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!

Tough Times

These are tough times. 

2020 has brought events that will transform so many life elements that I consider foundational: life, health, marriage, family, work, culture, politics, society, race relationships, and God. I cannot think of one thing on that list that hasn’t been affected by all of this year’s craziness. 

As I navigate through each one of these, I find myself asking more questions. Like many, I start with the “Why?” “How?” “How long?” “Who?” and so on. Then, I usually move into the “Help me understand?” phase of trying to get insights into what brought on that particular event that would cause it to happen. I want to empathize with people in those moments. I want to validate what they feel. I usually spend a lot of time asking for insight, discernment, and wisdom in each situation. It’s tough. 

With so much uncertainty, how will you keep yourself in a healthy place – physically, mentally, and spiritually? These three areas are crucial to our well-being. My father in law once told me, “When one of these areas are hurting, you can live with it as it heals. When two areas are challenged, life gets difficult.” This year has genuinely illustrated that paradigm. Let me share some thoughts on each.

PHYSICAL

I could spend lots of time one this one sharing what I have learned over the years of sports, triathlons, and working out. I am going to be brief. Find something you enjoy and do it. When that enjoyment stops, do something else. The body wasn’t made to be sedentary – move it. I can’t dance very well, but I can do burpees. I can’t run very much due to injuries, but I can ride a bike. Try something new. In recent years, I found a new love of fishing, paddle boarding, and boating. Do something every day.

Food is your fuel. There is so much information and support out there to develop a healthy plan that works for you. Make good choices and find a way of eating that supports the lifestyle you want to have. 

MENTAL 

This is one area that I have really worked on this year. In reading some of my previous blogs, you would recognize that mental toughness is something that I have tried to develop over the years. I am not where I want to be, but I not where I was. I know this will be a life long journey.

In the last few weeks, I have used three simple phrases to help me work through difficult situations.

What can I control in this? This is a great question to help you determine the scope of what you can do about a situation. Many times, things are out of our control. Other people are making choices that affect you. Situations happen outside of your ability to change it. In the end, I have worked with this answer for me: I can control my thoughts, my words, and my actions. Everything else is out of my control.

Stay in the present. Does it add to your strength and resilience to rehash the past or playback the scenario of what could happen in the future? We need to learn from the past. Find the nugget of wisdom and move forward. One of my gifts is strategizing, and I know developing plans is essential. There is time for that and time to let it rest. 

Fear and pride want us to allow the past and future to take us to unhealthy places. We either beat ourselves up or become arrogant about our history. Also, we can approach the future either under-confident or with too much belief in ourselves. The present is where you can bring it all to God and approach the situation in humility, courage, and wisdom. Fight to stay in the present. You will find that both your past and future will show the results.

Don’t write stories you know are not true. This is a formidable skill to develop. Our natural tendencies cause us to look out for ourselves. We justify why we said or did something. We do not give as much grace to others. We tend to “write stories” about someone else’s intentions and motives. We use non-verbal cues, words, actions, and situations to begin to formulate “a story” in our mind, not based on truth and fact.

For example, I am on the golf course I and I give my friend on the 18th green a $10 bill. In seeing that, am I helping pay for the round of golf, tipping the staff, paying for a lost bet, giving him money for personal reasons, etc.? Each way you look at it will cause you to think differently of me. We think we “know” things, and honestly, we don’t. The harsher truth is we make judgments and assumptions on those things, and we begin to write the story in our mind. If you want to make it through tough times, I strongly encourage you to stick to the facts you know.

SPIRITUAL

Staying spiritually healthy during tough times is challenging. There are so many ways to spend time with God – reading His Word, worship, prayer, solitude, enjoying His creation, and many more. Even so, God cannot be seen, touched, and heard in an audible voice (most of the time.)

In 2020, I have used all ways listed above to be with God. I have seen a real love for His Word grow more profound, and my prayer time more meaningful to me. Worship and solitude have brought special times of intimacy that have particular meaning to me. It has been a rich year of growth.

Yet, I have also struggled with God in this year’s challenging times. My expectations of Him challenge me. I know he can heal, change, fix, and redirect many frustrating events, people, and situations. He could take away the pain, hurt, anger, and disappointment that so many people are dealing with daily. He could make His presence evident to people in a way that would cause them to flock back to Him. But He doesn’t always do those things. I have learned that my expectations of God sometimes don’t line up with His plan. I can choose to believe that God is distant and far, or I can put my faith in his will and purposes. 

There is an excellent illustration in C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters.” A little background on the book’s premise: the chief demon is instructing a junior demon how God (his enemy) works. Here is one of his admonishments:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

When we look around for God during tough times, many times, it appears He has vanished, and we are alone. At that moment, you have a choice. You can believe that is true, or you can believe Hebrews 13:5 NIV, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” In making that choice, you set your path to navigate the tough times. It will be driven by circumstance and events or faith, and hope. Ultimately, you will have to choose.

I will end where I started – these are tough times. You are going to make it. You will be tougher, stronger, and wiser. The sun is going to come up tomorrow. Take the next step.

My Best

An excerpt from a book I am writing “A Day in the Life of a Pastor” 

– My Best

I was listening to a teaching by Bill Hybels, and he used a phrase that caused me to pause, write down, and ponder. He said the following words:

“When did God do his absolute best for me?”

He proceeded to talk about Jesus being the unblemished, Son of God, a man of flesh, yet without sin. He was the perfect sacrifice. Hybels spoke about the Holy Spirit’s role, God’s perfect gift for man’s ongoing, daily relationship with Him. He even mentioned the perfect destination and that heaven awaits all who have a relationship with God. He ended this segment with a new challenge/statement.

“My best for His glory would be greatly appreciated.”

I have pondered this teaching for a while now, and it has been an amazing journey. I realized pretty quickly that God has perfection in all that He has provided for me. I haven’t achieved perfection in anything that I have given him. I fall short in every gift, talent, thought, words, or actions that I performed. My achievements were never perfect…there was always room for improvement, better results, and attitude. I will never match God in the giving ratio. God = 1, Me = 0.

The statement doesn’t ask for my perfection. It asks for my best. When I read that, I think about all my efforts. I don’t do many things halfway. When I decide to do something, I will make an incredibly strong commitment. Watch me work out at the gym, and my commitment looks like a puddle of sweat around me on the floor. My eating habits line up with a diet that maximizes my health. “My best” does well most of the time, but it doesn’t reach the highest levels possible…it doesn’t reach perfection. It falls short every time. God = 2, Me = 0.

“For His glory” is a tough one to ponder. Do my words, thoughts, and actions bring glory to God? Are there things that in my daily routine that reveal God’s glory to others? Do I give others the time or the listening ear they need to help them see God’s love in me? Do my thoughts always bring reverence to God and exalt his power and character? 

Tough one…not even close. God = 3, Me = 0.

Aren’t you glad God scores it differently?

God = 3, Me = 0 

God =3, Me + Jesus = More than Enough

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Before 2020 turned into the craziest year for all of us, I started with the goal of losing 10 pounds. My doctor said, “You work out, eat well, and you love fitness…can you lose some weight?”

I began by going to a nutritionist who helped me see how my food choices included natural sugars and extra calories. I started tracking my sleep. But the big kicker was my daughter Taylor’s suggestion to get a stationary bike – A Peleton without the cost. I got a dupe bike for a fraction of the cost and downloaded the App. This all arrived a week before the stay at home orders went into effect.

During one of the spin classes, one of the instructors said, “You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” That phrase has been part of my journey ever since. Not just in my exercise… in everything.

This year has challenged so many of us to go to uncomfortable places.  Not just outside our homes but inside as well.  In our jobs, relationships, families and even our own thoughts, we feel the strain that is put on these precious parts of our lives.  Our human nature wants to move back to what feels normal, comfortable or easy.  Honestly, who knows what that is going to look like?  We were not created to do this alone.  We need to invite God to be with us as we navigate these uncomfortable times.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NIV”.

Look at the action verbs in this verse – come, take, find. Let’s use these as our template to look at what the uncomfortable can do for us if we let it.

Coming to God is humbling. You have to admit that you need something bigger than yourself. You will need to slow down the speed of life into a series of moments where you can admit you are not in control, you don’t know the answers and you recognize your brokenness. This is uncomfortable. If you think it is only you, look around – we are all broken. If you need more encouragement, look in the Bible. All the heroes of the Bible… broken and needed God to intervene.

Need one more nudge? Jesus himself needed to come to God. ‘Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. ‘ Luke 5:15-16

As his ministry and notoriety spread, Jesus pulled away and spent time with God. What does that look like for you – reading the Bible, prayer, worship? Maybe it is sitting quietly and letting God speak to you. Come to Him and just talk with him. Tell Him everything…he can handle it.

What do you take up? The truth. This is a big one for me. One of the greatest deceptions in our lives are the stories that we allow in our heads. Your mind is bombarded with stories every day. People’s lives and situations, social media, the news, society, culture, entertainment, politics, and even the church are creating new stories every day. You wake up and go through your day picking up pieces of other people’s story while trying to understand the one that is in your head.

You may have heard the verse, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 NIV. Let me encourage you to add the verse before it to the equation. ‘To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ‘ John 8:31-32. You have to believe Jesus is who he says he is. And you have to believe the Bible is true and apply it to your life.

Taking God’s word and using it as guide for our lives is uncomfortable because it directly contradicts our human nature to be comfortable. We like to focus on ourselves and what we need more than what is best for us. The first time I pushed away a second helping, went to bed early or sweated in my garage did not make me comfortable. It was just the opposite. It is a choice to give up the thing that feels good in the moment for the bigger picture or goal. I choose to be uncomfortable to see the growth and progress. Same with God’s word – it’s your choice to either keep it on the shelf or live by it.

When you come to God and take up His truth, What do you find? You come to the place that God will meet you in your brokenness, bring true love and direction… and you will find peace.

Honestly, I am doing my best to apply all this to my life every day. For the last year and a half, my family has been through many challenges. Personal curveballs that have knocked us down like waves during a hurricane physically and emotionally. Add the ministry, pandemic and racial tensions in our culture today. It is truly uncomfortable. Yet…and this is a big YET…I am walking in a peace that I have never felt before. Only with God, can I take everything that comes my way each day and win the battle for peace. I am not enough but He is!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ‘ Philippians 4:6-7

Can I leave you with one more uncomfortable challenge? What if this verse is true? What if God really can meet you in your mess today and you could walk through it with a heart and mind at peace? What do you imagine that would look like? Personally, I am living that. I am uncomfortable with many of the things in my life right now. YET…I know who I am and who I am not. YET…I know what I control and what I do not. I am uncomfortable…YET, I take comfort in Him.

YET...I am at peace.