Last week my family was blessed to spend a week in Florida with everyone's favorite mouse. If you've ever done Disney you know that by the end of the week you can feel pretty wiped out. I rode my fair share of rides but in an effort to keep things balanced I also made sure to do my fair share of walking around aimlessly, people watching and of course my favorite Disney pastime, eating. In the midst of one of my wanderings I came across this sign located at Epcot just outside one its largest attractions. I stopped and read it (yes, I'm the guy that reads all the signs at the museum, park and zoo) and was struck by the power of the words. While the words were written in an effort to speak about the importance of properly stewarding our natural resources here on Earth, they could also be applied to our relationships with one another. Think for a moment about what a healthy God honoring relationship should look like. It's difficult to read in the photo but here's what it says:
Between the Land and Humankind
"Symbiotic relationships mean creative partnerships. The earth is to be seen neither as an ecosystem to be preserved unchanged not as a quarry to be exploited for selfish and short range economic reasons, but as a garden to be cultivated for the development of its own potentialities of the human adventure. The goal of this relationship is not the maintenance of the status quo but the emergence of new phenomena and new values."
Rene Dubos (1901-1982)
Pulltzer Prize Recipient
Powerful words that can and should be applied to our stewarding of this amazing planet God has blessed us with but let's look at this quote through the eyes of those looking to develop healthy relationships. When was the last time that we viewed our friendships as "Creative partnerships"? Even that term, "Creative partnership" communicates intentionality. Creating is something that is designed to accomplish a specific purpose. Do our friendships have a specific purpose? Not in a negative way like you're using someone but do your friendships push you towards your overall purpose? Are you being sharpened? Are you sharpening those you are in relationship with?
Too often we choose to surround ourselves with people that are content to leave us as we are. That sounds like a good friend right, someone who accepts you as you are? What if instead we chose to intentionally surround ourselves with people that wanted to us change, not for the sake of change or their selfish gains but for the glory of God?
What if we intentionally searched for friendships that could be defined as a "cultivating relationship" as one who cultivates a garden? When you cultivate a garden you work it, you weed it, you fertilize it, you break it down and then work towards building it back up. Does that describe your relationships? What if our friends weren't content with our status quo? What if we weren't content with the status of our friends? What if we had relationships where each part was cultivated into the emergence of something new? Not "new" in the sense that the current you or them isn't good enough but let's be honest and admit that we have much to learn from one another and when we intentionally surround ourselves with other God pursuing people we discover that we can be developed and sharpened to a greater God honoring level. My challenge is for each of us to look for and pursue relationships that are truly symbiotic. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
We've arrived at what some believe to be the greatest month of the year: Thanksgiv...I mean November. Thanksgiving is certainly the highlight of November for many. It's certainly a highlight in my family. For my high school sons, it's about the upcoming Thanksgiving break. For my wife and I it's about the opportunity to gather with family and of course our annual Black Friday recon mission. We're not big shoppers but we love watching people so every year we venture to some of the most crowded locations and just watch the chaos unfold.
Regardless of your favorite aspects of the Thanksgiving season, let's pause for a moment and reflect on a few areas where we would do well to remain thankful...since after all, that's kind of the point of Thanksgiving. I'm sure each of us is thankful for family, friends, our job, our kids, our stuff, etc. but let's look a little deeper than what floats to the surface.
Thankful for Trials: This seems like a ridiculous idea but let's not forget where our trials lead us. James says it like this, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." - James 1:2-4. Let's reframe our thinking and start the process of harnessing our trials for God's glory. Be thankful for what comes your way, the good and the bad.
Thankful for Instruction: I'll admit it: I don't like receiving instruction. I like managing myself, I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I'm sure I'm not alone in this thinking because receiving instruction is humbling. It communicates, sometimes verbally and sometimes nonverbally, that we don't always have our acts together...that's tough to hear right? As tough as instruction can sometimes be, it's vital for our development. Paul says it like this to his young protege' Timothy "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right." - 2 Timothy 3:16. Instruction from those above you, around you and even below you is importantly but nothing is more important that receiving instruction from God's Word.
Thankful for Grace: The statement I'm about to make will come as no surprise to you: no one is perfect. I for one am in desperate need of grace. I need grace from my wife, my kids, my friends and certainly from God. Here's the risk we run in our constant need for grace, it becomes so common that we cease to give thanks for it. Grace, if we're not careful becomes commonplace and we forget the miraculous nature of God's grace.
Paul says it like this in his letter to the church at Rome, "We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins." - Romans 3:22-24
Don't forget about the miraculousness of God's grace and forgiveness in your life.
Thankful for Victory: Here's my favorite part. I have victory. You have victory. We have victory, true victory not in ourselves but in what God has done on our behalf. Paul says it like this, "But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ." - 1 Corinthians 15:57. You and I can have victory when we fully grasp what God has done for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Tough times will come but victory is yours.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
What I'm about to tell you is rather embarrassing. I'm not proud of what I did. It wasn't one of my finer moments. In fact, I'm grateful that no one was around to judge me for my poor decision making. Nevertheless, it happened. Before I tell you my dirty little secret allow me to give you some background on how we got to where we are today.
For many years my church was blessed to have someone who took it as there personal responsibility to oversee the finer details of baptisms. From the outside looking in it's a pretty straightforward process. You get in the pool, get dipped under the water and get out. Pretty simple right? But if you took a moment to peer behind the scenes you would have noticed a little old lady that faithfully greased the wheels of our baptisms. Without fail, sweet little Grandma Alice would always ensure that fresh towels were placed next to the baptistry each morning. She would personally greet each one being baptized with a hug prior to them walking out and then patiently wait in the wings to receive a wet hug as they exited the baptistry. At the end of the service she would gather up all of the wet towels and baptistry robes, put them in a garbage bag and lug them to her car to be washed, dried and returned ready for the next baptism. I can recall on countless occasions her words to me as I exited the baptistry, "Just leave everything where it is, I'll take care of it."
A few years ago if my memory serves me, her health began to prevent her from filling this much needed role. Don't get me wrong, things still get done. The towels are by the pool, the robes get dried and put back and the towels are washed but it's just not the same anymore. The role is filled but now it's filled more out of necessity than drive. What's missing is the passion. She was passionate about filling that role. It wasn't just something that needed to be done, it was hers to do. She owned it.
Now back to my embarrassing moment. As I exited the pool this morning and changed back into my dry clothes I stood in the doorway of the changing room hold a pile of wet robes and towels. I was suddenly reminded of the tremendous role that Grandma Alice played in the life of our church. As I contemplated my next move with my wet towels and robe I ran through a series of options: find something to bag them up in, hang the robe so it can dry, ring out the towels. I instead chose the cheap, lazy option. I simply threw them on the floor of the changing room and walked out. As I made my way down the hallway I reasoned that I would deal with my mess tomorrow.
As I've reflected on this series of events today I've been encouraged and reminded of some important lessons. I'm encouraged by the faithful service of Grandma Alice and others like her. I'm thankful for those men and women who have come before me and modeled what it looks like to use their gifts for God's glory. Grandma Alice has impacted those being baptized for many years and for many years to come.
I'm also reminded that each one of us has an ability that God desires we use for His glory. There are no insignificant roles, there are no menial tasks that don't matter. Peter says it like this in his first letter, "God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen." 1 Peter 4:10-11 from Bible Gateway.
Here's my encouragement to you. Find a way to make a Grandma Alice size difference in the lives of those around you. Find a way to use your abilities for God's glory in a way that when you are unable to continue, you are missed. It's late, I'm tired and tomorrow morning, I'll have to go clean up my mess. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
A few weeks back I let you in my struggle with situational anxiety in my post entitled, "One foot in front of the other". Over the last few weeks I've noticed that struggle continuing to rear its ugly head in the weirdest of times and settings. For me it's simply a matter of over thinking things. I over think, get myself worked up and start to freak out over nothing. Although I know what it is, it's still difficult to overcome in the moment. I've prayed through this, talked with my wife and have done my best to work through next steps.
This afternoon, after I finished up a few odd and ends I decided to take a short walk to get some fresh air. As I often do when I'm alone I talk out loud, some to myself, some to God.
As I walked, I spoke freely of my struggle with this occasional anxiety and tried to continue working through the "hows" and "whys". As I made the turn at the corner, I almost unconsciously spoke the words, "I don't want to just cope with this." I paused for a moment to process whether or not I was really comfortable with such a bold statement but before I could complete that thought I heard myself say, "I don't want to just deal with this. I want to conquer this. I want to be fearless. I don't want to live with a spirit of timidity. I want to be bold. I don't want to just get by. I want to tackle this head on."
Before I reached the next corner I had managed to give myself the chills. I felt like a million bucks. I felt like I could conquer the world all by myself. I was ready to defeat anything that dared to step in my path. I'm reminded of Paul's words to young Timothy on Bible Gateway, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." I'm reminded of Joshua 1:9, "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
God's desire is that His children would not live in fear. He desires that we tackle life head on with full confidence that He is with us. I've heard for years that God walks with His children. I've heard that statement applied to those in grief, those who struggle, those who are in need of God's strength and encouragement. I believe that statement to be true. But I also believe that God runs with His children. He runs as we run head long into life. He runs as we tackle life at full steam ahead. He runs as we run into the unknown trusting that He is with us. Today I encourage you to run with God. Run with confidence. Run with boldness. Run with the belief that you cannot be stopped with God on your side. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
My son's high school recently received some tough athletic news. Both the varsity football and boy's soccer teams were discovered to have ineligible players on the team, thus forfeiting both team's records to this point in the season. That's tough news to a group of student athletes who spent all summer prepping, training, getting up early, hitting the gym, putting in extra practices, staying late, eating right. That's a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of discipline. An argument could be made that all of that effort was for naught. What's the point when the win/loss record gets wiped out? What's the point when all of the hard work and effort seems to have landed them back at square one?
As I chatted with my son (the varsity soccer team's starting goalie) I was reminded of an important lesson that I myself too often forget. As crazy as it sounds, "I don't want to work for the recognition of others." That may seem foolish in a world where raises and promotions are granted to those who stand out the most but as I raise my sons I want their driving motivation for success to be a heart that pleases God and an internal drive to better themselves. We fail our children when we teach and model for them that hard work pays off only when titles are won and awards are presented. Coaches and parents who teach discipline, eating right, hard work and dedication are a dime a dozen but coaches and parents who teach those things regardless of the outcome are few and far between. The boys on the football and soccer teams who had their schedules wiped clean are stronger and better off not because of this adversity and unfair situation, they are stronger and better off because of the work and effort they have put in over these last several months.
If you never receive another pay raise or promotion, if you never receive another award, another pat on the back, another plaque or another "attaboy" you're effort will be well worth it in the end. Why? Because you've been true to yourself. You've been true to the work ethic that you know is right. You've given your all to something greater than yourself. What I pray for my life and for yours is that we would give our all. Not just to be noticed, to win or be appreciated but because it's the right thing to do. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Within the world of social media there is a term known as "Ghost follower". According to Wikipedia a ghost follower or a "lurker" is someone who, "is typically a member of an online community who observes, but does not participate." These are the people that scroll your account but never like, double tap or comment. For those passionate about social media lurkers or ghost followers are the worst. They want to know who is seeing their stuff. They long to draw these lurkers out of the shadows and to interact with them. Personally, this is a 1 to me. Like the photos, don't like them, comment or don't. I'm good either way.
As I've been thinking about this ghost follower idea I've been reminded of the words that Jesus told His disciples in the book of Luke. Bible Gateway records it like this, "Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me." What did Jesus have in mind when He said this to his followers? Follow at a distance? Follow when convenient? Follow when comfortable? I'm confident that His intention then and now is that we would follow closely and loudly.
Closely in the sense of hanging on every word that flows from His Spirit.
Closely in that we would without question hear Him when He speaks.
Closely in the sense that we would without hesitation respond when He calls.
Loudly in the sense that those closest to us would undoubtedly know who we claim as Lord of our lives.
Loudly in the sense that those in the greatest need would see Jesus in and through us.
Loudly in the sense that we would stick out as a light in the midst of a dark world.
That's my prayer for me life and I'll pray the same for you as well (regardless of whether or not you comment or like this post). "God I pray that you would allow me to follow you closely and loudly with everything I have inside of me. May there be no question who I stand for, who I love and who I have committed my life to. Amen." Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
My wife and I decided to navigate some of the wooded trails at Mt. Airy Forest this morning. We're not big hikers but we do enjoy being outside and thought it would be fun to check out some of the local trails. We parked our car just before 11 this morning and headed towards a 4.2 mile trail. After reading on the internet that the trails at Mt. Airy were poorly marked I decided to use my hiking app to ensure that we stayed on course and didn't end up lost somewhere in the middle of Mt. Airy's 1500 acres.
What I failed to consider before we left on our hike was the battery percentage on my phone. As the percentage of my battery life continued ticking down my anxiety began to tick up. I'm deep into a trail that I've never been on, my phone is about to die and I'm standing at a crossroad in the middle of 1500 acres.
I've never really talked about my anxiety before but from time to time I deal with situational anxiety. I'm not even sure that's a thing but that's all I know to call it. It doesn't happen all of the time, in fact it generally isn't an issue unless I find myself in situations where I feel trapped, lost, unable to reach help, etc. My mind starts to race, my legs get weak and I feel like I just want to lay down. I begin the process of overthinking the "what ifs" of the moment.
What if we can't find our way out?
What if we take the wrong trail?
What if my phone dies?
As I turned a corner today and realized that we weren't anywhere close to what I thought we'd be I suddenly felt my anxiety welling up inside of me. All of the signs were there; lump in my throat, weak legs, mind racing. In that moment, I feigned confidence and said to my wife, "You good? I think we're almost there." I whispered a prayer to God for strength and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
If I had stopped to think critically about my situation I would have recalled the sound of the highway in the distance, taken solace in the fact that my phone wasn't quite yet dead and remembered that if push came to shove, I could simply turn around and walk back the way I had come. But in that moment, none of that seemed to matter. I allowed fear and anxiety to overcome any rational thought.
When we eventually emerged from the longest 4.2 miles of my life I was able to chat through those tense internal moments with my wife. As I reflected on those moments of anxiety I was reminded of the importance of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps you are dealing with some sort of situational anxiety? Maybe your rears its ugly head more often than not. Allow me to encourage you to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Continue following the trail that God has mapped out for you and when you come to a crossroad, whisper a prayer to God for strength and keep moving. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Over this Labor Day Weekend I've had the privilege of spending some time in Hocking Hills with not all, but most of the people that I do life with. My family, along with six other families rented a house and spent the weekend eating, laughing, hiking, telling stories, playing games. Yesterday we spent some time hiking around the woods, up and down the trails of the area, some marked, some not marked, some easy, some more difficult....some slippery (I may or may not have taken a slight tumble down some deceptively slick rocks). In the end, fun was had by all and ibuprofen was had by some.
In the midst of our longest hike of the day I somehow found myself at the front of the line of our 30 hikers. I didn't really know the trail but I knew that if I just kept walking that eventually we would circle back to something familiar. As we walked I began to notice the almost imperceptible murmur of complaining.
Are we almost done?
It's so hot.
How much longer until we get back?
By the end of the trail the complaining had gone full scale. Most everyone was worn out and a few had turned the corner to grumpy. As we stood near the trail head we spent a few minutes laughing about our inability to hike a few miles without complaining. Someone joked that I resembled Moses with my beard and walking stick as he lead the people of Israel through the wilderness. You can read more about Moses on BibleGateway. We laughed and the conversation moved on. As we walked back to the car I wondered how difficult it must have been for Moses to lead all of those people through such a desolate stretch of wilderness for such a long period of time. The whined, the complained, they griped, they rebelled, they wanted to turn back, they hated Moses. Almost immediately I began to run my "2-mile front of the line" experience through the filter of leadership. I began to wonder how Moses must have felt as he dealt with all of those complaints. What tremendous leadership Moses must have displayed as he navigated those difficult waters.
And then my mind shifted. What about me? Not what about my leadership, but what about me? I began to wonder how difficult it's been for God to lead me through some of the difficult patches of my life. I whine. I complain. I gripe. I constantly ask, "How much longer?" At times I feel like rebelling. At times I feel like breaking off and doing my own thing.
How patient God must be with me. He puts up with me and all of my ridiculousness. He continues to patiently guide me, show me the way and point me in the right direction. I ended yesterday with a feeling of thankfulness. Thankfulness for ibuprofen and God's patience. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Yesterday we talked about the power of confession. "Confession is good for the soul". Confession beats fear, the fear of wondering with the jig is up. Confession brings simplicity, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Confession allows us to speak freely without fear of "blowing it". Confession brings up positive results in our lives.
Let's take a minute today to examine the results of a lack of confession. What happens when we fail to confess? What happens when we try to keep our junk hidden as if it never happened?
Check out Proverbs 32:3-5 on BibleGateway, "When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat."
We wear down more quickly. Unconfessed sin in our lives is like an unknown virus that saps our strength. We continue to go about our day wondering why we feel so tired, so weak. We carry a heaviness around with us. We can't seem to pinpoint its source but we feel week and strangely burdened. You and I were not meant to live this way. Jesus says in
John 10:10, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." Following Jesus as He intends should bring life, energy and vitality. If you are weary, restless and weak check your heart for unconfessed sin.
Proverbs 32:6-9 says, "Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
We give up protection and guidance. Unconfessed sin in our lives clogs up the line. God is certainly all powerful and can do as He pleases but He chooses to work in our lives when we invite Him to do so. He desires to provide us with protection and guidance but unconfessed sin in our lives makes it difficult to understand and recognize his provision and direction. There is only one throne of your heart and He refuses to share it with anyone or anything. If you feel lost, if you feel exposed and unprotected, check your heart for unconfessed sin.
My prayer for you is that you would live with joy, that your sin would be put out of sight. I pray that you would have great strength, protection and guidance from the Lord. I pray that you would be surrounded with songs of victory and that you would shout with victory for the confession of your sins. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
People confess stuff to me. Often what people confess to me has nothing to do with me at all but for some reason people seem to feel comforted by confessing their transgressions to me. Perhaps people confuse my role as a Christian pastor with that of a Catholic Priest. When people confess their sins to me I am always quick to remind them that the business of forgiveness belongs to God alone. Confessing to me does not grant forgiveness. That work was completed on the cross by Jesus Christ. While I do think there have been a few over the years who have this concept confused, I think by and large the old Scottish proverb that says, "Confession is good for the soul" is in play.
People just feel better when they get things off their chest. The Bible certainly reinforces this idea. Check Psalm 32:1-2 on Bible Gateway.
"Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!"
Words cannot express the joy that can be experienced by those who choose to confess their sins.
Confession beats fear. Unconfessed sin forces our minds to wonder, "What's going to happen?", "How long can I hide this?" and "How will this affect...?" When we confess we banish those fears and questions. We are no longer fearful of the unknown. Confession allows us to take back control of our lives from the fear that controls us before we confess. We no longer have to wonder what's going to happen. We no longer have to fear how our relationships will be affected.
Confession brings simplicity. How often do we live our lives in the hectic pace of covering our tracks. Dishonesty and lack of confession brings panic as we wade through who knows what and what we told this person or that person. We live with the perpetual fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When we confess we free ourselves of those fears and that waiting. Sir Walter Scott said "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Confession clears away the web of deceit. When we confess we free ourselves from the constant turmoil of weighing our words for fear of spilling the beans. Confession allows you to speak freely to those you love. Confession allows you live freely.
Allow me to encourage you to practice confession.
Confess your sins to God. 1 John 1:9 says, "But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." Your sins are forgiven at the moment you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
Confess your sins to your loved ones. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results."
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.