His Journey, His Glory, Our Gratitude

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So many wonderful friends have followed our journey since we left Knoxville just over two years ago. This has been an amazing journey of faith for us. We left a church family and so many brothers and sisters that we loved (and love) so much. But God said we were to go and try and make a difference for Him here in Colorado. Yes it’s beautiful here, but that didn’t make leaving the people and place we called home for nearly 20 years, any easier.

We came knowing very little; about where specifically we’d live or how He’d have us serve. We came with having to leave our oldest son Ryan in Knoxville, who chose to stay. We came knowing no one and without jobs but having faith God would provide those as well. We came in obedience and holding on to specific promises He made about our family being brought all together here and about ministry work for us. We’ve kept as busy as we can by serving through our church, a home for single mom’s at risk, and at a local recovery program. We served, waiting on the promises.

Our youngest son Graham came, having just completed his first year at ETSU and leaving his close friends behind. Our middle son Travis came, despite being in the midst of a serious relationship with a wonderful young lady, trusting that God would work in that for the good of all. We all had a lot to lose and so much uncertainty to gain. But because that uncertainty came from Him, we knew it was His best for us.

Shortly after our arrival here, Travis returned to Knoxville to propose to that young lady. Her acceptance would mean that she too, would have to leave her family and join Travis here in Colorado. She did that without hesitation, they married last year and now we have a precious daughter in law here as well.

This past winter, a year and a half after our move, Ryan called and said he was ready to come and in April, we returned to Knoxville an moved him out.  God indeed, brought all our family together as He promised, and added to it as well!

While we knew that my journey toward the ministry job God had for me could be an extended one, we did not expect it to last over two years. Occasionally we’d have thoughts or questions like; “God, what’s going on here…Have you checked the calendar lately?” Or, “God, you probably haven’t looked at our bank account in a while, but if you could check that out and then make a move, that would be great”.

Largely though, we slept well, served Him and trusted that He had all this under control. “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). His word is replete with stories of trust, faith, obedience and reward. Because God cannot lie and is always faithful, He had delivered on His promise on bringing the family together, and He’d deliver on the job thing as well. As most of you know, God never disappoints, He’s never late and He’s always working. This Monday, I start my new position as Ministry Services Manager at David C Cook. If you’re not familiar with them, they are a publisher of Christian books, curriculum and music. If you’re interested, you can visit them at www.davidccook.com.

Needless to say we are very excited for this next chapter and I am so blessed to be able to bring my love of leading and developing others, into a Christian organization that’s focused on equipping churches and leaders around the world,  so they can better disciple those entrusted to them.

We can’t say thank you enough, to all of you that have prayed for us along our journey. You continue to mean so much to us. There are still more victories to win for Jesus and promises God has made to us, so don’t hesitate to throw up a prayer now and then. But we step into those as we did with the others; with faith, confidence and trust in the one who gave it all and gives it all. The thanks and gratitude are ours…The Glory is His.

Love you all more than you know…Peace & Blessings

 

 

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Life from Death

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Most of us have faced some type of tragedy or crises in our lives. These events may stop us in our tracks. They may cause us to cry out for help or send us running for cover. In the midst of our plight, we may feel hopeless, as if there is simply no way out. The hole is too deep, the hurt to painful, the damage to devastating.

But that is never the case. There is always a way out. Even from the clutches of death, life can be restored. That’s not some motivational hyperbole…I’ve seen it first hand in the lives of real people. These are people who believed they had reached the end of their rope be it physically, spiritually or both, and saw no path to restoration.

Recently I was privileged to walk with man who’s spent his entire life living in the midst of extreme dysfunction. Physical and emotional abuse as well as rampant drug use surrounded him since he was a boy. This led to issues of anger as well as terrible life choices of his own including drug use & dealing, gang affiliation and violence. After an arrest he was offered the opportunity of entering a 15 month residential rehab program. Today, a graduate of that program, Dennis, 35 and 18+ months clean, is working for a missionary catering company and studying to become a world class chef. He has a positive outlook as he builds a promising future. From near death, came life.

My dear friend Bobby lived a life of alcohol and cocaine addiction that spanned 38 years. He affiliated with organized crime and had one priority in mind…Bobby. At age 55, his kidneys and liver failing, he reluctantly entered a rehabilitation program. It was there that he hit his knees, cried out to God for rescue, and began the journey from death to life. Today he is 7 years sober, physically and spiritually restored and actively helping other addicts find hope.

A few years back, I had the honor of baptizing a man named Steve, who had been watching our church’s service on line. He’d never physically been to the building. He had been watching on line, not because he lived far from the church, or because he had other obligations that kept him from visiting…He watched on line because he was wheelchair bound and simply found it easier. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) had ravaged his body and taken most of his mobility.

He came to be baptized on a Monday evening in front of a small crowd of about 100 people. His lifelong friend and I basically carried him from his chair, into the baptismal pool. After a brief discussion and his affirmation of having accepted Jesus, we took him under the water and raised him back up. Water mixed with tears dripped down his face as he turned to me and said: “Now I feel complete”…From the shadow of death, came life.

The photo above was taken this past week in the Black Forest region of Colorado Springs. Four years ago, a fire destroyed over 14,000 acres, 500 homes and took two lives in that beautiful community. The spot that photo was taken from was part of the area scorched by the fire. In the background you can see what’s left of a few of the thousands of trees that were decimated. But in the foreground, at the feet of death, new life has been brought forth.

In the movie Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) eloquently states; “Life finds a way”. He is so very right. Life does find a way. And that way is only because of the goodness of God. Death is permanent; except where God is present. If we can press through the valley of the shadow, He will always bring life on the other side. Watch for it; work for it; wait for it; believe it.

For Jason…and for you

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Each day, there is a fight that we must face. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle. For some of us, that battle is strikingly evident. It comes in the form of serious illness, relational, or financial crises, addiction or loss of a loved one. For others, the battle may be a quiet, more hidden one. A private struggle with depression or anxiety or the stress of raising children in a fractured society. It may simply be the daily challenges of sorting out a world that seems to be changing at breakneck speed…all too often, not for the better.

There’s a race to be run as we fight. At the end of his time here, the apostle Paul, in writing to his young protege Timothy said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Notice the order here. Paul had to first, “fight the good fight” before he could “finish the race.” Many of us start things that we never finish, or in some cases, don’t finish well.

This past week, we received the devastating news that my 37 year old nephew had died from a heroin overdose. Jason had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for some time. He had overdosed and nearly died two years ago, but came through it and spent those last two years in recovery, seemingly doing well. Jason was a kind man with a big heart and unfortunately, a big addiction that gained mastery over him. That’s what addictions do.

I have worked with people in addiction for several years now and it is a voracious and relentless enemy that requires a constant, and equally relentless, fight to stave off. Those who struggle with it know all too well, how it’s claws continue to snap at you, attempting to get a foot hold and pull you back in. It is, as we are witnessing across our nation, a battle that far too many are unable to win.

So many start that road to recovery, convicted that they must make a change, yet many of those souls are lost before the finish line. It is in between the starting line and the finish line that we fail. We often don’t plan, or put the right support structure in place. Luke 14:28-30 reminds us that if we want to build something (a tower, a business, a life) we should first lay out some plans and be sure we have, not only a solid foundation from which to start, but all the things we’ll need along the way to complete the project…or as Paul would say, to finish the race. It is in the “in-betweens” that we stumble.

We all have battles to wage everyday. But in this moment, I speak to those who struggle with addiction, or are close to someone who does. Be sure to make plans to prepare for the in-betweens. Recovery is often a one day (or even one hour) at a time battle. Be sure to have a support structure in place; people that have your back and hold you accountable. Be engaged in serving others, steer clear of any person, place, or thing that might remind you or draw you back into old habits. Never, ever isolate yourself. It is a battle that can be won. I have have been blessed to do life with people who are, as we speak, walking in victory over it.

This is anything but easy, but it is part and parcel of fighting the good fight. Do these things so that like Paul you’ll be able to say, “I finished the race.” I pray that you (or that someone you love) will be able to claim that; and as they do, it will be not only because they fought the good fight, but just as importantly because they “kept the faith” that started them on the race to begin with. And I pray also, that someone will read this and be convicted that Jason’s finish line, which came much to quickly, does not have to be theirs.

Jason, you’ll always be loved. We just wish we had you longer.

Rejected But Not Defeated!

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Rejection is a word that can’t feel good no matter how you slice it, parse it or spin it. All of us have experienced it at some time or other. I know I’ve stared rejection in the eyes many times in many ways in my life. It never feels good, and there are times we may go through long periods of rejection; be it one issue of extended duration, or repeated rejections that hit us relentlessly like a jackhammer pounding concrete.

I’ve known and walked with people who have suffered tremendous rejection in seemingly all aspects of their lives. Relational & vocational rejection that when combined, brought them to their knees both emotionally and physically. These are the kind of situations for which there seems to be no words.

But it is at these very times; when we are knocked down, dragged around and feel unfit and unable to take another step, that we have an opportunity to have our ruins turned to riches. To take the nothing that we appear to be left with, and ask God to do something with it. It’s at these times, when all we have left is the total surrender of our nothing, that we can begin to climb out of the pit we’ve fallen or been kicked into.

Gideon was the least of the least and the weakest of the weak. Anyone in their right mind would have rejected him to lead anything. There’s no question he would’ve been picked last for basketball on the schoolyard. Yet God raised him up to lead a great army to victory against unthinkable odds (Judges 6:14-16 & 7:19-25). Esther was a poor Jewish Girl who, through the unlikeliest of circumstances, became queen. Then, at the risk of almost certain rejection and possible death, she took a risk, took a stand and saved an entire people (Esther 7:1-8:11).

Before Abraham Lincoln became president, he lost a previous bid for vice president, and two runs at the senate. His first business failed, and as an attorney, he lost a case he argued before the Supreme Court. His mother was killed from poisoned milk, his son died while he was president and his animals also died in a White House stable fire. Despite all this, he endured to see our nation through it’s darkest period and will go down as arguably, our greatest president.

A young Stephen Spielberg was rejected for admission, three times by the University of Southern California’s film school. You know the rest of the story.

Some form of rejection is inevitable for all of us. For some those rejections will take the form of temporary setbacks and disappointments…for others they can be devastating gut punches that stop us in our tracks, and buckle our knees. However, the individuals mentioned here and so many others show us that we can (and should) bounce back from these rejections; and when we do, we’ll be stronger and wiser for it.

There are many scriptures that should come to mind when we are facing trials or rejection but here are two to consider: The first is from 1 Peter, chapter 4. Verse 12 says: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you”. The second is in John 16:33 where Jesus himself says: “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” These verses tell us to expect trials, trouble and rejection but not to let them defeat us. Why? Because He is fighting the battle with us and for us; and He always wins.

We often allow our children to learn from their mistakes, discipline them  and tell them “no” when needed. None of that changes the fact that we love them beyond measure. Don’t ever doubt that the same is true of your Heavenly Father. So when we face rejection, let us rise up, not so much with the patience of Job, but with the faith of Job when he said of God: “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him…” (Job 13:15).

Die, Live, Repeat

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What an amazing time of year. While every day that God pours His glorious favor on us is a grand one, there is nothing like the victory we can all share in, at Easter. The fact that we have a new life, an eternal life with Jesus, is all predicated on what happened over this weekend more than 2000 years ago.

And while the victory of Easter is a day we should all anticipate with great eagerness, we cannot properly walk in that new life, without also participating in His death. In Romans 6:8, Paul says: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him”. So clearly we must die with Him first, in order to live with Him forever.

A few years back there was a popular movie starring Tom Cruise entitled; “Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat”. The basic premise was that in order to achieve his goal, Cruise must live out a mission in which he would invariably get killed before completing, only to immediately come back to life and try again. This process repeated itself until he figured out how to fulfill the entire mission. Our mission as Christ followers is similar only ours should be titled; “Die, Live, Repeat”.

Take a few moments to meditate on what Jesus chose to do for us on this day. Reflect on how we must die each day to the man or woman we once were, and live the next day getting closer to fulfilling our mission of looking more and more like Him.

Today is Good Friday. I hope all of you will take some time to reflect on what happened on this day in the 33rd year of Jesus’ life. To help with that, I would encourage each of you to read the crucifixion story in any of the Gospels. You can find them here…Pick one or read them all:

Matthew 27:32-61  Mark 15:21-47  Luke 23:26-56  John 19:16-42

Once we’ve done that, we will be in the proper posture on Easter morning to raise our hands, our voices and our hearts to Him and truly celebrate His resurrection…and ours!

Happy Easter!

Looking for Clouds on a Sunny Day

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Let’s be honest, even those of us with the sunniest of dispositions, still have occasional cloudy days. Paul tells us to be content in all circumstances but for most of us, that’s a journey rather than a destination.

Having said that, we’ve all encountered people who could find a cloud in a cloudless sky. In fact, on the sunniest of days, you’ll find these folks hunting for a storm cloud to crouch under and somehow or other, they’ll find one. I’m hoping that’s not you. I recently engaged a man that was new to our area. Many of you know that I live in Colorado Springs; a city that enjoys 325 days of sunshine per year. In fact, as I write this, we are 2 1/2 months into 2017 and have had less than 1/5 of an inch of rain! Makes for beautiful days but dry, crunchy lawns (see, there’s that cloud!).

Anyway, as I engaged this man, I quickly felt the clouds gathering over this otherwise sunny day. As I asked him how he liked the area, I heard nothing about the abundant sunshine, the warm days even in the middle of winter, the low humidity or the breathtaking beauty all around us. No, what I heard about was that it’s too windy! True enough…We do have our share of windy days here at the base of the Rockies and my only rub with that, is that I’ve had many a bad hair day because of it. But this guy was bald…How bad could a windy day be?

So for me, instead of focusing on the stiff breeze and whatever inconvenience it may pose, I choose to stay still and listen to the sounds of comfort and peace it creates as it flows through the towering pine trees. This then, draws my attention back to the sunshine and amazing beauty God has placed me in the middle of…No clouds here!

My point is this: If we want to look for a cloud, we can always find one. This world gives us plenty of opportunity to find a fly in our soup. But does that one fly; that one bad bowl of soup, erase all the wonderful bowls of soup we’ve had over our lives? Will we expect to find a fly in every future bowl of soup we might eat? Will we never eat soup again because of that one bowl? And let’s not forget, there are millions in this world who would give anything for your bowl of soup…fly and all.

So let’s take the advice of James when he says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”; and while we’re at it, let’s remember that a bad hair day or even a fly in our soup, is at it’s worst, a first world trial. And if your current trial is more significant, I know that bits and pieces of joy can be found even in the midst of it. Just choose to ignore the fly, look for the best in the wind and know that the ultimate plans He has for you are good ones.

 

Wise Guys

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Growing up in northern New Jersey, I was all to familiar with the term, “wise guys”. These wise guys had last names that sounded more like Italian sports cars or exotic pasta dishes than actual names. In addition, since this post is about seeking wisdom, suffice it to say that these were not the guys you’d want to seek out for your wise council.

No the wisdom we want to seek out is that of wise men (and women) not wise guys. So who are these people? These are people that have been there. People that have walked the roads you’re about to walk and have the battle scars to prove it. They’re people that have been on the mountaintop but not without the valley experience.

There’s no question that on many fronts, you’ll need to have been around the block a few times, to really possess some wisdom on a given topic & perhaps have a little gray around the temples. We have to remember however that on some topics, having been around a while can be a disadvantage. There may be times that you’ll need to seek council from a bright and intuitive young 20 something. This is why you want 2 or 3 “wise guys” or gals as go to’s when your facing a challenge.

Certainly it’s true that regardless of age, these may be people that have achieved significant position in life. Some of our greatest leaders have acquired great wisdom along the way…But one thing I want to caution you on when seeking out wisdom; don’t let position or lack of it, exclusively dictate from whom you seek wise council. Some of the wisest people I’ve known didn’t have CEO, or president or senior operations director of the known world, next to their name. Often they’re humble men and women who’ve chosen to lead quietly, putting others first and taking on the role of a true servant leader.

The apostle Paul hits all of this directly at the outset of chapter 5 in 1st Timothy. He says: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters”. You see respect should be given to all, and wisdom can be obtained form the young and the old. That in itself is a great piece of wisdom.

Lastly, be sure not to create your “wisdom team” with people that think and act just like you. That might be comfortable but you’ll limit insight and creativity. You want people you can go to that have different experiences and can see things from a different vantage point than you can.

So ask good questions of wise people…and surround yourself with people who also ask good questions. Often times, their questions may increase your wisdom as much as their answers do.

For more on seeking wise council, watch my short video: Wise Guys