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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Messages & Messengers

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

– 1 Thessalonians 2:13

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I’m acting as a County Conference Assistant this week at the 4-H Exploration Days at MSU. (Inward cringe at being held in Spartan world for three days). There are a lot of great programs here for the kids, and I am actually happy to be able to help our county office by being here to cover the guys.

I’m working with a group of young guys I barely know. It is interesting to see their different personalities, their maturity levels, and communication skills. One big thing I have noticed is that there is one that struggles with rules.

When the rules were given before we even arrived, he began questioning them. I admit that I was really struggling with how I would work with him. COULD I work with him?

I decided to try a new tack when we got here. I got all of the guys together and discussed the rules. The first thing I said is that I had no rules for them. That got everybody excited! I then reminded them that the county 4-H club had rules, and they needed to be followed. MSU has rules, and they need to be followed. I have no reason to give them rules. Well, I had one rule, and that was to not be obnoxious with me about the rules!

It’s hard when people assign their displeasure about something to the messenger. The poor guy delivering the message usually takes the heat when they don’t like what they hear. That was what I was getting from this kid before we got here, but once he had a better understanding of the situation, he could believe that I was not here to keep him down, but to give him guidance that would allow him to avoid a penalty that he would not like.

I appreciated it when he got it. I wonder if Paul felt the same way in this verse. I can almost here him saying, “They got it! The message comes from God! They understand that I am just a mouthpiece for Him!” I know it takes the pressure off me when I know that somebody “gets it” because then I am able to engage them differently since I don’t need to be worried about the other stuff.

I really like to blog, but lately I have not felt the joy of it. I’m not sure, but I think I might be giving some stuff too much thought. Not because I want to overanalyze things, but because I want to help people understand that a lot of what I talk about here is stuff I am getting from reading God’s Word. That stress to make sure I am not putting out false truths or giving my opinion as TRUTH has made it hard to keep going sometimes. I’m gonna be working on that. I want the joy of writing again.

Relentless Growth is not a comfortable life. It is a life of action, moving ever forward toward the goal. It is time for a recommitment toward that ideal in my life. I want to be a good example of what it means to follow Christ. I want to be a good husband, father, friend, and employee. If I am going to do that, I need to be more like Christ. Show His compassion, His love, His grace, and display more of His wisdom. Show so much of Him at work in my life that the people who read this blog or talk to me at work have no doubt where the message is coming from or what the motivation is behind them.

How about you? Are you ready to do the same? Let me know. I would love to pray for you as we grow together.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

I’ve Got My Angry Eyes!

Toy Mr_ Potato Head Deluxe 8“And don’t sin by letting anger take control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the devil.”

Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT

One of my favorite scenes in Toy Story is when Mr. Potato Head is going out help rescue Woody. As he prepares for the trip, his wife lets him know that she packed his “angry eyes”. I personally thought the spud’s voice was considerably more threatening than his optical grimace, but he didn’t want to leave home without it.

I don’t know if you have looked around lately, but there seem to be an awful lot of angry people out there. I don’t think most of them realize just how angry they are, but it is pretty apparent to people who aren’t angry that there seems to be a growing epidemic of rage here in America. From the political hill to the school yard, from the boardroom to the PTA, people are angry. Why?

  • Injustice – There are things that are going on that are just plain wrong. Murder of infants, rights being taken away, taxes being used for things that we might have strong moral and religious convictions about.
  • Opinion – I have an opinion, and I bet you do too! It doesn’t matter what your opinion is or what mine is, because someone is not going to agree with it. That means they actually might think you are wrong!
  • Pain – We have things that have happened to us that have brought us pain, and that often brings out anger. Sometimes it is against the person that wronged us, and sometimes it is against people who remind us of the person who wronged us.

You see, I am by nature an angry person. I have touched on that in this blog before. I rage against injustice. I fight to defend my position and I seethe when I am wronged. I am a man who has strong emotions, and anger is one of the strongest. It is a very powerful emotion, and that is why we get such strong warnings about it in God’s Word.

Proverbs is full of words of wisdom regarding holding our temper and our tongues when we are angry. We have the verses at the beginning of this post telling us of the need to not let sin control us or to let the sun go down while we are angry. One of the first sins in the Bible was the anger of Cain against his brother, and we know how that turned out! If God tells us to be careful with our anger, don’t you think we should be paying attention?

You might say, “Well, Jesus got angry! He flipped tables and chased people out of the temple for cryin’ out loud!” You’d be right. He also got angry with the Pharisees on more than one occasion. The thing is, He did it without sinning.

When I pull out my angry eyes, I might start with a righteous anger, but before long, I am looking for one thing and one thing only – my right to be heard, vindicated, proven, and ultimately for my position to be elevated above someone else’s, because If I am going to be right then the other person must be…_______________. (I’ll let you fill in the blank like it’s a quiz, but I’ll tell you the answer is “wrong.”)

So, if my goal is to be right at the expense of another person, then I am wrong. If my goal is to be right to make someone agree with me, then I am wrong. If my goal is to right an injustice, that can be a little more tricky, but I can tell you that it often leads to me being wrong. At the end of the day, I keep being wrong when I try to be right.

So, let’s talk about the big one – Injustice. Is it wrong to stand up for a wrong that was done. No, but the attitude that comes with it can be dangerous. Jesus showed anger when people were trying to use a position of religious authority to hurt people. Jesus flipped tables when people were robbing worshippers. He spoke harshly at the Pharisees when they were trying to twist God’s Word to suit their purposes by shaming others. The injustice that outraged Jesus was an injustice against others, not Himself.

When a wrong was done to Christ, He simply asked God to forgive the person. Wow. He was whipped, spit on, had his beard yanked out, and spikes driven through his wrists and ankles, and as the sinless Son of God, His response was to ask God to forgive them.

A completely sinless man. Innocent yet found guilty. The very definition of the word injustice took place on the cross of Christ. It was done for more than our salvation, and that reason was more than enough. It was done as an example for living.

My mentor/friend/”rabbi” often told me when I would be ranting about the injustices I was facing, “You need to give up the right to be right, and focus on your calling to do right.” I am a follower of Christ. I look to Him as my example for living. How can I stand here and rail against the injustices of things to the point of anger when I have a Savior who forgave the most heinous injustice in history?

I can’t. Not if I am going to do right. I want to do right.

Doing right in spite of injustice requires a couple of things:

  1. Prayer – Pray that God will ultimately hand out the justice that is necessary in the situation, and the He will correct it according to His will. Pray that He will give you the wisdom to know when you have pushed too hard and you are crossing the line between righteous indignation and sinful anger. Pray that the people involved will see their error and make it right.
  2. Let it go – It’s more than an annoying song on the radio. “Let it go” should be our response to anger that is lingering. Very clearly Paul tells us not to let anger control us. In simple terms he says not to let the sun go down while you are angry. Let it go.

The reason we need to do these things is because the anger allowed to run free will give Satan a foothold in our hearts. There is no more dangerous thing in the world than a truth with a lie wrapped up inside, and Satan loves to tell the lie to us that it is okay to hang on to anger when it is directed against a bad thing. Holding anger leads to a bitter life that will be lived out alone with a lot of pain.

You need to give up the right to be right, and focus on your calling to do right.”

I’d like to say that I have mastered this. Ask my wife, my kids, my staff at work, and they will all tell you that I have not, and they would be right. But it’s better than it was. I have gained ground in this, and while my first reaction is not going to be to forgive, pray, or let it go, I get to them a lot faster than I used to, and very rarely is an overnight required.

It’s part of growing in Christ, and having that relentless desire to be more like Him so I can give Him more praise for the work He is doing in me. This isn’t me, it is Christ at work in me. He gets the glory for what I do well, and I claim the fault of the things I do wrong.

So, I still have my angry eyes packed, and I take them with me wherever I go. There might be times that they are needed. Sometimes I use them the right way, but I also find I am using them a lot less.

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Can I Quote You On That?

quotationMarksEvery Monday in our weekly Department Head meeting, we have an ice breaker question.  They have ranged from the unimaginative, “What are you doing this weekend?” to more thought provoking questions that will make you think, “What is the favorite gift you ever received from your grandparent.”  It is always interesting to see exactly what someone might come up with.

This week, one of our newer managers was given the task of the icebreaker.  You could feel the tension coming off of her as she explained that she had thought a long time about it and had thought about doing an activity, but was not able to get all of the props together.  She said after a lot of deliberation and asking some of the people in her department what they thought, she settled on this:

“If you had to have your life summed up in a quote, what would you want it to be?”

Wow.  My mind was blown as I sat there and thought about the weight of that question.  Sum up my life in a quote.  All of my desires, dreams, and accomplishments in a sentence that would depict my life.  Something memorable, imaginative, and potentially inspirational in the life of someone who heard it.

The answers began as we went around the room.  It was my turn to impart my words of legacy that I would want people to remember me by. Here we go:

“Sarcasm. just one of the many services I offer.”

Way to go, Tom. Home run… Doofus…

As the day wore on I went back to what I had said and thought about it some more – a lot more!  Obviously that quote is a part of who I am (no remarks from the peanut gallery), but it is not a total representation of me, nor is it what I want to be remembered by.

There are things in my life that I value more now than I used to.  The importance of my family and friends has grown in magnitude to a level I didn’t think possible before.  I mean, I always loved my family, but I am loving them differently now.  It is stronger, healthier, and with more purpose.  Friendships were something that always came and went with me, and I didn’t lose a whole lot of sleep either way, but now, I have some real friendships that I see as mutually beneficial. And I love doing life with these people.

Another thing that has changed is that I am now able to interact with people at a deeper level.  Over the last couple of years I have learned to ask better questions, to listen to understand, and to enter into another person’s emotional state.  It is something I never wanted to do before.  Let’s face it.  We are all people, and we all have emotions.  Emotions are just plain messy!  I avoid messy, but lately, I like that kind of mess!

What happened?  How has this change taken place? (And how will he bring it back around to talking about a quote?)

I believe with all my heart that it has hinged on one thing.  It has been something that I have done off and on for about 30 years, but only in the last two have I become more consistent about it:

READING MY BIBLE

I’ve been to classes, I have taken training courses. I have read books about how to have these changes take place in my life, and up until recently, I have seen no appreciable change in the area of friendship and genuinely caring about people.  The only real change has been my time in God’s Word.  So, what am I supposed to think happened?

Logically, I have to stick with what makes sense.  The time spent in God’s Word is doing it.  It is the only variable that has changed, and the only real change about doing it is that it has become consistent.  Spending time reading my Bible has opened my eyes to what He is doing in my life.  It has given me more of a desire to pray for direction, understanding, wisdom, and for the well-being of others.

I guess when it is all said and done, if I was going to want a quote to define my life, I would want it to be something that reflected the changes that have taken place lately.  I have never felt the closeness of God in my life that I do now.  I have never had the peace in my heart that I have now.  I have bad days, but they are not as often, and not as bad.

So, when I take all of that and put it together, I guess (and now we’re back to the part about the quote) I would like the quote that defines my life to be something along this line:

“Healthy relationships with family and friends are the natural fruit of a life devoted to relentless growth in Christ, and there is no better way to grow deep in Christ than to dig deep in His Word.”

It might never end up on a coffee cup or a T-shirt, but I’d be pretty pleased if that was the legacy I left behind. You can quote me on that!

Relentless Growth. Grow deep. Grow strong.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

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Worthy of Your Calling

walking worthy of your calling_t_nvWhat is a “calling”?  I have heard the word “calling” used as a noun for most of my life, and while I understand the verb form as a way of communication (shouting or using a telephone), I have always struggled with the word.  I mean, I understand the dictionary definition, but I have never really understood it as a part of my life.  It has eluded me in practicality.

I know that a common description of it has been to call it a career.  Something that you do for a living is considered to be your calling.  Well, that may be well and good, but I am now going on 25 years in the workforce in three different full-time jobs, and I still don’t feel that I have a “career”.  I have a job that gives me a paycheck so I can support my family.  I really enjoy what I do most days of the week, but I don’t feel that I have a calling for what I do.  My work ethic is part of who I am, and that is what I bring to my job, but career? Nope.  It’s a great job, but not a calling.

In the last couple of year s I have wrestled with this idea a little more, and I think I am finally getting a better understanding of it, but the roots of a calling for me have little to do with the business world.  It has been through reading my Bible that I am starting to figure this out a little better.  As I continue through Ephesians I hit this verse today, and it is clearer to me now than in the past.

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God

– Ephesians 4:1

The first three chapters of Ephesians have been about telling me who I am in Christ, and now Paul is getting ready to take me on the next part of the journey:

Take your identity and use it in your life!

In a nutshell, that is a calling!  I have an identity in Christ, and the more I read and understand what that means as a child of God, a sinner redeemed, an adopted heir, a person able to call on the power of God, a person able to gain wisdom through God’s teaching in His Word, I realize that I am called to something more than just existing in His presence.  I am called to action!  I am called to share!  I am called not to repay what I have been given, because I never can, but to live a life that says I understand that I am blessed!

I am called to live my life in a way that shows people the power of the Christian life.  It’s not about avoiding troubles or heartaches.  It’s not about getting wealthy.  It’s not about following a bunch of rules I don’t understand.  It’s about a life that is relentlessly growing, thriving, and reproducing!

I’m not sure where this calling is going to take me.  I’m starting to see that all the aspects of my life play a part in this calling, but those parts are not the calling.  I’m a Christian before I am anything else, and that is where I find my calling to influence the various parts of my life and those in my life.

I probably don’t have a complete handle on this thing yet, but the picture is getting clearer by the day, and I have faith that as I stay close to God, study His Word, and interact with His people I will continue to grow in my understanding of it all.

What are you doing in your life that shows people who you are in Christ?

I hope something that I said might have been an encouragement to you, Dear Reader.  That is one of the reasons I do this.  Not because I have all of the answers, but because I want to encourage others to let God have control of your life.  Trust me; He’s better qualified than we are to run things!

In His Grip,

Tom

PS – I have been asked to hit on a topic that I have brushed over in the past in an upcoming blog.  I am in the early stages of it right now, and I would appreciate your prayers as I figure out what God would like me to say.  It will be a look into legalism and what it takes to transition to a life of truth and grace.

It will require me to pull back some curtains and look at some stuff that may be uncomfortable for me and maybe even some of you.  Please pray that God will give me wisdom in what to share, and that it will be something that will help people grow rather than tear people down.

That will be coming sometime by the end of the month.  Thanks again for your prayers.  It is encouraging to me to know that people are praying for me, and that God is using this to encourage others!

TT

I Can See Clearly Now…

1519726_10202968744210619_1815288395_oI have had the opportunity to spend the last two days at home.  It’s not that I have taken a vacation or planned some great restful sabbatical. On the contrary, I have been home with an eye condition.  Three nights ago I took my contacts out a little early because my left eye was hurting.  As the evening went on the pain got more intense. By the time I went to bed it was quite painful, and I thought I had scratched it badly without realizing it.  I wear hard lenses, and it has happened before.

That night, sleep pretty much eluded me.  I tossed and turned for most of the night because of the pain in my eye.  When I got up to get ready for work, the pain was so intense that I could barely open either eye.  I decided that when I got to work I would go down and get checked out in the urgent care. (I foolishly drove myself to work while squinting through one eye.)  They were not able to find out what was wrong, but the swelling in my eye was a real cause for concern, so I made an appointment with our local eye doctor.

The diagnosis was a central corneal ulcer with bacterial infiltration.  That is eye doctor talk for a hole in my eye with a nasty little infection.  This type of infection left untreated will result in a minimum of a loss of vision and the possible loss of the eye itself.  I was not having a good day.  The doc gave me some drops for my eye and set up several follow-up appointments along with a stern warning not to take this lightly.

That was a couple of days ago by the time you read this.  As I write, I am sitting in a darkened room typing on a laptop with the screen brightness turned down so I am able to see what I am doing.  The pain is gone now, but there is still some swelling and redness in my eye that I am dealing with.  It would be nice to be able to open the blinds and enjoy the sunshine, but I can’t handle that just yet.  Tomorrow I will go to work wearing sunglasses…

My prayer is that when I go in to see the doctor tomorrow I will hear that the meds are working, and that by taking the time to let things rest, I will see some more healing.  If things aren’t where the doctor wants them to be, I maybe going in to see a specialist.  I won’t know yet when this is posted, so I guess if you want to know how things turn out then you can ask in the comments below!

This hole in my eye probably did not happen all in a day.  I have had a little bit of discomfort over the last week, but I just told myself that it was nothing more than being tired and a lot of wind and dry weather that was the cause of it.  It was not until the pain became too hard to ignore did I realize there was a bigger problem.   I was not able to see the problem because I was not open to the idea that a problem could exist.  Only when the pain hit did I stop to evaluate things.

Sitting at home has given me a little free time, and I wish I could say that I have done a lot with it, but when you need your eyes to do things and you don’t have them then you are a little limited!  So, I have been thinking about things.  Thinking is a new pursuit of mine, and while I do not engage in it as often as I should, I am finding that it has its benefits!  I really should make it a larger part of my decision making process…

I want to share what I have learned as a result of this down time. I don’t know if it will help anyone else out there, but I want to share it anyway.  If for no other reason, I want to write it down because it makes it more real for me.

Sometimes, if you really want to see something clearly, you have to face the things that you are blind to.

I could have ignored the problem with my eye.  After all, it has hurt before and it always got better.  It wouldn’t have fixed the problem though.  It would have led to a larger problem that would take more drastic measures to correct.

The Christian life needs to be looked at the same way.  We have the big things in the Christian life that we think about, and we feel like if we take care of those then the rest of life will fall into place.  For many years I thought that going to church was one of those things.  As long as I am there and listening, I will grow in Christ.  In reality, if that is the extent of my Christian walk, then I am just waiting for the spiritual equivalent of an eye ulcer!

I need to be attentive to my spiritual health just like I should have been more attentive to my vision!  There are always early indicators that there could be a problem.  In the case of my eye it was irritation, but in my spiritual walk it could be allowing people to annoy me or having a bad attitude or selfish thoughts.  They might be little things that I can dismiss as nothing, but they could also be indicating that there is a wound in a relationship or a deficiency in my time with God that needs to be addressed before things get worse.

David wrote several Psalms where he asked God to search his heart for the evil that may be lurking in it.  I know that there is evil in my heart, and I too ask God to point it out to me, and He does.  The problem is that I am sometimes guilty of turning a blind eye to it.  I need to be willing to look at what He shows me and not dismiss it.

He shows me where there the problems are through things like strained relationships, frustration, anger, envy and more.  He is always faithful to do that.  His desire is not to bring me shame, but to show me my need for Him to make the wrongs right again, and to grow as a result.  I need to be acutely aware of those indicators to live a spiritually healthy life.

I’m not going to catch every spiritual symptom early.  Some of them are going to grow until they bring me pain, and while I understand and accept that, I am determined to limit those times as much as possible.  I want a life of relentless growth, and that means that I can’t just throw in the towel.  I have to take ownership of my spiritual health.

My eye feels much better now than it did.  Rest, medicine, and a lot of prayers from friends and family have facilitated that healing from God.  I’ve learned a few things as a result of this infection that are going to change the way that I take care of my eyes.  It will require a little more time, and a little more discipline, but those actions could prevent this from happening again.

The same thing happens in my walk with God.  If I acknowledge and learn from my experiences, and discipline myself going forward, I will be much more aware when I see those dangerous spiritual symptoms on the rise and can act before an infection can take hold.

How about you?  Struggling with anger or irritation?  Envious of another person?  Struggling with a selfish or a judgmental attitude?  You might have something going on in your heart that requires a visit with the Great Physician.  He’s ready to see you now.  Don’t wait.  Time might not be on your side…

In His Grip,

Tom

 

 

Who Are You? Really?

I’ve been talking in my last couple posts about identity.  It seems like it has been coming up everywhere I look.  When I saw this video today I had to watch it, and I wanted to share it.  I’m not saying I have had all of the same thoughts that they so cleverly portray in the clip, but they do a great job of showing some of the things that many of us struggle with.

I have been getting some great insights about my identity from the book I have been reading,  but I have been getting more out of the reading I have been doing in my Bible.

Reading through Ephesians paragraph by paragraph has been challenging me to look at my identity in Christ in a way I never have before. I find myself asking the question, “Who are you?” many times through the day before I make a choice.  I think that is starting to force me to think about my decisions a little more.

I think the second question hits me even harder though.  After I ask the question, I allow an answer and then I pause…  After a couple of heartbeats I then ask, “Really?”  That is the harder question to answer. (I know you are thinking, “He talks to himself too much.  Probably needs some mental help.” You are probably right.)

I am rightReally?

I am hungryReally?

I am in chargeReally?

I am too tiredReally?

I am giving it all I can – Really?

Asking who I am is not always going to be fun.  It gives me a snapshot of where I am in that moment, and frankly, even on my best days it can be like lipstick on a pig.

What I am is redeemed.  What I am is valued.  What I am is growing. What I am is learning.  What I am is FORGIVEN.  What I am is a child of God.

Stopping and thinking about that gives me the strength to make a good choice. The choice may be something that benefits me in some way, or it might benefit someone else.  The important thing is that I take the time to think about it.

My choice is not always easy, but when I really think about it, there is only one choice I have to make.  Do I want to be relentless in my desire to grow in Christ? There is the filter that everything must pass through.

Who am I?    Really?

How about you?

In HIS Grip,

Tom

There’s A Snake In My Boot!

revo_woody05So we praise God for the wonderful kindness He has poured out on us because we belong to His dearly loved Son.  He is so rich in kindness that He purchased our freedom through the blood of His Son, and our sins are forgiven.  He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

– Ephesians 1:6-8 (NLT)

When Toy Story came out back in 1995, I remember watching it and thinking how incredibly talented these computer gurus were in putting together the world that existed in Andy’s Room when he was asleep or away for the day.  The cast, the script, the artwork, they all blended together to tell a funny, but touching story, and I enjoyed it immensely.

A couple years later we had our first child, and then two years after that, our second.  Life was beginning to change for us in so many ways.  We now had responsibilities that we had never thought about before.  Somehow we were responsible for two humans!  It obviously demanded that we grow up a little – if for no other purpose than to stay ahead of them!

Pixar was also growing.  They continued to crank out movies that were a lot of fun, but they were also really trying to help us identify with their characters by giving them even more depth.  The Toy Story guys went to the well two more times and gave us two more glimpses into the life of Andy, his sister, and the toys.

By the time the third film rolled out in 2010, our kids were getting to the age that a lot of their old stuff had taken the one-way trip to the garage sale or Goodwill.  Then, with a 13 & 11 year old, we started to see a whole new aspect in the films.  Time moves on.  Kids grow up.  We only have so long. I’m starting to tear up, better move on to my point before I lose it.

One thing that you see throughout those movies is that the toys struggle with their identity.  I am going to focus on Woody in particular, because he just kept falling into that same trap.  He would see himself for what he was, not for what Andy saw in Him.

I just started reading Mark Driscoll’s book, Who Do You Think You Are? The main point of the book is to help us as Christians find our identity in Christ.  If we don’t find our identity in Christ, we will try to find it in other areas that will leave us feeling hollow, abandoned, and worthless.

Dricoll uses the book of Ephesians and the teaching of Paul to help us see that as believers, our identity can only be truly found in Him.  We might have many things in life that we identify with, but if we do not focus on our position in Christ, we will struggle with a feeling of emptiness in life.

I say a picture of Woody today, and I could not help but think of this identity issue.  He felt his entire world come crashing down around him when Buzz came to town.  He compared himself to Buzz and he found himself lacking.  Why would anyone want an old toy with a pull string when they could have a toy with a lazer!

I compare myself to people too often.  Sometimes I feel like I win the comparison, but more often I feel like the loser.  The thing is, the moment I start comparing, I lose.  I don’t need to compare, because I just need to remember who I am.  I am a child of God!  I need to see myself as He sees me.

Once Woody realizes that he is loved by Andy, and always will be, his attitude changes.  He becomes confident – at least until the next time.  How could my attitude and outlook change if I really and truly saw in myself the value that God sees in me?

God has sought me out so He can pour His kindness into my life.  He is so rich in kindness that I cannot exhaust the supply that He wants to bestow on me.  His kindness is showered on me and gives me the life that I need to grow.  All of this because I belong to Him.

In the movie, Andy writes his name on Woody’s boot to show ownership.  God’s Word tells us that He has written our names in His hand.  He has told us that He has given us an identity in Him.  We are adopted into His family, and nothing can take us from Him.

All that is true.  The problem is that there is a snake in my boot.  That snake casts doubts into my mind about my worth, my past, my failures, my weaknesses…  Then I am right back in the funk again, running around looking for something that will make me happy rather than just looking to God.

I want this year to be a defining year in growing in my identity with Christ.  Every day, I want to be relentless in that growth. To attack it with all that I have. To do the hard things that keep my mind on Him, and allow me to see myself through His eyes.

Join me!  We can help each other by encouraging each other as we go along.  So, find your moving buddy, and remember that you’ve got a friend in me!

In HIS Grip,

Tom

Blank Slates and Buried Hatchets

etchASketchYou are my king and my God.  You command the victories for your people.  Only by Your power can we push back our enemies; only in Your name can we trample our foes.  I do not trust my bow; I do not count on my sword to save me.

Psalm 44:4-6

2014 is here!  Are we all excited?  I’m not sure why, but I always feel a little bit of excitement when the new year hits.  It could be that “clean slate” feeling of a year that is unmarred by mistakes.  Possibilities are there that are just waiting for me to grab and enjoy.  The date of January 1 just makes me feel like I did as a kid and I gave my Etch-a Sketch a really good shaking – Everything is reset! what can I do with this?

I think reality hits somewhere around the 5th of January.  I am finally getting back into the groove after the holidays, vacations are too far away to start getting excited, and I am locked in my house for the winter.  It gives me a chance to think a little more about the year behind as well as the year ahead.

I started a little early this year in my look back. 2013 was a very busy year.  We had a ton of fun on some trips that we took over the summer.  We saw some pretty radical changes in our jobs.  We watched our kids take some big steps as young adults.  God saw fit to bless us in some big ways too.

We also had to deal with some tough stuff.  We had some friends that moved away. We had some pretty significant vehicle problems.  We had friends that had to deal with the loss of a loved one.  We experienced some rough spots with some friends.  Things are not always “fun” in life, but nobody ever promised it would be.

“Things are not always “fun” in life, but nobody ever promised it would be.”

One of the tough things about life is relationships.  Sometimes they are a lot of fun, but other times… You know what I mean.  We all have people in our lives that can cause us some discomfort, irritation, or annoyance, but it is not very often that we would put someone squarely in the category of “enemy”.  Over the last few years, I have been dealing with a person I would put in that category.  Dealing with this person has shown me a real area of character development that I have needed, and while I would not begin to call it a strength, it is getting stronger.

My enemy seemed to do whatever they could to set me up in order to tear me down.  It seemed like every time I would be around them, I would have to keep my eyes open for that bus that I would inevitably be thrown under.  It made things very hard.  Not only was it hard to deal with that person, but with anyone associated with that person.  Every word that came out of my mouth needed to be tempered, filtered, sanitized, and clarified so that it would HOPEFULLY not come back to cut me at the ankles.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not overcome this bad relationship.  No matter what I did, I could not win over this enemy.  I would plan, act, assess, adapt, and act again.  I would confront and then retreat to lick my wounds.  I would avoid in hopes of not being forced into an argument.  Everything I did blew up in my face.  I finally gave up, accepted that I could do nothing, and did the only thing that was left for me to do.

I prayed.  I prayed a lot.  I’m not talking about lofty King James Version type prayers that are meant for inspiration and comfort.  These were gritty King David prayers where I was almost asking for bones to be broken and the blood of my enemies to run cold at the sound of God’s voice coming to my defense.  Were they selfish prayers?  Maybe a little at first.

“I prayed.  I prayed a lot.”

As time went on the prayers changed as I changed.  The prayers started as a childish whine, begging God to step in and fix this because I didn’t like how it made me feel.  I was being mistreated, and I hated it.  I was angry that I was in the situation with this person, and I saw the entire thing as unfair.  As time went on, I began to see things in a different light. I was not angry anymore.  I was just tired.  I had given my all, and I had come up short.  It was a hard pill to swallow.  I didn’t want justice anymore, I was just praying for God to show me the way out.  I wanted peace, and I wanted Him to take me away.  He had another plan.

As the months went by, I just kept praying that I would do the things that God has asked me to do.  I would not look for trouble.  I would not antagonize, I would turn the other cheek, I would not avoid or give reason to doubt me.  I was honest, kind, and supportive to this person.  It was not because I was trying an angle.  I was just trying to be as Christ like as I could with my enemy.  I figured Christ was perfect, and was crucified, and since I am not perfect, anything less than an actual crucifixion would be okay.

This past year, something finally changed.  My enemy changed.  While they still may not be a close friend, I can honestly say that I no longer see them as someone who is out to bring me harm.  I have enjoyed some great conversations with them that have given me a reassurance that they now see me in a different light as well.  I have a peace with them that did not come through me.

You might argue that I did the right things, and that is why things worked out, but I don’t believe that.  I had used my bow. I had used my sword.  I had used all the strength I had in me, and I came up short.  The only thing I did right was that I stayed under the load and gave the fight to God.  He gave me the victory.

“The only thing I did right was that I stayed under the load and gave the fight to God.”

I’m not saying there aren’t times to fight.  There are.  As I look ahead to this “blank slate” of a year, I already see some looming battles on the horizon.  Most of them will be battles that will be waged privately with my own selfish desires, but there are more coming.  I can’t say I see enemies, but I see opportunities to stand and do the right thing.  I see chances to speak the truth in love where it may not be wanted.  I see struggle, and I have a choice to make.

I have a weakness in me that demands my voice to be heard and my rights to be upheld.  I seek justice for myself and the conviction of those who have brought things against me.  That is not the man I want to be.  That is not Christ.

I want to be relentless in my growth in Christ.  I want to go after the things He has for my life with all the power I have.  But I also need to remember that there are battles that I will be involved in where my role is to endure as God does the work around me even while I am hurting.  It will take discipline, hard work, sweat, and probably some tears. I’m not going to give up though.  I have had the taste of a victory.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

 

I’ve Had My Phil…Moments

phil-robertson-238x300If you have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you might not know who Phil Robertson is.  If you have been off planet for the last 10 days, you might not know what Phil Robertson said.  If you want to hang around for a few minutes, I would like to offer a thought or two on this.

I have had several “Phil” moments.  When I say a “Phil” moment, I don’t want to sound like I am putting him down.  I am talking about those times when I said something about something I believed in, and somebody got upset. Really upset.  Not burn my house down upset, but drag my name through the mud, tell all their friends, shoot me ugly looks kind of upset.

When I look back at those moments, I think about what I was thinking at the time the words left my mouth.  I’m ashamed to say that there have been times when the wrong motive was at work.  I’m very ashamed of some of those moments.  They might not be the majority, but still too many for comfort.

What I see most often when I look at those times is that I was not paying attention to the people that were about to hear the words that were going to fall off my tongue.  What would they do with those words?  Would they take them in and understand them, or were they looking for something to bludgeon me with?

“I was not paying attention to the people that were about to hear the words…”

The motive behind the words is important because that is where our decision is made to disrespect people, to hurt people, to tell people they anger us.  Our motive can be to merely share what we think, to invite a discussion, or to share information that we believe can help them, but our audience will determine what is heard if we are not careful.

I have angered friends and family with words that I thought were simple, straightforward, and necessary.  I have hurt people with words that I had thought would be beneficial to them.  I have pushed people away with words that I had intended to help bridge gaps.

The audience that hears our words is so important to the message we want to convey.  If you want someone to hear you exactly for what you mean, there must be a trust in place that you are going to be speaking in their best interest.  If they don’t trust you enough for that… it probably won’t be pretty.

I believe that Phil spoke from his heart not to condemn, but to share his belief in the Bible.  I believe he did not call out a group of people for the purpose of shaming them or angering them, it was just what came to mind at the time.

We as humans do not like to be reminded of our sins.  I know I don’t!  But I am a sinner.  I have done things that the Bible clearly outlines as sin.  That makes me a sinner.  Have I done them all? Nope. I don’t plan on it either!  The thing is that it only takes one to be a sinner.  That is what I believe to be true based on what I have read in the Bible.

Since I believe the Bible to be true, I do try to live my life a certain way.  There are times that the way I live my life does not “jive” with how another person wants to live their life.  Those are the moments where I need to be careful.  Those are the moments where the people misunderstand, get hurt, get angry.

“There are times that the way I live my life does not “jive” with how another person wants to live their life.”

I don’t want to hurt people with my words.  I want to try and reach people with the things I have to say.  I have been given so much by my God, and I want people to experience those gifts for themselves.  That is why I want to be aware of the people I speak to.  I want people to know that I am not in the business of judging.  I want people to know I care – even if I don’t agree with them.

I guess the one thing that this has brought up in my mind more than anything else is this:

When was the last time that I made a statement of my belief in the Bible and its truth that resulted in me being in hot water?

Been a long time.  Probably too long.  I am not saying that it is time for me to start looking for people that I can expose their sins in order to start a controversy.  That would be wrong, and I don’t think that was what Phil did.  I am just saying that I need to be more aware of the truth that is in me because of the belief I have in God’s Word, and look for the opportunity to share that truth.

That’s what Phil did.  He did not target, he did not chastise.  He spoke his belief in what the Bible has to say.  He did not attack, and he also expressed his desire to show God’s love to people.  The entire message was not heard by most.

Some heard hate.  Some heard a battle cry.  Some heard anger and judgment.  Some heard a call.  I think very few heard his heart.  Not because he didn’t speak it, but because people saw him as a man with an agenda.  I really think he was just a man, sitting down to share his thoughts.  He didn’t expect all that happened afterward.  It’s a shame that it all went the way it did.

Tolerance.  We hear the need for it all of the time.  We need to understand the meaning of it.  It means that I will not look down on your for your beliefs, but that does not mean that I need to change mine.  We might not agree, but we do not need to hate.  We do not need to be angry.  We do not need to tear down.  We just disagree.

Relentless growth requires coming to grips with what you believe and finding the way to defend that belief without attacking a person.  We, as Christians, are not here to judge.  We are sinners as well, and have no right pointing a finger.  Our job is in reflecting the light of Christ into lives, and you cannot do that with a pointed finger or a closed ear.

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear them.  Please comment below.

In HIS Grip,

Tom