Tuesday, February 7, 2017

You rarely know how things will turn out, but...

Denzel Washington starred in the movie "John Q." He was a desperate man on a mission to save his son, despite having no money to pay for the VERY expensive surgery. He faced criminal charges and many other battles, but he didn't give up. One of the people in the movie asked him, "How's it going to end, John?" If you've seen the movie, then you know how it ends. Things worked out for John and his family - despite the consequences he faced for his actions.

Life is a lot like this movie. Things happen beyond our control, and we are faced with tough decisions. As Christ followers, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and a faith that is based on trust over feelings, and trust in God versus ourselves. This doesn't take away the struggle, though. Have you read the Bible? God's people faced major struggles and circumstances way beyond their abilities, but God was with them, even when all hope seemed lost. God's people were not always given the outcome "details" or the specifics of each step of the journey. They were told to trust, obey, and follow His lead. The same applies to us today.

Ultimately, we know how the "story" of our lives ends because Heaven is our final destination. Jesus overcome the grave and power of sin and darkness. We just have to hold on and be faithful to Him and allow Him to sustain us. In the mean time (or until we leave this world), we are called to share with others the hope we have and be faithful to our calling in Christ. With that said, God will lead us to make hard decisions that may not seem to make sense AND may feel way beyond our capabilities. The outcome is often uncertain, so faith leads us to trust and proceed, one step at a time.

Back in December 2016, I made a decision to resign from my church position only after 5 1/2 months. God led us to that church and we moved 760+ miles from Mississippi to start that journey of ministry. It felt cut way too short and the hurt and disappointment was very real. Regardless, we prayed about it and felt a peace about leaving the church, sadly leaving a group of very loving and supportive people.

The situation seemed illogical. It was three weeks before Christmas. I chose not to sign a legal document that would give me a month's pay. I left in the middle of a pay period and got a week's pay, plus 3 days of unused vacation. We had just gotten back into ministry full time, which was a huge blessing, but were leaving less than 6 months in. We left friends and loving people. The situation was tense and could be seen as a "red flag" to those who didn't know the details of what happened. It would likely take a few months to go through the hiring process at another church. Finances for us were already difficult, so being unemployed with no known full-time job prospects was a bit concerning, to say the least.

So, despite all of that, and many other things, I left the church and trusted that if God led me/my family to make the decision, then He would come through for us. Well, to make a long story short, He has and did. God has continued to amaze me with His grace, mercy, faithfulness, and goodness. Against all odds, God is working things out for good. I am working on a temporary full-time basis with a GREAT church here in St. Pete, while interviewing there for something more permanent. Amy is interviewing for a full-time position at the kids school. Finances, though still difficult, are stable due to making some adjustments (on half our salary). I am feeling energized, refreshed, and lively again as a person - with much growth still to go (not a bad thing - I never want to stop growing and improving). Our family is being shown love and constant encouragement. On and on I could go.

When we stepped out of the church on Dec. 2, 2016, we didn't know how it was going to end, but on faith, we trusted that God knew, and would help us in His time, and His way. The process is not complete, but we are blessed beyond measure. When things get more stable for us, we want to pay it forward and bless others because of the way people have blessed us during this rocky, scary, amazing, and difficult time of our life. We never gave up hope and God never gave up on us. Wow. What a mighty God we serve.

God is continually showing me to trust Him, give up control, be amazed by Him, and stop worrying. It's taken years, but I am GRATEFUL FOR THE LESSONS HE HAS LOVINGLY TAUGHT ME. Pruning is painful, but the fruit is sweet. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A little everyday

I share a bathroom with my two sons, 11 and 13. It's the designated "boys" bathroom, since the girls (Amy and Claire) need and deserve their own. There is no need for them to have to navigate around "oodles" of urine. I don't like the smell or sight of it, so I know the ladies don't. A clean bathroom is a luxury. A dirty, nasty bathroom is a source of tension and stressor for me and many others. I am no "neat freak" for sure, but keeping the bathroom in some sort of order and the dishes out of the sink in the kitchen are preferences for me for sure. Maybe I am a bit odd. Oh well.

Our boys don't seem as bothered nearly as much about a disorderly/unclean bathroom as I do, but I rarely let it go very long before I straighten it up or wipe up the "yellow stuff." The boys will clean up when asked, so I don't want you to think they are totally lazy. They just aren't growing up as "latch key" kids like I did. :)

To keep the dishes in the kitchen put away and the bathroom in a moderate state of order and cleanliness, it requires DAILY attention. Otherwise, if it is left unattended for more than a few days, it can become disgusting and overflowing real fast. The mess compounds over time - as does other things in life - good or not so good.

Marriage is very similar - it requires DAILY attention. A little every day keeps things from growing cold, stale, or drifting too far. Most of the time, we don't see the "wear and tear" of neglect OR the fruit of our everyday investments right away. We one day "wake up" and see either a problem OR a great situation, depending on how much we invested in the relationship daily or not.

Adultery similarly doesn't 'just happen' - it is a gradual thing that happens as the result of neglect of purity, boundaries, emotions, spiritual growth, etc. It is preventable and most of us don't plan to cheat. However, many of us don't have a strategy to avoid it either. We simply live life unguarded and vulnerable to the seemingly "appealing" temptations that cross our path.

James 1:13-15...
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed. 15Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.…

How is your marriage (or other key relationships)? Check your daily habits and "investments." What are you doing (or not doing) daily that has led to the current condition of your relationship - good or not so good?

Here are some things to consider doing regularly (things I know I need to do daily) to help your marriage grow and sustain the ups and downs of life....
  • Have your own personal prayer and bible study time with the Lord - every morning!
  • Work hard to grow, mature, improved - every day!
  • Exercise (with or without your mate) regularly to stay fit and energetic
  • Get good sleep.
  • Own up to your mistakes daily. Confess (agree) and do your best to mend the damage. Don't resort to blame shifting or lying.
  • Plan some kind of date night at least monthly, hopefully more often.
  • Text or talk daily about life, how to better serve one another, etc.
  • Spend quality time every day with each other - nothing fancy always, but personal contact of some kind every day.
  • Pray with and for each other regularly.
  • Stay faithful every day - this includes not viewing pornography, don't have inappropriate conversations with others, don't neglecting your mate as a habit, don't be hateful or harsh, don't be too isolated or distant from him/her, be careful about associating with people who will bring you down, etc.
  • Give non-sexual affection often.
  • Have sexual intimacy as often as you both need and value.
  • Love your children well.
  • Build up each other rather than tear down.
  • Communicate often, openly, lovingly, and honestly  - and try to have good timing with the hard talks - speak from the heart, plan your tone/words/thoughts, etc.
  • Work on your friendship daily - have fun, enjoy each other.
  • Take your relationship one day at a time - some days will be unpleasant, unproductive, and hard. Each day is a gift. Press on. Don't quit. Lean on the holy spirit. Start over tomorrow and be better each day. Learn from mistakes, value differences, celebrate victories, and forgive often.
These are just a few lessons I've learned. A little bit every day, compounded over time will either lead to great victories in your relationship or create and expose problems (check out Darren Hardy's book called The Compound Effect). Easy to do. Easy not to do. As Jeff Olson says.

I was a "loser" of a husband (overall, not totally) our first 12 to 15 years. I am hoping to be better our next 20 years!! It will take me investing daily. And vice versa.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2017 WORD / Focus

For the past couple of years, Amy and I have prayed for God to give us each a word or two that reflects His desire/focus for us based on a specific Bible verse. Every year God seems to show up and make it clear to each of us what He wants to teach us and have us meditate on. Last year my word or phrase was THINK BIG. Amy's was BELIEVE.

My key verse was Ephesians 3:20 - God is able to do abundantly MORE than we think or imagine (paraphrase). I would say God did some BIG things last year:
  • We sold our house in Mississippi
  • Moved to Florida (over 700 miles away from Mississippi)
  • Went back into full time ministry 
  • Only 5.5 months later left that ministry position - step of faith with a lot of confusion, sadness, and disappointment. BUT a peace from God.
  • Quickly were blessed by people who barely know us
  • Was given a church job (2 month full time temporary) right smack dab in the middle of a busy Christmas season by a family who reached out to us in our time of need
  • Amy published her first book!!
  • We were blessed to find Keswick Christian school for our children and us. And family has helped us pay for it. 
  • So many blessings (even not listed here)!
 Those are BIG things, but the crazy thing is, God isn't done yet. I still can't believe how good God is - He never stops amazing me. I sure don't feel deserving but my gratitude and prayer life have gone way up!!

This year's focus SEEMS TO BE coming to my mind repeatedly. I am hoping it sticks but am open to whatever God has to say. Obviously, when God gives us a focus, it doesn't mean we neglect other commands. This one I feel God telling me to focus on is something that is very much a part of my passion and drive. I believe God is telling me to stop focusing on trying to resolve my biggest hurdles (money and career) and to SERVE WELL.

I want to do what Jesus said to do in Mark 10:43-45... 

43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If the creator of the universe came to SERVE, then I need to do the same. He humbled Himself to the role of servant and wasn't concerned about his status, power, position, or prestige. As leaders, we don't need to get caught up in the position we are in or neglect to serve others. To lead like Jesus is to serve well.

I feel very strongly about this focus for the year. It will improve my attitude, work ethic, focus at work, focus at home, and outreach to strangers I meet. To serve others is to demonstrate humility, compassion, grace, mercy, kindness, encouragement, and keep the needs of others in mind as I go about my daily tasks. It will mean I clean, sweep, organize, help others, and do whatever else needs to be done at home and work and everywhere in between, "as unto the Lord." Jesus is ultimately my boss. When I work for Him, then my work takes on bigger and better meaning, even if the tasks seem "menial" or less than my capabilities. 

What is the word or phrase God is putting on your mind for 2017? Take some time to pray and listen. God will bring to mind Bible verses over and over that will help you realize His wishes for you. Let Him "prune" and mature you wherever needed. Let Him bless you in ways you don't feel deserving but deep down want (even if are afraid to ask for). Open your heart to His love, His friendship, His discipline, and His grace and mercy. Seek Him first and then all the other things you long for will begin to become clearer and more of a reality.

Be amazed by the God who made you and created you for oneness and fellowship with Himself. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What I DO Know

Lately, we have experienced quite a bit of "change" and transition. Actually, this whole year (and even beyond) has been a year of change and transition. Most of it is normal stuff, but some of it, though common, isn't as "easy" or fun in the moment, like leaving a job after 5.5 months after moving over 700 miles. And that was three weeks before Christmas. Had it not been for the school we were in here in Florida, and some really amazing people God put in our life, we would probably feel a bit lost.

I don't know a lot of things, particularly how things are going to work out regarding our financial outlook and our ministry/career, but here is what I DO know: God has been at work in us and around us, and it is really amazing and humbling to be involved in it.

Here are a just a few of the blessings we have experienced in the past two and a half weeks:
  • Amy's book got published and people are supporting it so well!
  • Amy and I STILL CONTINUE to feel a calling and burden to help couples and families walk through the struggles of life, pointing them to a loving, gracious, redemptive God. 
  • I have a new job at another church for at least two months, full-time/temporary and have been able to meet some incredible people and see what God is up to there. 
  • Friends and family have reached out to us to support us, encourage us, and bless us
  • Our children have been able to have new experiences here in Florida, such as fishing and Busch Gardens, all because of the kindness of friends and family
  • God has given us His peace, despite the temptation to give in to fear of the unknown, particularly about facing an uncertain financial future and being able to pay bills, etc. 
  • Amy and I are closer than ever and will celebrate 20 years of marriage next summer!
  • We are healthy, and seeking to be close as a family, even with our first teenager! That's been a roller coaster ride but such a blessing. 
  • My prayer life is my life line to Jesus. I desperately need and want to keep an open fellowship with Jesus all day, not just for requests, but a friendship. 
  • I have men in my life that I can call/text at anytime who will encourage me, confront me, pray with and for me, and vice versa.
God is very good. I have to daily fight the temptation to fear or give in to the things of this world in order to "numb" the pain of unbelief. However, despite the struggles and difficulties (many being "1st world" problems I caused), I know for SURE that God is faithful (Hebrews 13:5, 2 Timothy 2:13) and is for me/you (Romans 8:31). As Christ followers, we are in a spiritual war that will not cease just because we ignore it or fail to see it. Ephesians 6:10-13 and following makes this very clear:  
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Gratitude, confession, prayer, and knowing, believing, and living God's truth - these are powerful weapons in this fight we face each day. We can't do it alone. Jesus said He didn't do it alone - He relied fully on His Father in Heaven (John 5:19). We have the gift of the Holy Spirit and fellowship with God through Christ - we are fully equipped by Him to do the work He has called us to (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Will you, will I rely on that power (aka "vine," John 15) and thrive (even during trials and difficulties) or give in to our flesh and self-reliance, only the crash and burn at some point? It's a daily choice of surrender and empowerment to make. I pray that we make it, fully trusting in Jesus. And on the days we don't, I pray we run to Him, allowing His grace and mercy to redeem us, restore us, and fill us back up, so we can rejoin the fight for good, His good.

Hebrews 4:14-16 - Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.