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COVID Life Sucks, but God Still Offers Peace!

(Not a political blog post, but one of personal struggle and faith)

I live in Washington State. Yesterday, our governor announced a state-wide mask mandate for everyone regardless of vaccination status.

Now, I have made the personal choice to receive the vaccine. But I was against it for a very long time. It simply bothers me that government institutions are pressing heavily on people to get a vaccine injected into their body that to this day still has not been approved as safe and effective by the FDA. I chose to get it on my own timing and for my own reasons. And I completely support those who have chosen not to get it.

This entire discussion will change once the FDA fully approves it.

For now, however, we are stuck with a gigantic question. How do we approach daily life at work and at home with positivity and hope when virtually everything we see in the news and that is being forced upon us by our elected officials points to despair and frustration?

I have come to realize something this week. Allowing ourselves to float aimlessly down the river of societal unrest not only does not help us, but it actually causes us to get more unhealthy. Our clarity of thought, mental health, and overall outlook on our world gets flushed down a truck stop toilet when you and I allow mainstream news outlets, social media, Hollywood, and self-serving politicians to shape how we decide to live our day and treat others.

Do you agree?

I spent the entire evening last night feeling sick to my stomach. My anxiety was higher than it’s been in months. “Take slow, deep breaths. Stop looking at the news” I would try to tell myself.

I slept 9 hours last night and I still awoke feeling like I had been drug on the ground behind a running horse through the desert. After taking my wife to work I came home, took a shower, and sat down at the table with God, His word, and my journal. It was time to have a discussion.

Next, I was reminded of the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5 tells us these traits are ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ These are character traits that God hopes His followers will develop for every season of life.

One of my favorite quotes over the last 30 years comes from pastor and author, Charles Swindoll. He says, “My attitude is made up of 10% my circumstances, and 90% how I react to them.”

Ouch!!! My 90% reaction last night contained none of the above-mentioned 9 Spiritual traits.

This is what led me to write this post today. I am a pastor and follower of Jesus. If that’s you as well, we are called by God to be set apart from the norms of the world. God asks us to stand out in how we love and how we posture ourselves when facing fear, frustration, and uncertain times.

May I encourage you today? Especially if you have been feeling similar to me recently, take time first thing in the morning and again right before bed to meditate on God, His goodness, His promises, and His power. I’m going to do my best to do this too.

I’ll leave you with this. Yes, I have very strong opinions on how our leaders are facilitating the COVID situation, what’s occurring in Afghanistan, racial injustices, the current labor shortage in America. But when it boils down to it, our character and public posture must be shaped by God’s word and strength, NOT by the social issues that dominate today’s news headlines.

Do you agree? What do you struggle with most today? Have you figured out how to keep yourself centered and positive in the midst of the current chaos we live in, or do you struggle like I do?

Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Contentment Is Learned

I don’t make enough money. I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Workplace negativity annoys me. Extreme social behaviors fueled by the pandemic often cause me to have ill feelings towards others.

Can you relate, or am I alone on this?

While all of these statements are true for me in my head, I also recognize that the magnitude of their truth only grows when I give it permission.

I don’t make enough money. Actually, I do. ‘Enough’ is relative. I have enough because God always provides for my needs. I may not have excess, but excess is not essential.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night. True…but I could have went to bed earlier. I wasn’t proactive.

Workplace negativity annoys me. Ok, so why don’t I choose to allow it to energize me to be an element for change toward more positivity?

Extreme social behaviors fueled by the pandemic often cause me to have ill feelings towards others. It is what it is. I’m not going to singlehandedly change societal behaviors, most of which are personal pet peeves anyway. I even talked with my therapist about this. (Yes I’m in therapy. Healthy people seek help while unhealthy people remain unhealthy in their solitude) She challenged me, “Why are you allowing others (strangers) to occupy so much of your limited emotional capacity?” Yeah, good question.

You see, all of these examples of mine are choices. Choices for action or mindset. Choosing to take the better path is usually more difficult and requires conscious effort. But we CAN do it!

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to 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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians‬ ‭4:11-13‬

The apostle Paul wrote this in one of his letters while imprisoned. He had learned to be content because of his past experiences, both of pain and joy. He shares that in every circumstance he has learned the ability to ‘do all things’ in order to live in contentment because of the strength made available to him through Jesus.

Now, you and I don’t always have the ability to change the circumstances around us. But we do have choices regarding how we model walking through them.

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My ‘One Word’ for 2021 (updated)

Toward the end of 2020 I wrote about my One Word for 2021.

BE

That’s it…Just BE!

I was shocked and thrilled to learn that my wife, Cailey, also discovered the same word for her in the next year! So for Christmas I got her these wall letters to place in our living room as a daily reminder for both of us.

In the midst of multiple life changes, a surgery, and COVID-related hardships, however, this ‘Just BE’ only became a reality on our wall during the last week of June, 2021. And it’s timing is perfect. I love it. I do my quiet reflections in the morning at our kitchen table and I can see this directly across from me while I think about the day ahead of me.

Here are a few things I’m being challenged in half way through this crazy year.

  • Just BE in the moment.
  • Just BE calm and breathe.
  • Just BE still.
  • Just BE positive.
  • Just BE grateful.
  • Just BE intentional.

Do you have a One Word for 2021? What is it? Do you need to take time this week to revisit it and reflect on how it needs to shape the second half of the year for you?

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Have Recent Months Been Hard?

Perspective is everything!. Here’s what my wife and I have been experiencing in the recent six months.

  • Moved into a new home.
  • Three positive COVID tests in the family.
  • Two quarantines.
  • Finally bought a second car.
  • Missed Thanksgiving due to quarantine.
  • Gave up a great job.
  • Our first grandchild was born.
  • Missing out on a big leadership retreat in Lake Tahoe.

And the list goes on. Challenges and blessings, all of it. That’s where perspective comes in. It would be easy for me to say that the past six months have been really difficult. While that may be true, I’m challenging myself to change my perspective and language. Another way to frame this is to state that it’s been really BIG. See the difference? It’s still true, but ‘big’ identifies both the negatives and the blessings.

Know what else? God…God is BIG! His promises, power, and love for us is absolutely enormous. We don’t even have the ability to comprehend all that he is.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:5

God has proven to be bigger than my worst trials, and active in BIG ways with every single blessing I’ve had. Is this true for you too?

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I Lost My Job Today

Yesterday was Monday, but it was my Friday. I lost a job yesterday. The wave of emotions was mixed. In the 30+ years that I’ve been in the workforce this is the first time I’ve actually been ‘let go.’ It was also the main (largest) source of income for our family. Pride and providence are key themes here. God would rather I not be prideful in a job or position. And providing for our family’s needs is ultimately his job, not mine. Yes, I must work. But I shouldn’t worry about if our needs will be met according to my efforts.

Now, I also co-pastor a Missional Community (a faith family) with my amazing wife in Yakima, WA. And I work very part-time at a local grocery store. So, it’s not like I’m unemployed. But it was a pretty significant loss.

This morning I didn’t need to get up at 4:30am for work. I awoke at 9:39am, focusing on my health as I head into this new season. And in my coffee time with Jesus he led me to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. Between this and other readings my wife shared with me came this encouragement and direction.

Jesus reminded me that I’m to practice all of these, not only focus on just one. Praying all the time isn’t very effective if I’m not going to listen. And spending all my time searching only goes so far if I’m not spending time with God and in his written word.

I’m in a new season. And God has blessed me with incredible peace that he is here with me and his plan will be revealed soon.

What is God reassuring you in this season?

What is ‘Effective’ Discipleship?

What does it REALLY take to disciple someone?

A disciple is a LEARNER. And when we look at how Jesus interacted with his ‘learners,’ we notice 3 forms of engagement.
1. He taught them, both verbally and by example.
2. He let them experience his WHOLE life, not just the rainbows & unicorns side. (come on, we all have a unicorn side)
3. He extended grace & patience when they screwed things up.

Here’s what we DON’T see in Scripture. Or at least I don’t see it.
1. Jesus taught in the Synagogues (churches), but we don’t see him teaching a Sunday School class on discipleship.
2. He doesn’t provide us with a step-by-step process for making disciples.
3. He definitely doesn’t ask his disciples to do anything that isn’t already a regular part of his own life.
descipelship
After over 20 years in vocational ministry, I’ve learned that doing organic, unfiltered life with others is the most EFFECTIVE kind of discipleship. We must not place a completion date on it, allowing Jesus to determine that. And lastly, each of us as followers of Jesus really needs to practice being the teacher AND the student…the Rabbi AND the disciple. Meaning, we should be simultaneously learning from the lives of other strong believers AND intentionally guiding others to deeper understanding of God’s Kingdom by way of OUR EXAMPLE.

What’s YOUR experience been with the issue of Christian discipleship? I’m super interested and would appreciate it if you’d drop a comment below.

 

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A Solid Reminder When Things Appear Dark

Are you in a DARK place today? Is your current season full of endless negativity?
We’ve all been there.
struggle.jpg

I want to share an ENCOURAGEMENT with you that jumped out at me this morning during my Bible Intake time.

Mark 7:37 REMINDED me that ‘He (Jesus) has done all things well.’
And specifically the HAS DONE part. Meaning, in the past. He’s been there before for you and done well on your behalf.

So he’ll continue to DO WELL for you today…and tomorrow…and the next day!
Today, take a moment to THANK HIM for things he’s done well in your past, and then to TRUST HIM that he’ll be with you in the same way TODAY.

 

Have a very blessed Sunday!

 

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Are You Failing Today?

Living a life with Jesus doesn’t mean a life void of difficulty. Man, this is so true! In fact, at times it can feel as if it actually invites catastrophe. Of course, we know this is not the case. At the point that we step over into Christianity our eyes became opened. God’s light (truthilluminates our world around us. We are now simply aware of the spiritual battles going on all around us that we were blind to before this new life.

So, how are we to journey through the multiple valleys, difficulties, and dark seasons of life as a person of faith? 

failure

Paul, the author of a significant portion of the New Testament, shared with us very authentically his own struggle in the faith.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?  Romans 7:17-24 (MSG) 

Can you relate? I know I can. You’re not alone! Every one of us struggle. And still, God used Paul as a major catalyst in the early Church. Paul’s last questions here are a bit poetic. He’s not completely hopeless as it appears. Let’s continue reading.

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:25 (MSG)

The power of Jesus resides within us. When we stay closely connected to him he gives us the strength, direction, fortitude, and endurance to do the good we desire to do, and turn from the distractions of the enemy.

I’d love to hear what you think and how I can pray for you. Leave a comment below.

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Empty Nesting & Time Zones

IMG_5663I have a love/hate relationship with watching our kids grow up!

In our 26+ years of marriage, our family has moved over 20 times.  And 5 of those have been large moves across the country.

Why?

One word.  ‘Adventure.’

What I’ve discovered as Cailey and I are quickly becoming empty nesters is that our kids are taking on the rhythm of life they were raised in.

Take exhibit A (image to the right).  This is the new world clock on my phone.  As of this week, this now represents the 3 time zones our immediate family live in.

Most of our moves, and all 5 of the big ones, were related to doing ministry.  And it wasn’t ever as simple as going where employment was.  There were always multiple options for us to choose from.  I guess we’ve just firmly believed in listening to God carefully and stepping in faith in whichever direction He sends us.  We’ve modeled this lifestyle to our kids, so it should not surprise me that we now have a 21 y/o son living in Colorado and a 23 y/o son serving the next 3 years in Guam with the U.S. Navy.  Our other two kids currently live at home, but who knows where they will end up in the next year or two?

 

All that said, here are a few lessons I’m learning about watching our kids leave our nest and become highly independent adults.

  • Our direction and influence in their lives must look different than before. It also needs to be OFFERED, not GIVEN.
  • Their life choices are THEIR life choices. Their career, family, lifestyle, and overall worldview isn’t going to look just like mine. Those are not wrong or right. They are simply going to be different…unique to the person they are becoming.
  • It is fun watching them discover ADULTING along the way. But this is a spectator sport. We must not interfere in game play when we’re on the bench. And guess what? Our kids will determine if and when we come off the sidelines, not us.
  • Lastly, I love the fact that our kids still TALK to us! Now, I’m not so naive to claim that they tell us everything and they know all there is to know about Mom and Dad. But we still share our ambitions, worries, victories, and basic joys with each other. Cailey and I call that a win for our family.

Our family is far from perfect. We’ve even been told we’re entertaining at times (that’s not always a compliment). But our kids genuinely love each other, and deep down they know that their parents love them.

Here’s to family, life transition, and simply going with the flow!

 

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How To Weather The Seasons Of Life Like A Boss!

Ha, that title is the EPITOME of click bate (and I do hate click bate).

I’m not weathering my personal current season of life like a boss, so why would I even attempt to write something like this for anyone else?

Easy.  I’ll give you two reasons.  1. This isn’t really for you.  It’s for me.  Writing helps me process my thoughts, mood, and ultimately my actions.  So there!  2. Confession.  Yep, sharing my own shortcomings will hopefully keep me humble, and might even encourage someone else along the way.

So, with that….

fall

For many of us, changes in the four seasons require certain behaviors from us.  Here are a few examples.  Our clothing changes depending upon how warm or cold it is outside.  One season may call us to shovel snow or put de-icer on the driveway.  At other times in the year cutting the grass or raking leaves might be in the cards.  And the list goes on.  There is very little, if anything, you and I can do to avoid these types of elements.  We are forced to make modifications to accommodate the particular elements of each season.

winter

The seasons of life are absolutely no different!

We must look ahead, prepare, and sometimes expect the inevitable challenging elements.

spring

Take empty nesting, for example.  As much as I knew it was coming, it felt like it came out from nowhere!  This is still a challenge, even though it is going really well.

In the past 6 months, my wife and I have:

  • Relocated back to our home state of Washington from Colorado. (with two of our kids, plus a fiance’)
  • Begun discovering what leading a Missional Community looks like.
  • Started adjusting to military life with a son in the Navy. (he’s shipping over seas next week)
  • Getting used to another son living away in Colorado.  It’s hard when they’re not close.
  • Discovered the health and beauty of doing bi-vocational ministry in our community.

summer

In all of that, here are a few ways we have tried to weather these seasons like bosses!

Community | Authenticity changes everything.  Plus, God created us to live in community with one another and with Him.  To support and encourage each other.

Meditation | Prayer, or often simply sitting in the Lord’s presence.  In this current season, sometimes all I can do is sit quietly by myself and think about Jesus.  Sitting with Him while doing nothing is so therapeutic!

Exercise | Even when we don’t feel like it.  My wife and I go to the gym 5-6 times each week.  We’re not always excited about this, so it is helpful when we hold each other accountable to go weather we feel like it or not.  The key here is simply to remain active somehow.

Talk | With each other.  For us, this has made our marriage even stronger.  We share our real anxieties & pain with each other.  I realize this is a significant struggle for most men, but trust me.  Your marriage will advance to a level it’s never been before!

Journaling | I use Evernote and blog.  If you prefer the old fashioned paper and pen, try getting yourself a nice Moleskin tablet.

In the end, all seasons come to an end so that new ones can begin. The Bible reminds us that there is a season for everything, a time for every matter under heaven.  This should encourage us when we are in a dark season that better days are coming.  Likewise, it gives us advanced warning when things are sailing smooth that …

What about you?  What season are you in, and what have you found to be helpful to weather it?

OR….which of the items I mentioned above tend to be challenging to actually implement?

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