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Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)  

It was late July 1968 and I can’t remember when I had been more excited. I was fourteen years of age and we were packing our blue station wagon (an “estate car” in Irish terms where I’ve lived for the past thirty-seven years) on a Friday afternoon for the journey of a lifetime.

With my father at the wheel, and me joining him in the front seat, my mother would be in charge of the back seat (and the snack bar) along with my sisters Betty, age 17 and Jeanne age 11. The trip would take us from our home in Fort Worth, Texas to Eugene, Oregon and back in the space of two weeks, or thereabout.

Why would our family be invested in such a dramatic journey of over 5000 miles? My eldest sister Susan had just gotten married on the 8th of June just a few weeks previous and she and her husband Bryan were living in Eugene where he was doing doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

That Friday afternoon a neighbor saw us packing the car and offered us a small two-wheel camper trailer for the journey. It came in pretty useful bar the fact that it kept blowing out tires and we were continually getting them repaired, as I recall.

My father was a hard working electrician and didn’t have unlimited vacation time so we had to make the most of every day’s travel. That Friday evening we set out for the first leg of our journey and made it all the way to a small motel in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Just before we turned in for the night my older sister Betty broke down in a flood of tears. She began to beg and plead with my father, explaining that this trip was not on her agenda, and he should send her back home immediately! She generally had the reputation of being the rebellious teenager of our house, but I couldn’t imagine at the time why she wasn’t excited about the trip! It just shows you that a fourteen year old boy sees life differently than a seventeen year old girl, especially one like my sister Betty.

As you may have guessed, it was too late to turn back so Betty had to make the most of the trip and the next morning we continued the family traveling circus across America.

I have to admit that my father was not easy to live or travel with but throughout the journey I continued my role as peacemaker among the family, as best as I could. It seems to me that we each have a tendency to play a particular “role” in the family where we have been placed – not by our own choosing – but we often adapt to a role that seems to come our way along the journey.

As I have matured I have often gone back to the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians where he compares the Church of Jesus Christ to a human body. Each part of the body is there for a reason and each one plays a role that’s necessary for the health, well-being and growth of the body. I would learn over the years that I have a role in the larger “family” of God’s Kingdom and if you are a follower of Jesus – so do you!

Saturday, the first full day on the road, we made a strategic decision to drive all the way to Florence, Arizona to see my aunt Myrl – my mother’s only sister. After a long day’s journey including treacherous hairpin turns along mountain roads in a night-time thunderstorm we finally made it safely to my aunt’s home. I can still recall how tired my father looked sitting in a lounge chair in my aunt’s living room.

With My Father at Armitage State Park near Eugene Oregon, August 1968

Space doesn’t permit me to recount the entire journey but we drove all the way through California from south to north and ended up in Eugene, Oregon on about the fifth day of the journey. When we arrived in Eugene my sister’s apartment wasn’t very large so my other two sisters and mother stayed with some new friends of Susan and Bryan in a nearby apartment.

My father and I meantime, drove up to Armitage State Park Campground just north of Eugene and stayed in tent that folded out of the camper. I can recall some of the fun times my father and I had on the campground more than the events back at the apartment.

So many of the sights we never would have experienced if we hadn’t been travelling together as a family. The beauty of Oregon was stunning and we even made it to Crater Lake, a must see if you are ever in the region. If my memory serves me correctly, we even worked in a brief visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona on the way home and a drive through a scenic part of Colorado.

Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. I’m thankful that God placed me in the family that I have and I’m grateful for the role and the gifts He has given me. I hope you, regardless of your family of origin, will find a place in God’s family as a follower of Jesus and discover the unique role He has for you.  

My sister Susan would pass away tragically in 1994 and my sister Betty in 2006. I regret not having more discussions with them about the trip and the times we spent together.

We make decisions daily as to how we choose to travel with our family of origin. Sometimes they are a blessing, for some of us they may not be. We may want or even need to break run, just like my sister wanted to do late that night in New Mexico.

We can also choose to be part of a larger family, to find our place in the Kingdom that God is building here on earth. If you are reading this today my prayer for you is that you will join the exciting journey of following Jesus and discover the part He has for you to play. I’m so thankful that it’s a journey that’s always moving forward.  

Along life’s journey there are always tears, laughter, blown out tires and beautiful scenery, but my hope and prayer is that you will find joy and contentment and realize that going somewhere together with others is well worth the price of the ticket.

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“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.  He appointed twelve–designating them apostles– that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” – Mark 3:13-19 (NIV)

It’s often been said that we come into this world not knowing who we really are and we try on different identities to see which one fits and sticks. Ultimately, if successful, we may discover our true identity and feel comfortable and confident living out the role we were meant to have by our Lord and Maker.

During my childhood years, growing up in the fine city of Fort Worth, Texas, I can recall trying to discover my identity and see which one might stick. As I have discussed in my previous posts, I came down with Rheumatic Fever in early primary school and it wasn’t until about third or fourth class – age seven or eight that I started a more active lifestyle as a “normal” kid.  

I had several male friends around our neighborhood and we experimented with several sports like baseball and American football which of course didn’t take a lot of equipment for us amateurs. I can recall a season of my childhood where we developed an interest in pole vaulting. We somehow managed to find a stiff bamboo stick and set up a pole vaulting station. We went though all the motions of running toward the station, planting the pole in the ground and attempting to hoist ourselves over the bar a few feet off the ground.

As you might imagine, without the proper equipment, training and the mentoring of someone who really knew and understood the sport our lame attempts didn’t amount to much. Sometime after that I actually began to watch some pole vaulters on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, on Saturday afternoons and I marveled at the men and women who could actually excel at such a specialized sport.

As I reflect back on this childhood experience I can laugh at myself for thinking that I could have made any progress at all as a pole vaulter. That dream came crashing down very quickly. I’ve also considered the fact that throughout my life I’ve perhaps made many other experiments in trying to be someone else or copy someone I admired, to see if that persona would fit.

My failed attempts as a pole vaulter got me thinking about Jesus calling his Twelve Disciples. Have you ever noticed before that only two of them share the same name – James? One is James the son of Zebedee and the other the son of Alphaeus.  

Jesus called unique men all with different names bar two. He called different men with different personalities, different skills, different gifts. Then why do we try to run from who we are and try to be like someone else?  

It recently dawned on me that Jesus never asked any of His disciples to be like any of the others.

“Hey James, why can’t you be more like your brother John!”

“Peter, why can’t you be more like Judas!” – Can you imagine what might have happened?

Our Lord and Maker has created and gifted each of us as unique individuals for His greater purposes. We each have a unique name and a unique role to play in the building and developing of His Kingdom. Note also that Jesus called each of these twelve men “that they might be with Him. . .” Yes, He had work for them to do, but being with Him took priority over everything else.

A few years after my failed pole vaulting attempts a couple of things came my way that would set me in a different direction. Around 1966 or 1967 – around age twelve or thirteen, my father went into an electrical contracting business with a partner named Calvin Davis.

My father and Calvin became co-owners of Michael Electric Company on East Lancaster Street near downtown Fort Worth. Calvin was a keen golfer and because the business was starting to take off we somehow acquired a membership at Glen Garden Country Club on the east side of Fort Worth.

In these years a family moved next door to us – James and Wanda Clarke from Rodgers, Arkansas. James just happened to work for the AMF Ben Hogan Company and he sourced the first golf clubs that ever came into our house. I had found a sport that fit my identity – much more suitable than pole vaulting!

As God’s plan for each of us unfolds through life we each have some unique experiences but we all share in some very common emotions and discoveries. I think that discovering who we are and what we are meant to be – as individuals and as part of the family and social networks we form, is one of life’s greatest joys and challenges.

A few years later, I would also make a commitment to follow Jesus for myself and become one of His “Band of Brothers.” The greatest adventure of my life and yes, part of my true identity.

It the truth be told, I’ve probably wasted some valuable time and energy over the years trying to work hard at being who I’m not (pole vaulting) instead of resting in the care of my Lord and Maker, enjoying Him and trusting in the identity He created for me.

Why not just be the best version of myself rather than trying to be someone I’m not?

Failure perhaps tells us more about who we are and aren’t than anything else. Fortunately, when we follow Jesus He wastes nothing, redeems even our failures and continually develops us for His greater purposes.

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“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

It all changed for me one sunny Friday afternoon. It was the autumn of 1962, school was back in session and I was finally back to something of a routine, having missed several months of school in first and second grade due to Rheumatic Fever.

Sometime during the autumn of ’62 I recall being admitted to Cook’s Children’s Hospital in my home  town of Fort Worth to have my tonsils removed. I can still remember having been given ether as an anesthetic for the surgery. One whiff of that awful smell and you never forget it. I recall having a very bad dream during the operation and waking up in a lot of pain.

After my recovery, even though my mother tended to be hyper over-protective, she started letting me ride my bike up to Don, a friend who lived a few blocks south of home up Lubbock Avenue and off one of the connecting streets.

Don was a classmate and I can clearly recall that he was a partner in suffering as well. Somehow a heater had caught his pajamas on fire as a young child and he suffered from a badly burned and scarred back. It unfortunately became his badge of courage and I tended to sympathize with him. He also had a very nifty cotton candy machine and he would treat me often when I visited.

Whenever trying to negotiate my way to Don’s house I had to risk getting past a very pesky dog that would chase me on my bike as I rode up Lubbock. On this particular Friday afternoon, I decided, that since I had more time, I would cycle all the way up my street and take the long way around to Don’s house. A different direction that would take almost twice as long, rather than risk facing that pesky dog!

About half way up the street on the left hand side of the road I hit gravel and the bike slipped right out from under me.  I may have ended up with a skinned knee but the most notable change was the feeling that my mouth was injured.  

The rest of my plans were now cancelled for the day and I walked back home to confess yet another setback to my mother. It turned out I had just lost my front right tooth. I soon learned that I really missed having it intact.

I recall how calm and collected my mother was that day. She had just spent two years dealing with my infirmity and now she had a son who had just knocked out his front tooth! She immediately called our dentist, Dr. Charles Cash, a legendary Fort Worth children’s dentist. I learned to realize how much pain he could dole out for being such a popular individual.

I was only in third grade but I was already getting experience in Rheumatic Fever, tonsillectomies and root canals!

Looking back on these childhood traumas, they seem now like minor pin pricks, yet at the time they were, for me, painful experiences. Time has a way of giving us perspective on our pain and problems.

All through life there will always be heartbreaking situations that we would rather avoid but the perspective we have on them can either make them worthless or pricelessly redeemable.

As a child I would not have been familiar with the verses quoted above in Romans 8:35-39, but I would come to love them later in life. No setback we face or suffering we endure has power within itself to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

I think often about that Friday afternoon. What if I had risked taking on the dog? What if I had bravely set out down Lubbock Avenue and taken the direct route to Don’s house? We’ll never know. I ended up visiting a dentist named Cash instead of a boy named Don, and the future would be different because of it. I can’t recall ever visiting Don in his home again after that day.

During this time of global pain, suffering and setback perhaps it’s a season to realize that there is a God who is sovereign over the affairs of man. Perhaps He is calling each of us to greater dependence on Him for the outcomes that He desires. After all, if we are seeking Him, there’s no power on earth that can separate us from His love.  

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

Amid the desperation and despair of our world, occasionally we find reasons to believe that God is still at work changing lives and giving us a reason to hope for a better future.

On a recent trip to the cinema my wife and I went to see a film definitely worth watching  – and watching again. It was the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which featured a glimpse of the life of Fred Rogers, the children’s television specialist.

The film centered around the character of Lloyd Vogel, a hardened, cynical journalist, played by Matthew Rhys, from Esquire Magazine who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, for a series of articles the magazine was doing on “American Heroes.”  In the film, Vogel was intent on getting the information he needed out of Rogers, writing the article and getting on with his next project. However, due to the integrity and character of Fred Rogers and his dealings with Vogel, the entire story turned on its head and a deep relationship formed between Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers.

One of the main themes the viewer experiences in watching the film is that of life transformation. Due to the type of person Rogers was and his simple and profound approach to dealing with all people, Vogel, the main character finds his life turned around and discovers a new friend for the long-haul.

When discussing the film with others, I have noted that in Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, we observe a man who exemplified his devotion to Jesus Christ in almost everything he did. He treated each person he encountered with respect and love, accepting them as the were, not withholding love until they met a certain standard. At times during the film we find true-to-life snapshots of Fred Rogers – reading Scripture and bowing in prayer to remember by name people he was seeking to influence with the love and grace of Jesus.

Some critics of Rogers have accused him of soft-peddling truth by not being more direct about his personal faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the real-life Fred Rogers might be accused of sacrificing truth at the expense of grace. However, I am convinced that he felt the best way to teach truth was to live it out. His actions and his tone of voice spoke volumes to children and people of all ages.

The love and devotion that many people had for Fred Rogers was unprecedented. His work was rewarded time and time again. During his life he received honorary degrees from forty-three colleges and universities. His half-hour television program, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” ran for 895 episodes and Rogers crafted the sets and wrote each script himself.

As I reflect on the man, I observed in the film I was brought to a place of repentance. Unlike Fred Rogers, I often have many unmet expectations of people around me and my acceptance of them is conditional upon them changing to meet some arbitrary standard I have  set for them. I would do well to take a page from Mr. Roger’s book and know that each person I encounter is a special gift of God worthy of respect, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

Living out from a perspective of respect and dignity perhaps I will have the opportunity to speak words of life – both grace and truth – into the lives of those around me. I pray that others will know I truly desire the best life for them and that I respect them apart from their personal views and conformity to my expectations of them.

God gave us Fred Rogers and in doing so blessed a generation and a legacy that he left behind. We would do well in this day of tragedy and turmoil, of division and isolation, to capture the legacy Mr. Rogers left behind.

It can be my personal aspiration to live out of a place of grace that I believe is fully realized in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My thinking is that if we start with words of grace and actions of truth people will start to listen more carefully to us as they did to Fred Rogers. Perhaps it can be a beautiful day in the neighborhood once more.

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“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Until recently ballet performances weren’t part of my everyday life experience. That changed when my six-year-old granddaugher began taking ballet lessons within the past year.

A couple of weeks ago we (my wife, daughter and son-in-law) attended a performance from The Metropolitan School of Dance in Dublin which involved ballet dancers from around the greater Dublin area. The performance, “Alice,” was a musical ballet version of the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll’s classic.  Even though our granddaugher had only a small role in the grand scheme of things I was struck by several noteworthy reflections after experiencing what was a stunning, well-coordinated and executed production.

First of all, the dancers in the production, of which there were many, were obviously performing ballet. Along the way there were various other dance steps used, but the primary focus was on the art and skill of ballet. Everyone was on the same page!

Having said this, the dancers were primarily and largely female, but several male dancers were performing and all were participating at various levels of skill and experience. Some were mature and well-seasoned dancers. Others were just small children and, like my granddaugher were just developing their skills.

The leadership and coordination of the performance was second to none. The production was in two Acts and several Scenes within each act. At every juncture the dancers, performing in their various groups, came on stage, executed their routine and then exited the stage in grand fashion. Knowing what it’s like to lead a group of people of various ages and skill levels, I know what a daunting task this must have been for those leaders working behind the scenes.

Being mainly a female production, I could easily see how the older, more mature girls were developing and caring for the younger girls. Some of the lead dancers came out and mirrored the dance steps for the young ones, modeling what they were meant to be doing. The older ones led the younger ones on and offstage by hand with the utmost care and tenderness.

I admit I’m not in the dance business, however, the entire production gave me much to ponder when thinking about the ways in which we lead, develop and care for others in the church, the Body of Christ. Rather than expounding on my own thoughts I would rather raise some questions to consider for anyone reading this essay.  

Am I, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, as focused on Jesus and His mission of making other disciples as these ballet dancers were in their individual and coordinated efforts? Am I devoting my energy, talents and abilities to perform at the highest level possible for the sake of a common cause? Am I willing to set the pace and lead the way in modeling for others who a disciple is and what following Jesus looks like in everyday life?

It’s all too tempting to be distracted by everyday tasks and engaged in many worthwhile projects but without intention and the focus necessary to be a disciple of Jesus who is making and developing other disciples and leaders of disciples.  

On a broader scale, is the church of Jesus Christ, particularly the local church, willing to develop the gifts and abilities of its people for greater impact and effectiveness in this needy world? How, as a leader, am I contributing to that in ever more intentional ways?

In the verse quoted above, the apostle Paul is writing to the Ephesians in the context of the church being given gifts that build up (mature) the body of Christ. He adds, “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  

No one ever said that being a disciple of Jesus would be easy, much less being a church leader, but no one ever said ballet was easy, yet I saw many skilled performers doing an excellent job of it.

I’m still pondering that wonderful production of “Alice” but more importantly I’m praying that the church of Jesus Christ, both locally and world-wide, will mature in breath and depth of influence.

We have much more growth and development that needs to take place. At least occasionally it’s a blessing to witness an event that reminds us that God still has a plan for our local communities and for our world so desperately in need. And, in my view, we need what I believe only disciples of Jesus and His Church can and should be.  

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“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

When the last decade began in January 2010 I was in the early stages of a major transition in my life. The story is far too long to even summarize, but needless to say several major shifts were taking shape in my life. I had just come through a very difficult season and due to some major personal failures was side-lined from what had been my normal work/life routine. My weaknesses and failures were being surfaced and exposed and it wasn’t pleasant!

At one and the same time I was devastated by a sense of loss and personal failure but also relieved that there was hope for the future and fresh start. Looking back, I can see that I was greatly blessed to have a loving wife (who didn’t abandon me) and family as well as countless friends and care-givers carefully placed around me by the hand of God. These choice people saw me through some of the darkest days of my life.

One of the major lessons at the early stages of the decade was a fresh understanding of the grace of God (i.e. His unmerited favor). In circles where I travel, there’s generally a clear understanding that the Grace of God is fully realized in His gift to us in Jesus Christ. His free gift of personal reconciliation with God culminated at the Cross. However, there’s often less discussion about how the same grace that brings us into a right relationship with God also enables and sustains us on a daily basis. This is equally essential to our health, growth and wholeness.

God’s grace is also highly relational. God has demonstrated limitless grace to us and with us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Before I went through a major crisis I had an intellectual knowledge of grace, but through failure and weakness (alluded to in the verse above) I grew in an experiential knowledge of Grace. I can only be a living demonstration of this grace. I cannot in any manner transfer that experiential knowledge to you or others. You must experience this yourself and hopefully see it lived out in community around you (e.g. God’s idea of “the church”).

There were key people along the way who vividly embodied God’s grace to me and without them I would have never come through a very dark period. They too had experienced God’s unmerited favor. They in no way excused my failure but they recognized it for what it was – an opportunity to grow and trust God at a deeper level than ever before.

I discovered many things through the past decade. It began with an exposure of my weaknesses and a grew through an ever increasing understanding of my daily need for God and dependence upon His grace and sustaining power.

I’ve often been told that I’m a man who is very hard on himself. In my perfectionistic ways I abhor my weaknesses. I often feel they limit my effectiveness and I would be so much better off without them. However, the great Apostle Paul says, he is thrilled with his weaknesses, he even boasts in them. They allow God to shine brighter through him and that’s the bottom line.

I’m not there yet, but I’m continually growing in my awareness that God is not glorified by me being able to make life work without Him. God is most glorified in my life when I’m truly trusting and fully dependent upon Him. That’s why Paul understood that God’s grace was “sufficient” for Him. It should be sufficient for all of us.

During the decade of 2010 to 2019, found many things restored in my life that had been broken or missing in previous years. I can’t begin to enumerate all the wonderful discoveries that I have made along the way. However, I will say this, I discovered that personal growth, guided by God and His grace, is far more dynamic, relational and process-oriented than I ever would have imagined.

If you are feeling a sense of weakness or personal failure at the beginning of this decade, take heart. Some of my greatest life lessons came out of my greatest personal failures. My weaknesses had me listening to the One who is always speaking. He wouldn’t have it any other way. May you know and experience His grace for yourself in this New Year.

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“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

Each year, as August ends and September begins my mind returns to a major transition in my life, now one decade old.

As mentioned previously, it was the summer of 2009 and my life was undergoing internal turmoil. From outward appearances most people would have assumed that I had “my act together.” Little did I or anyone around me realize how little the appearance on the outside was true of what the man on the inside really thought and felt.

Quite without my awareness of it I was living a very isolated life where I could be “god” of my own little world and keep others at a “safe” distance.

The influences that God brought to bear on my life during the summer of 2009 are too numerous to recount but in reflection I realize that there were some major areas of repentance He was working within me. Repentance, if you don’t know, is from the Greek word “metanoia.”  At its root, it means “a change of mind.” It actually refers to a change of mind that results in a change of life. When true and heartfelt repentance takes place we often see dramatic and permanent transformation.  

In my case, there was plenty of drama. I was not at all happy or satisfied with where I was at in life or where I was headed. There were also major issues that I had covered up going back more than a few years which I knew deep down needed to be confessed and cleaned up.

As a result, on the 1st of September 2019 I took one of the most difficult steps of my entire life and phoned a friend. There were probably people around me I needed to speak to first, but I had to start somewhere. The depth of my despair was soon touched by the healing power of compassion in the voice at the other end of the line.

Up to then I was never known as being a very “vulnerable” person. Little did I realize at the time that the leap of faith that I took on that day would radically alter my life forever.

I often refer to myself as “a recovering perfectionist.” A perfectionist, I’ve learned, longs for a perfect world where he or she can “get everything right” so that they can avoid criticism or judgement from others. If I were to confess my sin and brokenness it could radically alter my public image. Would that shatter my life forever? How could I handle it if others knew me in my brokenness and imperfection?

The first conversation led to many significant others. As time moved on there was a new “posture” emerging in my life. This “posture” included not only repentance, but humility and most of all vulnerability. Vulnerability means “open to attack” and I certainly felt open to forces that I could in no way predict or control. The entire experience can easily be described as personally devastating but deeply healing. I would also learn that vulnerability is a steady and constant companion of humility – it’s never “one-and-done.”

I admit there were plenty of messes for me to clean up. I also found that God was in the mess of life and He’s a Master of clean-up and restoration in the lives of all who humbly seek Him. During the past decade there have been many lessons recorded in my journal and at least one book is probably within me. I also have deep and lasting gratitude to the heroes of my life who got me through my darkest hours by giving me time, space and most of all acceptance and compassion.

God designed us to live a life that is “connected” – with Him and others. By living in isolation we can easily become proud and distant from God and those around us who need us to be the “real” people God created us to be.

It’s only through open vulnerability and humble recognition of our need in some type of public way before we can know we are loved and accepted, even in our mess.

One decade later, I’m forever thankful to God who worked in my heart to disturb me into a dramatic change of direction in life. And I’m forever grateful to my family and a myriad of friends who stayed the course with me, loved and accepted me, warts and all. You know who your friends are when they never condone your rebellion but always affirm that your sins never define your identity.

“Coming clean” takes courage, vulnerability and humility but I’m now convinced that lasting change comes by no other route. May you in God’s grace find that path that leads to wholeness, healing and health.

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“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NIV)

September 1st 2019 is not far away. It will be a special milestone in my life.

A decade ago I wasn’t living a very fruitful life even though everyone around me would have assumed otherwise. I had a wonderful wife and family. Most of my six children were thriving and well-adjusted in life. I had a job that was stable and I was by most standards doing well in it. I was part of a local church that was growing and enjoyable to be a part of, both as an attender and as a member of the leadership team. I could elaborate further, but you get the picture.

What no one knew was that for a number of years previous I wasn’t “dealing” with some personal issues that I had swept behind a very thick curtain. Leading up to 2009 I didn’t even think that anything from the past could come back to haunt me. But in reality I was a powder keg only a lit match away from exploding.

Now I know that God doing at least two things with me the summer of 2009. The first was that He was exposing me to some quality teaching through some mentors new to me. He was gently directing me to a better pathway. The second was that He was beginning to expose my sin, error and wrong thinking in some very dramatic ways. Some were my own mis-steps that were very harmful.

Leading up to my transformation, my response to life was much like being a lost driver in a strange town at night in a pouring rainstorm. I was driving frantically never knowing where I was going, where I had come from and where I was supposed to be turning next. Needless to say, I was in serious need of help and direction.

Without knowing it at the time, I was desperate to make life work on my own. If I could figure this life out without others I could perhaps be a hero-crusader – loved and admired for my independence and ingenuity. Little did I know how isolated I had becomeperhaps the biggest danger any of us face.

After a series of drastic personal failures, known only to myself, by the end of August 2009 I finally reached out to a trusted friend and made that life-changing phone (actually Skype) call. Even though I had confessed to God, I finally confessed to another real, living human being.

One of my greatest fears was how people would react if they really knew the darkness of which I was capable. I had to risk and trust that God had at least one gracious person out there who could handle my truth.  

It may seem strange to say, but I had always been a man who loved the truth. The truth of God as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. However, what I was about to learn was the equal reality of grace.  I would now say that these two powerful principles cannot be found until they experienced at the deeper levels of our souls. Do you recall the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? What was the deep emotional experience of that woman? How was her life transformed by the experience of Grace and Truth in Jesus Christ?

That critical call on September 1, 2009 was to a trusted friend who not only loved the truth but was a man full of grace. Without that living reality of Grace and Truth I now could not imagine what life would have been like the past decade. As a result, God showed me that His grace and truth was also embodied in the lives of many others around me. Not everyone – but many of His servants were already prepared to demonstrate the grace and truth I so desperately needed.

God had to bring me to a place of deep brokenness in order to end my years of isolation and self-sufficiency. Previously, I would have said that I trusted God and most people in my life would have believed me. In the coming days and weeks I would actually see what it was like to finally “trust” Him and others He put around me.

The early days of September 2009 were some of the darkest days of my life. I went to bed at night  thinking of how I could end the deep pain I was experiencing.  At the same time that I was suffering my family was too. No way would I choose the easy way out and leave them to suffer more pain and agony that I knew would be their fate without me.

The first two years of the decade were the worst. Any major change of direction in life takes pain, effort and intensity. The cost was well worth the results that have come on multiple levels.

The lessons I learned in my recovery and restoration period were profound. But perhaps the greatest lesson was that we daily need to bathe in the truth of God and in the abundant and generous grace that He offers us. We also desperately need people of grace and truth in our lives who are following the lead of Jesus Christ – the One who is and will forever be “full of grace and truth.”

One of my deepest desires is that I will continue to be and become a man of “grace and truth” – living by the principle that touched me so deeply. How can I withhold from others what was so generously lavished upon me?

I’m rejoicing today that I’m no longer a loner (at least most of the time), isolated in my own little world, trying to make life work by myself. I still have a long way to go in being fully whole and mature, but I have a much clearer path forward than ever before.

Whatever you are facing right now, whatever situation you are in, please know that the path of “Grace and Truth” is the only path to wholeness, spiritual and emotional health. I hope you will also come to realize that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of grace and truth.

I know, because not only have I met Him but I know He has many of His choice servants speaking words of Grace and Truth into my life on a daily basis.

I plan to never leave the path of Grace and Truth – and you shouldn’t either.   

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“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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In this series, I would like to address some concepts we don’t hear much about these days in the regular course of life. However, in the Scriptures they have been given significant importance. We neglect these “forgotten concepts” at our peril.

Endurance

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4 (NIV)

We were doing fine until  . . .

The storm blew in, the car broke down, my wife became ill, I was diagnosed with cancer . . . Fill in the blank. We hear the news, we read the stories and we relate to people everywhere who are asked to cope with a seemingly endless list of trials and tragedies.

Sometimes It doesn’t take a lot to throw us off course. The unexpected situations of life that often beset us can throw us sideways or even shut us down.

Almost weekly I hear of another person who was moving through life apparently with a genuine faith and trust and God and then along came an unexpected setback. Obviously, everyone’s situation is distinct but one thing seems to be consistent – most who don’t persevere seem to depart from their faith because a traumatic event or situation wasn’t resolved according to their desires.

Other times we are beset with problems we never asked for that have little to do with our choices – Our parents suffer chronic illnesses or our children end up with addiction issues. If it’s not us personally it’s a close friend or family member.

After spending a six months this year back in the USA and travelling over twelve thousand miles by car, talking to many people along the way, never did I encounter an individual I knew personally who was not dealing with some very serious matter or awkward person in their family or circle of influence.

Everyone, including myself, is having to draw on strength beyond themselves to persevere in their present context of life.

What is endurance? Why do some endure, and others do not? What makes the difference?

In my view,endurance or perseverance is the resolve to stay on course with God’s plan and purpose for your life regardless of storms and setbacks that come your way. It’s basically staying the course for the long haul.

One reason why I believe many of us do not endure well is the flawed expectation that life should be easy. We live in an era of entitlement. We expect results without the suffering and sacrifice it takes to commit to a process which will lead to the outcomes we are seeking.   

Last Christmas I was beset with a horrible case of influenza. I felt next to death for a week. It easily took another month to fully recover. I must admit I was peeved that I had to endure the flu, but then many others had it just as bad and even worse. I was able to recover at home and I wasn’t even docked for time missed at work.  Many around me ended up in hospitals so full that they had to recover in the corridors. A part of me felt, “why me?” On the other hand it had been years since I last had the flu so, “Why NOT me?”

I used to think endurance had a lot to do with gritting my teeth and putting up with difficult situations until they passed. Unfortunately, that only resulted in lingering frustration and anger. After further thought and reflection I think that one’s inner core beliefs are the difference maker when it comes to perseverance.

Look at what the apostle James says in the passage quoted above, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

Something in how we are created by a wise and loving God while living in this broken world reflects the reality that we will never fully mature without endurance.

God’s desire for us is also reflected in James’ words, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Despite our suffering, God is still good and meets us in the process of our pain so that we can come out the other end as stronger, mature people.

I’m just recently getting back to my gym routine. I can easily spot the men and women who endure difficult, consistent workouts. They are the ones with the slim, muscular figures and the fit bodies. Why should the spiritual realm be any different?

I’m learning that in the suffering I must endure (which is really pretty minor compared to many others I know) God is giving me a much bigger, long-term view of Himself and His purposes.

The Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb writes, “Trouble is inevitable.  Endurance is necessary.  Our high call from God is to trust Him and to trust His heart, a heart filled with love.  Nothing can happen to us or in us that He cannot work together for our good.“  When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Chapter 11, “The High Calling to Trust.”

When beset with unexpected suffering I know that my core beliefs are challenged. I have to come back to a place of trust in God and His greater purposes for my life, my friends and my family. Maybe that’s why endurance is such a key component of maturity and why it’s often such a forgotten concept in these days of entitlement.

God wants access to the very core of our being, where ultimate decisions are made and we align our lives with His greater good. This is the intimate space where endurance and maturity meet. 

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