Fish On! Thanksgiving 2020

Thanksgiving has a different feel this year.  2020 has been challenging in so many ways. Emotions and feelings are real and raw. Many are even now facing difficulties they didn’t see coming.

Typically, in this season, I sit down and reflect on the events, circumstances and people who have impacted my life. This is what I’m thankful for this year.

My relationship with God.   When all is turned upside down in your life, who do you turn to?  I turn to God.  I believe that He has my best in His plans.  I read His Word and gain wisdom, strength and comfort.  I pray and I feel His presence and leading.  I worship Him to recognize that I am not the center of everything and He is bigger than everything I face.  I invite Him into each day, knowing I cannot do it alone.  I am a better human because of my relationship with Him.

My relationship with Kristin.  I love my wife.  There are truly amazing people in this world that fascinate and enrich my life.  She beats them all.  I am thankful for her wisdom, passion and visionary leadership.  Many people get to see her lead publicly.  I get to see her love on her kids/grandkids, smile in the sunshine and listen to her laugh.  She is my gift from God.  I am a better man because of her.

My relationship with my family.  My family is quite diverse in our personalities, gifts and talents.  I wouldn’t change any of them.  We laugh, cry and disagree with the same degree of intensity.  But we fight for each other.  We pray and intercede when one of us needs it.  We believe the best in each other and we forgive when needed.  From the oldest to the youngest, they are my treasure.  I am a better person because of my family.

My church.  We moved to Tampa almost twenty-seven years ago to work at Grace Family Church.  We left all of our family behind in Orlando.  Who knew God gave and continues to give me a “family” with those I work with and have the honor of leading? This year more than ever, I am truly am grateful for these relationships. I missed so many of our staff and congregation when our doors were closed for a time.  Zoom is great, but seeing someone in person is much better.  This is my “Tampa Family.”  I understand life better because of them.

After these, the list can get pretty extensive.  So, let me give one more thing I am thankful for in 2020…

My Fishing Pole.  This year I began fishing regularly.  It was outside, alone and it gave me something to do.  I learned how to tie knots, hold a fish by the mouth and move through the gills to extract the hook.  It was a great time with my kids, grandkids and good friends.  I have fished all my life sporadically. This year it became my retreat.  Either in the Gulf of Mexico or on my lake, I fished.  I caught some good ones and lost more than I wish. 

I am thankful for the time.  This year, I needed to get away and listen to God.  I faced some of the biggest moments and challenges of my life.  I shouted, cried and sat silent many of those times while holding the fishing pole.  I needed to pour out my frustration, questions and anger.  I needed to repent, forgive and release.  I needed to know I wasn’t alone when things felt like it was all on me.  Fishing gave me the space in my own journey to figure it out.  I lost a lot of baggage this year and gained a new level of peace and strength. 

My prayer for all of us this Thanksgiving is that you have those things in your life that make you better.  I also hope you have those moments in your life that give you the margin to take the next step. 

Fish on!

Lifetime Character

(Excerpt from the book I am writing, “What Pop Believes”)

‘We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.’ Romans 5:3-5

Character…wow, this is a loaded one. I am a firm believer in developing your character daily. If you look at the verse above, it will give you a snapshot of what you will face every day. You are either in one of those stages or in transition as you move to a different one. There will be days of great rejoicing, and you feel like you are on top of everything. You are hitting home runs, and everybody in your life is fine. Then, without much provocation, something changes, and an aspect of your life “springs a leak.” As our body does naturally, you begin to move resources (time, energy, money) to make things better. Sometimes it stops the leak, and you can ride on the wave again. Sometimes, it goes for a long time. When it does, you are going to find out a lot about yourself on the inside. You will find out if you really have what it takes to run a race. Anyone can sprint, but can you run for a long time? It is in that time of endurance you will find out what your character is. The good news is that character leads to hope and love. You have to make it through the perseverance and character part to get to the good stuff and get back on top of the wave.

In 2003, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. To do this, I needed to get myself in the best physical shape. I decided that I would run the Disney Marathon in 2004. In getting ready, I got to know Ronn and Joyce Kelly. What a fantastic couple. At the time, their twins, Grant and Sydney, were three years old. Ronn passed away in January 2019 of colon cancer. I lost a great friend and brother…I miss him. He always started our conversations with “Dude.” Sydney and Grant are amazing, both recently married and doing great things. Joyce is a rock star ministering to ladies in the strip clubs and powerfully teaching the Bible. She is a great leader! It just goes to show how a small decision can lead to lifetime relationships.  

We began training in May, and I found a strong program. In the end, I ran over 500 miles to prepare for the race. I followed a diet and rest program. By the time we arrived at the race, I was ready and gearing for a sub-four-hour marathon. The plan was to be at the corrals early at 4:00 am for a 6:00 am start time. Kristin would have all the kids meet us out on the course. It was 42 degrees when we got to the corrals, and it was cold. We spent the time resting, walking, stretching. Finally, we made it to the starting area. We started the race with 16,000 other runners, and it was mass chaos for the first three miles. I remember running, jogging, walking just to get around people and find some space. After that, it picked up, and by the time I hit the 13-mile mark, I was at 2 hours even, right on my target.  

I remember watching the people who turned left to go to the finish line for the half marathon. It was one of the loneliest feelings I remember. You work so hard to get there, and then they get to finish, and you have to do it all over again. (We will come back to this.) I pressed into the next mile, and at mile 14, something happened that changed my whole race. I developed a cramp in my calf. Now, here is the crazy part. I never experienced one cramp in all of my training. Not once. I stopped, stretched, and ran on, and it got worse. I tried all the things I read about to relieve the cramp, and nothing changed. I would run a while and then have to walk to ease the pressure. After a few miles, the other calf began to cramp. I would never run without walking a distance for the rest of the race. I was mad, angry, discouraged, and worn out.  

That is where I saw Kristin and the kids at mile 21. It was a pretty remote part of the course, so they were the only ones out there. I wanted to run as best I could to them, and by the time I got to her, I was done. The kids all hugged me, and she yelled, “You are doing great! Five miles to go!” I lost it. Tearing up, I said, “I can’t do this. My calves are all cramped up. I cannot run without walking.” This was a God moment. Kristin stepped back and looked at me. She stepped back in, and she yelled, “Don’t quit! Don’t quit! Don’t quit! You worked too hard to quit. You will never forgive yourself if you quit!” I looked at her and wanted to say, “You don’t know how bad it feels.” Yet, I didn’t. So, I gave everyone another hug and chugged off. It wasn’t lovely, but I finished. 

When I got across the line, I got my stuff and was engulfed in a family hug. I was completely dehydrated and wracked in pain. My brother, Jon, helped me get in the van, and I went back to the hotel and slept in a hot bath. I paid the price, but I finished. I was a marathoner! I will not do another one in my life, but I did that one! (No one ever asks, but my time was 4:35…not too bad.)

Such a great story to unpack some truths about character. Here are my takeaways.

  • Character comes from core beliefs and values. You have to know what is central to your life to develop character. My relationship with Christ is the foundation of my character. The principles of the Bible for a relationship with Him, others, wisdom, honor, and finances are the basis for my character. The question that you will have to answer is, “What do I want to be known for when people mention my name?” Let me state it clearly: Chris Bonham loves God, loves others, walks in wisdom, values others with honor, and is generous.” That is pretty basic, but that is the character that I want to personify every day.  
  • Character is developed, not given. You will have to work to build character. If you want your life to reflect those beliefs and values, then you will have to use those “muscles” to get stronger in them. Like lifting weights, you start with small weights then move to heavier. You will encounter life decisions that are “small.” Are you going to spend time with God, love others, cheat when you can, cut corners on projects, lie, or disrespect others? You may have done this when you were a child, but you can’t do this as an adult. The little decisions of childhood begin to show you your character for adulthood. You must choose your character and develop those traits daily. Choose wisely. It is a fight.
  • You will want to quit. Remember the 13-mile mark of my marathon? It was lonely. Ironically, when I sat with Ronn in the hospital before he passed, we talked about mile 13. He did five marathons in his life, and he said something very powerful. He said, “You know, I never turned left and quit the marathon to finish the half. I always turned right and finished.” Character is hard. Remember the verse above. Character is the result of endurance. Endurance is long, hard, tiring, stressful, and appears unending. That is where character is forged. You will want to quit. You will feel like you are alone in your endeavor because others will take the easy route and give in. You will wonder if anyone will notice. You will ask yourself about “just this time.” I will be honest. I didn’t choose character every time. Those times I regret today. Yet, I got back in the race and chose it more times than I didn’t. Enough choices that the character became my foundation.
  • Have the right people encouraging you.  I will never forget the moment Kristin told me not to quit. I have many other people who have spoken into my life when it comes to moments of character. You cannot make it on your own. Invest in people who love you enough to challenge you when you are tempted to quit or take the easy way out. Surround yourself with people who will cheer you on when you do it right. Build a relationship with people who will help you see beneath the surface and who you truly are.
  • Character leads to hope and love. I have never been the most talented person in any area. I am not the best speaker, strategist, athlete, administrator, husband, father, or pastor. There are always others who seem to be light years ahead of me. BUT…I am the best me I can be. My character reflects my life long journey (marathon) to be everything that God created me to be. My character leads me to hope in all situations that God has it under control and that I can love Him and others with no judgment or condemnation. I can’t do that without a foundation that is rooted in Him.  

You got this…start today!

Attitude Adjustment

Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.   Romans 12:2

“Your attitude determines your altitude.”  John Maxwell

One of the greatest tools at your disposal is your attitude.  If you ask someone about mine today, you will hear, “He’s always encouraging,” “He is so positive,” or “He believes the best in people.”  I wasn’t always this way.  In fact, I am wired to be rather analytical.  When I was younger, that led me to be very critical or judgmental.  Only after an intensive journey with one of my mentors did I realize that attitude was not productive or even healthy.  I had to change my attitude.  In doing so I learned the most foundational principle is that I have a choice in seeing things in the positive or negative view. 

It sounds so easy…just be positive.  That isn’t what I wrote above.  Being positive and seeing things in the positive are two different things.  Being positive is the result of seeing things as they are and choosing to find positive in them.  That requires choice and effort.  You will have to make the effort to dig through the moment and find the thread that you can choose to move toward.  It isn’t a “pie in the sky” mentality.  It is an honest appraisal of where you are in each moment to find the ability to move forward with genuine optimism. 

The first place to find the positive is in yourself.  When I was child and teenager, it took me a while to grow into my body.  I had long legs and big feet.  I was given the nickname “Daddy Long Legs” by one of my PE teachers.  I always loved athletics but was the guy who worked really hard to be average at sports.  I also worked hard in the classroom.  I studied, did all my work and got good grades.  But…when I compared myself to others on the field or in class, I always fell short.  Therein lies the problem…comparison.  The greatest step in my journey was when I chose to see myself, with all my inadequacies, as God made me.  I accepted those things I wasn’t and ran after the things I am.  In choosing the positives about myself, I stopped judging myself.  Instead, I began myself to achieve and accomplish the things that I was strongest in each day.  Even when I “struck out,” I knew I was moving in the right direction.  My attitude is strongest when I believe I am empowered in the gifts and talents God gave me to accomplish his purpose that day.

Secondly, find the positive in situations.  We are all facing a lot of challenging situations today.  Life is not void of hardships or “curveballs.”  I try to look at each situation as a step forward.  Even when it feels like I got knocked on my butt, I ask, “What did I learn from that situation?”  When I find the answer, I just took a step forward.  And when a situation is out of control, finding the positive gives you hope.  While on a trip in the Grand Canyon, Kristin and I found ourselves on beach during a strong, lightning storm.  Our tent was next to our good friend’s tent. Since we couldn’t evacuate, we were all in our tents riding out the deteriorating conditions. Kristin and Karin would shout back to each other all the positives they could think of during the storm.  “We don’t have to worry about bugs,” “I am not hot anymore,” “Glad my tent is water resistant,” and “I haven’t slept in my bathing suit since I was a kid.”  Since you are reading this, you know we made it through the storm.  And you will too.  The key to finding positives in each situation is to slow down the moment to find and focus on the good.

Finally, find the positive in others.  This is the most challenging.  Why?  Because we are human…and humans fail.  The challenge is the expectations we put on others.  In any interaction, we want them to meet our desired outcome.  If it is our spouse, it could be affirmation, tasks, gifts, sex or time.  If it is our children, it is their growth, schooling, behavior or accomplishments.  Our coworkers in how they deliver in goals, projects and meetings.  When out in the world, it is how we are served, taken care of, or treated.  In other words, there are a lot of opportunities for people to disappoint us.  Let me give you a thought.  Find what you connect with in each person.  When you do that, you find the positive you can believe and hang onto.  Even with the toughest people to like, I can usually find something that is a connection between us. That is my starting point to believing the best in them.

Today is the day of your attitude adjustment.  I do it every day.  I ask God to give me the ability to do this when I don’t want to.  I ask Him to allow me to see the things I don’t naturally see in each of these areas.  In return, I am empowered with a positive attitude.  If you struggle with this, ask Him to help you.  He will…I am positive He will.

For Me…Not You

For Me…Not You

In our prayer time the other day, Kristin prayed for me with a great phrase. She asked, “Lord, continue to show Chris who he is and don’t let him focus on who he is not.” What a great prayer! That phrase has been working through me in the last few days. 

I have extraordinary people all around me. My wife is a tremendous leader and visionary. My kids and their spouses are all creative and do things that blow me away artistically. My grandkids all have such unique personalities. On both sides of our families, we have parents of great wisdom and siblings who accomplish great things in their expertise areas. The staff at GFC is genuinely humbling to watch in action. Old to young, newest to the most tenured – they are top shelf in their love of God and people.

Yet, all of us have our faults, challenges, and blind spots too! We are far from perfect. We have attitudes and behaviors that cause us to dive into our strengths and talents. We choose our will instead of God’s will many times. We make mistakes, we sin…we fall short…we get tired…we fail.

God birthed in our hearts a need and desire for community. He gave us family as a core nucleus to our upbringing and development. Relationships do so much for as we progress through life. With all of that, you would think God’s focus would be on humanity as a whole. In his unlimited capacity, he has an eye on humanity.

BUT…

‘”I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”‘ Jeremiah 1:5 NLT.

Notice all the “I” ‘s and the “you” ‘s. “I knew you,” “I formed you,” “I set you apart,” and “I appointed you.” He made you so perfect that He dreamed of you; he fashioned you with all your gifts and talents; he gave you a purpose and a message to share. 

And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.’ Matthew 10:30-31

Why would God want to know how many hairs are on your head? How many are missing from the time before? He wants to know every detail about you – inside and out.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. ‘Jeremiah 29:11

If God is that interested in who we are, how we are made and gifted, and has plans and purposes for us…why would we want to compare ourselves to anyone else? God has equipped us with everything we need to be confident in who we are in Him. He has empowered us to accomplish everything before us in our day with excellence and joy. He will be with us during every challenge, life curveball, and question. His Word says that He doesn’t want us to be afraid, anxious, or weary. He doesn’t let us go alone…He never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Go get ’em today…and you thought this blog was written for you.

Sunscreen

I don’t like sunscreen. I have lived in Florida almost all my life, and I still struggle with putting sunscreen on. I don’t like feeling sticky; it stinging my eyes and having to reapply after a few hours.

Casey B. asked me recently, “Is there anything you would have done differently when we were younger?” I said, “Yes. I would have let you mess up my sunscreen.”

Whenever we would go to the beach or the pool, I had to put sunscreen on to protect my skin from burning. I burn easily and have come home many times painfully red, while Kristin would come home with a great tan. She would put dabs of sunscreen while I put on gobs of it.

When the kids were little, we were active around water – swim, body surf, and build sandcastles. If they wanted to ride on my shoulders or get close, I would say, “I don’t want to mess up my sunscreen.” I genuinely regret that.

There were so many times we wrestled, did “fwhps” on their bellies, and hugged…just not when I was wearing sunscreen. I look back now, and I think that was silly. It wasn’t worth the price of missing a special moment, so I didn’t have to reapply.

Now, as a grandfather, it came back to me when I was on our last beach vacation. I was out with Casey, Graham, Jax, Christopher, U. Scott, and U. Matt in the waves. We are all bobbing around, and Jax swims over and puts his hands on my shoulders. Christopher said, “Jax, don’t mess up Pop’s sunscreen.” The next day, when I was wearing my swim shirt, I had no problem with Jax piggybacking while we were in the water.

Wow – why so much about sunscreen? Because while it was protecting my skin from a nasty burn, I also let it get in my way. I encourage you to examine the things that stop you from doing something you enjoy. I love healthy, active relationships with my kids and grandkids. I love swimming and bodysurfing with them. Why would I let myself be controlled by a silly thought or idea? It is so easy to do, and it can shape our lives when we allow it to become a subconscious action.

Do something about it. I am pushing myself to get up when I want to sit, listen when I want to speak, and speak when I want to stay silent. Trust when I don’t want to, believe the best when the story I created is more comfortable to believe, and yes, dive into the moment and put on some more sunscreen instead of missing the moment.

Smiling Behind the Mask

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”

Mother Teresa            

With masks now a part of our daily routine, I miss seeing people’s smiles. Your smile says a lot about you. You can have a big, toothy grin or a Mona Lisa subtle wrinkle to your lip. My smile has changed from dimples in my mouth line to creases in my face and crow’s feet around my eyes. As I get older, I want to smile more than ever…even if it is covered by a mask. People know when you are smiling.

I have always been mesmerized by a smile.  My mom was a practicing dental hygienist for over 30 years. If there is anyone who knows the code – brush your teeth, floss once a day and go to the dentist – it is I.  To the chagrin of many, I actually enjoy visiting the dentist. There is something really cool about having that “polished” sensation when the cleaning is done.

Smiling is one of the greatest tools in a leader’s tool belt. I wasn’t very good at it when I first came to Grace Family Church. After being there for a few months, Craig pulled me aside after a morning service and said, “You need to change your face when you are walking around church.  I know you are focused on getting things done but you look too intense.”  In my mind, “There was always “too much to do and too few people to do it.”  As I began changing my face, my attitude changed as well. I slowed down to talk to people and more importantly, to listen. As I did this, I found out that I really enjoyed hearing a person’s story and find out their gifts and talents. Ironically, as I did this, I found out there weren’t too few people serving. I was walking right past them.

A smile is universal.  It can be used in joy and pain, gladness and sorrow and many times in utter “I don’t know have a clue what to do” moments.  I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Andy Andrews give a three-hour presentation and one of the great nuggets from his talk was “smile when you talk.”  He shared how it helps you in communicating, negotiating and in business in general. 

In my business, it allows me to share the great joy I have in knowing Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  I can celebrate someone else’s win and be genuine about it.  I can sympathize with someone in a time of heartache and bring hope. I can recognize someone and let him know how important he or she really is.  A smile has unlimited potential in all situations to unlock the key to the next step. 

It also can be useful in eliminating something that gets all of us in trouble – our words.  We want to say the perfect thing or we just start talking hoping we just “roll into it.”   A smile is a great reason to pause and reflect before we engage our words and let everyone know what we think.  James 1 says, “Be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to anger.”  If we add smiling to any or all of those three, I wonder if the results in many of our life situations would change?

A final thought – don’t let your smile become a mask. In a day where people want to look like we “have it all together”….we don’t. I don’t. I am daily seeking God to work on me, show me my weaknesses, maximize my strengths and grow. Add the daily pressures of relationships, work and unexpected curve balls – life is challenging. Don’t smile to say “I am ok and don’t need anyone.” Instead, smile and say, “I can’t do this alone and I want to invite you into my journey.” A genuine ask for help met by someone who sincerely wants to walk with you as you grow through life…

The thought of it makes me smile.

A Letter to a Teenager

Letter to a Teenager        

As I was praying this morning, I started to focus on our young leadership at the church.  I am impressed with these young people who are growing in their relationship with God.  They still do stuff that I am baffled by often. Yet, if I sit and talk with them, I am impressed.  It is actually fun and talk with our students at SEU and staff who are under twenty.  The future is bright.

I asked myself “What would I write in a letter to a teenager today?”  Below is my letter:

Dear Teenager,

As you read this, the world is moving in many different directions.  Things that seem normal today have the potential to change.  How you grow and adapt with that change is imperative to your future and those around you. Becoming the leader you are called to be requires development and maturity. This will take intentional effort, time and resources.  The good news is that you have all that you need to do that.  You are strong, smart and more than capable of accomplishing everything before you.  Below are some principles that will help you in your journey.

Learn to ask questions and more importantly, the right questions that will be a catalyst for others to grow.  A person who asks questions conveys a heart that is humble and seeking growth.  This is essential to anyone who wants to excel and lead others.  The ability to ask the right questions is that extra step that separates good leaders from dynamic, excellent leaders.  In life’s situations, take that extra moment to think and ponder all that is involved.  Then, ask the questions that will “laser in” on the best growth possible. You can do this!

Learn people’s names and stories.  Every person you come in contact with presents an opportunity to grow and enhance your life.  It doesn’t matter if that person is young or old, similar or different, likeable or challenging – you can learn from everyone.  People appreciate when someone knows their name.   Do your best and you will still be miles ahead of most people.  In learning someone’s story, you can use this line – “Tell me 30 seconds about your life story.”  If you start by using 30 seconds of your own life, you will be amazed what they share with you.   And you will be better because of it!

Learn to celebrate other people’s wins.  This was a hard one for me but I love seeing some tremendous results because of it.  The more you can genuinely be happy for other people when they “win”, you will be able to enjoy your own wins even more.  It is healthy and keeps jealousy at bay.  The world is competitive enough as it is.  Genuinely celebrating someone else is a great attribute for any leader.

Have hard conversations today.  As you grow, you will encounter tough situations and people.  It is a part of life and the sooner you implement this principle, the more you will enjoy freedom in your leadership.  You cannot blast people out of the water with sarcasm, insensitivity or just being crass.  You can honestly tell them what you observe and feel about a situation. When you are honest, people know exactly where they stand with you.  To me, it shows great honor to someone when you are honest with him.

Understand that you can disagree with someone and still respect them.  This is a big one in our world today.  I am grateful that people have different views than mine and are willing to share them.  If done disrespectfully, angrily or belligerently, I have a hard time engaging. When I can have a dialogue with someone who is open to discussing the topic, then it is a time of insight and understanding that brings a new perspective.  Even if I don’t agree with their views, I now see a different side of the situation.  The ability to see anything from multiple views allows you to build relationship with a great variety of people.

Be curious and explore as many opportunities as you can.  Not the unhealthy ones that are destructive to you but the ones that open you up in new ways.  There are so many ways to learn through classes, cohorts, symposiums, online gatherings and round tables.  Culturally, there are plays, concerts, museums, festivals and athletics.  Travel provides so many environments like the mountains, beaches, small towns, big cities, rural towns and landmark locations.  The only thing stopping you in experiencing these things is you.  Explore now and find out what you enjoy so you can do more of it when life gets busier.

Finally, own and grow your relationship with God.  No one can do this for you and you cannot ride your parent’s coattails in this area.  You are coming to a place where you will have to determine, “What do I believe?”  Take some time to really pray and determine what your core beliefs about God are centered on today.  You are entering a time where they will be challenged, and you need to know what you believe before the challenge comes.  When it does, stand firm. 

These things have the potential to give you foundational tools to develop for the rest of your life. You may already be doing some of them or moving in the direction to really do them well.  I am so proud of you as a young person who impacts so many people already.  I will be watching as God continues to empower you to grow personally and be a catalyst for other’s growth.

Go get ‘Em!

Pastor Chris

Your Comfort Zone is your Dead Zone

“He who is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.” Ben Jonson

The following statements were said to me by three different wise people in my life.  One was a 5-year-old child, one was a 37-year-old woman and one was a 72-year-old man.  See if you can guess which one is each person.

“When something happens, I choose to find the positive or the negative.”

“Sometimes I need someone else doing something first then I am brave.”

“The Bible tells me God is with me, I don’t need to be afraid.”

Recently, I was asked to share on the principle of wise counsel in our SEU Chapel. The exercise above illustrates one of my foundational growth principles.  You can learn from anyone.  It doesn’t matter their age or background – every person can say or do something that presents an opportunity to grow. 

Have you slowed down to listen to a 5-year-old boy standing next to the ocean looking at the waves?  When have you listened to a mom at a playground watching her child navigate the monkey bars for the first time?  Have you tapped into a business man’s life of experience to hear how he faces each challenge?  These may be everyday situations, but their wisdom is timely and profound.  Want to know if you guessed correctly – check out the end of the blog.  (C’mon, read the rest first!)

The key to receiving wise counsel is you!  You have people around you who can impact you profoundly.  Here are some basic principles that are catalytic for you to receive wise counsel.

  • Be Humble – Pride stops growth.

‘But he continues to pour out more and more grace upon us. For it says, God resists you when you are proud but continually pours out grace when you are humble.”’

James 4:6

Pride says, “I got this.”  Humility says, “I invite you to pour into me.”  Pride says, “I will protect you – you don’t need anyone else.”  Humility invites others to show you “what you don’t know.”  Pride says, “I am the expert.”  Humility says, “I continue to grow.”  If you feel like you don’t need input from others, you are relying on your own intellect, gifts and talents.  This is the starting point.  You must move beyond your own comfort and arrogance to recognize that you need others to speak into your life.  You have to decide what you want to allow people into.  I am not asking you to be a puppet to everyone in your life.  I am urging you to open the door to those you trust who can impact your life in a healthy way.

  • Be Curious – What do you want to know to grow?

I am constantly fascinated by things that are interesting to me and other people.  My grandfather took classes at Harvard after retiring.  One of the classes was based on life experiences.  Each person in the class had to do a one-hour presentation on one of their “passions” in life.  He said it was tremendous!  They covered topics like WW II airplanes, Chinese culture, sports, gardening, music, etc. Applying this principle to my life today, here are some of the topics I am learning about today – African American History and culture, HIIT workout benefits, lake management and executive leadership. 

Add to that all the people I interact with daily and I quickly recognize there is so much to learn.  The key is to keep asking questions.  One of my favorites is “Tell me something about yourself that will surprise me?”  I usually go first and tell them that I was in the circus in college and I performed a wedding on Spanish MTV (without speaking Spanish.)  It is amazing how that one question opens up a dialogue for people to share things that excite them in life.  Try it out!

  • Be Teachable – What will you do to grow?

Are you teachable?  If you came to Grace Family Church as an employee, you would recognize that this is a big question.  If you are not willing to learn, adapt, change and move in new directions, you will struggle.  You will be stuck in the rut of what you bring to the moment.  It may be good for the moment but life continues to change.  Will you learn and grow with it?

Being teachable also means that you must take choose to take action.  It won’t just come to you.   Make a call, write a letter, take a class, get some training.  Sit with someone who has done your role and ask them questions about successes and challenges.  When you find something that is “out of the norm,” learn from someone who is has done it. When my daughter, Abigail, wanted to get her certification in personal training, she took an intense course online.  I was interested and joined her…at the age of forty-three and no desire to leave ministry!  It was so much fun learning all the anatomy, philosophy and application of human exercise and even taking the test at the end.  I have been athletic all my life, but I didn’t stop with the extent of my knowledge. I wanted more.

  • Be Intentional – What is your Strategy to grow.

‘Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14 KJV

The word “counsel” in the Hebrew means “to guide, counsel.”  And the root word – “steering, directing a ship.”  Imagine your life is a business.  Mine would be ChrisBonham.inc.  My life would have all the attributes of a business – mission statement, values, assets, liabilities, physical property and relationships.  I could do my “business” and go through life making transactions that affect all of these. 

Any good business also has a strategy to bring all of these together to move the organization forward.  If action is good, then strategic action is effective. When you have a solid strategy and can execute that vision at the highest levels, your “business” will flourish in all of the areas above. 

Jim Collins introduced the concept of a “personal board of directors” to me in a talk he shared at a Catalyst Conference.  He told us to list all the areas in our lives that significantly impact us in our growth. Here are a few of mine:  Relationship with God, marriage, parenting, ministry, leadership, finances, exercise, and nutrition.  I found people that I trusted to become a board member that could speak into one of these areas.  They brought their wisdom and expertise to my “business” and I allowed them to challenge me to grow.  If you think they are a group of old men, you would be wrong.  These are men and women of different ages, life positions and backgrounds.  A few of them have been with me since I started it but some have changed as my life presented new demands.  This has been one of the greatest tools in my life to help me grow.

Imagine your life a year from now if you have these four areas established in your life.  What would it look like?  Would your life reflect all that you value and desire?  Would it have new levels of achievement and fulfillment.  Would you enjoy an element of “fun” in your days that isn’t there right now?  I believe you would.

Ok, here are the answers from above.

“When something happens, I choose to find the positive or the negative.” – 72 yr. old man.

“Sometimes I need someone else doing something first then I am brave.” – 37 yr. old mom

“The Bible tells me God is with me, I don’t need to be afraid.” – 5 yr. old adventurer

Famine

I struggle reading the Bible.

Ironically, I found my daily devotions were easier when I wasn’t a pastor.  In fact, I was most locked in when I was working at UPS and having my devotions at 3:15am because I had to be at work at 4am.  Something about that time became a great routine and I loved reading through the Word. My challenges came when I was a pastor.  I either had read that passage for a sermon or enough times to “already know what it said.”

In 2020, I started a reading plan with my friend, Travis.  We both are on target to read every day of the year.  It has changed from checking the box to really being an important part of my day and routine. 

This week, I read a passage that made me stop.  “How did I miss this before?”  The passage is Amos 8:11 NLT “’The time is surely coming,’ says the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord.’”   This verse is staggering.  The word “hearing” not only means hearing in the traditional sense, but also “to comprehend, understand and obey.” 

David C. Grabbe, in his Forerunner Commentary wrote, “This ‘hearing’ is far more than just being aware of words or concepts. It is a hearing that includes focused, careful attention that, taken to its logical conclusion, ends in obedience. The kind of hearing that will be in such short supply is one that causes right action—in fact, the Hebrew word is often translated as ‘obey.’ This famine causes God’s words not to be heard, and the result is that sin and disobedience flourish—which are a reproach to any nation (Proverbs 14:34).”

The words of the Lord will continue to flow but there won’t be a “tuning in” to His voice.  There won’t be that “whisper” when in that situation where you don’t know what to do and God gives you the next step or nudge.  When someone cries out in pain, frustration or anger, there won’t be the comfort that comes in feeling God’s presence.   When seeking wisdom in a situation, we will be left to our own knowledge and intellect.  And the big one, when facing each day, each circumstance…each conversation, personality and challenge…there will be no hope in something that is bigger, unlimited and able to more than I can…there will be no hope except in me.

Here is the biggest twist in the whole problem.  For some people, they think that is great.  The words of the Lord are more of a nuisance.  They like being on the own.  They like making their own decisions and choices.  Even though the words of the Lord flow freely, they will do it their way.  Famine?  What famine?  This actually brings relief and comfort because it allows me to stay exactly where I am in the safety of my own comfort zone and bubble. 

For me, I don’t want to live life without the words of the Lord.  I am not enough.  I start each day asking God to search my heart and bring out anything that isn’t pleasing in his sight.  I need those words to search me deeper than I would – I am too easy on myself.  I ask God to forgive me of my words, thoughts and actions that go against his will and purpose for me.  I need those words of affirmation that came through the price of the cross to allow me to move forward free from sin, guilt and shame.  “I forgive you” from the Lord frees me up to do all that.

 I invite the Holy Spirit to anoint me anew each day to walk in a fresh anointing from Him.  That I would walk in His presence, leading and discernment.  I can’t imagine a day where I don’t have that extra level of insight.  When others are wondering how did you know or do that, my source is Him. 

Finally, I ask for wisdom.  All through the Bible, the words of the Lord continue to bring a maturity, intentionality and insight that go beyond the words of man.  And this is just starting my day.  That doesn’t even touch the countless prayers that go up during the day with others and the ones under my breath with myself.  I am constantly talking to God all day long.  I desperately need Him.

A day without the words of the Lord is a famine like no other.  In hearing about a famine of food or clean water, it is devastating to think someone doesn’t live through it.  It’s hard for most of us to imagine not having an abundance of food and water.  Now think a famine of God’s Word. Think of His voice missing from your life. There is no alternative to God’s Word, presence or relationship.

What about you? What would your life look like without the words of the Lord speaking into your life? Would it change your attitude? Your actions? For some, what about the opposite? What would you life look like if you invited the words of the Lord into your life? Again, how would that change your attitude or actions. The choice is yours.

Join Hands

On May 14, 1988, Kristin and I got married. We were both twenty and ready to tackle life together. As I have instructed couples countless times as a minister, we were told to face each other, join hands, and say our vows to each other. 

One of my favorite memories of our wedding day was the private, “see the bride” moment. This was before “first looks” were popular. One of my groomsmen asked, “Do you want to see Kristin before the wedding? We will shut the sanctuary of the church so it is just the two of you. She can walk down the aisle, and you can have a moment.” We both loved this novel idea and were so grateful to have this time together.

It has been thirty-two years of marriage, and I am more in love with her today. I married a woman of strength, beauty, humility, and character. We have faced so many challenges over the years but continue to make it through. We are quite the team.

One thing that may surprise you is that we rarely pray together. Early on in our marriage, I worked at UPS loading trucks at 4:00 am and went to school, and Kristin had a more traditional work schedule. That started the pattern of my early morning prayer time and hers late at night. We pray together occasionally, but we always share what we are praying about. One thing we do well is we talk every day. Even when our kids were little, we’ve made time each day to connect and often share what God is showing us.

The idea of praying together changed dramatically, starting in 2020. When COVID 19 hit, we had time. We started praying together more often; before an important decision for our kids, when I went back into the office. It took a while to get our rhythm, but it became part of our routine. Praying together became something we both looked forward to and didn’t want to miss. Our prayer time brought strength through one of the most challenging times in our ministerial careers. 

Before this year, when others would say, “I pray with my spouse,” I wouldn’t disagree with them. I just didn’t think we needed it. I was wrong. Now, when we pray together, it is never the same prayer. God is revealing new insights and aspects of the things we pray about. We don’t follow a pattern – only that we do it. Like our wedding day thirty-two years ago, we join hands and invite God into all that we face ahead that day. 

With our schedule moving back to normal and life going 100 mph, we again face the time difference. On the first day that we didn’t see each other because I had a 6:30 am meeting out of the house, Kristin did something amazing. She texted me her prayer for both of us. It works to pray with your spouse over text! When I read her words, I either text back my prayer or agree with an “Amen.” We have done this numerous times, and the connection and agreement are not lost.

In no way do I believe our way is the only way. After all, it took us 31 ½ years to get to this point. As I shared, I felt we were good; we had a rhythm. What I learned is that we have room to grow. We can establish new practices that will move us beyond good. And it’s worth it.

I encourage you to take some step that draws you closer as a couple. Maybe it’s talking every day about the conversations or challenges you are experiencing at work. It could be agreeing to pray about the same things even if it’s not at the same time. Maybe you are where we were, and praying together is something you didn’t think you needed, but you want to try. The opportunity to grow as individuals and as a couple is rich. You will be on the same page as you tackle each day!