Psalm 101 for 2017

Note to the reader:  If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that I am not posting an image here every day here anymore.  I have decided to move daily image posts to my Relentless Growth Facebook page.  You can find that page, like, and follow here.  This page will be reserved for writing moving forward.  Hope to see you in the Facebook world!

wp-1483279541415.jpgOne of the routines I have right now is reading in Psalms every morning before my feet hit the floor.  I don’t do it to be spiritual or to impress anyone.  I do it because I need it!  Since disciplining myself in this way, I find I have a little more grace to extend and a more positive outlook on the hard days as I have a bit of God’s Word rattling around in my mostly empty skull.

Last week I hit on Psalm 101, and after a couple days of looking at it, reading it, and thinking about it, I began to wonder what David’s thoughts were when he wrote it.  I know he was led by the Spirit to write it, but I wonder what the prompt for it was.

Since we were closing in on the end of 2016 and the thoughts of the New Year, goals, plans and dreams were running through my mind, I began to wonder if this was a “New Year’s Resolution” list for David. Is it possible that this was his list of things that he wanted to work on for the upcoming year?

I mentioned in my last post that I would be sharing more about this chapter and how I wanted to use it for myself in 2017.  Stop and think about it.  This is not a bad list!

  1. I will sing of your love and justice, lord.  I will praise you with songs. – I want to praise God more this year. I want to tell people about His love for me and how He has made changes in this life of mine that He has paid for.
  2. I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. – I want to live a life that doesn’t make people wonder if I am a fake Christian, just putting on a show.  I want people to just believe that God is real to me and that I am the same person in the workplace that I am at home or with my friends. I want to be careful to avoid the things that cause doubts.
  3. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. – I want to protect my eyes from things that are evil. I want to be sure that I am engaging in honest actions with people and avoid anything that will pull me into evil thoughts or actions.
  4. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. – I want to keep my thought life clean and focused on things that give God glory rather than things that give my flesh power.
  5. I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride. – I want to not only avoid negative talking about others, but also I want to be a voice that speaks up against that behavior.  I want to both be humble and promote humility in others.
  6. I will search for faithful people to be my companions. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me.  – I want to surround myself with people I can trust for encouragement, correction, love, and joy.  I want to help people live and work with a strong moral code.
  7. I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, and liars will not stay in my presence. – I want to bring truth to light in my surroundings. I want to use grace and mercy to uncover the deceptions that are around me and  bring a restoration to the circumstances and people involved.
  8. My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the lord from their grip. – I want to be on the lookout for evil every day.  Evil is not usually a person, but evil actions need to be addressed for what they are and they need to be stopped.  In all things, I want God to be glorified where His people work and live.

seo-checklistI don’t know if this was David’s list for a New Year, but I do see where I can take this list and use it as an outline for how I would like to act this year.  If I can even make a little progress on it in my life, that will be a good thing!  There is nothing wrong with a single step as long as it is in the right direction!

2017 is a fresh start.  I have made my plans for this year, and in total, they are pretty big plans!  I will need to be Relentless this year in order to accomplish them.  I will need to keep a strong Focus on the goals.  I will need to be Resilient as obstacles pop up and try to pull me off track.

What do you think?  Would love to hear from you.  Feel free to comment and share!

Happy New Year!

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A Swagger Ain’t All Bad…

When I was 14, we had a little tan ’76 Chevy Chevette that I was sure would be my first car.  It was a great little runner with a manual transmission and a little 4-banger for an engine.  It also had a corrosion-assist air circulation system. (Read that as rust holes big enough to throw a grapefruit through.)  The interior was a little run down, and there were pits in the windshield, but in all honesty, the Chevette had not been built to turn heads and make people say, “Ooooooo!”  It was transportation.  Pure and simple.

Dad and I went through that little rag and gave her a new floor pan, some sheet metal, and enough fiberglass and bondo to build a small boat.  We finished her off with a paint job that was pretty wild for a Chevette… and then he sold her.  I thought she was going to be my first car, but Dad decided that his son probably could use a little more metal wrapped around him than that little Chevette could provide.  He was probably right.  I probably would not have gotten that first speeding ticket though…

A few years later, after giving my ’79 Malibu a paint job, I needed a winter beater.  I tracked down a ’78 Chevy Malibu that on the outside was REALLY rough.  It was burgundy with a black padded-vinyl top that had started to split and shred.  It had fuzz coming out all over the top and when it went down the road, the fuzz would wave in the breeze like an old fella that refuses to give up the comb-over.  The car had a hideous red interior with some rather unidentifiable stains in the seats, but I didn’t care.  It also had a small-block V-8 under the hood.  That old rag could flat fly!  I put a set of light truck snow tires on it and there wasn’t a place that car couldn’t take me.

4 years ago I bought a Buick from a guy at work because I needed a winter car.  While the outside of this car was not in bad shape, the inside was full of surprises.  It had a household light switch that operated the fan, The clock was not able to be programmed and was off by 2 hours and 17 minutes, and the high beams and dash lights would just turn off on their own from time to time.  The car had two broken sway links and a sway bar that was only being held in place by the bushings.  It was an accident waiting to happen.  It was the first car that I ever got stuck with on more than one occasion (each time in my own driveway), but when I hit the key it was always ready to go.

I’ve owned a lot of cars over the last almost 30 years.  Some of them have been nice cars, some of them I made into nice cars, and some of them were cars that had to make people wonder what I was thinking. Most recently I picked up an ’02 Pontiac Montana from one of my best friends.  Yep.  A mini-van.  Not just any mini-van though.  This car has some issues…

  • After driving it for two months, I have finally figured out how all of the door locks work – or don’t work.  There is a science to getting into this car…
  • It has a ton of rust that is not visible at first glance, but as you climb around in an under it, you start to really wonder what is holding it together!
  • I’ve made some repairs here and there:
    • cleaned the interior
    • fixed a coolant leak
    • swapped out the headlights
    • plugged a tire
    • put on new windshield wipers
    • replaced the cabin air filters. (After removing a mouse nest the size of my head from the blower fan housing.  Finally caught the mouse in a trap I set in the car.  Traps are still set because you never know if there might be more!)
    • The most satisfying repair was probably getting the windshield sealed so water didn’t run into my left shoe when I made a right turn.

Some of you reading this might think, “Wait a minute.  You said that you bought this car from one of your best friends?  Were you doing him a favor or is he really not that good of a friend?”  I can tell you that he is a great friend.  We’ll get back to that a little later.  There are things wrong with this car, but when I hit the key, it starts.  The blower throws heat (most of the time – not too concerned yet). It has an excellent set of snow tires, and a kicking stereo! (Even if the cassette and CD players don’t work and I can’t tell what station it is on!)  I’m loving this van!

If you go back over all of these vehicles I talked about, they all have something in common.  They might not have had a lot of show, but they all had it where it really counts with a car.  They ran!  They might not be worth looking at, but 4 tires that turn and and engine that runs are really the most important things you need in a car. Well, yes. We need heaters here in Northern Michigan, but you get my point.

I look back over the cars that I have had, and while I enjoyed the lack of emergency maintenance I have had with some of the nicer, newer cars, I have really enjoyed those beaters!  I like their quirks, the opportunities they have given me to learn new skills in auto repair (Thank you, Dad and Ray for your mentorship), and for the fun stories I have been able to share.  I could look at these cars as things that bring frustration, but they really don’t.  They are adventures!

12227058_10207948334177256_3231851094432208921_nNow that I am a 42 year old man driving a rusty, soccer mom mini-van.  I can only embrace the fun of it.  Right from the start I had dubbed this vehicle the Swagger Wagon, and my friend Ray even got some decals for me to put in the windows.  The decals are getting noticed at work and I’m loving it.  People shake their heads at first because they think it is silly, but when they ask me why I would associate my mini-van with “Swagger” I get an opportunity to share.  I am proud of that van, and here is why:

  1. It was gift from a good friend who saw a need and wanted to help.  I bought the van, but I didn’t pay very much for it.  After talking with my friend Mike about my wife stepping out of her career and how I needed to get a vehicle that would just get me to and from work, Mike stepped up and made me an offer.  I looked the van over and made an informed decision.  A decision that I would make all over again because it meant so much to me that he would help me out like that.  Mike has a heart for serving and helping people, and I can brag about the God that put that heart in him.  I can brag about how my God used my friend to meet a need.  It’s not the first time Mike has been used this way, but I am driving the proof of it around and telling people about it!
  2. It was evidence of God meeting my needs.  I didn’t need a brand new Silverado.  I needed a set of wheels.  I prayed for God to bring the right vehicle to me when the time was right.  I could have prayed for something nicer, but I knew that with the price I was willing to pay, God was going to need to be involved in any purchase I made!  I have seen God meet our needs just in time several times over the past five years, and I knew He would be there again.  I can brag about a God that is there for me over and over again!
  3. It’s fun to drive a  beater! This part isn’t really deep.  I just like having a car that I can fix without worrying too much about making sure that everything looks “just right”.  I have wire holding all sorts of things together in this van, and there will probably be much more!  It is satisfying to be able to fix it on the cheap and just enjoy driving it.  I take pride in keeping it as clean as I can and doing what needs to be done to keep it running, but past that?  The more bizarre the repair the more fun I have.  I can brag about a God that brought me a car that brings me this much fun!

Relentless living is about looking for the things that really matter.  It might be a dependable vehicle, a caring friend, someone willing to teach you something you need to know, or any number of other things.  Every day we come face to face with things God has given us that are really important if we just choose to see them.  After we see them, we have the choice to acknowledge Him in them or not.  I could hang my head because I need to keep a recurring appointment with an air compressor on my calendar since the tires all have slow leaks, or I can be thankful that they have great tread and I have an air compressor!

The Bible has a couple of words that reflect my feelings regarding this van and what it has brought to my life.  The first would be contentment and the other is joy.  These feelings are rooted in a trust that God is watching out for me and the needs of my family. How He meets the needs is up to Him. How I feel about that is up to me.  I want to bring my God Relentless praise, and as I reflect on how good He is to me, one of his children…

Well, if anything is gonna give you a little swagger, that oughta do it!

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People – Not Just A Magazine

Big-Group-of-PeopleI had a great conversation with a friend yesterday.  We sat together after church and just talked for awhile about the workplace and the dynamics of it.  We talked about some of the challenges we face in the culture of a workforce and how the structure of management impacts the environment.  It was a good talk.  It was a very good talk.

The culture of the workplace is made up from several factors: the work itself, the people doing the work, the history of the people doing the work, and the people tasked with managing the work and the workforce.  It requires a formula that takes the right amount of each of these and blends them together in hopes of creating a successful organization.  When the mix is right, things go well, when it is off, well, we can all tell a story about a place we worked that didn’t get it right.

I started my first “job” at the age of 11, so, I guess you can say I have 31+ years in the workforce now, and while I don’t think it makes me an expert, it does give me a right to speak with some knowledge on the subject.  In that time I have been self-employed, worked for a family business, a small business, a small corporation, a regional corporation, a national corporation, and a global corporation.  I have been the new guy, the veteran employee, the shift manager, the area manager, and a director.  I have worked by myself, with a group, managed a couple people, managed 20-30 people, and ran an entire store.  I have been paid by the hour, by the job, by commission, and by salary.  I have worked for great people and for people that I honestly would like to never see again.  I don’t really remember what it feels like to not work.

As my friend and I shared stories of top-down management and the ever-present dance of avoiding and assigning blame, I began to really think hard about what it was that made some of those managers great and some of them so “not-so-great”.  We have each experienced how “things roll downhill” and how sometimes the best thing you could say about your day is that you somehow managed to avoid the splatter when it all hit the air circulation apparatus.  As the day wore on and into today, I have not been able to get it out of my head.  

My friend asked me at one point why there does not seem to be a real focus in the Church (in general) on teaching men in leadership positions the importance of this kind of stuff.  We are taught to lead at home, how to lead our families, how to lead at church, and in other areas, but how do we lead in the workplace as godly Christian managers?  We are taught to be honest, to be focused, to be kind, to have goals, to pursue excellence, but how often do we really hear how to be a good, godly manager of people?

Looking back, I can see a lot of mistakes I made over the years, and I can tell you what the root problem was in each of them.  It is a common mistake among managers.  The mistake most of us make is when we start making the job or the goal the most important thing.  In that moment, we lose sight of the most important part of any business or organization – people.

I’ve been very fortunate to have access to some great leadership training through my work over the last few years, and I have also been blessed to have a great mentor and his wife that have poured their years of experience in to me as well.  In the combining of these two areas of education, I am starting to see how putting the focus on the people – in the right way – can bring about a better culture for working, and through that, a better result in the work.

About-People-2People are the most important thing in the workplace.  It is not the time schedule, the sales goal, the quota, or the records.  It is the people.  You can’t achieve any of those things without people, and usually the reason you are doing things in the first place is because at some point you are doing them for people.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  Every day at work you are doing something with people that results in doing something for people.  If you think about it like that, then you can’t help but notice that people are the common denominator!

People walk into our offices, not problems.  People need time from their managers, not orders.  People need to be heard, not surveyed.  People need to be cared for, not delegated to.  I’m preaching at myself a little here…

This isn’t a new concept.  Christ came to take care of the most important thing He had created – people.  He came to serve them and to be a sacrifice for them, and as His follower, I am called to do the same.  Christ gave of Himself to teach His people, to care for His people, and to protect His people.  Sometimes even from themselves.

I have a fine crew of people that “work for me.”  In truth, I have a group of people that serve the people in our community by working to keep their environment clean and safe.  They aren’t working for me.  They work for people.  My responsibility is to work for this crew and to care for them so they can do what they are there to do!  My job is to care about their home life, their dreams, their emotions.  To care about them!

Relentless Living is not something you just do at home and at church.  It is something you do every day, wherever you are, and when God places you in a position of leadership, you have a responsibility to lead as Christ led.  He was perfect in it, and we are not, but we have His example to learn from and follow.

Christ had a mission.  He came to settle our debt and to conquer death.  He could have done it without making disciples.  He could have done it without coming as a baby.  He could have done it without healing people.  He showed us that while the mission and the goal is important, it is done best by helping people along the way.

I’m going to be giving this more thought.  What can the Church do to better equip us as leaders and managers?  I’m not sure exactly what the answer is, but I know that it needs to revolve around people.  I guess we will see where God leads… I’m kind of excited about the trip!

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Loving Pain

painThere are a lot of words we can use to describe heartache.  Despair, discouragement, stress, struggles, difficulties, trials, loss, hurt, and probably a few more before we even get into the actual causes of some of those heartaches.  Words like death, divorce, job loss, financial calamity, and acts of nature all bring a tug at our hearts because we all know someone that has experienced one or more of these even if we have been able to avoid them ourselves.  The one thing they all have in common is that they all bring some sort of pain into our lives.

Why?  Why are we asked to face these things?  It goes back to the old question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”  Why do innocent people suffer?  Why are we given these portions of pain that we must carry?

The simple, old-fashioned, answer is that we live in a fallen world. There is evil in the world that mankind introduced with his first sinful act. (Yes, I said his.  Adam failed his wife before she ever took a bite.)  Because of that, sin did enter the world and as a result, we are not living in the perfect, hazard free environment of the Garden of Eden.  The question I ask after that though is “What is the point of it then?”

I’ve heard a lot of answers to that question over the years, and I don’t want to sound cynical, but it is hard to hear them when you are in the middle of the pain.  They sound trite.  They sound too easy.  They sound insincere when the person has no idea what kind of pain you are dealing with.

A couple days ago, I stumbled across an article on Fox News that linked to an interview of Steven Colbert for GQ magazine.  Joel  Lovell interviewed Colbert about several different things, but one part of the interview really stood out to me as Colbert talked about the loss of his father and brothers when he was 10 years old.  Colbert was the youngest of eleven kids, and after the tragedy, he was the only child left at home with his mother.
Stephen-ColbertLovell asked Colbert how he could have suffered the losses in his life, but somehow still arrived where he is today, about to take over the microphone for the legend, David Letterman.  The thing that struck Lovell was not that Colbert did not exhibit anger or open woundedness, but that he appears to be “genuinely grounded and joyful.”  Colbert answered by stating that he did not want people to  think this was a pat answer, but it was because of his mom.
Colbert lost his father and two closest brothers in a plane crash when he was just 10 years old.  He would go on later in the article to say that it was “a bomb” that went off in his life.  In the aftermath he watched his mom cope with the loss, and the thing that hit him the most was that she was not bitter.  He said, “by her example I am not bitter.  By her example.  She was not.  Broken, yes. Bitter, no.”  He said he thinks that she drew on her faith in those horrible days of grief so that she would not be swallowed by it.  He also said that her faith may have been what allowed her “to recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy…what is sorrow in the light of eternity?”  What a phenomenal example for a mother to give to her son! To be open and honest with the pain, but also showing that it need not take over your life.

As Colbert continues, he shares that we need to remember that acceptance of a terrible thing is not the same as being defeated by it.  We need to be real and accept that a bad thing happened.  The “bomb” went off, and it caused a huge explosion, but he said that he learned to love the bomb because of what he learned through it from his mother.  He said. “That is why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons on-stage.  It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

Tolkien believed that death was not a punishment from God, but that it was a gift. God’s desire to give us a way back to Him makes that true!  Colbert echoes that belief today when he asks, “What punishments from God are not gifts?”  I believe that he really understands the crux of this through this last quote, “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude.  It doesn’t mean you want it.  I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

Let’s face it, we all have faced, are facing, or will face something terrible in our lives at some point.  It isn’t that God hates us, or that He has given up on us.  He has simply allowed it into our lives for the purpose of telling the story of His redemptive work in His most prized creation – us.  We go through things so we can help people go through things so they can help people go through things too, and it is all because God is working in hearts and minds for His glory and to help us grow.  That’s it.

I’m personally watching some people go through some of these things right now.  Some are near the point of coming out of the bad time, others have been in it for awhile now, and one in particular has just entered it.  I have also been able to see them all reaching out to each other for help or to give prayer support, and even to thank God for allowing them to suffer a similar situation so they could fully understand the hurt of another!  That is the answer to the question “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”  It gives us the opportunity to be the hands of Christ in the life of another.

fogging-bombRelentless people living Relentless lives.  People who can see the importance of hurt, not to be a martyr or to gain sympathy, but for the expressed purpose of using it to help another.  I can say I have been on both sides of it, and it brings back all the pain when you enter into it with someone else, but I know the power of the love that flows from that person into me when I see that pain in their eyes as they share their hurt not to show me how they have gotten through it, but to show me that I can get through it.

So, the next time a “bomb” drops in your life, remember Steve Colbert’s words, “You gotta love the bomb.”  Remember these words too:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (ESV)

He has a purpose for each of us. Sometimes it will involve pain.  Embrace it. You will never know who God is planning for you to help one day.

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Serving Closer to Home

1424375067663-2My wife and I found something out about ourselves a few years ago.  We love camp ministry.  Not just camping, but camp ministry.  We knew that our kids loved camp, but it was not until we started attending Bible Baptist in TC that we were able to get more involved in camp  ministry by becoming Camp Captains at Lake Ann Camp.  It was a great opportunity to get to know the kids in our church better and to give them opportunities to go to summer camp where they could have opportunities to grow spiritually and as individuals.

For the last five years, we have been doing that, and it has been a wild ride.  We have seen kids come to Christ, new relationships formed, accountability increase in the teens, and an excitement about camp grow as well.  God blessed the kids in our church greatly through that ministry, and we give God glory for it.

We have also seen a lot of changes in the camp and the people that we worked with.  We were able to build friendships with staff that were strong even though we did not have a ton of time to spend with them unless we were at camp with the groups.  It has been hard to say goodbye to many of them, but we rejoice in the short time we spent with them.

As this year was starting up, an opportunity began to present itself that would allow us to be a part of a camp ministry closer to home.  Less than 5 miles from home!  Needless to say we were excited about the chance to do so.  As things started to come together, we came to the conclusion that we will not have the time to support two camps with our time, and we would really love to be able to spend more time at the camp just down the road.

God has brought some of our best friends to this camp to serve as well, and while it is very different from Lake Ann, we see it as a very relevant way of doing camp ministry, and we are all really excited to see what God is going to do with it over the next couple of years.

So many details are still being worked out, but I thought it was time to say publicly that I will now be a part of ministry at Starwood Ranch here in Kalkaska.  I look forward to being able to be there as much as possible to help out and be used by God however He sees fit. You can expect to hear more about it as we get further into things.

A chapter of life has come to an end, but I am excited to see what God has in store for the next one.  It’s gonna be great!

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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“What Are Those Rocks For?”

a7e550f037ee595ae8d89a7e0fbe4245Last night I made a call to some friends to ask them for some prayer.  My wife and I have been working on getting ready for our daughter’s graduation, and that has led to a lot of hard work and stress.  We have been leaning on each other a lot, and I know we would be struggling more if we were not such a good team! Yesterday it became painfully obvious to me that I was on the verge of losing it at work.  At the end of the day I actually closed the door and worked in the dark for the last half hour so people would think I was gone!

I identified the source of my problem in fighting off feelings of anger, apathy, and a general “Leave me alone!” attitude as a lack of sleep and time in God’s Word.  Once that hit me, I sent a message out asking my buddies to pray for me, and also telling them that I intended to get in the Word last night.

This morning, one of the guys sent me a text to ask how my time in the Word and a good night’s rest helped me.  I felt like telling him that it was great and I felt better, but I “fessed up” and told him the truth.  I didn’t do it last night even though I knew I needed to. Then I told him I was going to take the time to do this morning what I needed to do last night and get in the Word.

I did it.

I read in Joshua 4 how the Israelites set up stones of remembrance on the bank of the Jordan after crossing into the Promised Land.  The stones were to be a reminder to future generations that God had showed up in the lives of His people.  Those stones had two purposes in my mind:20150522_094200

1.       They drew the eyes of those unfamiliar with a living God, and made them ask a question.  God’s plan was for His people to continue to tell His story to those that didn’t know it.

I have a paper on the door of my office where I have written things I am thankful for, and I have encouraged my staff to use it as well.  It has prompted some good conversations, and in a way it is like those stones.  A visual indication that something has taken place.

2.       They made the person who knew the story actually think about what God had done as they told the story.  They had to recall how God did His miracle there, and it probably brought back the feeling of awe at seeing God at work.

After reading my Bible this morning, I came back to my door and read through some of the things I have written and I remembered how I felt when I wrote them.  It was a great reminder to me that God wants to be at work in my life, and is actually there every day – even the days I choose not to notice it.

There was another thing I noticed when I read the paper on the door.  It had been two weeks since I had written anything on it.  Maybe if I had been thinking about what God has been doing for me, I would have been in a better frame of mind.

So, to the guys that were praying for me, I say, “Thank you!”  God used your prayers to turn my heart this morning.  I am still fighting the weariness and irritation, but I am very aware this morning of God at work in me, and I am relying on Him more today than I have been the last week or so.  I guess those stones on the banks of the Jordan still get the job done!

I could have just wallowed in my misery and enjoyed a big old pity party, but Relentless Growth will not allow that.  I want to thrive in the life that God has given me, and I am glad that He has loved me enough to give me His living Word and good friends I can talk to that care enough to talk back!

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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!

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“He Just Kept Going!”

11169918_10206751378810895_8385502505395207127_nThis past weekend was the 79th Annual National Trout Festival here in our little town.  I often joke that it is the time of year when everyone climbs out of their winter dens to show off their new tattoos (present company excluded).  It’s your typical display of small town flavor with parades, a carnival, flea market, and a lot of other stuff too.  I haven’t been to any of the festivities over the last few years due to scheduling conflicts, but this year I was able to make a long overdue appearance.

This year I got to experience a part of the Festival I had never seen before.  Every year, the Rotary Club of Kalkaska puts on a race called the Trout Run.  It is a 1 mile fun-run combined with a 5k and a 10k race for those people who feel a need to have their heart pound hard (I don’t understand such things).  This year my schedule was different, and for the first time as a Rotarian, I was able to be there at the race to help out.  I had a blast!  It was  fun seeing all the different people who came out to run for the fun of running!  We even had one guy who ran the 5k in waders!

It was a beautiful morning Saturday.  Clear skies and a good bit of sunshine made the 30 degree temperature during set-up feel tolerable.  By the time the first race race began we were looking at a balmy 40 and a lot of sun with just a bit of wind that would be in the racers face as they headed out, but would be a nice benefit on the way back.

After the 1 mile run was completed, everyone was ready to go on the 5k and 10k races.  They all lined up together for the start, we counted it down, and the siren went off for the start.  After that it was a lot of milling around for us non-racers, but it gave us the opportunity to talk to the crowd a bit and just enjoy a good morning of community fellowship as we caught up with old friends, met people from town,  or from as far away as Kentucky!10653394_10206499225830453_4074547252641429684_n

After the 5k runners had been coming in for awhile and the 10k runners had started showing up as well, we started hearing a bit of concern regarding one of our contestants.  The parents of a young runner, I heard someone say he was 5 years old, were starting to ask runners if they had seen their son on the course.  He had set out to run the 5k, and they thought he should be back by then.

After a few minutes, a report was given that he had been spotted on the course safe and sound – WELL PAST the 5k turnaround point.  He was running the 10k!  I can tell you that there were a lot of people waiting there at the finish line to cheer this young man on as he crossed with a smile on his face. (With no hint of jealousy in my voice I can tell you he wasn’t even really out of breath!)

After he had a chance to reunite with Mom and Dad and all the questions got answered we found out what had happened.  Apparently in the past, there has been a cone on the course to mark the turnaround point for the 5 and 10k runners, but this year the cones were not put out.  When he reached the turnaround for his race, as one person said, “He just kept going!”

11174764_10153334467509047_3988499782460960483_nWhen all the racers were in and the awards were given out, there was an extra award given to that little guy.  He was given a gold medal for being the first runner in his age group to finish a race he didn’t set out to run!  His parents were understandably proud.  Who wouldn’t be? As I thought about this kid who went the distance, I was reminded of a verse:

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

– Matthew 5:41

I can assure you that if you saw me on that course, you can safely assume that someone forced me into it.  If I had to do it, I would do it, but I can tell you that I would not have done a single step more than I was forced to do.  Running is not a fun activity for me, and I would definitely consider that the least amount of effort required would be more than enough.

Some days I get that way in other aspects of life too.  I know that there is always room to do better.  There is always room to improve.  The thing is, it’s too easy to say, “I’m a good enough…

  • Husband – After all, I come home every night and I don’t fool around on my wife.  I tell her I love her.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Dad – I keep a roof over their heads.  I never beat them.  They have clothes to wear and food to eat.  I tell them I love them.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Employee – I show up for work.  I put in my time.  Everything is getting done that needs to be getting done.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Friend – I talk to my buddies from time to time.  I try not to take advantage of them.  I follow them on Facebook.  Isn’t that enough?
  • Christian – I go to church.  I read my Bible.  I put money in the offering plate.  Isn’t that enough?

By the standards of some people I know, these are all acceptable levels of performance in different areas.  They would look at results like this and be happy with them.  They did what was required of them.  They did “Enough.”  But is it really enough?  Is that the kind of memory you want to leave in the minds of others?

Imagine your funeral:

“We are gathered here today in this place to remember the life of (insert your name here).  He was an adequate man in most things.  Always managed to do the minimum that was required of him.  He is survived by his wife who says she will now be able to watch her television shows, but does admit that she will need to kill the occasional spider in the house.  His children say that they will appreciate the extra car left behind, but will miss having him put gas in it.  

Today he will be carried to his final resting place by 6 day laborers as his friends in attendance said that while it is good to see him off, he is not worth pulling a muscle.  His employer has sent this lovely vase of flowers this morning after realizing he had not been at work the last three days as his work was being taken care of by two of the people in his department and somebody finally realized he was gone when it was his turn to bring in the donuts and they weren’t there.”

That’s not what I want.  That is not a life that screams Relentless Growth!  Relentless living is the kind of living that just breezes right past the turn around and keeps going.  Now this little guys didn’t know he was about do a 10k, but he knew that there was a race to run, and that was what he was there to do!  I have a race to run too!  I’m  not sure what the half-way point is of my life either, but I know that I don’t want to live in a way that is looking for the turn around.  I want people to say, “He just kept going.”

How about you?  Are you living an “adequate life”?  Do you aspire for more?  If you are, here are a few things I would suggest you do to make a positive change:

  • Take a good, hard look at who you are.  If you want to be really bold, ask your spouse or siblings evaluate you honestly.  Get ready for the feedback and take it not as a criticism, but as a baseline to work against.
  • Find a mentor.  When you see a weakness in yourself, look for someone that is strong in that area and ask them for help to improve!  A good mentor will always love to share what they know.
  • Set a goal.  Make it small at first.  Taste a victory or two in an area.  If you like to eat entire pies at a sitting, set a goal for 3/4 of a pie.  Baby steps!
  • Accountability is key.  You need someone that can talk to you without dancing around the issues.  Someone that can say, “Tom, 3/4 of a pie is not a goal that is going to help you no matter how you try to rationalize it.”  Let them help you with your goals.
  • Talk to God about it.  Honestly, if you are going to try and make any lasting change in your life in an area that you are really struggling to grow in, you need help that is stronger than you.  You need to know God and allow Him to be the strength in your decisions.

We all have a race ahead of us.  We don’t know our half-way point, and we can’t see the finish line.  Do you want to be the guy that ran a little while and said, “Enough.”  or do you want to be that guy that just kept going?  Go big.  Be Relentless!

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Core Value #3 – Friends

FriendsAccording to Facebook, I have a couple hundred “friends.”  I don’t want to offend anyone by saying this, but in all honesty, most of us are what would more accurately be called “acquaintances.”  It’s not that I don’t like or appreciate everyone who reads my Facebook feed, it’s just that we are probably not truly as close as a real friend would be.  (I’ll let you all figure out where you are in that… If you reach out to me for a clear decision…well, be careful what you wish for!)

When I was a teenager I had a good number of people I would call friends, but after going to college, starting work, starting family, and buying a home, I found myself having a little less time for friends, and before long, that time turned out to be enough because I found myself pretty much having no friends!  Life just got hectic, and there was not time for hanging out and talking.  Most of what happened was a simple, “Hey!  How have you been?” when we would run into each other at the mall, the store, or that great annual Kalkaska attraction, the Trout Festival.

Before too long, I had developed a pretty thick skin regarding friends.  I had been burned by some, I probably had burned others myself, and the ability to let people in close to me had pretty much evaporated.  I decided that I only needed my wife and my kids, and I would be just fine.  I lived that way for about 10 years.  There were people I would enjoy hanging out with from time to time, but I kept them at arm’s length.  It felt safer that way.

Around 2010, I started attending a Men’s Group on how to be a better all around man for God.  In that group I met a guy that God had apparently been hanging on to for me, and we hit it off really well. It was almost like we had known each other for years, and conversation flowed freely and smoothly between us.  For the first time in my life, I believe I had found a true friend.

550627_10150946965344859_1322469398_nRay and I have spent a lot of time talking over the last few years.  We have laughed together and we have cried together.  We have challenged each other, and we have picked each other up.  We have shared weaknesses, sought accountability, and we have even had to lovingly encourage each other. (Read that as  “thump one another about the head and shoulders”)  It was a good friendship, and it has been a growing friendship.

A by-product of this friendship with Ray was a new awareness of the need that God had put into my heart to both have friends and to be a friend.  Before too long I started reaching out to some other guys to try and rebuild this ability to be a friend, and God blessed it.  God brought some other men into my life that became better than “acquaintances” to me, but I wasn’t sure if I would call them “friends” just yet.  I still felt a little untrusting, like I needed to hold my cards a little close to the chest and be careful.

Then back in early 2013, I met this guy named Joe Castaneda, and we started to get to know each other a little bit at a time.  We didn’t live in the same town, and only had real contact through Lake Ann Camp, but we developed an easy friendship that I enjoyed.  Joe worked at the camp at that time, and while I had not had the opportunity to hear him speak, I had heard a lot of good things.

So, last year I was at Lake Ann with a group of teens for Freezeout, and Joe was the speaker.  I was just sitting there, doing the crowd control thing, and not really thinking too much about “getting anything” from the message (sorry, Joe!), but I was paying attention.  About halfway through the message Joe hit on a point for the teens as he was talking about being a good friend.  He asked the question:

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I felt like I had been between the eyes with an ax handle. (I have been hit in the head with a shovel handle, so I can speak to the relative feeling this phrase describes, but that is another story…)  What was I doing for the men I called “Friend?”  Other than standing around the church talking to them it was pretty much nothing.  Joe then challenged us to do something to bless the friends in our lives spiritually.

Well, I sat there and thought about it, and decided that I would start something new.  I identified 5 men I would pray for on a daily basis, but I wanted to take it one step further.  These were men I wanted to get to know better, and to really pray for God to work in their lives and help them to grow.  So, I started praying, and Monday through Friday, I would send each of them a message, e-mail, or a phone call to let them know that I had been praying for them this week.

I’d like to say that I have not missed a day of praying or of contacting, but that wouldn’t be true.  I’m human, and I have not always done this as well as I should.  Some weeks I might be a bit short, like I am going through the motions.  But I haven’t stopped.  These guys are important to me.  God put them on my heart for a reason, and I am praying that He will bless them.

As I have prayed for them, I have seen our relationships grow.  We are busy, and schedules make it difficult to spend the time that we might want to spend talking about what is going on in our lives, but in praying for these guys I have been able to experience deeper, stronger friendships than I have ever had in my life.  They are not as important to me as God or my family, (nor should they be) but they are very important to me, and we are knit together through the time we spend together as well as through the God we all serve.

We are told in the Bible that we have a need for good friends:

Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12

They are there to lift us up when we fall, to watch our backs in troubled times.  They are there to challenge us to bigger and better things.  We need friends!

I knew I needed them, but it wasn’t until I grasped the truth of this verse that I actually found out why I didn’t have any:

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly -Proverbs 18:24a

It takes work on my part, and I had not been willing to do it.  I was too caught up in myself to make the effort to get involved with others.  It’s not that nobody wanted to be my friend, it was that I never wanted to really have one.  An honest look at my values 7 years ago would not have put “having friends” in the top 5.  Probably not even in the top 10.  I’m thankful that things have changed, and that through a closer relationship with God I have been shown just how important they are.

736877_10201194671819918_541274006_oRelentless Living requires us to put in the effort at making our relationships all that they can be.  Whether it is our relationship with God, with our family, or with our friends, if we want to get anything good out of them, we need to be willing to put aside ourselves and do what is necessary to grow in those relationships.  It’s a good thing!

I’m very thankful for the impact that Joe’s message has had on my life.  That message that Joe brought to the teens was exactly what God knew I needed.  I am so thankful of the impact that he has had on my kids through the camp ministry, and in my life as we have become good friends as well.  I’d appreciate prayers for him as well.  You can read more about what God is doing in his life and how he is responding to it by clicking here.

There is one Friend we need above all others, and that is Jesus Christ.  If you don’t know Him as your Savior, I can promise you that you will never know just how good these other relationships can be.  He makes them all the richer through the work that He did to save us from our sins.  If you want to know more, please message or e-mail me. I would love to share His story with you.

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