#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:

Check Your Mirror

For the last few months I have been posting a daily photo on Instagram and on my Relentless Growth Facebook Page that contains a verse and a thought for the day.  Psalms is a book of praise, a songbook of sorts.  It is full of songs of praise and worship to God, encouragement for us, and insights into how we can praise God in the every day moments.  The lyrics in the book of Psalms are truly lyrics for living our lives in relationship with God as David did.

Posting a daily image with a verse and a thought has been really good for me.  Since so much of Psalms drew from David’s coping with adversity, it has been helpful for me in facing the challenges that come across my desk and life on a  daily basis.  I have been shown that I can praise God Relentlessly while I am still IN the trial.  That encouragement has been the source of power that has gotten me through some very hard days without doing or saying something that I would need to apologize for later!

I have also been encouraged by a number of people who have reached out to me over the past year or so of posting these images.  There have been times that I have not “felt” the desire to take the time to read in the morning, but I know that there are a few people who are checking in on me day to day, and that gives me a feeling of responsibility to keep going. It’s not that I have such wisdom to share, it’s all about sharing God’s life changing power at work in my life and the lives of others.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. – Galatians 6:6 (ESV)

So, since I want to share the good things I am learning in hopes that it will help others, and since people are sharing with me as well, this last day in the book of Psalms makes it necessary for me to pick a new book of the Bible to go through.  After a lot of prayer and thinking, it has been made clear to me that the next book I will go through will be James.

The book of James is both one of my favorite books and one of the most convicting I have ever read.  James does a fantastic job of showing us the Truth of God and the example of  Christ as the standard to which we should compare ourselves.  It’s not about being better than the next guy in order to feel good about yourself. It is all about measuring yourself against Christ in an effort to be a bold, Relentless follower who lives for the Kingdom of God.

I don’t do a lot of mirror “selfies”, so enjoy this one!

To put it simply, the book of James is the biblical equivalent of looking in the mirror every morning to see what needs to be done.  When I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, I see a guy that needs some change! If I were to just walk out the door without making any changes then that would be pretty foolish! I need help!

So, I am going to go to James every morning now to see what I need to fix.  It will be my daily “mirror check” before I put feet on the floor so God can have the first shot at me and turn me in the direction He wants me to go.  My hope is that as I share what He is showing me, it might spark something in someone else too.  Maybe it can be a mirror check for all of us.

If I want to live a Relentless Life, I must be willing to take the time to not only look at what needs to change, but then to take the steps necessary to do it.  If I don’t take those steps, then I am a fool.  I don’t know  about you, but I don’t like to look like a fool.  I want to make the wise decisions that bring God glory as He shapes me into what He wants me to be.

So, starting tomorrow, those of you who are interested can meet me over at the Relentless Growth page for the daily #mirrorcheck.  I hope it will be encouraging to you.  I’m excited to see what God is going to show me about myself and where I need to make adjustments for Him!  Hope to see you there, and I would love to hear what God is doing in your life too!

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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My Dog Clyde. What A Wise Dog.

DSC02920This is my dog Clyde.  I got him on November 15, 1994 from the Kalkaska Animal Shelter.  When I got him he was just a cute little guy with a very big stink.  When I got him home and cleaned him up I was very pleased with the little fuzz ball I had before me.  I distinctly remember the conversation I had with Tammi regarding naming him:

Tammi: What are we going to name him?

Me: (Holding him up and looking in his eyes) His name is Clyde.

Tammi: No. That’s not a good name for such a cute puppy!

Me: (Visions of Clint Eastwood and an orangutan riding around in a pickup flashing in my mind, “Right turn, Clyde.”) Yes.  His name is Clyde.  He will grow into his name and it will fit him well, as he will be my buddy.

Not sure if my wife realizes that I named our first pet after an orangutan, but she will soon!  He did grow into the name, and it really did fit him well.  He was a great dog, and in a lot of ways still reminds me of the orangutan.  Loyal, a great companion, a source of dismay and amusement.  He’s been gone for about 8 years now.  A good dog.  One of the best.  So, why am I writing to you about my old yeller dog?  Well, settle in and we’ll get there.

Let’s talk about hope for minute first.  Why do we hope?  What does hope feel like?  Why do we need it?  Is it really that valuable?  I think it is.  We hope because deep down we know our own limitations. We have an innate knowledge that we are not able to do all things.  We come up against challenges and struggles that bring us pain, hold us down, and we don’t know what to do about them, how we are going to get through them or why we are in them.  That is where hope comes in.

Hope gives us that little bit to do one more day.  It tells us we can handle it one more time.  It is that little push in the back of the mind that says, “I’m going to make it.”  So important when you feel you are at the end of your strength, abilities, understanding.  We recently lost an icon in Robin Williams.  At the end of it all, he had no more hope. I am not discounting the reality of depression as an illness.  It really is, and while medication can be used to combat it, at the end of the day the medication allows people to deal with their depression well enough that they can hang on to that all important thing.  Hope. Hope is a very powerful thing, and we need it for life, but we also need it for beyond.

So, back to Clyde.  He was a good dog that spent most of his time around the house, but like any animal that is allowed to run free (we live in a very rural area), he would wander out from time to time to see what he could see.  Sometimes he would come home with a treasure of some sort: a chunk of a dead deer, a dead bird, and unrecognizable piece of dead something, or just an overwhelming stench from the dead something he had found to roll around in.  It never mattered to him.  He had been out experiencing life, and he was happy.

One day, he came home with something different.  He had found a porcupine, and you guessed it, he had a muzzle full of quills.  Not a happy dog.  It was weird that when I first saw him he looked so ashamed of himself.  He was whining and definitely felt miserable.  He came to me, full of pain and his eyes were pleading for help.porcupine_668_600x450

So, we did the only thing you can do.  We went to the garage and got the pliers and I went to work on him.  I don’t remember how may quills we had to pull, but I do remember that near the end, he was losing his patience with the entire operation.  He never bit or growled at me, but he was whining louder and definitely was showing that he wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

What I remember the most though was his eyes.  He just kept looking at me with those big brown eyes.  I am not a person that looks at animals as human beings.  They are not humans.  I don’t believe they are capable of emotions in the way that humans are.  I say that, but at the same time, I can say that in his eyes there was a mixture of fear and pain that was combined with a love, trust, and resignation to the process.  It was like he knew that with every quill I pulled, as painful as it was; he was getting closer to feeling good again. As I talked to him and stroked his head, he trusted me in the process.

I recently finished a devotional series by Oswald Chambers on hope.  In that study he said something that reminded me of this moment with my old yeller dog.  He said,

“Have you ever had to do something to a pet dog in order to get it well, something that hurt it very much – pulled a thorn out of its foot, or washed a wound, or anything of that sort?  If so, you will remember the expression of dumb eloquence in the eyes of the dog as he looked at you; what you were doing hurt him tremendously and yet there seemed to speak from his eyes such a trust of you as if he would say, ‘I don’t in the least understand what you are doing, what you are doings hurts, but go on with it.’”  That is an apt illustration of “suffering according to the will of God.”

Clyde looked at me with eyes that were in pain and not understanding the why of the situation.  He knew he had done something that seemed right, then not so much, but the thing he had done wrong was gone, why was he still hurting?  All he really knew was who to turn to.

I’ve had trials in the last several years, and there have been times I have felt the same way.  Hurt from my actions, from the actions of others, and sometimes hurt that I couldn’t even understand where it was coming from.  I would try to take care of it myself, but that didn’t work, and eventually I would go to the One who could help me. God.

Sometimes those conversations went well, but other times I could not understand what He wanted me to do.  I would whine and I would thrash, but in the end, I knew that what I needed was in Him.  Staying close to Him was my way out.  Only by staying close to Him would I hear His calming words, be reassured by His people, have the sins in my life revealed and forgiven.  It wasn’t as fast as I wanted, but it always brought the result that I needed… HOPE!

The hope that I have as a result of my relationship with Christ is two-fold.

1.  I have a hope for life.

 “I would have despaired had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13

This is that hope that Clyde demonstrated in me.  This is the hope that we experience from knowing God will be there for us.  We can trust His Word and the promises in it that tell us we will be okay.  This is talking about the struggles we face and how as we stay close to God we will see our perspective of things come closer to His and we can see His hand at work.  Sometimes we see it in hindsight, but He is always faithful to do His work.

2.  I have a hope for eternity.

“For God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

We need a hope that takes us past life too.  If all there is in life is what we see, then we are in dire straights indeed.  God sent His Son to help us reach an eternal destination where we can have our relationship with Him be what it was intended to be.  He sent His Son to die for us so we could have that hope.  Real Hope!  A Hope that is Relentless is the life of the Christian.  A Hope that rages against Satan’s lies that will pull us down and make us ineffective or feeling empty.

Do you have that Hope today?  I want that for you.  God wants that for you.  I don’t know how you can go through life without it.  I know you don’t want to go through eternity without it.

Relentless Living is being willing to do the hard thing when it hurts because you have the hope that God is doing something good through the pain.  That He sees farther than you see, and that His methods will work for your good.  Those promises are in His Word, and they are vital to the life of a believer.

If you want to know how to have that hope, I would love to talk to you about it.  There is nothing better than having that hope.

Thanks for reading.  Please share this on your social media with as many people as you like using the links below.  Comment below if you have questions. I would love to hear from you.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

 

Running Scared

This past weekend, we were at the Michigan 4-H Dog Show at the MSU Pavilion in East Lansing.  If you are not familiar with the Pavilion, it is the agriculture and livestock arena at MSU.  While I am a Wolverine fan, I do enjoy my trips to the Pavilion, and that is probably because I don’t see a whole lot of football stuff there!  Sorry, but I love the Big House!  Anyway, back to the story.

1526980_10202671943578215_1812938245_nJessica’s Aussie, Sydney, is a wonderful dog.  I have never seen a dog before that showed as much intelligence as she does.  When you look into her eyes, you are almost positive that she understands you.  We have taken to spelling things in our house because she knows what words mean and gets all excited when we don’t want her to be excited!  Unfortunately, she has now been showing signs that she understand the spelling as well!  There are times that we all find ourselves talking to her.  I don’t mean talking to her like you would a regular dog, but a real, conversational talking!  When I catch myself in that, there are times that I am almost surprised that she does not answer me.  Who knows?  She is still young…

If there was one thing I would change about this dog, it would be her fear.  Sydney is terrified of thunder.  A rumble in the sky and she is immediately shaking and panting.  She will go and hide in the basement, under a bed, anywhere where she can feel like she has put something between her and the sky.  We try to get her to come to us so we can console her, but nothing works.  She is consumed by her fear.

When we arrived at the Pavilion Saturday, Sydney was fine.  She trotted up to the building as if she was the queen of the world, ready for the show.  That all changed when we got inside.  The Pavilion has huge exhaust fans in the ceiling that rumble.  There are very loud speakers that are constantly going off as people give information overhead.  Often those people would tap the microphone, and those taps were loud booms through the building.  Within 5 minutes, Sydney was reduced to a quivering, panting mess with nowhere to hide.  To make matters worse, she had to go out and perform.

Jessica was discouraged and torn.  Here she was, ready for the show, and full of confidence in her dog’s ability to do well, but she was conflicted seeing her baby so riddled with fear.  I could tell that she wanted to stay and go home with almost equal measure.  We spoke to her and tried to encourage her, but I know that she still felt miserable because her dog was miserable.scooby-running-scared

The competition began, and in the first event, while Sydney did well, all things considered. She did not place in the event, and it is an event that she almost always does flawlessly.  She was just too scared to listen to Jessica.  Too scared to do what she knew how to do.  Too scared to just listen to her master’s encouragement and love.  Too scared to anything.

Watching her, I could only think of myself in some of the situations I have faced.  The fears of life begin to weigh on me.  I feel the rumbling thunder of the coming storm and I begin to worry.  I see the flash of lightning, and I just want to hide.  The darkening skies make me knees go weak. I can’t do this!  I run in circles. I’m inconsolable.  I pant and whine.  I hear nothing but the perceived threats around me.  God, where are YOU?

As our day wore on, Sydney began to calm a bit.  She never really relaxed, but as Jessica worked with her and spoke to her and calmed her, you could see that she eventually began to come around.  By the end of the day, she was still a little shaky, but she was doing a very good job in her events, and overall had her best show ever at MSU.  We were proud of both of them.  What made the difference? Jessica.  She never left Sydney.  Sydney’s surroundings never changed, just her focus.  As the day went on she shifted her focus back to Jessica, and she did well.

When the skies are dark, the thunder is rolling, and I can’t see or hear God – HE IS STILL THERE!  He never leaves me.  He is there to give me instruction, to calm me, to encourage me, to show me His love for me.  He is there to direct me and help me accomplish the task He has for me.  My circumstances may never change, but when I shift my focus to Him, the rest fades.  It is still there, but I am so caught up in Him that the rest of it pales and seems manageable again.  It might not be comfortable, but His love compels me to keep going.

Lately I have been faced with some very hard times, and last week they came in a crushing wave that caught up with me hard.  I was not aware how loud the storm had gotten until it had overwhelmed me.  I felt empty, worn, and torn.  I was getting good counsel, reading my Bible, and spending time in prayer.  I was looking so many places for help that I couldn’t hear His voice.  It finally came to me, and it was quiet when it did.  It came out of left field where I did not expect it.  It grabbed my heart and completely wrapped it up in His love and tenderness for me.  Sometime I will write about how He did that, but this is not the time.

I am thankful for a God that never leaves.  He is committed to His work in my life, and He will not give up on me until it is accomplished no matter if I am paying attention to Him or not!  If God is that Relentless in His pursuit of my heart, why am I not on the edge of my seat and eyes on Him at all times?  Too much of me gets in the way.

I want to be Relentless in all aspects of my life and in my relationship with God.  I learned some things this past week.  Being Relentless means I can’t just sit and chew on that.  Relentless Growth requires me to act, to take steps, to move into that next step of maturity in Him.  I’ll mess up again, but I hope that the next time I do I will recognize it earlier.  I  hope that I will not allow my eyes to drift from Him for too long.  I hope that my ears will stay tuned to His still, small voice that leads, comforts, and encourages my soul.

Sydney was running scared in all directions.  When I am scared, I want to run to my God.  My Protector. My Savior, Father, & King!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

Valor: Sometimes Getting You To Step Up Requires A Push

468758345_640One of the stories from the Bible that I have always loved is the story of Gideon.  It is the ultimate story of God reaching down and taking a guy who appears to be the least likely of leaders and turning him into a warrior with the honor of leading the original 300.  I’ve heard and read the story a hundred times, but like so many times lately when I read God’s Word I am seeing something new.

The Call of Gideon

 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

– Judges 6:11-16

Valor is defined as “boldness or determination in facing great danger, especially in battle.”  Not exactly the words you would think of using when describing a guy who is hiding in a winepress thrashing some wheat where he won’t be seen.  Nevertheless, that is what the angel of the Lord called him.  That just really stood out to me when I read it.  “Man of valor?”  Why would Gideon be described that way? I used to think it was God speaking through the angel with a little sarcastic tone in His voice. (We do tend to make God into our own image…)  As I thought about it more, I began to think more about the people involved here and what they were doing.

Gideon – Hiding from his enemies, but still working.  I don’t know if he was thrashing this grain for himself, his family, or for someone else, but in the middle of this oppression from the Midianites, he was still doing something rather than just sitting around and crying for help.

The Angel – Sent on a mission to deliver a message.  Was the angel of the Lord actually Christ?  Not sure. Doesn’t really matter for the sake of the account.  The angel was there to do as it had been told, speak truth to Gideon.

God – The Creator of all mankind, the Jehovah God of the Israelite nation.  All powerful, and all knowing.

The more I thought about it, I realized that when the angel spoke God’s words to Gideon, he was not speaking of the Gideon that stood before him.  He was speaking of the warrior inside him.  Even in the act of grinding out wheat in a secret place, he was acting with a determination to do something.  I believe God had been looking at the nation of Israel to find the one who would lead His people into battle, and Gideon was just the guy He was looking for.

When the angel spoke, Gideon’s fear and frustration came out.  “With us?  What do you mean God is with us?  Look around!  I’m scraping together a little wheat for bread, and who knows when I will get caught? I’ve heard all the stories of how great God is, but where is He now?  He is the one who put us in this mess with Midian.”  Bold words.  Possibly foolish words, but God saw the heart.  He could see the determination in Gideon, and He wanted to draw that out.

Telling Gideon to go fight Midian on his own was God’s way to help Gideon understand that not only did God know the abilities of Gideon, but He also wanted Gideon to know that He knew Gideon understood his own limitations.  “Fight on your own, Gideon, and you will fall, but I am not sending you out alone.  Go with ME, and the entire army of Midian will fall as if it was a single man.”

Time and again in God’s Word we see Him use the lowly, the weak, the unassuming to do great things.  God does this to bring the glory where it belongs – to Him!  That is what we are created to do, and when we surrender our desires and our fears to allow ourselves to be used by God, He will do great things with us.  It is our opportunity to join Him in His plan, His will, and sometimes, His miracles.  Sometimes He just needs to come along and give us a little push.

I believe God used Gideon because he was doing something.  It wasn’t a big thing, but it was something.  That heart, that attitude is what God is looking for.  He wants to see us determined. He wants to see us being Relentless about something.  If we are moving and wanting to be used, God will use us!

I’ve had some very hard times over the years that have shaken my faith.  At times I have wondered about God much like Gideon did.  I just wanted to find a place to curl up and give up.  It is just too hard.  I quit… I never could completely quit though.  Call it faith, stubbornness, habit, or whatever you want, but I kept trying to at least do something.  I wish I could always say that I had nothing but God’s glory in mind, but it was usually not much more than maintaining the status quo as much as possible.  Just keep on truckin’.

Whenever those moments would come, God would send someone along to say something though.  It would be just the right thing to spark that determination in me again.  The words would be there to give me hope, and in that hope I would dig into God and His Word, see His truth, His power, His promises, and I would be able to do something through Him that I could never accomplish on my own.

Valor is a word we don’t hear much anymore, but maybe we need to resurrect it.  A life of Relentless Growth should be a life of valor. I know it is what I want in my life, and I want it for my son and my brothers in Christ.  I’m not sure what God is going to do with me through the rest of my life, and there will be times that He will need to give me a push to get it rolling, but I hope that God will look on me as a man of valor.  I hope I can influence others to that as well.

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

 

Digging In the Past – Part 3

gold_nuggetIf you are just stumbling across this blog, you might want to take a step back here and here to catch up on the story.  If not, that is fine, you are welcome to come in right where we are.  I’m hesitant to say that this is the final chapter of the story, as it will go on, but it is the final part of the series.  I’m excited to bring it to a close, not because I want to move on to something else, but because I’m eager to share how God has brought me to where I am today.

When I left last time, I had just been given some great words of wisdom from a friend, “God is more interested in having me do thing with Him than for Him.”  This was a new concept for me, as my entire life I had been directed to do things for God.  Now I was confronted with what seems at first blush to be a minor change, but when you analyze it, it turns the world of a Christian upside down.

As I started to back out of some of my ministries, I started to experience some hard feelings from some of the people in my church.  I am not going to say that it was all intended, because I think some of them just didn’t understand what I was coming to grips with.  I realized that most of the things I was doing were not things that I had felt God had called me to do.  I was doing them for one of two reasons.

  • Somebody asked me to do it and said that they had prayed about it and felt I would be good for the job.
  • Nobody else would step up to do it, and somebody needed to.

I had collected ministries like a kid collects baseball cards.  Now I was attempting to get myself into a position to see what God wanted me to do, and it wasn’t very easy.

Eventually I was down to just three ministries, and I felt like I had a good balance in my life for the first time in a long time.  Without going through a lot of things that don’t need to be brought out here, we eventually came to the conclusion that we needed to make a change.  After a lot of prayer, consideration, and investigation, we decided to make a quiet exit from that church and move on to where we are presently.

When we got to our new church we sat down with the pastor and explained why we were there and what we had been experiencing through our Bible study and the change that God had been making in our hearts.  I told the pastor that I was hungry for discipling, and that I wanted to be involved.

One of the first things he did is tell me to stay out of ministry for a year.  I couldn’t believe I was being told to stay out of ministry by a pastor!  He said I needed a time to heal and to rest.  I needed to spend that year drawing closer to God and learning about grace for living.  What?  Grace is what God gave us when He died for our sins!  You mean it is for more than that?

Wow.  It really is.

I started getting plugged in with some people at church, building some acquaintances, but still not getting as connected as I would have liked.  I was feeling like I was missing out on something because I wasn’t “doing” anything for God.  I kept going to church, learning deeper things than I had heard before, but was still not really sure what was going on with my relationship with God.  I felt like I was ready to learn and listen, but He just was still staying at arm’s length with me.

Life changed on April 14th, 2010.  I had been really struggling at work, trying to hang on to a job that I didn’t really want anymore, and the day came.  I went to work in my company car that morning with a confident feeling that things were starting to turn around.  I was performing the way they wanted me to, growth was taking place on my sales route, and all was well.  I came home that night in a cab with a little cardboard box holding my personal belongings, and a few pieces of paper saying thanks for 11 years of your life.

We were about to start understanding grace!

We had no savings and a lot of debt when I lost my job.  So, I went to work looking for work pretty soon.  It wasn’t very long before we started to see that I was pretty much a one-trick pony.  I had spent 20 years working in the grocery business, and it was about the only thing I knew.  The real problem was, I was burnt out.  I couldn’t even begin to think about going back to the world of grocery stores.  What do I do now?

Our church stepped in, and we got to learn about the grace that God shows through His people as they showered us with food.  I have seen food showers before, and usually it is food that nobody wants to eat so they give it away, but these people were showing us real love and giving us wonderful things that we could use and stretch into bigger meals that would last.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to us.

Our parents were so kind and generous as they did things for us, helped us in so many different ways.  We were so humbled to receive their help and see their love and concern.

Tammi’s aunt and uncle gave me work to do, and that work allowed us to make sure that we never missed a house payment, or were even late on one.  We kept our lights on and a roof over our heads because of their generosity.

Time and again, God showed us His love through His people, and we soaked it up.  Eventually I started working again after 4 months of waiting for the job to finally come.  Two weeks after I started the job, I finally got an unemployment check.  Timely help for a guy that needed it.

Through all of that time and beyond, I was in a small group with a few men, and I put myself under the discipleship of a good and godly mentor.  He was so patient with me as I struggled with old beliefs, training, and religion.  He watched me rant and rave as I struggled to have my voice be heard and my rights made known.  He quietly, calmly, and firmly prodded me to dig deep into my Bible and really read it for the first time in my life.

Through that teaching I finally came to the realization that I was not just created to worship God and obey Him.  I was created for a relationship with Him.  I was fashioned by His hand because He wanted to know me and have me know Him!  He put the breath in my lungs so He could watch me grow closer to Him, to see that my life has more meaning than just being able to recite the books of the Bible and stay out of trouble.

Now I am growing, and I’m no longer satisfied with just having salvation.  If the Christian life was just about getting your salvation ticket punched, then we would be taken as soon as we accepted Christ.  Our purpose as believers is to show how God works in our lives and brings us through the struggles of life to let us reflect His goodness and grace in our lives so others can see Him and know Him.

When I started writing these posts, I said that you have to be careful when you go digging in the past because you might find something you have to deal with.  Well, that is true, but there’s a great reason to go digging.  You can dig for the nuggets of truth that God has laid out for you.  Sometimes those nuggets are easy to see, but not always.

I could look back on the past and say that there is no point in worshipping God because of the mess I had to deal with growing up in church.  I could say that a pastor is not a person who can be trusted because he is working his own agenda at the expense of his congregation.  I could say that there is no point in trying if I am just going to fail.  I could say that my efforts don’t count.

All those can be true unless I am looking for the nugget – the treasure.  What is the Truth of God at work in my life?  If I am looking for those, then I see the power of God at work through all of that.

I see that a pastor is there to help me grow closer to God, not to elevate himself.

I see that my efforts are not designed to carry me along, but to show God that I am working with Him rather than just sitting by.

I can say that the mess of church is there so we can see how God loves us as individuals even with all of our problems.

I see that the struggles, trials, doubts, and pain that I went through in regards to my faith over the years have been covering my nugget.  My nugget is God wants to be an active part of my growth.  My nugget is that God stayed with me through it all.  My nugget is that God can use what I went through to help someone else.  My nugget is that through all of those experiences where I didn’t know who God was or who I was, I now can stand in absolute confidence as a child of God.  I am in Christ.  I know who I am because I know who my God is.

If I said anything in these posts that has caused anyone to be angry at me or anyone else, please forgive me.  That was never my intent.  I just wanted to share my journey from a place of rules, restrictions, and doubt to a place of freedom, relationship, and confidence.  God is good, and I am so glad I went through it all so I can see how He has stayed with me. He has given me this desire for relentless growth in Him.

How about you?  Are you struggling with a similar situation?  Do you need someone to talk to?  Did this strike home with you?  I’d love to hear from you.

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

 

My Life as a Tree

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 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 

                       –  John 15:5-8

I grew up in a very legalistic church and attended a very legalistic school.  As a result of that, I received two things:

  • I know all about the “Rules”.
  • I deal with a lot of guilt.

I’m not going to sit here and say that Fundamental Baptist churches are cults or that they are warping the minds of those who attend them.  I am sure there are a lot of them that are doing great things, and that God is being glorified through them, but I am going to say that many are so overwhelmingly governed by legalism that they are harming the children that grow up in them.  The focus on rules and guilt takes the truth of God’s Word and twists it into something that does not bring a desire to know God or to be in close relationship with Him.  Instead, it drives them to perform in order to pacify an angry God that desires nothing but obedience and withholds His love until He gets it.

OK. Enough of that soap box.  That was just said so I can say that this passage used to scare me to death. My belief as a kid, based on what was presented to me as truth, was that this passage meant that if I did not regularly lead someone to Christ, I would be taken from earth.  God would end my life.  I was not leading anyone to Christ.  I didn’t really even know any “unsaved” people since I was in a Christian school and that is where all of my friends were.  Can you see how this would make me a little nervous?

As I got older, I had someone explain something about the care of grapes and vines and all of that, and that did shed some light on the truth of this passage, but I still struggled with portions because I still could not really relate to the word picture that Christ was giving here.  In reading the Bible for myself now and getting a better and deeper understanding of the person and mission of Christ I know that there is nothing about Christ that would defend that abrupt and cold finality that I had been presented.  That would not be the act of a Savior.

I came across this passage in my devotions the other day, and I felt that old guilty feeling hit me again.  As the day went on I continued to mull it over in my mind and a different picture began to show up in my head. I might not understand much about vines and grapes, but I do have a very good understanding of Christmas trees.  So, I’m going to take what I understand about the nature of Christ and the act of tree pruning and use Christmas trees as a word picture.

First off, I know. Christmas trees do not produce fruit as we would consider it.  For the purpose of this example the tree itself is the fruit.  The whole purpose of that plant is to grow it to maturity, and that maturity is where the value is realized.  The purpose to the grower is to sell it for a nice profit as a Christmas tree in a few years, but if cannot be used for that purpose they are forced to wait until the tree is very large – 30 years or more and then sell that tree for pulp and make pretty much the same profit.  It just takes more time.

We have all seen Christmas trees.  The nice ones have a conical shape without a lot of holes.  The branches are strong and spaced so the tree has places to hang ornaments.  A lot of people don’t realize that trees like that don’t just “happen”.  There are varieties of trees that will produce a passable version of it, but usually those trees are very large, old trees, and their sheer size makes it look like it has that perfect shape.  Imagine the tree at Rockefeller Center.  If you look at that tree closely, you will see huge gaps in it.  It is not something you would want to see in a small tree, but its mass covers the flaws.

The growth of a Christmas tree is dictated by the conditions around it.  The slope of the land, the type of soil, the prevailing winds, the rainfall, and insects will all determine the growth rate and the shape of the tree.  If a tree is left to itself, especially a pine tree, the tree will have vast differences in growth from year to year, and there are times when that tree will have parts that will just die off altogether.  The result is a tree that has no value for its intended purpose.

So, the grower must step in.  The grower will put things in place to give the tree a good chance to grow well.  A nice, flat area with sandy soil works quite well.  Space is provided for the trees to grow without crowding each other.  Sometimes a deep furrow is used to prevent grass and weeds from choking the tree out when it is very young.

Then the grower starts looking at the harmful damage of outside forces.  Insects, fungi, and parasites can have damaging effects on the trees, so the grower will provide sprays that will help keep that damage at bay.  Sometimes they work, but sometimes they don’t.  Sprays are often washed away by a rain that will allow the pests to still invade.

The most direct method a grower has to make sure that things grow properly is to prune.  To get right into the tree and physically examine it for its problems and determine a course of action that always requires a pruning.  Not to cut back and harm, but to promote healthy growth.

There are times that trees will take off and grow fast.  I have seen them grow as much as 18 inches in a year.  That sounds great when you are trying to grow a tree quickly, but when it is allowed to do that, the tree will not fill in properly and have that desired shape.  It must be cut back so it can fill in and be complete.  There have been times that I have felt a real desire to take off and do things for God. I feel like I have grown and now I am ready to tackle things that are good for God.  But I lack in other areas that are going to leave gaps in my life.  If allowed to continue, I will not be as effective in my purpose God has for me, so He will put hard things in my life as a way to prune me back so the weaker areas have a chance to develop so I am ready for the next step in life.

Some years a tree will have almost no growth.  When that happens the tree will put on a lot of buds.  If the conditions are good the next year with rain and temperature, that tree will go absolutely insane with growth, but it will be misdirected.  The grower must get in and pick out those small buds that could lead the tree to grow in the wrong direction.  It takes an understanding of the final product.  During the times in my life when I feel like I am not growing spiritually I often feel like there are numerous little things that draw my attention from God.  I’m distracted from the important to the immediate. Those times in my life scream for me to be in the Word.  I need to have the truth of it in my mind, to have the Holy Spirit speak to me about the things that I am allowing to pull my attentions from the example of Christ.  When I find those things I have to remove them.  They will take me the wrong way.

Sometimes the top of a tree will just die.  A bug will get inside the crown of the tree and destroy it.  When this happens a tree will lose its shape entirely unless the grower does something radical.  The top of that tree contains a branch called the “leader”.  If the leader dies, a new one must be selected that is close to the center of the tree and looks stronger than the surrounding “potential” leaders.  When that leader is found, all of the others need to be completely removed.  If they aren’t, they will keep trying to take over the spot as leader and the tree will need to go through the same process for several years until that leader is firmly established.  This also results in a setback to the tree that can take a couple of years to overcome.  It’s a setback, not a death.  Sin is like that in my life.  There are choices I have made that have changed the direction of my life.  Sin that must be removed.  Directions I thought were clear and established are no longer there because of my actions.  But God is good.  He has taken the time to identify the other things in my life that have value and potential.  I might not get where He wanted me without some extra scars or as quickly, but He is faithful to keep working on me to bring me to maturity.

I know that an analogy of a tree does not hold all the way through as a picture of the life of a Christian, but I can see very clearly how those instances have presented themselves in my life.  In all of them, God’s plan was not my destruction, but my growth – a Relentless Growth.  The pruning was not to hurt, but to bring me where I needed to be.  A place where I can grow straight and strong.  I’m at a point now in my life where I have enough of it behind me that I can see some of these patterns emerge.  The beauty of it is that I am recognizing this work more quickly now.  Some of it is a willingness to look at my life honestly, but more of it comes from a willingness to listen to the truth that God speaks through close friends.

So, I’m not sure if this meant anything to you, dear reader, but I know that this is true in my life.  I hope it helps at least to spark a thought into what the pain of trials and struggles might be doing in your life as it is in mine.

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