Staying Mentally Hungry

Henry Ford was a man not only known for his ingenuity and manufacturing genius.  He was also known for his quotes.  Here are a few of my favorite “Fordisms”.

“Chop your own firewood.  It’ll warm you twice.”

“Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again.”

“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”

I’m sure at least one of those strikes a chord with you as they do with me.  There is something about a good quote, and Ford had one more that I like that I am hoping I can change a bit and maybe leave it as my little mark on history.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

I’d like to change it up and make it my own:

“If you think you can’t learn anything –you’re right.”

– Tom Tanner

(If you know of some famous person who has already said this and is getting a royalty or anything from its use, I beg you to forget you saw me use it and move along.  I am operating under the assumption that this was my idea!)

Recently I have been on a run of training for my position as a general manager.  Historically I have walked away from many of these training sessions feeling drained, depressed, discouraged, and basically just much more aware of what I don’t know without gaining any new applicable information.  It is hard when that next training period comes up and you know you are going to go and come home feeling behind from being gone, and more discouraged than when you left.

This last time, when signing up for this class, I remember thinking that this was waste of my time.  Maybe this time I should just push back and refuse to go since I have a mountain of projects I am involved in and the time away would just leave me feeling stressed when I returned.  I knew I needed to go, but the idea of it just left me irritated.

I looked over the course material and saw that this mandatory training had elements that I again was pretty sure I would not get much out of, but it also had a few that I have had exposure to in the past that had left me with a desire to know more.  The schedule was tight, and I was pretty sure that it would be done at break-neck speed, but I thought there was a chance.

Fast-forward to today. I got a lot out of it.  I decided before I left that I would be making a few choices to step out of my normal “student habits” and try to be 100% engaged in the class.  I thought that if this was going to be worth my time I was going to have to go all in to capitalize on the opportunity or it would just pass me by.

It worked.

I wouldn’t say that it was everything I would hope it would be.  I still cam ehome with a mountain of new stresses to greet me, and I didn’t learn all I had hoped, but I definitely learned.  The content got in my head, and I not only saw opportunities for application, I was able to come back and use most of what I HAD learned to immediately develop some new plans and practices that should make my job a little more productive and less stressful. (Praying pretty hard about that!)

So what was different?  Not a lot. I had one of the same teachers I have had in the past.  They were covering many of the same types of materials in the same high-speed way.  There was yet again too much stuff packed into too little time.  The material was so broad as to be largely difficult to apply to my specific circumstances.  What changed?

My attitude.

Almost every time I have gone to one of these things I have been pretty sure that I was not going to learn anything, and I have been correct every single time.  This time I made a change in my attitude and that made the difference.  I was able to focus more on forcing the material to serve me rather than being at the mercy of the process.  I was able to see what I needed and grab it rather than drown in the information dump of material that didn’t apply to me.

I came to learn.  That made the difference.  When we decide we have nothing to learn, then we are right.  Nothing will get past that wall of pride and self-righteous thinking.  We need to be humble in how we approach every opportunity in order to take away that nugget of information that we can apply to life moving forward.

We are never too old to learn.  I see the elderly every day at work, and those that I see still reading and trying new things are the ones that seem to have the best outlook on life.  I want to be that way.  I have not arrived. I have a long way to go!

Living a Relentless Life means that you know there are things that you don’t know, but you are not satisfied with it being that way.  It can’t be a matter of pride to be superior to those around you, but it certainly should be a matter of conviction to use what you can learn to help others.  After all, as believers we are here to serve as Christ did, and the more we know, the easier it is.

So, what are you doing today to learn?  Have you read a book?  Taken a class?  Have you taken something apart to see how it works?  Have you sat down with someone and just asked them about their life experiences?  There are opportunities around us every day where we can give learning a chance.  Go for it!  You’ll be glad you did!

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Time to Study

This weekend I have been rattling around the house by myself while my wife and son are in Ohio at Cedarville University.  My son Zach had an audition for a spot in the worship program at the college (Which he got! Way to go, Zach!) and then they are spending the weekend there before bringing my daughter home for Thanksgiving break.  I posted the other day that I was going to make a list of things to do in order to keep me accountable for my time while they were gone, and I would say that things have gone well.

I had the bulk of my list done on Friday with the longer items held for Saturday and today.  The CHRISTmas lights are up, the house has been kept tidy, the garage is clean, the chest in our room has been reconditioned, and while not on the list, I have shoveled a ton of snow this morning!  There is only one thing left to do:8446-shhhhh-quiet-everyone-study-wallpaper

STUDY

Life has been pretty busy lately.  While that seems to be the norm, the intensity of life lately has made it difficult to have any real time to put into studying God’s Word.  I have my daily verse I post, and I get in the occasional Quiet Time, but there has not been any real opportunity for me to just sit down and really dig into anything.  Well, at least not any opportunities I have been willing to recognize in the moment.

So, this weekend I have been trying to use the extra time here at home alone to allow my mind to FOCUS on what I should do.  I started thinking about using this time when I realized I would have it a couple weeks ago.  I wanted to put some serious thought into what God wanted me to get out of it.

As I thought about it, I remembered something I had heard somewhere and then heard it again when my wife also mentioned it several months ago:

Every Christian should determine to become an authority on at least one book of the Bible.

That little thought has been niggling around in the back of my mind for a while.  I tell people that I want Relentless Growth in Christ, and what better way to do that than to really dig in and learn about a book of the Bible so well that through time spent in it I can apply it into every aspect of my life?  The Bible is the avenue to a closer relationship with God, and knowing His Word that well is a life-changing endeavor.

So, while puttering around, completing my list of chores this weekend I have been thinking about where God may be leading me to spend my time studying.  What book of the Bible would be the launchpad for me?  What does He want me to learn?  What does He want me to overcome?  What does He want me to share with others?  Where is He leading this Relentless journey of mine?

As I thought and prayed over it this weekend, I have felt a desire to look into two books.  The reason I chose these books just seemed to become more and more clear as I thought about my life and how God has worked in it over the last 10 years in particular. In some ways, I feel like I have a kinship to the authors as a result of my life.

I have mentioned in the past that I was saved as a young kid, and as a result I have struggled with the feeling that I wasted an opportunity to grow closer to God because my Christian life was basically all I ever knew. I don’t have a real “turn from sin to God” moment.  No radical life change where I left an old me and became a new me.  It was not fully appreciated until after I was asked to teach an adult Sunday School class and I finally started to really read and seek to understand the Bible.  Then I realized what I had!

So, as a good old-fashioned Baptist, fully indoctrinated to feel guilt and shame over things I had done wrong and unwilling to forgive myself for past sins, I began to try to learn how God actually wants me to live my life.  It was time to move on past the feelings of missed opportunity to get to know God better as a teenager and young adult, and just get down to the business of knowing Him!  God doesn’t close the window of opportunity to know Him better to His children.

Thinking about that this weekend I began to think about people in the Bible who might have felt the same way.  Eventually (I am slow sometimes), two names came to mind.  They were both men who had similar opportunities to mine to know God REALLY well when they were young, but didn’t take advantage of it in those days.  It wasn’t until later that they fully realized the opportunity they had been given, and then they made the best of it, being willing to be used by God to the point of being the instruments the Holy Spirit used to write two books of the Bible!  Talk about getting it together!

So, who are these guys?  They are half brothers of Christ, James and Judas (Jude).  They grew up alongside the God-man, Jesus, but didn’t fully realize who He was, what He was here to do, and what it really meant for them until later in life.  See the connection?

I have spent time studying James before, but I have never spent any time in Jude other than a quick read.  In truth, I have avoided it because I connect it with a very hard time in my teenage years.  A former pastor used one of the verses in Jude as his “life verse” and  after how he spiritually abused me and many others I have not been willing to give the book much of a look since.  Funny how we blame God for how people mess up…

bible-jude4So, after looking at these two books, reading some commentary about them, and praying about it even more, I feel God is leading me to dig into the book of Jude.  It’s a short book, but I think it is going to be more than just a book to learn.  I think it is going to be an opportunity to dig into some stuff that might be hiding in me over past hurts.  Some bitterness that still needs to be dealt with.  Some confession of anger and forgiveness that needs to occur.

I don’t know exactly what will come of this at this point, but that is the joy of it!  I am open to what God wants me to get, and I am excited to take the journey.

My goal for the rest of the day today is to begin breaking some things down for a framework of study.  Not sure what I will find, but I am excited about it.  I look forward to sharing thing I learn with those interested or those who happen across the blog in days to come.  I’ll to make promises about timetables or schedules, but I do plan on sharing as time permits.

So, time for me to get to work.  I hope in some small way this is an encouragement to others to dig into the Word as well.  We have so much to learn, and are blessed with a God who is so willing to teach.  Dig in.  Be Relentless!

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“It’s Like My Parents Used To Tell Me…”

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I only had one black eye, and I never raised a fist to get it!

“If I’d Only Known…” #3

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  – Proverbs 1:8-9

I think back to my time as a teenager, and it probably was not that different from any other teen’s experiences today.  I’m learning things, doing more things, being given more responsibility, trying to figure out who I am going to be, working on being my own person, but in the middle of all of that there is a problem.  I still have people telling me what to do, my actions are questioned, and advice I might not want to hear is being thrust upon me.  Any teens reading this?  Am I remembering right?  I thought so.

It is a time of life that inherently involves struggle.  Some people say it is the “time for rebellion”, but I think that is an excuse for not addressing the issues properly.  The point of parenting is to get your kids to think and do for themselves so you don’t have to think and do for them.  Equip them for the world they will face so you will not need to keep doing it.  The thing is, in the midst of the process of creating people who think for themselves, a problem arises – THEY THINK FOR THEMSELVES!

There were struggles in my teen years as I watched my parents seemingly losing touch with the reality of life and how it should be handled by one such as myself.  I did not think they were losing their minds, but they did seem to be refusing to grow as I was, and it was just making it more difficult for us to connect.  I didn’t think they were hearing me, and many times they spoke in dialects that confused my ears as well.

There were times we connected on things and I was able to understand what they were saying, but there were many times that I took what I considered to be the best path because their words just made no sense to me.  I heard them, I remembered them, but I didn’t understand them.  I just filed them away in hopes that one day they might make sense.

Well, one day it happened.  There is an amazing thing that happens in the life of a man. Around the age of 23-25, his parents miraculously become smarter!  Their advice can once more be trusted and sought out as valid for application in life!  I know it sounds odd that two people who have had such a slide in mental faculties throughout their child’s teenage years can once again be trusted as being a resource for wisdom, but it is true!

The reality, of course, is that all of the things they taught me through those “hard years” just finally started to make sense in my head.  All of those platitudes of wisdom now had weight and meaning and were beginning to serve as the building blocks of how I would live my life.  I now understood the dialect and could understand not only the meanings of the words, but also the heart that had been behind them.  The result was that the same phrases that caused such frustration were now comforting to me, and served me as guides in different situations.

I am now the father of two of those “teenage” beings.  I see the look of confusion in their faces sometimes as I speak to them, and I know that they are experiencing the same thing I did when I was their age.  I see their frustration with me, and I know I feel it at times as well.  I recognize it is part of the process.  They are great kids, and I am very thankful of them.  They have made the hard job of parenting easier than I deserve.

I find myself saying some of the same things my parents said to me “back in the day.”  Those bits of wisdom, those phrases, those pieces of instruction are a part of who I am now.  They have shaped my foundation for living.  Relentless Living means I cannot consider myself complete because of them though.  There is more to do, and my relationship with God is necessary for that to happen.  I want to give my kids even more to help them as they grow.

My hope is that one day (by my calculations it will be in around 7-9 years) they will come to the same conclusion that I came to with my parents.  I was loved enough to be watched and instructed.  My prayer is that they will understand that and that they will remember what they learned and go on to do all the bigger and better things they hope to accomplish.  Then one day they can say,

“It’s like my Dad used to say…”

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Sometimes You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

card-catalog-drawers-jeremy-woodhouseIf I’d Only Known… #2

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, – Proverbs 1:5

I’m going to date myself a little bit here. How many people even know what this is a picture of? Here’s a hint: You used to find them in a public building that housed shelves and shelves of books. Answer: A card catalog. They held all the information you needed to find any book in the library on any given topic by any given author. There were variations in how they were structured, but in the end they were all the same in one respect. The card catalog was a simple system that helped millions of kids write term papers. I should know. I was one of them.

I remember going into the library with an idea in my head on what I wanted to write about and no idea where to get the information I needed. A librarian would come over and take me to that huge cabinet of drawers filled with thousands of cards and before too long I had a list of books, authors, and shelf locations that would take me the second stage of the library visit – the hunt for books.

Often when I was looking for my resources I would only have a general idea of what I was writing about, and usually that idea gave me more than enough of the information I thought I needed on the topic, but when I would start digging through the catalog, something happened. I found out that there were things I didn’t know that I didn’t know! The longer I spent in the topical cards, the more books I found that would help me write a paper far more informative than anything I would have been able to do on my own. The card catalog and the librarian acted as facilitators to get me to the understanding that I was looking for.

About 10 years ago, I started to realize that I had some things I needed to learn regarding my walk with Christ. I went to some people that should have been able to help me, but they had their own idea of what I was looking for and decided to try and take me down a similar, but different road. I wasn’t precisely sure what I was looking for, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I was “looking in the wrong card catalog.”

Over the next couple of years, I bounced through several books, listened to a lot of teaching on the radio, and began to develop a dependence on the Bible for finding things out. I was finding a ton of information, more than I knew what to do with, and before long I came to the conclusion that I knew a lot of stuff, but what I really needed to understand was that there were things I didn’t know that I needed to know.

Through a series of events, I met a man that I would soon call my pastor, then my mentor or “rabbi”, and now my friend. Through his kind, but probing questions, he brought me to the conclusion that while I did know a lot, what I didn’t know was what to do with what I knew. It was that point of application that would eventually bring some real life change out in me.

I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of Relentless Living for me. By being willing to realize that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I was able to learn so much more. It taught me to listen to people, enter their pain, and encourage them through hard times. It has allowed me to make better friends, and see growth in my personal life.

If you want to avoid having a lot of “If I only…” moments, start living a Relentless Life! Look for people who can help you with the things you are trying to learn. Find that person that seems to be so proficient in your area of interest and start a relationship with them. You will find that when a person is passionate about something, they are happy to teach it – especially to someone they see shares that passion!

The only way I will ever be able to repay my “rabbi” for all the help he has given me is to take his passion for growing believers that he fanned to a flame in my life and do the same with others. The best part of it is that as I do it, I am always learning something that I didn’t know I didn’t know! It is a mutually beneficial relationship, and as the “rabbi” is so fond of saying, “Tomas, my boy, it is all about relationships!”

I know that now!

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“You’re Not As Smart As You Think You Are!”

Criminal-Minds-Season-7-Episode-11-22-1a14If I’d Only Known… #1

To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, – Proverbs 1:2

“You’re not as smart as you think you are!”  Honestly, if I had gotten nickel every time I heard that as a 13-18 year old I would have…well, probably nothing more than a regret that I had lost a lot of nickels.  I heard it a lot, and I never believed a word of it.  Frankly, it didn’t make sense.  I was a great student – had gotten pretty much straight A’s since Kindergarten.  I was a valued employee that was always given extra responsibility at work because I “made things happen.”  I even had people tell me all the time that I had a smart mouth! (OK, that might not be the best defense…)  Whether it was my parents, my teachers, or the random adults I came across that spoke those words to me, I always seemed to turn a deaf ear to them.

My mind was like a sponge growing up, and I learned all sorts of stuff.  Trivia was like a drug for me, and the more I knew about something the better.  I would read books on trivia, memorize the Trivial Pursuit card decks, and browse dictionaries and encyclopedias just to increase my knowledge. (Notice that there was no mention of electronic media. No Google back then.  We had to actually know things! *said in a curmudgeonly voice*) I wanted to be that smartest person in the room.

What I did know was impressive, but looking back now, I see that I was deficient.  I knew a lot, but I didn’t have any experience in handling that knowledge, and not a clue with what to do with it.  I also had a little too much pride to realize I needed help with that.  Looking back, I wish I had only known that knowledge is where things start.  You need knowledge to get the ball rolling.  there is an old saying, “That guy not only doesn’t know anything, he doesn’t even suspect anything.”  There is a process, and here is how I see that process working:

  1. Knowledge – A collection of facts.  Purely data that you are capable of retaining.  It requires nothing more than a place to store it. You can use a brain, or you can write it down and keep it in a folder.  At this point you aren’t doing anything with it anyway.
  2. Understanding – You begin to see that the data you have might be useful in certain circumstances.  You might not know what to do with it, but you can see it has some type of potential if you can just get the pieces put together the right way.  Understanding is  a bridge that takes you from knowledge to wisdom.
  3. Wisdom – Practical application of knowledge.  This is taking what you know and applying it to a situation to achieve a result.  It might not always succeed, but it is using what you know in a constructive way.
  4. Insight – Personally I think this one is a God-given thing.  Insight is being able to draw wisdom intuitively out of something you read or see and use it to teach or help someone else. (This is my definition, anyway.  Webster may have something else to say about it.)

It has taken the last 20 or so years to get a better understanding of how smart I was back then.  There were things I needed to learn, and I probably missed some great opportunities to gain wisdom at an earlier age.  Look back at your own life before you throw any stones though.  This is a common affliction among the young.  At some point most people will grow out of it though.

I wish I had known the importance of looking deeper when I was younger.  At some point I started to need to not only know more, but I needed to know what to do with it.  Once I realized there was more to it than just being smart, the journey really began.

Relentless Living is not being willing to stay put.  My wife and I joked yesterday with our friends about how much easier it would be to live a Sedentary Life or a Stagnant Life, but there is no growth there.  If I’m going to be Relentless in my life and in my pursuit of God, then I need to be willing to admit I don’t know everything.  I need to try an understand what is going on in my life and then do something with what I know, all while asking God for the insight needed.  After all, He knows the answers!

I hope that today I can say that I am as smart as I think I am.  I know now that there are a lot of things I don’t know!  I have a better understanding of myself, my abilities, my personality, and my sphere of influence.  I make mistakes, but I learn from them now rather than blame someone else.  I still want to learn, but not to hold knowledge.  I want the things I learn to be useful in helping others.  It’s a process, and when I have a set-back I can now look back and see that things are getting better.  God is working in me – Relentlessly

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Looking Back

no-looking-back1We’ve all heard that hindsight is 20/20.  Choices and actions, once played out, dispense wisdom that would have proven useful at the time!  Even things planned with great care and thought can turn into major disasters when we leave some “minor” or “impossible” factor out of our thought process.

Case in point – the Titanic. In 1907 the White Star Line was watching their fleet begin to age, they began to plan for their next ships.  They wanted the new ships to be larger, faster, and more luxurious for their passengers. After a year of planning, the ship’s designs were approved.  After that, it was almost 4 years before the Titanic was ready to make her maiden journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Deemed “unsinkable”, she was a testament to man’s ability to create wondrous things.

So much planning and work went into getting the Titanic from being an idea, to putting it on paper, and finally getting her into the water.  The result?  1500 people died.  In hindsight, a few things could have been done a little differently:

  • The number of lifeboats should not have been reduced
  • The crew should have been better trained in evacuation procedures as some of the boats were launched barely half full
  • Warnings about ice in the area were ignored
  • The ship ran at full-steam even though visual conditions were poor

1,500 people died in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, but if these things had been carried out, who knows how many might have lived?  Even if the iceberg had still been struck, any of those four things would likely have reduced the loss of life.

It’s easy to sit back and play Monday morning quarterback – especially with the mistakes that other people make, but how often do we sit down and do it with ourselves? It’s not fun to drag up our own mess and pick through it to find things we should have done better.  It brings feelings of guilt or shame, and none of us want that.  If we’re really lucky we might get that occasional treat and blame someone else though! Dig a little deeper and we will always see that the blame we put on others will most often still lead to a missed opportunity to make a better decision.

I don’t want to go through my life pretending that my mistakes didn’t happen, and I certainly don’t want to be one of those people that refuses to learn from them. It has been said that experience is the best teacher, but I can say that somebody else’s experience can be just as good if we are paying attention – and it hurts a lot less.

Relentless Living is taking the time to look into your past, see the things that you did, and pull the lessons from them.  Leave the guilt, the blame, and the shame in the past, but bring out the wisdom from the experience and use it for the things you currently face, store it away for the things you will face in the future.  Make right what needs to be made right and then get back to living!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with this blog lately.  How often do I post?  How often should I post? Is anyone really interested in what I post?  How long should a post be? (I know I have given some long ones lately – sorry about that…)  I decided that I want to start doing something differently.

My new goal is to write something small once or twice a week that is a reflection on a mistake made, or a lesson learned.  I want to take the time to ask myself the questions, “What would I do differently if I could go back and do it over again?” or “What do I wish someone had told me about that before I messed up?”  It should be fun.  Then I will try for one post a week that is more like what I have been doing.

I don’t want to say that the tragedy of the Titanic was a good thing, but it did change how the shipping industry did things after that.  Lessons were learned, and behaviors changed.  That is what I am hoping to do here.  I want to change for the better, and I want that for anyone reading this too.  More importantly, God wants it for us!  That is why He sent His Son to die for us and gives us the Holy Spirit to reside in us.  He wants to help us sort through our decisions, both good and bad, and grow.

So, I hope to see you back here in a day or two!

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