#ENCOURAGE

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

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

#Encourage them.  #BeEncouraged yourself!

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

The Gift

wp-1482595236595.jpgI was sitting in my living room this morning, enjoying the peaceful sounds of a home not yet awake.  I looked over at our Christmas tree in the corner of the room.  It is covered with lights and ornaments that were made by our kids over the years, or were purchased as souvenirs while we were on vacation in different places.  Underneath the tree are the presents.  They are all wrapped up, names attached, and ready for Christmas Day festivities.

The rest of the house has been decorated as well.  Christmas is my wife’s favorite time of the year, and she goes all out in the decorating and the preparation.  As I write, she will soon be getting started on what will likely be a day of baking goodies to share with family and friends.  She loves to do that kind of thing.  A great hostess, a great baker, and an all around sweet lady

wp-1482595126219.jpgThe kids are happy to be together as my daughter is home from college. Wow.  That is a sentence I have never written out before.  Hard to believe how fast this time came!  Anyway, those two are such good friends, and we have enjoyed listening to them catch up and laugh together.  It blesses our hearts to see the friendship they have, and we are confident that it will stand as they step into adulthood.
This is my second day off for this vacation at the end of the year that will extend into next.  I’m very thankful to have a boss that values my efforts and allows me these opportunities.  I won’t be completely shut out from work and will probably handle some things while off, but I have the ability to be with my family rather than spend my day in the building.  That is a gift that has not lost its shine over the last 6
years.

wp-1482595329988.jpgThis morning I have a hot cup of coffee beside me, a furnace that is rumbling away, and slippers on my feet.  I have my family under my roof, and a roof that keeps the outside out.  I have food in my cupboards, and clothes on my back.  I have friends who mean the world to me, and I am a healthier man than I was a year ago.

All in all, I would say I have been given many great gifts.  Some of the gifts I have are tangible or visible, but others are feelings. While I can’t always bring all of it to mind, I have a contentment and an understanding that I have been given much in this world.  There are so many things I have that others do not. Family, friends, food, shelter, clothes, a job, children, and the ever present “stuff” that fills closets, drawers, and cubbies.  All of that is around me, but there is something more.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17

wp-1482595236596.jpgA little over 2,000 years ago, a child was born in a tiny little town in Israel.  There was no fanfare.  No parades.  No posts, tweets, snaps, or “stories”.  Just a man and his wife, maybe a few animals, and eventually some shepherds were there to witness the night that God came to earth as a baby in the body of Jesus.  Jesus Christ, the one who would bring salvation as a gift to all mankind.

Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift ever given.  With it comes a relationship with God and adoption into His family.  We receive the Holy Spirit as a guide and helper for the decisions we must make in life. We receive Christ as an example of how we should live and act with others.  We receive eternal life and a home in the presence of God for all eternity.  What an amazing gift!

The gifts under our tree were purchased with care and thought of the one’s that will receive them. The giver is waiting expectantly to see the receiver open that gift so they can see the joy that they felt when they purchased it.  When you love someone and do something for them, you can’t wait for them to experience it.

That is how God feels every day.  He has given us the greatest of gifts.  It fits right, is the right color, and it will never wear out.  It is even better than a 5 star rating on Amazon with free shipping!  God knows that this is the perfect gift for all of us and He is dying to see us open it and claim it as our own.  He wants to see us use that gift for living our lives and He wants us to share the goodness of that gift with everyone we come across.

wp-1482595126223.jpgI am happy to have the gift, and I am happy to share that He has made great changes in my life.  It’s not a perfect life, but it is a Relentless Life, devoted to knowing Him better.  There is nothing that would make me happier than knowing that anyone around me is experiencing that as well.

Merry CHRISTmas, everyone!  Accept the gift. Use the gift. Share the gift.

As always, I welcome you to share, comment and ask questions.  Thanks to those who follow and like.  I appreciate the time you take to go through life with me!

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No Excuses

there-are-no-excuses-4We have all been hearing the news of the Stanford rape victim and the lenient sentence passed down to the rapist.  Yesterday I read the young woman’s letter she had written to her attacker and I was hit with a few different thoughts and emotions.  I know I have not been here lately, and this is a pretty hard thing to come back from a hiatus with, but here we go…

  1.  I am impressed with this woman’s ability to so clearly articulate how she feels after this heinous act.  The way she described her emotional and mental state actually took me into her mind where I could feel the trauma she is experiencing.  I can never know what someone who has endured this has felt, but thanks to that letter, I have a much better idea of how deeply the wounds go into the mind and soul.
  2. I am full of respect for this woman for owning her part in this.  Careful.  No stone throwing… I did not say she should be blamed.  There is no excuse for what happened to her, but she admitted that allowing herself to get that drunk put her in a position for a bad thing to happen.  She could have made a better choice that evening, and she admitted that.  That takes character.
  3. I am cheering for the two young men who acted heroically by stepping in and stopping the act.  Truly Good Samaritans in their actions and bravery.  They must have a couple of very proud sets of parents today.  They saw evil and stepped in to do something about it.  Good job, men.  Good job.
  4. I am thankful that at the very minimum, and it was minimum, the attacker was convicted of the crime.  To the 12 jurors, I appreciate their ability to wade through all of the excuses and attempts to cast doubt and still come back with a decision that puts a mark on this man for what he has done that will stand for the rest of his life.  His victim has been marked, so should he.
  5. Beyond that, I have a range of thoughts and emotions I would rather not focus on in regards to the rapist, the passive father who made excuses for his son and tried to downplay his actions, the lawyer that worked so hard to humiliate a young woman who had already endured so much, and a judge who did not sentence a rapist with an appropriate punishment.  I am going to take the position that God will judge their actions.  I cannot change the past, and outrage simply for the purpose of being angry will accomplish nothing.

What we need to focus on is finding ways to make sure acts like this do not take place again.  Parents!  If you are going to count on school officials, government officials, and the ability of campus security to keep your children safe, then YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!  I am sorry, but this is not a problem that will be cured with programs and more parking lot lights.  This is a matter of the hearts of the kids that we are raising and the character we instill in them.  As a country, parents need to step up and insist on building character and integrity into their children.

We will never see a world without predators.  It is a broken world we live in and the effects of sin are far reaching, but we can fight against them.  The education we give to our kids in how to think past the moment in their choices is so important.  What are the consequences of this decision? Who could potentially be harmed if I do this?  What are the long term ramifications of this choice?  We focus so hard to get them to look both ways before walking across the street, but are we teaching them to pause and look both ways when given options on who to hang out with, what to drink, and what to eat?  Are we teaching them to weigh the possibilities of walking through a dark place alone rather than hanging out with a group of friends?

Again, we will never be able to stop all evil, but we can build into our kids wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and character that can guide them when we are not there.  Take the time, be Relentless in it!

To my daughter – You are beautiful, sweet and pure, and I want you to stay that way.  I want you to think about the places you go and the things that you do fro other viewpoints than your own.  I have tried to tell you as much as possible about how the mind of men works and where they are weak and potentially twisted.  I have tried to show you how to identify behaviors that you should avoid as well as indicators of character that you can trust.  I pray that you will make the right choices when given the opportunity, and I pray for your protection when the evil of the world crosses your path through no fault of your own.

To my son – You are a young man now.  You have been taught and have been showing you understand how to properly show women honor and respect.  You have been taught that while women are strong, and intelligent and capable of doing things on their own, God has charged men to be tender warriors for them.  Our job is not to hold them back and keep them captive “for their own good”, but it is our job to be men and stand up for what is right and protect their honor as those two young men did.  Women are not tools or toys, they are treasures and should be considered that way by all men.  You will have opportunities to choose, and I pray that you will make the right choice to show the same respect for them as Christ did in the Bible.  You will see men who will objectify them or hurt them and I pray that you will suit up and gear up for battle against that evil as one of God’s warriors.

Men, the battle is won in the preparation, and our home is the place it needs to start.  Show your wives how much you care for your children and their character.  Prepare your children, be involved.  Identify their battles. Teach them to recognize their enemies. Educate them on the weaknesses of evil. Coach them in how to fight evil. Cheer for them as they fight. Recognize their victories. Nurse their wounds. Encourage them for battle.

This world is not getting better.  We must be Relentless in developing children who can stand in it.

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19 Reasons I Love My Daughter:

IMG_0648Well, another trip around the sun has taken place and here we are again.  January 23 has arrived and with it the celebration of Jessica’s birth.  This will be the fourth time I have done a birthday blog for my little girl, and I am not sure what I can say that I haven’t already said. Thankfully, not knowing what to say has never kept from saying something in the past, so here we go!

  1. She made me fall in love with her at first sight.  I didn’t want a daughter, and we didn’t know what was coming, but I was certainly not looking for a little girl!  You can imagine my surprise when I saw that slimy little girl for the first time and knew immediately I could not have been happier.
  2. She taught me the importance of discipline.  When you are responsible for shaping the personality and character of a small human, it behooves you to pay attention to what is going on.  As she grew and started to not “stay put” so much, we had to teach her proper behavior.  Teaching that to her opened my eyes to how God is always doing the same thing with me.
  3. She taught me the importance of consistency.  Whether it was a sleep schedule, feeding schedule, or a “no-no” rule, it was not long before we realized as parents of a little human that we needed to be consistent for her benefit and for our sanity.  One of the things that we look back on as being in the top 5 most important parenting things we did without always realizing we were doing it.
  4. She showed us that it’s okay to just stop and enjoy a moment.  I will never forget seeing her walking across the yard as the radio was on  (turned up to 11) in my garage blaring an advertisement for McDonalds or something like that.  She was heading toward a toy of hers and then the music started back up.  She stopped and just did that toddler “bouncing dance” (all parents know what I mean) for the entire song.  She started to try and walk away a couple times, but she just couldn’t stop the bounce until the music was gone.
  5. IMG_1253She showed me true appreciation for God’s creatures. To be honest, I am still learning on this one.  To me, animals were created so that I may eat them.  Therefore, I have a soft spot for cattle, pigs, chickens, deer, elk, buffalo, and whatever Gorton’s uses to make a fish stick.  Other than that, I like a dog to follow me around the yard.  Jessica loves anything with a pulse, and has always been so keenly interested in them.  We still look at her in amazement as she spouts off facts about animals but we are never surprised to see her go the rescue of any animal.
  6. She is an amazing friend.  Jess has always reached out to people and been willing to be a friend to them.  She especially looks for the one person that seems to have no friend. She draws them to her!  She shows interest in their lives and is a genuine friend to them.
  7. The girl knows how to work.  We have had horses for almost seven years now, and the other day we were commenting on how many times she has acted like she didn’t want to go out to “her boys” to feed them.  We think the number is around 2 – in seven years.  She is up early in the morning and late at night to take care of them, and she knows how to throw hay!
  8. She is content.  Jessica has never been one to walk around asking for things she knew she couldn’t have or pitching little fits if she didn’t get what she wanted.  It was almost like she thought if she had something it was better than nothing, and that was good enough.  I might be exaggerating little bit, but not by a lot!
  9. She has always been comfortable with herself.  She is not a person to “put on airs”.  She is who she is, and doesn’t change for someone just because that is how they might want her to be.  If she makes a change, it is because she has decided to do it.IMG_1095
  10. She does hard things.  Hard things are hard because they are hard, and Jess has been one the tis willing to take on a challenge.  Sometimes we tease her about a stubborn streak (no chance she got that from either parent), but more often than not it is because she has a tenacity about life and is willing to do what needs to be done – even when it is hard.
  11. She is still a girl.  Even though she loves pig wrestling, horse maintenance, and throwing hay bales, she still likes to put on a pretty dress and get all “girled up” from time to time.
  12. She’s a smart kid.  Jess has always done well in school.  There are times she has really had to attack a subject in order to do well, but she gives it her best.  She made the Dean’s list with a 4.0 in her first semester in college!
  13. She loves her family.  Maybe some of it is because we live in the sticks and she doesn’t have a lot of friends right inner neighborhood, but she actually seems to like being at home with us.  Yep.  A teenage daughter that has always been happy to spend time with her parents… Maybe unicorns exist after all!
  14. 995302_10202357674841693_1646407219_nShe liked Cricket Hunting with me when she was little.  It’s goofy, would probably take a ton of explaining, but we enjoyed it!
  15. Some of her more memorable quotes: “I AH-DOOUGH-A-BULL” “Wedgies.  They happen!” To her Grandpa Williams when she was still in diapers – “Grampa, I dotta yode.” (“I gotta load” meaning a full diaper.  I’m not saying her mother taught her that one, but there was only one other adult living in our house that could have taught her that, and surely it wasn’t him…)
  16. IMG_20150705_171623She is resilient.  One of the hardest signs we experienced with Jess was watching her deal with the pain that came out of her competing in High School Equestrian events.  She was hurt in many ways during that time, but she kept her gentle heart and attitude and was willing to forgive rather than hold on to hard feelings.  She has been a true example to me in that regard.
  17. She likes to pull my finger.  Yes, my wife just covered her eyes and shook her head in shame that I wrote that, but it is the truth.  It makes us laugh!
  18. IMG_0597Her brother is her best friend – and he likes that.  They have always been good buds, and even though they have the occasional spat, they truly love each other and miss each other.  Next year is going to be hard on both of them as she leaves for Cedarville.
  19. Jess truly wants to live her life in a way that glorifies God.  She reads her Bible, journals, prays, and genuinely looks to Him for guidance and strength for living.  She has been modeling a Relentless Life all through her teenage years.  While life has been hard from time to time, she has not lost sight of God, and has continued to draw close to Him.  It makes me very proud to see her grasping the importance of a relationship with her heavenly Father.75003_4832780735866_725842936_n

Jess, I love you, and I am proud to be your Dad.  You have been a joy since your first breath, and I stand in amazement as I continue to watch you grow in so many ways.  You are a blessing to me and Mom, and I thank God every day for entrusting us with a daughter like you.  Happy Birthday, Squirt!

Love you,

Dad

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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I Went to See Old Faithful. I Never Expected This!

old-faithful-1Saturday we were able to spend the first of two days in Yellowstone National Park. As we drove and walked through the area we were struck over and over again at how beautiful it was. Everywhere we looked we saw nature is its purest state. We saw wild buffalo, deer, antelope, lots of birds, a couple dead raccoons on the road (it can’t all be pretty!) and amazing rock formations poking through the trees.

The thing I had wanted to see more than anything on this trip was Old Faithful. Ever since I was a little kid I have been fascinated with the idea of a geyser – especially one that had such a huge and timely explosion! When we drove into the park yesterday I thought the trip would be worth it just to see that thing go off.

Well, it was neat, but it was not what I had expected. I was looking forward to hearing a large roar as it spewed water and steam hundreds of feet into the air. I saw steam, and it did throw it quite a ways up, but at the end of it I felt a bit of disappointment. It just wasn’t what I had expected. I built it up bigger in my mind than I should have.

Expectations can be dangerous things or good things. It all depends on how we look at them.

Expectations as a Standard of Behavior

As a manager, I set expectations for my employees. These expectations are very result-oriented and at the end of a given day, they are very quantifiable. I can look at the work that was accomplished and say “pass” or “fail”. There is not a lot of wiggle room in these expectations because they are based on standards of behavior, conduct, and processes. Basically, the phrase “Work Rules” has been replaced with “Expectations”.

These expectations can be written out, education can take place, training can be given and evaluated, and then the result should be that what you want is what you get. If it isn’t what you get then repeat the cycle until you either get it or get rid of the person that doesn’t! Overall it is not a hard concept to understand and the results are pass/fail. They can be disappointing or encouraging, but can almost always be changed for the future.

Expectations of the Heart and Mind

These are the tricky ones. You can do everything right. All your prep work, all your training, and all of your in the moment work can be done correctly, but when it all shakes out – calamity. Why? When you do the work required, and are eagerly anticipating an expected result, why is it that we face disappointment?

1. We don’t understand as much of the picture as we think we do. – I thought I would hear a thundering roar and see water and steam shoot hundreds of feet in the air. I didn’t realize just how much change has taken place in Old Faithful over the course of my lifetime. Old Faithful would now be more aptly named Mostly Reliable. My expectation was based on my understanding rather than fact.

2. We aren’t in control of the situation. – In reality, we are rarely in control of a situation, but we like to pretend that we are. It gives us a sense of power and comfort when we feel like we have hold of the wheel. The truth is, even on the greatest ships on the ocean the captain can call for a direction change, but somebody else has their hands on the wheel. He just has to trust that his directions will take place. Sometimes they don’t.

3. We are unrealistic in our expectations. – We know what we want, and we work to get to that point, but we allow our desires to cloud our view of reality. We think that if we try hard enough and believe enough, we can shape the reality to fit what we want.

4. We forget to talk to God about things. – I want to break things down here a bit. I don’t think that God would have made Old Faithful roar like a freight train and spew multi-color water just because I asked Him to do it to make me happy. I do believe that God does things for His children to make them happy, but I think He probably would have taken a different approach with me on this.

If I had really talked to Him about my happiness and how it would have been tied to a spitting geyser, He might have caused me to think about the situation and ask myself if it really mattered that much to my joy in Him and His creation. He might have asked me to think about how my family might feel if I showed more delight in a steam plume than my time with them. He might have shown me all of that and more until I realized that I didn’t need a geyser to make my vacation grand. I just needed to be amazed at His creation!

I’m glad that I had been thinking over and over how amazing His handiwork was as I had been driving through it. When the geyser gave it’s last spit, I was able to shift gears pretty quickly to another amazing thing I saw that day. Thinking about that saved my attitude, and allowed my family to experience a much nicer me than the pouting one that could have shown up.

Relentless Growth requires us to look at our situations and our expectations through God’s filter rather than our own. That is where we will see how He is working in our lives and bringing us closer to Him.

By the way, yes. I used one of those Facebook article titles to try and increase readership. Did you get what you expected?

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Hands and Heart – Part 1

The Hand In Your HeartAt the end of my arms are these things called hands.  They are “handy” to say the least. (OK, that was bad, but if you know me, you know I like a good pun, and I really like a bad one!) Hands can be used to do anything from brain surgery to automotive repair to plunging a toilet.  They can wage war, build buildings, and comfort the sick.  Some are big, some small, but all of them have one thing in common – they are servants of the heart and mind and will reflect the attitude of the person that owns them.

I have been thinking a lot about hands lately, and how they can be a reflection of the heart.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that God made the human heart about the size of your hand when closed in a fist.  How we hold our hands can be a picture of the heart.  Take a minute and think about how your heart feels and put your hands in that position.  Are they closed in a fist? Open?  Are they trembling?  Limp? Are they clenched in anger or fear?

10 years ago I would tell you that my heart and hands were pretty hard and closed.  I didn’t really intend it to be that way, but my default was usually a fist.   A fist has its benefits:

  1. I could hold things tightly. – I didn’t want to lose the things that I had.  There were things that I had worked very hard to get, and at time I felt that I was having them taken from me.  That made me very fearful, and I would hang on with all I had to keep those things close.
  2. I could keep things away from me. – Ask anyone in law enforcement, and they will tell you that in some circumstances the way a person stands will tell you what they might be willing to do, and a closed fist is a sign to be very cautious.  I would let people be around me, but I know that I didn’t attract many either.   That “closed fist” aura was around me, and I was fine with that.
  3. I could fight at any time. – It doesn’t take long to make a fist, but I was already set to go.  I was willing to wade into a war at a moment’s notice.  If I felt the threat it was go time.  If I saw a cause I wanted in on, it was time to throw down.  It didn’t need to even be my problem, I was willing to make it my problem.  I wasn’t physically fighting, but my heart was a closed fist and ready to go to defend anything.

Slide3As time went on I began to see that this closed fist mentality also had some real problems too.  I had an opportunity to join a men’s group about 5 years ago, and as a result I learned that I had some changes to make.  Our leader saw some things in me that needed change, and as we reflected on them together, he helped me see some of the negatives of a closed fist way of living:

  1. I was pretty much alone. – Like I said, I did a good job of keeping things and people away from me.  I knew I had people that could hang out with me, but I didn’t really have anyone who knew me well.  I lived a life where I didn’t trust people or want them to get inside a certain level of friendship because it could cost me something.  They might want to get into my hand and take something from me.  I couldn’t let that happen.  It was “better” to be alone.
  2. I had alienated people. – My words, actions, and selfishness had driven some people away from me.  I needed to be heard, understood, and most importantly, I needed to be right.  To that end I would escalate simple differences in opinion to the point of pushing good people out of my life.
  3. I was unable to give. – My hands were so tightly closed around what I perceived to be mine that I was not able to even comprehend what it was like to have a generous heart.  I saw people enjoy giving gifts, or helping others and I just could not understand how they could do that.
  4. I was barely able to receive. – Make a fist and then have someone throw you an apple. Try to catch it with that hand.  I was so clamped down on life that I know I let opportunities pass me by because I was more concerned with what was in my hand than what better things might have been available.

I’m a child of God, and when God has a child that He wants to speak to, He will send gentle reminders from time to time in order to bring them around.  Looking back, I can see a lot of them that He sent my way, but I missed them at the time.  When a person is a closed fist, they tend to miss a lot of things – did you catch the apple?  Eventually, God may decide it is time to put His hands into the process.

When my kids were little, they would sometimes grab things that they were trying to shove into their mouths.  We would tell them to stop and try to take it from them, but they would squeeze their little fist as tightly as they could to hold onto that prized morsel of indeterminate and probably unsanitary nature. We would grab their little hands and pry their fingers apart to take it away.

God’s hands are bigger than mine.  Almost 5 years ago He used His big hands to pull my fist of a heart open.  My heart that was determined to do things my own way needed to be pried open as only God could have done it.  I lost my job, and that was the beginning of the release of a lot of things.  I lost my income, and in a lot of ways, I lost my identity.  I lost some pride, but that was a good thing!

I’m glad I no longer had a fist in my heart.  It was finally open, but I can tell you that it was broken.  I was dislocated in a lot of areas, and that was difficult to get past.  God had broken my closed-fisted heart in order to get me to see what I was and my need for Him to be in control.

Looking back, I am glad He did.  It set me on a journey, and that journey has brought me where I am today.  It led me to an understanding that the call of my life is to be Relentless in my pursuit of what God may have for me.  I can tell you today, that it is becoming clear.  God is making some changes in my life and that of my family as well.  We are very excited to see how things will play out as we continue to see His leading in our lives.  I look forward to telling  you more about it next week!

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Core Value #4 – Balance

UntitledI might be alienating a few people when I mention a piece of playground equipment that was common when I was a kid.  The teeter-totter.  I may be in the minority, but that was one of my favorite things to play on.  Unfortunately it has been rendered nearly extinct, along with the merry-go-round and the 15 foot tall stainless steel slide. (Okay, honestly that last one needed to go!)  I loved the teeter-totter, but I usually saw it used as an instrument of pain:

“Hey, Joe!  Wanna Teeter with me?”

“Sure!”

And then the game would begin.  A showdown of wills and courage to determine who would be the first to bail while the other was high in the air so he could be sent crashing to the ground, bruising a tailbone or who knows what else.  Good, clean, childish fun.

thumb.phpWhat I liked about it though was the science of the teeter-totter.  Size of participants didn’t matter as long as they were properly placed. Even the number of participants could achieve the balance needed for a good Teeter!  What mattered most was looking for the right people in the right place at the right time.  If you did it well, you could ride for hours. (Not that we did, we weren’t that boring…  However, we did try the maximum number of people on a teeter-totter once.  It broke right in the middle.)

Another thing I enjoy doing is building rock cairns.  If you ever get a chance to ride a bike around Mackinac Island you will see hundreds of them that have been built by people who are weird like me!  There is something satisfying about taking the different rocks and examining them to find the right rock to support, counter-balance, or balance the rest of the stack.  With trial and error, you can build some inventive stacks, and some of the best ones are supported by a small rock that holds the key to keeping it all in balance.

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I built this on Mackinac Island

Life is that way.  We all have a hundred different things that we have pulling us off balance, and it is easy to forget that these are the things God has given us to help us build our lives.  It’s not that we are working with lousy material, it’s just that we need to work with what we have to find the way it is supposed to fit.  We need to find the balance that will allow all of the craziness of life to amount to something beautiful that stands as a testament of a Relentless desire to not give up.

I have shared the story of my life and how so many things went crazy in my church history.  The balances were off between truth and grace, and that threw the people around off balance too.  In turn, a great deal of the teaching I received and the people I received it from ended up being very difficult to work with.  I spent a number of years trying to get rid of a lot of the things that I had learned thinking that they were all wrong and destructive.  That just wasn’t true.

You see, God allowed all of that in my life.  I got that healthy dose of legalism that helped me understand the importance of obedience.  Even though the Bible was not always followed, I had it deeply imprinted in my heart and mind that it was the source of truth,and I should never forget that.  My views of God the Father and the Spirit were skewed, but they had put me on the right course with Jesus.  I had stuff that was good to work with, and I had some crazy stuff that just didn’t seem to fit well. I fought for a long time to build a nice straight tower with these crooked pieces, then I tried to get rid of them all and get new pieces!

I finally realized that the pieces I have are good pieces for building.  There are some that are large and heavy, but can be balanced out by something small.  Truth is a heavy thing, and if you just sling it on the pile, it is going to fall over, just like putting the fat kid on the end of the teeter-totter meant someone was going to get hurt. (I was usually the fat kid, so I can say that.)  Grace is light, but it complements truth and softens its impact on the heart.  It holds truth in the right light where it can do a good thing rather than bludgeon.  It moves the fat kid farther up the teeter-totter where he can ride in balance with the little guy.

Lately I have been looking for a better way to prioritize my time.  Whether I am at work, home, church, or wherever, I seem to have a lot of stuff I am trying to balance, and I would like to chuck a whole bunch of it to start over and build what I want the way I want it to look.  The thing is, I only get to work with what I have.  I can work with that, or I can sit around and complain I don’t have the right pieces.  I think I’ve been doing  little too much of that lately.

I built this one on vacation on Lake Superior near the Porcupine Mountains.
I built this one on vacation on Lake Superior near the Porcupine Mountains.

Relentless living means you take what you have been given and you find the balance that works.  It might not look the way you wanted it to look, but if it is achieving the proper balance in your life, then that is probably the way God wanted it to be!  There could be several answers to the problem, but the balance is always the solution.  The outcome may look different, but if it results in a proper balance, then it was a success.

When I listed my values, I originally put Balance as # 5.  I have put a lot of thought into it since, and I now see it fits better at #4.  See, you can do it with anything!  When you have God in the right position, Family in the right position, and Friends in the right position, you end up needing Balance desperately.  If you don’t balance those three things properly, then it will all come crashing down.  It’s work!  I won’t lie to you, It is hard work!  The thing is, you will find that if you are living in balance, the work that goes in doesn’t feel as hard a lot of the time.  It’s just tweaking after awhile.

Don’t think that things won’t come along to throw you off balance.  They will.  That’s the next blog.  For now, just soak it in.  You don’t need to start with new stuff.  The life you have was not such a disaster that it cannot be built into something.  God gave you the pieces, and He has plans for you to build something great.  Set Him as your start point and build things on Him with the things that you have.  Keep looking for that balance in Him, and I can promise you that you will be amazed at what you can do with Him!

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