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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Happy Birthday, Babe!

13576829_10209726198062742_3651700631496807898_oYou know what day it is?  It is my wife’s Birthday!  Last year I did a list of reasons I love my wife that had an arbitrary total of 44 reasons. You can read that list here.  I have chosen not to do a list again this year, opting instead to just add an item to it.  It’s not that I can’t come up with, O, let’s pick another random number like 45 reasons I love her.  I could.  Easily!  I just want to focus on this item I am adding to that list from a year ago.

45. We are going to rock the next chapter of our lives.

Yep. I said it.  We are going to be that amazing couple people look at whose children have gone to college and are just walking through life without a care in the world and the world on a string.  We will have people asking what our secret is and how they can be more like us.  Who knows, we might get asked to write a book, do lectures, and even host a theme cruise because we just have it all figured out!

*SNORT*

I don’t think we are going to see things at that extreme, but I think we are going to be pretty awesome in this next stage.  There might some people who want to learn from us who feel like we do have it all figured out, but they will be wrong.  That’s OK.  We know it, and we aren’t afraid to show it.

So, I want to speak to my wife for a moment now.  Please silence your cell phones and try not to leave your seat or cause a disturbance.  I do allow flash photography, but politely request that you refrain from shouting out suggested poses.  This is a serious moment.

Tammi,

We have known each other a long time – seriously it is like 32 years or so. That is insane!  In all of those years we have grown to know each other very well.  We have seen each other at our best and at our worst.  Tears have been shed in fear, grief, pain, happiness, joy, and sometimes because it was a Tuesday.

So many memories, and I treasure them all because they tell a story. It’s a beautiful story about two people who fell in love with no idea they were in the shallow end of the pool.

Today is your birthday, and I want you to know that as crazy as I was about that young(er) lady who walked down the aisle almost 22 years ago, I am so much more head over heels with the young lady I am still married to today!

As the years have gone by, I have watched you try new things and succeed, and try things that did not, but in all of them I saw your excitement over something new and unexplored.  It’s just like when we say it is time to choose a vacation spot.  For you, getting ready to start getting there is more than half the fun!

We are getting ready for another adventure as we take Jess to college in a month.  I know it is going to be hard on you while at the same time you are so excited for her.  I’m just going to be a mess for all of us.

Life is changing, and so are we.  I’m thankful that we are going to do it together.  I will get to be there with you every year that you have a birthday but get no older (Really. It’s not even fair!).  I’m thankful that I get to see you get excited, experience things, and then learn from them.  I get to be a part of your life.

13690941_10209850451529001_594576326055113612_oI say every year that I got the gift the day you were born, and it is true.  What I am also seeing now is that the years that are passing by are taking us to a place where we have not been hoping for, but have been preparing for.  We knew an empty nest would happen and that it would bring a sadness with it, but we also knew it would bring new opportunities to use the things we have learned.

Where is that going to be?  Not sure.  I just know that whatever we do, it is going to be awesome, and that is why the completely arbitrary 45th reason I love you is that we are going to absolutely rock this next chapter of life!

I love you, Babe!  You are the best!

Tom

Where Grace Begins – Grace Part 1

Last year I was asked to help in writing a book of devotionals for our church campaign on grace.  It was the first time I had been asked to write something for a book, and I really appreciated the opportunity.  I have decided to post these devotionals every other day over the next couple of weeks.  I hope you enjoy them and that they make you think about the wonders of the grace of God.

poured-outEphesians 1:7 (ESV) – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Salvation.  The most amazing gift we could have from God.  It’s not a gift we deserve, but how often do we get one that we really deserve?  The thing is, we could never even come close to deserving this gift.  It is a gift given to us expressly because we DON’T deserve it.  It is the gift of God’s unconditional, unfailing, unending love to us.

Grace, simply put, is the giving of something good to someone who deserves nothing good.  If you are drawing a breath, then you, like me, are a person who deserves nothing good. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, mankind experienced a separation from the best thing – relationship with God.  That separation is a birthright that all mankind has shared from that day forward. God could have left it like that, but the Son offered Himself as the redemption for us.  His perfection offered to us, the imperfect.

Why did He do it?  Think about who Jesus is.  He is the embodied Word of God.  The world was spoken into existence by Him.  He created man.  We are His creation!  Have you ever made something?  If you have, you feel an attachment to it.  It belongs to you, and there is a little bit of you in it. We belonged to Him, but we turned away.  He was willing to set aside His position, come to earth, live as we did, and die for us in order to bring that relationship back. Not because He had to do it, but because He felt we were worth it.

Grace was the motivation for Him. He is rich in grace, and we were chosen to experience that gift of salvation because of His ability to forgive and restore His most prized creation.  Because of His grace, we live eternally.  Because of His grace, we are given the Holy Spirit. Because of His grace we are God’s children.  Because of His grace we are heirs with Christ.  Because of His grace, we have access to God.  The riches of God’s grace given to us at salvation are just the beginning of it!

Grace for the purpose of salvation was not the end.  It was the beginning.  When you know Christ, you have experienced the first taste of grace in salvation.  Jesus is not done there.  His riches in grace are open to you now, and He wants you to grow in those riches.

  • Have you experienced the grace of God in salvation?
  • How do you see forgiveness as a component of grace?
  • What are some ways that you can model that forgiveness and grace in the lives of those you know who are not yet believers?

Father, we thank You for Your grace that allowed us to be back in relationship with You.  Please help us to remember that grace and tell others about it so they can know it too.

Grace is a gift.  It plants the seed in us to grow to be like Christ.  As we put our roots deep into the Word of God, we experience Relentless Growth in Him. We grow stronger in Him. His grace begins to spread into other parts of our lives until it covers those we come in contact with, and eventually it bears fruit as we are given the opportunity to plant that seed of God’s grace in others.

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Why It Is Important to Keep A Woman In Her Place

Ok.  With a title like that, I will give everyone a moment to find their seats and make sure they have all the tools they need for getting through this blog post.  Let’s see, pitchforks? Check.  Torches? Check.  Rope? Check. Concrete galoshes? Check.  Ok.  Is everyone in their preferred seat on opposing sides of the room? Everyone ready to comment with venom if I don’t take your position?  Good.  Then let’s get down to it.

Over the last couple of days, I have been seeing a couple of pictures hit my social media feeds over and over gain.  I will not single anyone out and if you posted either of them, let me assure you, I am not picking on you or your situation.  In truth, as I have been seeing these two pictures, I have had one recurring thought, “My heart hurts for these people,”  Most of the time I have seen the pictures, I know that they are experiencing something difficult, and no matter how hard we try, our hurt “leaks” from time to time.  I get that.  I don’t judge it.  I just wish I could stop the pain.

So, here are the two pictures, and then I will say my piece.  Good, I see the fire is lit under the vat of oil.  This post will be a long one, but it should be boiling by the time I am done…

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Ok.  Anyone need to switch sides yet?  I’ll give you a minute to do so.  Ready?  Ok.  Let’s get back into this!  Both of these are wrong.  Pure and simple.  *scanning the crowd*  If everyone will keep your seat, I will take a few moments to explain.

The Plan

When God made man, He gave him something to do, gave him some instructions, and then put him to work.  It wasn’t very long at all before God looked at Adam and decided that he was lacking something.  He was not complete.  This isn’t saying God made a mistake.  It is the Creator looking at His most beloved creation and saying, “It’s just not done yet. He needs something more that will bring him that special thing he needs.”

So, he put Adam to sleep and took a rib from his side and made Eve, the first woman. Adam was understandably impressed and appreciative of this new development and responded appropriately by stating that the woman was flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone because she was part of himself – in this case, literally!  God did not create a new creature, he finished the creation by bringing woman out of man.

The Fall

Everything went south in chapter three of Genesis.  There are many who like to say that Eve messed up by eating the fruit.  I disagree.  I think this has been one of the principal errors in understanding the male and female relationship throughout history. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that woman messed up and man had to pay for it.  Ludicrous!  Absolutely ridiculous!  The Bible tells us that Adam was RIGHT THERE WITH HER the whole time the serpent was talking!  What in the world was happening that he did not step in and do something? he took a passive approach to the situation and did not help his helper.

A snake starts talking to his wife and tells her to break one of the two rules she and her husband were given by the God that they had the chance to walk with every day in the garden and Adam says nothing!  Men, this is where the Fall took place.  This is where man let woman down.  Period.  As a result of this sin, they are banished from the garden and this struggle between man and woman begins.  Some people think that God cursed woman at this point and put her in her place, but I believe He was just telling her what was going to happen.  Man would blame woman for his problems, and woman was going to suffer for it because he didn’t step up and do right when she needed him to do it.

The Result

We now live in a world where people are pretty polarized.  For centuries in most cultures, women have taken a back-seat role in all aspects.  Equal rights for women is still a pretty fresh concept in our history not only as a country, but as a planet!  It is a struggle for women to get the respect they deserve for being the people they are.  The atrocities that take place against women every single day are disgusting and should bring us to tears.  As a result, there are many women who hurt so deeply and have been put in a position that they may never trust a man again.  Whose fault is that?  Well, guys.  I won’t lie.  It is primarily the fault of man for getting that ball rolling.  Now we have small groups of women that are so angry that they just refuse to show respect any man.

I’m not going to take a Rush Limbaugh stand and speak rudely about women.  They don’t deserve it.  My view on feminism is simply this:  It never should have been considered as necessary.  It is the result of men not knowing how to keep a woman in her proper place. (Before anyone gets upset, please keep reading. I promise, it’s not as bad as it sounds.) Now she feels the weight of man and bristles at it, wants to get away from it, and prove that she never needed it or him in the first place.  Honestly, why wouldn’t she? So, how do we put her where she should be?

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I’m going to tell you how I think this can be fixed.  I have consulted with my wife of 21 years, and I know she agrees with me on it.  Neither she or I think I get it right every time, but we do agree that this is the way to get it done.  We go back to the original plan.

Man was not complete.  He needed help, and God gave him a helper out of himself.  Adam recognized that.  The problem was, he blew it, and we repeat his mistake. I repeat his mistake! However, I want to do better, and as I think about this, I believe God had a purpose in picking a rib as the part necessary to complete man.

  • A rib gives protection to the internal organs.  Important things that keep a man healthy!  Men tend to be a bit abrasive or hard on the outside, but underneath all of that, we are vulnerable.  Just like a rib protects vulnerable organs, my wife is God’s gift to me for protecting and helping me process the feelings I have that I hold inside.  She’s good at it!  Much better than I could ever be on my own.
  • A rib is sturdy, but flexible.  Ribs absorb things that would injure internal organs.  They don’t just snap.  There are too many times that I will do something foolish that brings trouble into our lives.  Where I would be more harsh and possible lash out, my wife is able to absorb it all, protect me from myself, and carry on.  The thing to remember is that when a rib receives a hard blow and is bruised, cracked, or broken, it can bring extreme discomfort until a healing takes place.

The same is true with me and my wife.  When she absorbs something bad (whether or not I am the cause), the pain will linger until a healing takes place.  Time heals things, but open, honest, loving communication works faster.  It is vital to the healing. It is up to ME to notice that my wife is voicing her discomfort, and not take it as nagging, but as a reminder that she is experiencing a pain that I possibly caused.  I need to take care of her to promote the healing in the relationship.  How smart would a person be to not take care of a rib that is hurting?  The same applies here.

  • A rib is at the side of a man.  You don’t see ribs protruding from the front or the back of a skull.  Why?  Because they don’t belong there!  If your skull was made up of bones like ribs you would really be at a disadvantage in life!  They aren’t under foot either.  They would not serve a purpose there. To function as they should, they should be at the side.

I believe God used the rib to remind man that the best place for woman is at his side.  If she is out in front of him, he is not able to be there for her the way he should. My wife is the most important person in my life, and I like to have her beside me so I can protect her.  That doesn’t mean she is weak.  It means she is precious to me.  I want her with me so I can take care of her when she needs to be cared for, and take the physical hit if necessary.

If my wife is behind me, I can’t see her, maybe I can’t even hear her.  She might see something that could cause me harm, but the distance and location make it difficult to communicate the danger.  I can’t see her, so my ability to be there for her if she needs me is also diminished.

God also didn’t plan for me to have my wife stepped on by me.  She is of value and should not be dismissed as the equivalent of a floor surface. She should be held close, in a place of honor.

I want my wife at my side.  I want her to feel loved, appreciated, and cared for.  Men, that’s what we are supposed to do!  She is not there to make our lives easier, but to make us complete.  To complete us in our weaker areas and shore us up, as we are supposed to do for them.  We are to be one flesh and one bone.  Yes, we have two minds, but they should be tuned toward the needs of the other – SELFLESSLY.  That is where the relationship can thrive.  When my wife is at my side I hear her counsel, I can protect her from danger, she can protect me from my own mistakes, we can grow as God intended.  That’s good for both of us, and that is why it is important to keep your wife where she belongs!

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This was a loooong time ago!

I’m not perfect, and my wife can tell you that!  I mess this up more than I want to admit, but it is my Relentless desire to honor God’s plan for how my wife and I should interact.  We do that by staying close, complimenting each other in our strengths and shielding each other in our weaknesses.

I’m not saying that 21 years of marriage gives me the authority to tell people how to live their marriages out, but I am certain that what we work towards in how we relate to each other works.  We have bumpy spots because we are human, but time and again, we have seen how sticking to the plan works and draws us closer.  As we work through things together and share our ideas and our hearts, we build into each other.  My wife is a brilliant woman, and gifted in so many ways, why wouldn’t I want her building into me?

10534681_10204206015501628_1184979595712247813_nSo, here at the end of this post, I hope my point is made.  We can joke about the differences in our gender, and many of those jokes are funny because they are true, but let’s remember that God’s plan was a symbiotic relationship where we each care for the other in the way that they need to be cared for.  It is sad how it all got messed up.

Ladies, no disrespect was intended or directed to you in this.  I hope that message came through clearly.  If it didn’t, blame me.  Just know that I am not perfect, I am in process, and when it comes to being the perfect husband, my wife can tell you that I am not here, but I am trying.  Sometimes VERY trying!

Men, if you can accept the challenge to be the man God created you to be, you might be surprised to see how God can work to bring you and your wife closer together.  So, what’s stopping you?

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I’ve Been Watching You, Tom…

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*This took place the morning of August 27, 2015*

I need you to know I have been watching you closely the last few weeks.  I think it is time that we take minute and talk about what has been going on.  It might be hard for you to hear, but I need you to hear it. Not because I want you to feel bad.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I need you to hear this because I love you.  I care about you.  I’ve been concerned about you, and I don’t know that you have realized just how much those things are true.  It’s time for you to hear Me.

For the last  month, I have watched you struggle with holding it together.  You have been facing a lot of uncertainty about some of your dreams and whether they are coming to an end.  You have been struggling with concerns about the future and your kids going to college.  You have been working overtime to help your wife feel loved, supported, and important when it has not been easy for her to feel those things.  You’ve been concerned about your friends and how they are doing when you have not had the time or energy to contact them the way you feel you should.  You are worried about responsibilities and promises that you have made, and how you will follow through.  You feel like you are dropping the ball in many different areas of your life – Family, Friends, Work and more…

I know you feel that way because I have heard you talking to yourself about it.  (Do you  realize how much you talk to yourself?)  You look at your circumstances and you try not to grumble about them.  I know it isn’t easy, I’ve had hard times that I had to get through without complaining too.  You take an inventory and then you develop a plan and move forward.  You look at the results of previous attempts and try new things.  You really have a knack for banging your head against a problem, you know that?  I gave you that trait to see what you would do with it.  Sometimes, you are a little Relentless about some things…

As I watched you this week, I noticed that your attitude had started to slip a little more.  I saw a more cynical approach to your problem solving, the complaining was a little louder, and sadly, you started to let your temper slip with people.  I know you were feeling ragged and worn, but that doesn’t make it right.  I hoped you would realize that blaming your circumstances is nothing more than a crutch to hide a bitterness that is building in your heart against those you feel have wronged you even when they might not even think they have.  I know that sometimes you have to forgive people BECAUSE they don’t realize what they are doing.

Yesterday I think you hit the wall.  You reached a point where you knew that your actions haven’t been right, but you felt too numb to do anything about them.  You knew you were about to leave town for a couple of days, and I was pleased to hear you tell yourself that this might an opportunity to unplug from the normal and get your head and heart right.  I was excited about where this work trip might take you even though you didn’t want to leave home, and I don’t think you even believed for a moment that you would see any change.

So, this morning you left in the dark hours of morning and began your drive.  You turned on some music and just drove.  You also did something you haven’t done in awhile.  You were quiet.  You weren’t talking to yourself.  You just listened to the music.  That was when I was able to do something that I haven’t been allowed to do in a while.  I was able to speak to you.  I chose a song, but you heard Me.  You weren’t ready to talk to Me yet, but I could see that you had heard Me speaking into your heart through the words of this song:

As the song came to a close I heard something I had been longing to hear again.  Your voice speaking to Me.  You acknowledged that you needed Me. You told Me that you were hurting, struggling, trying to hold it all together and you needed Me, but then you said that you felt like I had left you alone to get through all of it.  You were tired, and you had been doing so much to try and understand and cope, to be heard, to be help to others.  Through all of that, you were sure that you had been alone, so I spoke to you again to remind you that I never left you alone for a moment:

You see, Tom, I was there the whole time.  I listened to you as you tried to work things out for yourself, pulling different strings and throwing different plans and ideas together to see what you could build that would be a help to your weary soul, for your family, for all the stuff you have going on in your life.  I listened, and I tried to speak to you through the loving words of your wife, through the book you have been reading, and even through the encouragement of your friends and people at work, but you didn’t hear me.  You were too busy building, and this morning you finally noticed that you had been building on something else instead of Me.  I was to be the Cornerstone that you build your life on:

I want you to know, that I saw the brokenness in your heart this morning as you wept.  It made Me hurt to see you in pain, but it also made Me happy to see your heart open to hearing Me again – that you were willing to acknowledge my desire to be with you and to work with you in the struggles of life and that you were willing to say that you couldn’t do it anymore and I would need to do it for you.  It’s what I have been waiting for.  I want you to feel My power working through your heart and soul, for you to listen to the wisdom of My Word as it changes your thoughts and gives you words to say.  That you would be willing to set your agendas aside and abandon yourself to My will and to trust Me:

It’s what I was waiting to hear, Tom.  I love you, and I forgive you for trying to go it alone.  You’re probably going to mess up and do it again, but I want you to know I AM here.  Forever and always I AM here, and I will never let you go.  Just look to Me and keep talking to Me.  You’re Mine, and I want you to share in the glorious things I am going to do.  Be Relentless in your pursuit of knowing Me more deeply.


 

This post has been a little different for me.  I might have shared more than some of you realized has been going on in my head, but maybe you did know.  I’m not sure.  You see, I think that with a few exceptions, I have been putting together a pretty good front in my struggles, but I was not fooling Christ.  He has been watching the whole time, and waiting for me to realize I needed to step aside and allow Him to come in and rescue me with the power and strength only He can give.

As I drove this morning, These songs played on my Pandora station, and I really believe that I heard Christ speak many of the words that are written above.  I have taken liberty to speak for Jesus in this post, but as I have gone through my day, I really believe that He was there, speaking to me as I finally started to put the pieces together.  I felt His loving correction for my stubbornness, and I believe that He was pleased.

Why did today work?  I think it was a combination of hitting that wall yesterday, a long drive with nothing that I really had to think about, and the choice to put some good music in my head this morning.  My playlist for this drive was random from Pandora, and “coincidentally” every song I heard built on the one before as Christ spoke into my heart to take me through the stages of lamentation, repentance, and restoration.  I can’t explain it all, but I know I have a peace that was not there when I left that house this morning.

Relentless Living requires a time to check in with God.  It’s not just a prayer at meal time, but a real time of worship through song, prayer, and examination.  I stumbled into that this morning, but I want to be more intentional about it moving forward.

Dear Reader, God is watching you too.  He is feeling that same yearning to hear you address Him in your struggles.  Are you willing to do it?  It takes a moment of humility, but let’s face it, we can all use a bit of that!  Please, if you could do one thing for me, take a block of time this week to be intentional about talking to and listening to God.  Also, please share this post with anyone else that might benefit from reading it.  My prayer is that it will be a help.

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A Journey Begins

0bc4684I am a bit of a homebody.  I have my little piece of land here that I live on, and it really is my favorite place to be.  I like the familiar, the known, order… Yes, some call that boring.  Maybe it is sometimes…

I like to stick with what I know, but I know that there is a growth that comes from trying new things too.  I have now eaten Chicken Cordon Bleu.  I actually liked it!  (Yes, the best example I can come up with for expanding my horizons is food.  Gotta work on that…)  I have tried several new things over my life, and some of them have made me very happy, and the others have not killed me, and I have learned something from them, so I guess new things always leave me better off!

One area that I have stuck to the familiar is in my Bible reading.  I might have read a paraphrase or a different translation from time to time, but my method has largely stayed the same.  I start at the beginning of a book and I read to the end of it.  The amount I read may vary, and the timetable has always been free to move around, but I, on the other hand, only move from the beginning to the end. Orderly.

This morning I sat down to have a quiet time in the Word where I have been reading in Isaiah, and I wrestled with it.  I have been reading there for a couple weeks, but I am struggling to get something out of it.  I know God has truth throughout His Word, but I have felt like this passage is just not speaking to me where I am right now.  It is like being in a house with someone you are trying to have a conversation with, but they are in another room.  You pick up the occasional word, but it is not conducive to understanding.

Presentation2So, the question becomes, “How do I get into that room with God?”  I want my times with God to have purpose.  I want to know His story, His desires, His people, His plans.  I want to better understand the Bible as a whole rather than looking at the snapshots of a single book at a time.  I want to see how He works His way through the entire Bible and to see the flow of His desire to know us, redeem, us and sanctify us!  I need the whole thing, not just a book at a time.

I have read the Bible through several times in yearly reading plans that start at the beginning and run to the end (Ah! familiar!)  It feels like a race, and I never got to enjoy the journey, and some of those books were just plain torture to get through!  I know it is all important, and the Word is timeless, but I did not look forward to it for any purpose other than to say I read it.  Not a good reason to read.  The purpose of reading the Bible should be to get to know God better, not to put a check in the box for the day.

Presentation1So I started reading a single book at a time and going through them by smaller segments, and that has been very good for me, especially when going through the letter of Paul in the New Testament, or reading through the Judges in the Old.  It allowed me to chew smaller bites and savor them a little more.  There are those books in the Bible that bring so much action or intense teaching that you cannot pull yourself away from it!  What about the others?

A few years ago, I requested a gift for Christmas or my birthday.  I got a Chronological Study Bible.  I thought it would be interesting to look through it from time to time and see how things tied together if I was doing a lesson on a particular story in the Bible for a class.  I have used it off and on again over the years, but it has largely rested on the shelf next to my desk collecting dust.

This morning I pulled it out.  You see, I want to know what God has for me to see in the books and chapters that we don’t always hear in church.  I want to know the Truth He has in the lists, descriptions, and lineages that I generally skip over.  I want to better understand His instruction to the people and His warnings in the books of the prophets.  I feel a desire to break into something new that will help me see His Word in a different way.

Chronological-Study-BibleSo, this morning I started reading chronologically.  It starts, of course, at the beginning with the familiar account of Creation, but that is fine.  There we see the order of God, where one day leads to another.  As I get deeper into this I will start to see where the editors have taken the Bible apart and then put it back together so the parts we tend to skip are mingled in and I can better understand their importance as the unfold in “real time”.  I look forward to a better appreciation for these parts I have hurried through in the past.

So, I am looking at this as a journey.  It’s going to take longer than a year to do it, but that is fine.  I have the rest of my life to get to know God better and to be changed by Him.  This is part of a Relentless Life. Driving and pushing to know God better and not accepting apathy in reading His Word.  It is alive, and I want to break it open and get everything out of it that I can.

This is my journey to know God better.  What is yours?  Are you spending time with Him regularly?  There are many different ways to read the Bible, as I have mentioned a few here.  I don’t think there is a wrong one.  The most important thing is to get into it and experience His Word!  Don’t worry about where you are, or the things that you have going on.  Just get to know Him!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Colossians 2:6-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Overboard Life – Joe Castaneda

The Musing of a Life – Bev Everett Landgrenen

The Real Life – Terry Porter

Danny Ray – Danny Ray

Be Extraordinary – Traci Castaneda

Making Life Beautiful – Becca Forrest

Relentless Growth – Tom Tanner

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

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

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

Are You Ready?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter gives us a charge as believers:

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

– 1 Peter 3:15 (emphasis mine)

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

1. Remember who you are talking about

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

2. Be ready to speak

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

3. Be gentle in your speech

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

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

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

So, ask yourself.  “Are you ready?”

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

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong