#ENCOURAGE

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

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

#Encourage them.  #BeEncouraged yourself!

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

2017 – New Year -> New Focus

902016 has been a wild year, and like many people, I am ready to see it go!  I have said in the past that by year’s end, the year just starts to feel like a shirt that needs to be changed. But this year…  Well, this year the shirt is soaked in kerosene and is on fire… and full of angry yellow jackets… It just needs to go away.

I know we are supposed to have the patience and intelligence to look at the moments of life and see the beauty in them, savor the time, and drink deeply of the experience, but there are times that we just want to grab the spiritual equivalent of a pop-tart and a capri-sun and just run somewhere we can hide.  This year has been one of those times.

We all have weathered a number of tragedies this year including deaths of friends, changes in finances, family changes, celebrity deaths, and probably the biggest trial of the year… an election.  Yeah, that one is not completely going away in 2017 either. Sorry. Keep praying!

Through all of it, I have been really trying to keep that word that I chose last year to be my compass as I dealt with all of it – FOCUS.  It has not always been easy, but it did the trick to pull me back a few times when I started to drift a bit and let the moment’s emotional charge take control of my thoughts and actions.  It was not easy, and now that the end of the year has come, I look back at it and say that it was a good word.  A timely word.

So, now it’s time for the word for 2017.  I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the past few days as to what that word might be, and as the feelings of the past year have been going through my mind as well, there is one word that has come to mind:

Resilient: capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change; able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed; able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

There have been many times over the past 12 months that I have been left feeling battered, bruised, and beaten.  The stresses and the demands of life, relationships, work, learning, and enduring have been tough!  Sometimes I think I barely escaped with my sanity intact! (Some may argue that there was no way I would be able to hang on to that one!)

I had times when my temper got the better of me. Times when I shut down and didn’t want to engage because I just felt too drained. There were times when I know that my energy level was sapped not by physical activity, but by mental and emotional exhaustion.  None of this is healthy, and it has taken me much of the year to figure out where some of it has come from.  A lack of Resilience.

resilienceSo, how do I get built up to be more Resilient?  How do I make sure that at the end of the day I have more of me left than I have day?  How do I make sure that I am able to provide what is needed to those I love or lead?  How do I come back from the hurts and the pains that will inevitably hit me as the year goes by?

  1. Start with the source of Resilience. – I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13  Just ask Him for the power to do things.  He has more than enough!
  2. Stay humble – Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. – James 4:10 When you start thinking you can go it alone, you will quickly come face to face with how short your road will be.
  3. Keep the focus on Christ and His kingdom – Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. – Hebrews 12:2-3  As we look at Christ and His life, we see His ability to face challenges because His eye was on doing His Father’s work.  He was working for the kingdom!
  4. No matter what happens, remember God is on your side – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9  When God is on your side you will win the war! Just keep fighting!
  5. Pray for Resilience – Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 Prayer is our best weapon when we are attacked and in pain. Crying out to God, sharing our struggle with Him and asking for His sustaining grace is key in bouncing back from a trial.
  6. Be content – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. – Philippians 4:12  There are things that we need and things that we want.  Look at how God always comes through with your needs and ask Him to help you find His heart with your wants.
  7. Keep moving forward – We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9  If we stop moving, we start dying.  Have a Relentless attitude that will not settle for giving up.
  8. Give thanks in all situations – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  No matter how bad things may seem, there is someone out there in a worse situation than you are.  Thank God for the blessings you have here on earth, and for His promises beyond this life!
  9. Give God the glory – Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. – Habakuk 3:17-18  We do have a part in the outcomes in our lives, but we get where we are going through God’s strength and grace.  We owe Him the glory!
  10. Remember that this is not the end – I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!  Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:13  This verse has been my anchor since April 2010.  God has shown repeatedly that I am on a journey, and I am so thankful I am with Him as I travel!

Trials?  Yep. They’re gonna keep coming.  Troubles? They will be there, and sometimes they will bring their friends Worry, Doubt, and Fear to the party.  It’s gonna happen, but it’s not the end.  We will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.  God will not let us down, and He will provide the strength we need to bounce back when we are drawing on Him.

I want this to be another Relentless year of growth.  I want to take the lessons I learned about being focused (even when I failed in them) and combine it with a Relentless intensity that takes the power God has promised to me in order to have that little extra something at the end of the day to make me a better husband, father, and friend.  While it would be nice to somehow avoid the hard times, I don’t want them to keep me captive and in a funk.

At the end of the day I want to stand up and say that I am blessed by God to stand in His strength because I never trusted my own.  I want that for you too!

So, how about it?  What does the next year look like for you?  what is your word?  What is your focus for growth?  Where do you see yourself as we approach 2018?  There is a lot of time between now and then to get moving in the right direction!  So, go get after it!

Would love to hear your thoughts and comments, and as always, I appreciate the shares and follows.  Thanks for reading!

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On Time – Not Early

I have been asked again  to share some of my writing with my church family in the form of a devotional for our church’s fall campaign.  I thought I would go ahead and share them with anyone else who might be interested in reading them as well.  So, here it is!  I will share the others every other day  until I get through them all.  Hoping by then I have had an opportunity to do some more writing on some of my current thoughts!

On Time – Not Early

timing-is-everythingPhilippians 4:12-13 – I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Back in 2010, my job came to an abrupt end on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in April.  I had gone to work that day feeling like I was on top of the world after a very trying time showing my employer that I was the guy they needed in my position.  I had fought hard to meet every demand and had even surpassed their expectations.  I was feeling pretty good, and then I got a phone call telling me that they wanted to meet with me later in the day.

I went home that day in a cab with a little cardboard box on my lap that contained the remnants of 11 years of hard work and a pile of paperwork explaining my severance package.  When I got home to face my wife and kids, all I could say was, “I don’t have to get up in the morning!”

Over the next couple of months, we watched as our savings went away and the job offers did not come in.  Unemployment was taking forever, but the bills showed up right on time.  We managed to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid, and through the generosity of family, friends, and church family, we even had food in the fridge.  It was not looking good, but we always managed to find just enough when we really needed it.

Then the day came when I was leaving to go do some handyman work for some family members that had been paying me $100 a day.  The plan was that I would go and work for two days, but I would spend the night away since gas money was tight.  As I was leaving, my wife looked at me with fear in her eyes and told me that we needed $300 by Monday to make the mortgage payment.  What were we going to do?  I knew that I was going to make $200, but where would the extra come from?

I remember looking her in the eye and saying that I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but God was going to provide it.  I think back to that moment and remember that for some reason I really believed it.  I couldn’t explain it!  After all, it was Friday morning and I was leaving for two days.  What was I thinking?

On my drive downstate I had an hour with myself and I used it talking to God.  I prayed Psalm 27:13 to Him and talked to Him about the fact that my family needed to see His goodness by Monday.  I shed tears, and I praised Him for what He was going to do.  I didn’t know how, but I knew He would take care of it.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 27:13

I spent the next two days under the floor of a cottage crawling around in a damp crawlspace, and finally it was time to go home.  I collected my check, folding it in half and putting it in my pocket without looking at it, hugged goodbye and got in the car to head north.  I was still wondering what the next day might give me in work so I could make that mortgage payment.

wp-1474253527844.pngI got a call from my wife when I was about halfway home.  She asked me if I got paid and I said of course I did as I reached into my pocket to fish out the check.  When I opened it I saw that it had been written for $300 instead of the usual $200.  God had come through with a whole day to spare!

Since that day I’ve seen God do a lot of things “just in the nick of time.”  I have seen how He has changed my level of contentment.  I have seen Him bring me from pride in myself to a dependence on Him.  Our mortgage payment was not made because I went out and really worked hard.  God honored that, but I believe with all of my heart that my mortgage was kept current because I had faith and He held the solution.

  • Where do you need to have a moment of humility so God can work His miracles?
  • Are you willing to truly trust God with the big things and the little things?
  • Do you see worry as a sin that hinders God from working in your life?

Father, sometimes we need to know despair before we can truly know what it feels like to feel dependence on You.  Let my pride be brought low so that I may be in the position of humility before You.  Open my heart and eyes to see You at work in my life, and let my faith grow RELENTLESSLY as I praise You for the mighty things You do!

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Where Did the Joy Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love how Tim put it in his devotional:

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

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

Tim used this verse from Psalms to encourage me today:

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

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

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

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

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

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Get Me Outta Here!

I’m going to share something with you today.  I’m a little embarrassed by it, but I feel the need to share it with you.  I’m going to share something that has caused some of my deepest anxiety to come to the surface.  Every time I have to face this, I feel my heart race, I get a cold sweat, my hands go clammy, breathing gets more rapid, and my vision actually “tunnels” a little bit.  *deep breath* Here goes, please don’t judge me too harshly:

I am absolutely terrified of using Fitting RoomsCabines-d'essayage-Copenhague

There. I said it.  Not feeling very many reassuring words out there just yet. Maybe they will come as I continue.

I’m not sure where it all began.  My earliest memories of fitting rooms had me inside with an armload of jeans while my Mom stood outside telling me to come out and show her how they fit.  I’d rush to get changed and then step outside for the required tug, smooth, “Show me your butt”, and “How do they feel?” before going back in to try on another pair so I could go out and do the dance again. (Disclaimer – Mom cared and wanted to be sure I didn’t grab the wrong pair.  She wasn’t out to embarrass me. – OK.  Back to my story)

I remember thinking it would be better when I started shopping on my own and I didn’t have to go in and out so many times in order to come to an informed purchasing decision.  With age would come the freedom to understand whether or not I needed a “scoche” more room for freedom of movement and comfort.  What I didn’t expect was that the anxiety would not lessen.

Going into the changing room continued to be a problem.  The moment the door closed behind me it would all start.  The sweat, breathing, rapid heart rate would all come rushing back again.  Was it the sense of confinement? The fact that I am taking off my shoes AND pants in a place where strangers are walking past my door or curtain?  How would I defend myself?  Could I run if I had to?  Was it standing in a place where I could not help but question the hygiene of the person that had been in there before me?

Eventually I decided that I would just grab what I wanted off the rack and just buy it.  When I got home I could try it on and then just return it if it didn’t fit.  Not convenient, but it was a solution.  Not a good one as I did return a pair of jeans four times one time after trying to figure out just what size felt best and had the right “scoche” factor. I knew I had to try to get back into the room again.

So, the new practice of psyching myself up of the fitting room began.  I took a little time and started thinking more about what I was there to purchase.  No longer would I purchase shirts and pants at the same time.  I got no time for that.  Too much exposure and tucking is required.  Also, when going in I will rarely have more than two or three items.  We’ve only got a few minutes before I am curled up on the floor next to a pile of pins and a suspicious Kleenex.  Get in. Get done. Get out.  That became my mantra.

Honestly, I think most of it is the fact that I am a big guy.  I’ve been the size of an average adult male (or larger) since about the 6th grade.  When I get into those small rooms, I just start feeling closed in.  It’s not a true claustrophobia because I have no problem crawling under my house where I actually need to exhale to slide under the floor joists!  I just need more space. (Another true confession – If it is available, I will always use the handicapped fitting room.  Apparently the ability to turn a wheelchair around will also help lower my anxiety.)

arms-wide-open-1457804Coming out of the fitting room is the only thing on my mind from the moment I enter it, and when I swing that door open I almost feel like breaking out into song or screaming “Freedom!” all Braveheart-style.  The world gets a little bit brighter, the air feels fresher (there might be some truth to that), and life feels like it is worth living again!

When it comes down to it, I know the problem is not the fitting room.  It is a stressor.  Stress is the enemy.  It comes in different shapes and sizes for different people, and it changes with your circumstances and life events.  I’m on vacation right now and have been since last Thursday.  Stress right now is low, and I am loving it!  That was not the case a week ago.

Last Monday I woke up to get ready for work and I was literally sick with stress.  I’d had a headache behind my right eye for about three weeks, and my stomach was a rollercoaster.  The thought of getting up and going to work had me in a near panic.  The stress was all work-related, but it was not “bad” stress.  Just the stress of a large project nearing completion that requires a number of last minute details to be taken care of immediately – if not sooner!  My boss and the people I work with are all feeling it.  The end is in sight, but we aren’t there yet.  We’ll all have a big hug then!

Lying there in the dark I decided to do something I had failed to do for the previous three weeks.  I prayed about it.  Not just a quick, “Please help me, God”, but a sincere prayer asking Him to show me what I needed to understand in the situation that might make it more manageable.  I asked Him to give me wisdom, peace, and a clarity in the midst of the mess and change me where He needed to so I could get through it.

I got up and went to work feeling lousy, and I knew that the day held a lot of hours for me that included coming back in to work that night.   Shortly after arriving, my head started pounding, and as the morning progressed it just got worse.  Something happened around 1pm though.

I remember sitting there thinking that I had not felt this kind of stress since I worked for Kellogg’s.  The last three months there were terrible.  I was working 12-16 hour days and was in a constant battle to keep up standards and increase sales.  Then it hit me.  During those three months with Kellogg’s I was fighting for my job.  All of the long hours, distractions, demands, and hard work were in order for me to keep that job.  It was a job I hated, working for people that didn’t really want me around.  I was in a completely different situation then.

Now I work for an organization that appreciates the things that I do and actually helps me become better at my job.  Pretty big swing between those circumstances.  It has been very busy.  Nobody working there will question that right now, but the busy-ness of the situation was not the problem.  Busy was not the cause of stress.  The cause of the stress was the fear of losing my job – again.  Pairing busy, stressful work with a fear from the past made it all the more stressful.

As I sat there, I believe God chose that moment to remind me that I was going to be okay.  I was not in jeopard of losing my job.  I was just busy.  Things will be alright.  Just lean on Him and it will be okay.  The moment I had that thought, my head stopped hurting.  A week later, my stomach is returning to normal.  I’m on vacation, and that is helping too, but without that thought of security, I can assure you that this vacation would not be as good as it is!

A couple days ago I read this verse in Psalm 18:

“He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” – Psalm 18:19

Just like I feel that relief when I am finally able to escape the fitting room, God brings me out of those stresses and shows me that the world is wider than I have made it.  He shows me that by confining my view to my problem, I can’t see the breadth of Him!  When I shift my view to Him I see the possibilities, the freedom, and His grace for living.  He rescues me from myself and He does it for one, simple reason.  He delights in me.  He loves to see me live.  I don’t mean just regular living, but Relentlessly Living.

Living Relentlessly in the face of stress is maintaining a fierce dependency on God.  Recognizing that my issues are mine and that God is not hindered by them.  In reality, my issues and my frailties are where He is longing to come to me.  He expectantly waits for me to realize my need and reach out to Him.  That is where the peace of God is found.  Seeing only Him in the middle of the chaos.

I hope this serves as a help to you if you are facing a stressful time right now.  If you aren’t, then buckle up!  It’s coming!  File this one away for when you need it.  If it has been help, or if you would like to share a similar experience – even if it is about fitting room fears – feel free to share it with me through the comments or e-mail below.  If you know someone this might help, please share it with them as well.

Be Relentless in your life – even in the fitting room!

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Fly Like An Eagle

1511951_10207282273833590_389422727167795125_o-2It’s been almost a month since I last sat down to write a post.  Not sure how many people have missed me, but I am back!  I want to start his one off by introducing a guest writer – my wonderful and amazing wife, Tammi!

This past week, Tammi had the opportunity to go and see a rehabilitated bald eagle be released back into the wild.  Here were her thoughts as posted on her Facebook page.  They were so good, I just had to share them with you:

“Today Jessica and I had the opportunity to watch an adult bald eagle, that had been injured by being caught in a coyote trap, released back into the wild. It was one of the neatest things to watch, and as he soared freely high above us (he took right off happy to be free), my eyes teared up.

They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with with wings like eagles…” Isaiah 40:31

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It was a real life example of this verse. He needed three weeks of rehab to heal his foot, but after being strengthened by rest and food provided for him, he soared as God intended him to do. Just as God intends for us to soar, sometimes we need to wait and rest in Him. Let Him take care of you for a little while. Then, you will soar.”

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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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Where Are You Weary?

10-tenselonelyMen weary as much of not doing the things they want to do as of doing the things they do not want to do.

– Eric Hoffer

I read this quote about a month ago, and it has been flitting around in my mind ever since. (There is a lot of room in there, so it has pretty much had the run of the place.) Once you read it about four times (I had to do it slowly and out loud) and really think about what it is saying, I think you may spend some time mulling it over as well.  It is a powerful statement, and very accurate. But what does it mean in my life?

Weary is a word that I have had as an unfortunate companion in life the last 10 years or so. It was with me through a change in churches, a change in jobs, a change in finances, a change in friendships, and changes in my service in the church and to God. I have written before about how weariness has been persistently dogging me. This little quote has made me think about why that is.

As I look back over the last few years, I see a lot of weary times that I have endured. My wife has gone through them with me. Times when we are busy doing so many things, and we find too often that they are not things we even really wanted to do. That’s hard to face.  Especially when you had all the best intentions going into it. Sometimes you just need to finish the row before you can walk away, but it is foolish to start another one!

Another way to look at getting weary of doing the things that you don’t want to do is that sometimes we get involved in doing something without thinking about the cost of it. We go in without checking the water, thinking everything will be just fine. Then we end up treading water before we realize it, and we start feeling the damaging effects of sin in our lives, but we are now so deep we must fight our way out. It leaves us tired.

Doing things we don’t want to do will make us feel weary. That just makes sense! Energy put into an unwanted endeavor seems to take a double toll. The waste of time, resources, energy, or other opportunities is enough to make us want to avoid things we don’t want to do altogether. Makes sense, right?

The problem with that is that sometimes the thing we don’t want to do is the good and right thing to do. It may be the very thing God wants us to do, but we don’t like it so we don’t request His help in it, we don’t experience the joy of working on it with God, and we end up wasted, worn, and weary. By taking our focus off God and putting it on our feelings, we miss the joy of working with Him, and the energy of the Spirit working in us!  The Bible says:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

– Galatians 6:9

How many reapings have I missed because I gave up before the work was done? Sad to think about. God has things to give me, but I turned away because I thought they were too hard. I’m letting that sink in. How about you?

So what about becoming weary from not doing what we want to do? Is that really a thing? Yep. It sure is. Whether it is a desire to go back to school, teaching, learning to write, how to play an instrument, or starting a new career, we can grow weary of living a life of, “I wonder what would happen…” I know I have struggled with that.

Sometimes I think that is why I lost my old job. God just decided that I needed to get into another career where I could use some of the other gifts he had given me that were sitting stagnant. It was time to stretch, but I was afraid. It was time to grow, but I was “comfortable”. It would be too much to try something new.  The thing is, I was miserable!

I ran into my old boss yesterday, and as glad as I was to see him, I was reminded of how miserable I was in that job! The time away from home, the long hours behind the wheel, the lack of interaction with people. It was terrible! Why on earth would I hang on to that? I remember how tired I was of the job. I hated going to work in the morning, but I was unwilling to take a chance to do something else. I am so thankful God had a better idea.

Weariness is something we all face from time to time, but we need to evaluate why we feel that feeling. If it is a physical reason, then address it! Get more sleep, eat better, exercise! (All things I need to do!) You should see a change as better stuff coming in makes you feel better and gives you more energy.

If you’re not seeing a physical problem, then it is time to look within. I know for myself the main thing that affects my attitude is what I am concentrating on. When I am putting a focus on daily spending time with God, He changes the way I think. He changes the attitude I have. He changes my perspective in my situation. He changes my energy level. He changes me from a weary man to a man that sees a purpose.

There are a lot of books out there that are telling you to focus the power of the mind. Are they correct? I’d say in part that they are. The mind is a very powerful thing, but a mind focused on Christ and His redeeming power at work in your life? That is something that leads to you a Relentless Life. So, how about it? Are you weary? Are you looking for a solution? Are you willing to do what it takes? Get in the Word! The answers are there.

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Just Call Me “Stretch”

stretchStretching is a good thing. It allows muscles and joints to work better. It can alleviate pain, and improve mobility. It is a necessary thing for growth in other aspects of our lives. Think about your education, your relationships, and your work. Stretching is a good thing!

Unless you take it too far. Stretching can also tear things. Stretching without proper understanding of limitations and abilities can cause harm. Think about a time when you went out and stretched yourself and got hurt in a relationship, a work experience. Stretching without understanding can be a very bad thing.

Recently God has been stretching me in some new ways. Work has been a very stretchy experience, and at times I think it is not all good, but I can say that I am learning how to better adapt to that stress, and I have gotten better at saying an unpopular word, “No!” I can’t, nor should I, say it all the time, but I am getting a little bit better at it.

God has been stretching my leadership as well. Not only at work, but at home, church, and with my group of guys. It has been great to see so much change lately in those areas, and it seems like it is all happening at once, but I know that it is just the results of little change that has been happening for a while.

I think the area that God has been stretching the most lately has been in my willingness. Yes. I stopped at willingness. Not a willingness to do something in particular, but just in my ability to be willing. Ask my wife. She’ll tell you that I have been a very unwilling person in some pretty significant areas in my life. Just in the last year or so, I have been willing to let go of some things in order to have an open hand that can receive or grab on to something new.

Why is that? Well, I think a lot of it is a control issue that I am known for. I like to be in control and that is just pretty much all that needs to be said about it. If I am in control then I get to be the one that decides how, when, and where something should be done. The downside of that is that I don’t have anyone to blame if something goes south, but I still get to control the timetable so I can say I will get back to that.

But I have had a lot of things happen in the last 4-5 years that have been completely out of my control. (Or at least my illusion of control, but that is a whole ‘nuther topic!) Over this last half decade I have been at times thrust into a stretch that I had not intended. Ever did the splits on ice? That hurts! Those stretches have been difficult, but I am starting to understand that there was a value in them.

Jeremiah 29:11 says:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Those painful stretches I have had are actually a part of God’s plan for my life. They have made me over (in some capacity) to be a person that can handle a little more than the guy I used to be. I’m not Superman or anything, and you will not see me doing a Jean Claude VanDamme split in any sense of the image, but I am now a more willing man.

Why do I bring this up? What would be the purpose of telling you about stretching? Well, it looks like God might be asking me to stretch again. I’m not sure, and I am praying hard about it, but God has put something in my path that I need to think about, pray about, and do some digging into in order to see if it is something I need to just step around, or if He put it there for me to go over.

Going around is always easy, and it doesn’t require much of a stretch. Going over can be problematic as it is difficult, requires stretching and trust, and to top it off, I am afraid of heights! I tell my kids that the hard choice is usually the right choice, and that is true, but sometimes the right choice, teh wise choice,  is backing away and stepping around something that could hurt you.

I don’t know what choice will take place. There is a lot I need to know. It will take some investigating to see what God might have to say about it. One thing I do know is that I want to be that willing man that is Relentless is his pursuit of God, and is Relentless about being where God wants him to be. You see, going over or around is not the most important thing. Stretching me is a good thing if I am smack dab in the middle of the plan God has for me. Taking the hard route over or the easy route around makes no difference if I am not in God’s will.

So, pray for me and my wife as we are praying. We want to be, as our friends Joe and Traci say, “Extraordinary” people. (I call it Relentless, but the thoughts are pretty much the same) God is good, and I know He wants what is best for me as I grow in Him.

He wants the same for you too. If you would like to know more about how to know Him and begin your own journey of Relentless living, I would love to talk to you.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

 

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

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