asking an old question in a new way – with expectancy!

“What happens next?”

I don’t know. I am on the cusp of a new year. I have never been closer to God than I am right now. My relationship with my wife and kids is better than ever. God has brought four men into my life that are the closest friends I have ever had. They speak truth into me and are often telling me in their own ways to be strong and courageous. I am looking at the future of what God is going to do with my life in regards to ministry, and I see His hand has been moving me toward a change for some time. Now I see it just over the horizon as I look at the opportunity to join in the work at Starwood Ranch and Overboard Ministries.

What happens next? I don’t really know, but I know that the Relentless Life I have been pursuing in my relationship with God has brought me here. It is taking me into new territories where I will need to trust Him not only for wisdom and strength, but for the courage to go the distance with Him.

This is going to be a big year for me. I’m going after it with my God, my family, and my friends. I’ll let you know what happened in 365 days!

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Caleb – A Whole-Hearted Man

caleb (1)Imagine with me for a moment.  It is a dry and dusty day on the border of the Promised Land.  40 days earlier, Moses sent 12 men to look at the land of Canaan to see what  was waiting for them there.  Tension is high as everyone keeps looking to the hills to see if they can see any sign of the scouting party.

Finally, there they are! As they draw closer to camp, you can see that they are carrying a huge cluster of grapes.  The fruit is so large it is being carried by two men!  As questions begin to fly, the men report that the story God had told them was true!  This truly is an amazing land that holds vast resources for all the people of Israel.

As excitement fills your heart, you see another man step forward waving his arms.  He begins to speak, and you are told that there are also giants there.  Formidable armies encamped in huge cities that you would never be able to overthrow.  There are enemies wherever you look.  Defeat fills your heart as you hear those words.  How can God do this to you after He promised this paradise?  Anger begins to rise.  Some of it is directed at God, some at Moses, some at these men.  Your doubts and fears are carried along with the rest of the people and soon the noise is palpable.

Wait, who is that?  Another person is stepping forward.  Is that Caleb?  He was one of the men that went to spy out the land.  He is waving his hands and getting people’s attention.  The crowd dies down and Caleb speaks,

“Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

7599303_f520Caleb came from the tribe of Judah.  I have found a couple listed meanings of his name.  One meaning is “dog”, – not that flattering – but the other is “whole-hearted” or “all of the heart”.  As names in that culture usually carried great meaning in the  individual’s life, I have to wonder if the name “dog” might have had something to do with a tenacity that he showed as a very young boy.  Maybe when he set his teeth in something, he just would not let go.  I’m not sure, but if you continue to read about Caleb’s life (and we will, Dear Reader), you will see a Relentless determination in him.  He is definitely an “all-in” kind of guy.

Think about what he must have felt as he walked back into the camp with that big cluster of grapes.  The people were all looking at these 12 guys with excitement.  The Bible doesn’t say who spoke first when the scouting party returned. Caleb was the first speaker identified in Numbers 13:30, but I wonder if he and Joshua were the two carrying the grapes.  I wonder if Joshua spoke up with Caleb and told the people about all the good things that were there. What did Caleb think when another member of the scouting party gave the doom and gloom message?  “What are you doing?  Don’t you see you are going to scare them?  We don’t have anything to worry about because we are God’s people!”  Did he throw down the grapes and rush forward yelling for their silence?  All I know for sure is that when Caleb stepped up to speak, the people got quiet enough to hear him.

As we know, they didn’t listen for long.  The people turned on Moses, decided they would ask for a new leader, and it looks like Moses and Aaron appeared to be afraid for their lives as you read the beginning of chapter 14.  It says they fell to their faces in front of the congregation.  Things were looking pretty dicey, and then:

“And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” – Numbers 14:6-9 (ESV)

What boldness to step out like that!  These guys knew that God had the entire thing under control.  They knew that He would lead them and that they would have everything God had promised.  They didn’t hesitate to stand up.  They did and said the right thing.

So, as you would expect, the people decided to stone them.  I’ve had days like that…  Just as it looks like they are going to die, God Himself steps in to stop the people, and He is not happy.  God is ready to wipe out the whole bunch of them, Moses ends up begging for the lives of the people, and God lets them live. He punishes the people by telling them that because of their unbelief, everyone over the age of 20 will not see the Promised Land.  Instead, they will wander around the desert for the next 40 years until every last one of them dies.  Well, almost all of them.

 “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24

Caleb had a different spirit.  I think it was that Relentless tenacity of a pitbull that was whole-heartedly determined to follow God.  As God saw Caleb’s heart and actions, He rewarded him for the stand that he had taken for God.  Caleb may fade into the background a bit, but whenever we see him, he is still standing strong and giving it all. Eventually he did enter the Promised Land with Joshua.  He fought for God, and he claimed the promise of God for his family.  The best part is he did it with that same tenacity!

Caleb has been a hero of mine since I was a little guy.  As an adult I see the lessons in his life more clearly, and he has grown even more significant.  He showed a Relentless pursuit of the things God promised, and as he followed God, he was blessed with health and strength for the journey that took him even into his eighties.  I want to be that kind of man.  His name resonates in my heart as a man’s man.  Even more, as God’s man.  One day I would like God to say of me that I was a servant of His with a different spirit because I had followed Him fully.

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Rooted, Built, Established & Abounding In Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving Blog #5

Fall-foliage-Boston-MAThat time of year is here again.  We have said goodbye to another summer and are now in the dwindling days of fall. If you live in Northern Michigan, I think we skipped over the last half of fall, and we are now knee deep in winter! Fall is one of my favorite times of year.  The leaves changes, the sun takes on a different glow, there is a crispness in the air, and my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving – and pie! We won’t talk about my insane love affair with pie right now. though! It really is a sad thing… Seriously… I need help…

Anyway, back on track.  Thanksgiving is that time of year when we like to reflect on what we have to be thankful for.  There are a lot of differing opinions as to how Thanksgiving came to be. Some say religious; some say it has nothing to do with God.  I found the following on Wikipedia, and while I do not always look at that as a reputable site, I think this is a fairly unbiased report of history:

“Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations. Various proclamations were made by royal governors, John Hancock, General George Washington, and the Continental Congress, each giving thanks to God for events favorable to their causes. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, `as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God’.”

Personally, I love that the Pilgrims took the time after their first winter to thank God and the Native Americans that helped them survive it.  It is a good thing to intentionally set aside time to give thanks for the good things that we have and for the people that support us.  That tradition has carried on, and in two days, many of us will sit around a table with family and friends and take a moment to give thanks for all that has been good in our lives over the last year.

Is that what Thanksgiving is about, though?  Just the good things?  I don’t believe it is.  There are a lot of things that I see in my life that are good, and I am thankful for them.  I have a wonderful wife, two great kids, a great family, some very good friends, a roof over my head, and so much more.  I am thankful for them.  They bring joy to my life, and I can’t imagine life without them, but I have other things that are not as “good.”  If you’re expecting a list, too bad!  Let’s just say that we all have things that we would change if we could.  The question is, are we thankful for those things, too?

Four years ago this past April, I abruptly lost my job.  It was nothing to be thankful for – or was it?  It was during that time of my life, when so many things were falling apart around me, that I was able to finally get a real grip on my relationship with God.  He became real to me.  He was not just that God that we sing about on Sunday.  He became a Father I could cry out to.  A Protector from those out to hurt me. I found a Friend in His Son, Jesus that I could talk to about what I should do next.

By Thanksgiving that year I was in a new job, and things were still rough but sorting themselves out one small step at a time.  I remember feeling so thankful for all that God had done that year.  He allowed me to go so low, to a place where I could do nothing for myself.  I needed to be there so I could give it all to Him.  I am so thankful for that hard time.  It is a part of who I am now, and it is because of His love for me that I am able to say we need to be thankful in all things!  Through relationship with Christ we are given the power to BE thankful in all things!

If you spend much time reading this blog, you will see that I have a fascination with trees.  I love the fact that God does, too!  He uses them all through the Bible to give us lessons for living, and when you study how they live and grow, you can see even more of God at work in your life!  That is why I am drawn to Paul’s words in Colossians 2:6-7.  There is a progression laid out here for the Christian life that we can follow to truly experience Thanksgiving in our lives on a daily basis:

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

– Colossians 2:6-7

the-tree-of-life-hd_1. Receive Christ – If you haven’t done that, then you will find that thanksgiving will probably never extend much past turkey, stuffing, and pie.  Wonderful things, but they will do nothing for your eternity or for your personal growth. (With the exception of your waistline.)

2. Walk in Him – As a believer, we are called to walk as Christ would walk.  We should do the things He did, and live according to the words of God.  It is by walking in Him and with Him that we get to know Him and understand Him for who He is and what He did for us not just in His death, but in His resurrection!  We are made to know Him!

3. Rooted and built up in Him – As we follow and learn, we begin to put our roots down into what we know to be true.  Every time we see God come through for us, we grow a little deeper. Our branches spread a little farther.  We begin to show the life in us as we are growing in our faith in Him.

4. Established in the faith – Here is where we learn to stand firm and strong when we start to see the sun beat down on us making us feel dried out.  The cold winds tear at us, and we feel alone.  It is when those hard times hit us that we look to God.  We are in pain, but we are rooted in Him.  He gives us His living water to keep us alive.  He shows us His love when we feel nothing but hate.  He protects our soul when it is being ravaged by the world around us.  It is hard to be thankful in the middle of pain, but that is when we see the true effects of what we are grounded in.

5. Abounding in thanksgiving – I don’t think we need to wait for the storm to pass to feel thankful.  It is easy to be thankful when we are through the storm, but if we are truly walking in Him, rooted and built up in Him, and established in our faith in God, then we can always look around and see something to be thankful for!  Every day!  No matter what we face!  It is what sets us apart from those who struggle through life with no hope.  Our firm foundation in Christ is our hope!  It is our reason for being thankful, and it is why we can have Thanksgiving every day of the year!

I admit this is not always easy, and it doesn’t always come quickly.  The Christian life is a process of growth.  Just like a tree does not get planted one day and produce apples the next, we will need to go through a time of growth.  Trees might not visibly grow for a few years, but they are busy during those times putting down roots that will make them thrive later.  We might have times where we struggle to be thankful, but if we know Christ, are walking in Him, and are putting our roots down deep in our relationship with Christ and being established in our faith, then the natural outflow of that will be a life of abundant thanksgiving!

Relentless Growth is not something that just happens.  It requires a decision to be made daily to be thankful for a God who loves us and is there for us, even when He feels so far away sometimes.  We were made to know Him and to be close to Him.  We were made to draw on Him and to experience relationship with Him.  We have so much to be thankful for in Christ! As believers, we can’t let it just be one day a year.  Every day we need to make that choice to be thankful!

Thanks for reading, and a special thanks to my friend Joe for inviting me to this Thanksgiving week of blogs.  I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am.  Please read all the blogs of the contributors as they get posted here each day.  Follow their blogs, share, and enjoy them throughout the year!

The Overboard Life – Joe Castaneda

The Musing of a Life – Bev Everett Landgrenen

The Real Life – Terry Porter

Danny Ray – Danny Ray

Be Extraordinary – Traci Castaneda

Making Life Beautiful – Becca Forrest

Relentless Growth – Tom Tanner

I look forward to hearing from any and all of you.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

(So, if  every day is Thanksgiving Day, shouldn’t I be seeing more pie?)

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

Are You Ready?

 

Are-You-Ready-To-Be-A-Millionaire-07-07-2014I like to teach.  I have had the opportunity over the years to do q lot of informal teaching, and occasionally some teaching that is much more structured.  Both are fun, even though they ask for drastically different teaching styles.  Currently I am teaching a college and career age class at my church in our Adult Bible Fellowship hour.  It’s fun.  A lot of fun.  I might be old enough to be their Dad, but that might be part of why I like it!  They make it fun for me, and I hope I make it a good time for them as well.

After class yesterday I had the opportunity to be interviewed by one of the young ladies in the class.  She is doing a paper on religions and wanted to ask my why I believe what I believe.  We spent a good 30 minutes talking about religion, works, faith, and relationship with God.  It was a fantastic way to spend 30 minutes!

On the way home from church I was telling my kids about the conversation.  It was a great opportunity to tell them about the beliefs of other denominations and to let them know why I believe what I believe, and where they could find the proof of it in the Bible for themselves.  I was having a VERY good day!  I was getting to teach at church in a class situation, in a one-on-one setting, and then pulling a Deuteronomy 6:7 moment with the kids on the way home!

Then my son said something that pulled me back. I know he meant it well, but it made me think.

“Dad, it’s kinda weird to hear you talk about God like you do.”

Now, he meant that I was excited, and I am so thankful that he recognized that, but it made me think, “Why is that weird?” Well, probably because sometimes things are weird until you get used to them.  The more recent the moment of change, the more alien it feels.  This is still fairly new for me.

I have been teaching for about 7 years now in church, but that is something he doesn’t get a chance to see, and Dad teaching in church when he talks about God is understandable, but talking about God outside of church?  That is still a fairly recent development.  I have never been one to really talk about my faith with others unless I am in a “church” setting, but that is changing.

I think this blog has something to do with it. I realize that most of the people who read it are probably “churched”, but I also know that I put this out there in some areas where people who don’t attend church can see it, or maybe they go to different church and don’t believe some of the same things that I do.  Since I use this blog to talk about my journey in growing close to Christ, I am getting more experience in sharing my faith, and it is becoming more natural.  As it becomes more natural, it is showing in “real life” too!

Peter gives us a charge as believers:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

– 1 Peter 3:15 (emphasis mine)

This is what I am relentlessly pursuing.  Being prepared to make a defense.  Other translations use the phrase “give an account”.  Either phrase is intended to give the picture of standing in a courtroom and giving your testimony of the facts.  Why God means to you what you say He means to you.  A few things we can take from this verse:

1. Remember who you are talking about

This is about God.  The holy, pure, one and only God!  We honor Him by knowing not only WHAT we believe, but WHY we believe it!  That is how we honor Him and what He has done for us.  It is not just a matter of knowing about something, but becoming intimately acquainted with the Savior.

2. Be ready to speak

Not ready to run your mouth.  Be ready to explain, in detail, why you believe what you say you believe.  This is not something that should be taken lightly.  As believers, we should be taking the time to get to know God every day!  The better we know Him and His Word, the more accurately we will be able to present our case.  We need to have our facts straight, and be capable of stating it in a way that can be understood.

3. Be gentle in your speech

We can tell somebody the amazing story of God’s love for each and every individual person on this planet in a way that will make them want nothing to do with Him.  Pretty sad, but very true.  How we present our faith should be done in obedience to God, but with respect to the other person whose views may differ from our own.  Christ did not shake people into belief.  He spoke truth in a calm and loving way, letting the Truth do the shaking for Him.  That’s what He wants from us as well.

I have known my Savior for about 37 years.  I didn’t put a lot of effort into getting to know Him until about 8 years ago.  It’s only been in the last 2 years that I have started telling people about Him outside of church.  That’s not a good account.  That account says I spent too much time focused on how I felt about what people thought of me.

The good thing is that I have been doing it now for 2 years.  I started.  A desire for Relentless Growth in Christ will lead to a desire to share what He has done with people that you care about.  As you learn more and share more, you will see more and more opportunities to do it.  God’s pretty cool about stuff like that.

So, ask yourself.  “Are you ready?”

If this has been an encouragement to you, please share it with someone who might benefit from it as well.  More importantly, if you have benefitted from knowing Christ – share that!  I’d love to hear from you with your stories and comments!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong