A Kick in the Pants

Today I read a great blog post by a friend of mine named Danny Ray.  He is a loving husband and dad, a good friend to many, an award-winning, amazing magician, an inspiring speaker, and most important, a brother in Christ.  You can see more about Danny Ray and his ministry here at his website, and you can read the blog post here.

In reading his post today, he gives tribute to one of my closest friends, Joe Castaneda of Overboard Ministries for the blog posts that he writes.  He tells how a series of posts Joe had written were impacting people Joe didn’t even know about.  I won’t steal the story. I want you to go read it, and I want you to check out Joe’s blog here.

At the end of the article I got thinking about my little posts I put up.  I get all of the tracking data that says I have a loyal readership that amounts to grand numbers daily. (I am currently averaging an entire 3 people per day this month!)  I also have a Facebook Page where I post a daily verse, image, and thought that gets a few more hits, but still has modest numbers averaging into the double digits consistently. (Yes, as a result I often go out in sunglasses with a hat pulled low to keep the paparazzi at bay.)

I admit I sometimes fall prey to the pride that pulls at me in wishing that I was reaching more people.  Why aren’t more people reading?  I do work on these things!  Am I wasting my time?  What am I doing wrong?

I’m not saying I am perfect, but maybe I’m not doing anything wrong.  Maybe I am just sometimes not doing it for the right reason. The purpose of writing for me is not to gain a huge following.  I just want to share what God is doing in my life and hopefully inspire someone out there to get more interested in making God a bigger part of their lives too!  It’s not about me.  It’s about God.

I’m currently reading  great book by Paul Tripp called The Quest for More. In it, Paul talks about how we miss out on the MORE of serving God and His kingdom when we are focused on building up our own reputation.  He tells it a lot better than I do, but that is it in a nutshell. (Still, go get and read the book.  You won’t be disappointed!)

I have not been writing much here lately. I admit that a big reason has been that I have felt nobody is interested and it isn’t worth my time.  Read Danny’s post and you will see why that is exactly the wrong thing I should be thinking.  I am purposing to get more regular in posting here.  I might not write long posts, but just a thought a couple times a week would be something.

Thanks, Danny, for the kick in the pants.  I want to be Relentless in my pursuit of God and His kingdom.  I want people to be directed to Him through any means necessary, and if I get to play a part in it, that is all for God’s glory.  Thanks for being a “drive-by accountability partner” today.  You had words I needed to hear.

I owe you a $1 next time I see you!

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Where Did the Joy Go?

Erosion.  Webster’s defines it as “the gradual destruction or diminution of something.”  Some of the more common uses of the word revolve around water and wind erosion of the soil.  Often a natural event, but there are times when erosion takes place due to the actions of mankind.

hqdefaultI would imagine that when the house in this picture was completed, there was no thought given to it eventually ending up like this.  Most likely they were filled with joy at having a new home with a beautiful ocean view and promises of sunsets and enjoyment for years to come.  The thought of it falling into the ocean could not have been further from their mind.

I am reading a devotional right now by Tim Walter called Proceeding On: Discovering the Gospel in the Corps of Discovery.  It follows the expedition of Lewis and Clark – their pursuit to find the source of the Missouri River and their hope that it would lead to a connection to the Pacific Ocean.  That was not to be, but they did make the journey across the country experiencing hardship after hardship in the pursuit of their quest.

At times the expedition was under such great duress that they must have thought they would never make it.  The joy of the adventure was gone.  They were now simply enduring the next day as they trudged forward.  Hope kept them moving, but sometimes hope is only enough to keep the feet moving, not enough to keep a spring in the step.

Finally, they made it to the Pacific.  I can only imagine the joy that must have flooded back into their hearts and minds after such a long and hard trip.  William Clark recounted it in his journals using these words:

“Ocean in view! Oh the Joy!  That great Pacific Ocean which we been so long anxious to see!” – William Clark, 1805

The journey was hard not because of any singular obstacle they faced, but because of the many they faced one after another.  No single event could have robbed them of their desire to move forward.  No single event could have eroded their spirits.  It was the repeated difficulties of the journey that took it away much like the crashing waves and blowing wind took away the sand that held that house up.  It never happens all at once, and there are opportunities to set things right before all is lost.

The devotional talks about how I could be experiencing the joy that I felt in the day I accepted Christ as my Savior.  He asks me to reflect on that and ask myself if I am remembering the feeling of the Holy Spirit working in me and asking God to restore that feeling in me as I go through life.  It got me thinking pretty hard about it and taking stock of where I am right now versus where I have been in the past.

As far as remembering the joy of the day I accepted Christ, I was about 4 years old, and I mainly remember a feeling of relief that I would be avoiding Hell!  Sure I was happy about it, but at that age, I would say that I was pretty sure that I was more relieved at getting out of the biggest punishment I could imagine at that time.  Obviously, as I grew up, the enormity of that decision became clear, and it means so much more to me that I have gained something so much greater than anything I have avoided!

So, as a Follower of Christ for almost 40 years, I can sadly look back on my life now and see the ebb and flow of experiencing joy in my salvation. The joy in my salvation has experienced some rough storms, had the foundations of it battered and beaten, and at times I have wondered if it would hold.

While I can look back and see times that things were bad, I can always see that the foundation held.  The troubles, doubts, and fears of life worked as hard as they could to undermine it and take away my hopes of holding on.  The sand around that foundation might have been friends, family, finances, work, or health, and there have been times that they all felt like they had been washed away, but the foundation held because it was built of something stronger – Christ.

Being a Christian is not an easy life.  Jesus didn’t promise to save me from trouble.  If He was about avoiding trouble, He probably would not have died in such a horrific manner.  He promised to be with me during the hard times, to help me hang on when I feel like I am about to go over the edge.

No matter how bad things may have felt, I had my Bible and the words of The Living God to give me stability and protection.  The storms raged, and it felt like more things were washing away, my joy seemed to be gone or at least diminished to the point it was hard to see or feel, but the reason for joy was still there, and it held until the storm stopped and things could be set right again.

I love how Tim put it in his devotional:

“There is no greater tragedy in the Christian walk than the loss of joy in our salvation.  This tragedy does not occur at a special time, but it comes slowly, over the daily battles we fight as we follow Jesus.”

It is in the minutia of our daily walk where we can win or lose the battle to keep our joy.  Allowing the stress of work to build, allowing a relationship to fade, or to let fear reign over safety or finances.  These are the places where the battle takes place – the subtle moments that are all easily defeated by the knowledge that God keeps His promises to us.  They only have power against us when they are not dealt with one at a time and are allowed to claw away at our joy a small piece at a time.

Tim used this verse from Psalms to encourage me today:

“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12

It should be the prayer of every believer.  Calling out to God to keep the joy of our salvation alive is a necessity in Relentless Living.  It can’t be something that waits until things get bad, we need to be aware and focused on that daily as our safeguard against despair and fear.

So, how about you?  How is your joy?  Do you remember what it was like to be joyful in your salvation?  If you are like me, you struggle from time to time, but that is okay.  I’m in one of those moments right now, and I am thankful that the Holy Spirit is sustaining me as I get through this, and that I am able to see today that I can experience that joy on a daily basis.

I feel a bit like Clark today as I have been reminded that I have reached that shore!  Salvation is mine, and I am so thankful for the gift, and for the experience of the hard times that make that gift even more precious!

51nsihkrf8lIf you would like to enjoy this devotional like I am, here is the link on Amazon.  I have not met Tim, but I hope to meet him one day and thank him personally for the encouragement I have been receiving from his insights into God’s Word and the glimpse into history as well.  I feel like Lewis and Clark were a little bit Relentless, and I want to be the same in my Christian walk, and this book is a great tool for it!  A big thanks to my friend Joe from Overboard Ministries for putting it in my my hand!

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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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