It’s Just the Right Thing To Do

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘obey’ as “to comply, to submit to the authority of.”

Anytime that we obey, there is a price to be paid.  At the very least, we have to submit to the authority of the one that we are obeying.  The price that we pay is our independence.  When we agree with the one that we are obeying, we may not recognize that we are actually submitting our independence in the process.

However, if we disagree with the command, the price is even higher.  We are still required to lay down our independence.  We are also required to lay down our preferences, choices (to do or not to do), and desires.  Especially when we are being stretched or pruned, we may be required to comply with something that seems wholly foreign to our natural self.

Every time that we obey, it should strengthen us and help us to be obedient in more difficult situations.  Unfortunately, there are many times that we miss these opportunities for growth because we forget the ‘why’ behind our obedience.

When we share out of our abundance with others…or when we allow someone else to go before us…or when we choose to forgive someone who has offended us, we often say,

“It was just the right thing to do.”

Our actions are exactly right.  We are obedient to the commands of Abba, but we have forgotten that our motivation for doing all of these things is obedience to Abba.

We run into difficulty when we are forced to choose between obedience to Abba and our own desires. When we simply don’t want to obey.  For those who have made a life-style out of choosing disobedience, through destructive addictions and habits, this can be particularly difficult.

In my own life, I chose self-satisfaction over obedience to Abba so consistently, that even when I wanted to change, it was just too difficult to ‘Just Say No’ to me.  My breakthrough came when I began to choose obedience, intentional obedience, in the little things.  Eventually, as my love for Abba and awareness of his goodness and grace in my life grew, I was strengthened to say no to behaviors that were destructive to me.

Proverbs 3:6 tells us “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV)  The power in this verse is in the word ‘ALL’.  When we make it a habit of acknowledging our obedience to Abba, especially in the things that we do that just seem ‘right’, we will have greater ability to say ‘no’ to the big things that come along to derail us.

A friend once told me that he prays before leaving work to get lunch each day.  He acknowledges Abba’s control of his life, and seeks His plan for that day.  My friend doesn’t want his personal hunger to get in the way of a divine encounter that Abba has planned for him somewhere else.

Acknowledge Abba in the everyday choices of life – the ones don’t seem to matter – and you will have greater strength to acknowledge Abba in the situations that repeatedly destroy your confidence and faith.

Field of Weeds or Dandelion Dreams

I decided at the end of last year to FINALLY try to do something about our lawn.  Over the last 14 years, my regular maintenance has been…

  1.  Cut the grass at least once a month, maybe twice, whether it needed it or not.
  2.  Cut it as short as possible so that it wouldn’t look too bad for the next 2-3 weeks.

The result was a lawn that was mostly green, except for several large patches of dirt that seem to be growing, and a sea of dandelions which would eventually go to seed and produce an ocean of beautiful yellow flowers the next time it rained.

Knowing not where to begin, I turned on my trusty companion and ‘Google’d it’ (you do know that Google is a verb, right?).  I looked at several websites and was truly amazed that all of them gave the same advice, and it wasn’t the advice that I expected.

I had assumed that there was some daily regimen or plan of attack to drive back the dandelion fiends to the borders of my neighbors yard and then with the wind at my back, strike the blow that would sever the heads off of those devilish blossoms of Beelzebub.  Alas, there was not.  The instructions were actually quite simple:

  1. Spread some weed and feed over the entire yard to bring the weeds under control.
  2. Cut the grass consistently, preferably once per week, to strengthen the grass.
  3. Let the grass grow tall, which helps the grass and drowns out the weeds.

That’s it?

In a nutshell they suggested that I treat the weeds once and then do everything that I can to ensure that I my lawn is healthy.

Huh.

So I did, and much to my surprise the dandelions, and many of the other weeds, began to die.  I also raised the blades on my mower a couple of notches and have been cutting the grass every week for the past 2 months.  Every week when I mow the lawn, it amazes me at how thick and soft the grass is becoming.  And I can now walk around the yard every few days and pinch the heads off of maybe 6 or 8 of those yellow beasts and that is it.  Lawn maintained.

So what it the point?

Much of my adult life has revolved around fighting weeds that have taken root in my heart.  Weeds of addiction, insecurity, doubts, fears, anxiety, and too many others to name.  I have spent A LOT of time waging war against those weeds.  I have been completely focused on killing weeds with no focus on my spiritual lawn.  I would fight, get tired, rest a few weeks, and then go full-tilt against the weeds again in an effort to beat them back.

But they just kept coming.  And with reinforcements.

I have known several men who, like me, had struggles against addictions that were never-ending and who were losing ground everyday.  But I think that a new battle plan is in order.  Instead of worrying about the weeds so much, focus on the lawn.

  1. Determine what your issues and triggers are, and put tools and protections in place to keep you safe.  And you need to BE ACCOUNTABLE to someone throughout the process.  This will begin to kill the weeds.
  2. CONSISTENTLY read the bible and pray.  I recommend that you use the New Living Translation One-Year Bible.  The NLT is easily read and understood and the One-Year Bible takes all of the thinking out of it.  Just open it up and read.  And look for passages that speak to you about YOUR life and struggle, and pray those over yourself.
  3. Let your spiritual life GROW.  It WILL drown out the weeds.  Worship is crucial.  Turn off talk and sports radio and instead listen to some instrumental or worship music on Pandora or Spotify and meditate on the goodness of God while you are commuting to work or exercising.  Find a place at your church or in your community to serve those who are less fortunate.  Worship will open your heart to who God is and service will reveal what He is doing in the world, and where he wants you to join in.

In short, treat the weeds in your life, but spend your energy growing a healthy spiritual lawn.

The other day I was out in my backyard playing with our 4 month old, 40 pound, Old English Bulldog named Rocky.  There is a spot in the yard where the grass has become particularly thick and soft.  I kicked off my shoes, which Rocky quickly stole and ran off with, and laid down in the soft grass, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Psalm 23:1-3 NLT.

It’s going to be alright.

Who’s In Control?

And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover, and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.  John 19:42 NLT

“They” were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Joseph secured the body from Pilate, and with the help of Nicodemus, they prepared his body for burial.  They had to hurry.  The Jewish leaders didn’t want the body hanging on the cross on the Sabbath, and sunset was nearing.

But they hadn’t prepared for this.  They weren’t expecting Jesus to die.  They thought that he would become king.  They thought that he would liberate the Jewish people from the rule of the Romans.  But here they were instead.  Preparing the body of their king for burial.

Joseph brought the body.  Nicodemus brought the burial ointment.  And together they prepared the body of Jesus to be eternally buried away.

But what to do with the body?

Once it was ready for burial, they simply found a tomb that was “close at hand”.  Because they were in such a rush, and because they hadn’t planned for this, they simply acted.  They put the body in a tomb that was close by and available.

Don’t forget that this ‘convenient’ tomb is the place where all of mankind first learns that Jesus hadn’t just liberated the Jews from Rome, but he has liberated man from death.  Perhaps nothing in Christian history is more significant than the empty tomb.  And it was chosen because it was convenient.

God’s timing had placed Jesus on the cross on the day before the Passover Sabbath.  And God’s provision had provided a “close at hand” stage to reveal to the world that death, hell, and the grave had lost all of their power.

How many times do we look at our circumstances, fully aware of what we should do, and say…

“This isn’t right.”

“The timing is bad.”

“I should wait until I have a better plan.”

God orchestrates a perfect situation, via circumstances, timing, and divine provision, to glorify himself through our actions, obedience, and faith. And what do we do?

Wait.  We wait until we can work out circumstances and timing and provision so that in our limited minds, it is perfect.  And when that never comes, and moment passes by, we remain idle, doing nothing, and wondering why God doesn’t move in our life like he does in others.

Rather than waiting on perfection, put your faith in the one who is perfect, and act, trusting that the timing, and resources, and abilities are already perfectly broken and ready to be made into something perfectly new.

Abundant Life

John 10:10 is one of the most precious promises that Jesus made to Believers.  He said that He came to give us abundant life!  Oftentimes I look at my circumstances and the world around me and think that this must be a promise that He plans to fulfill in eternity, but that is not what the passage says.  Jesus said that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy (which he his obviously already doing) but that Christ came to give life (which he is already doing as well).

The ESV Study Bible says this in its notes on this verse:

Jesus calls his followers, not to a dour, lifeless, miserable existence that squashes human potential, but to a rich, full, joyful life, one overflowing with meaningful activities under the personal favor and blessing of God and in continual fellowship with his people.

This is my desire for my own life.

  1. To have it overflowing with meaningful activities.
  2. To live under the personal favor and blessing of God.
  3. To stay in continual fellowship with his people.

Where I struggle is in believing that I am already there.  I don’t have to strive to have this life at some future point.  What I have to do is have the mind of Christ, so that I walk daily in the awareness of his plans and purposes, so that I can see the meaning, favor, blessing, and fellowship that is already present in my everyday activities.  Even the ones that feel meaningless and without purpose.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do believe that God has a higher purpose and calling on each of our lives.  He wants us to rise above our present commission, but the road that leads to that higher place is before us today.

We only have to take the first step down the path.

Nothing Changes Until Something Changes

I have been reading Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.  It is a fantastic book about habits and our need to master them so that we can produce the kind of life that we desire.  It has been both hysterical and frightening to see the results of her research and see myself in it.  Yikes!

This morning at church, my pastor spoke on ruts and how difficult it can be to get out of them.  Most of the time, it requires such effort and focus to exit a rut that we just end up staying where we are.  It is amazing to me that we can enter a rut with little effort and thinking, but it requires herculean strength to get out.  If you are interested, you can listen to the message here.

One of his key points was this:

What you think is what you speak.  What you speak is what you do.

We end up becoming what we think.  There is great power in this…we can literally reshape our future by changing our thinking and aligning our thoughts with all that God says about us.  But there is also great danger in it as well.  We can sleep walk through life and never even crack the surface of our potential.  If we are truly honest, most of us go through the vast majority of every day never thinking about what we are doing…we are simply doing what we always do.

We get up. Have coffee. Shower. Eat. Brush teeth. Drive to work.  Work. Eat lunch.  Drive home.  Make dinner. Eat. Watch tv.  Go to bed. Repeat.  No thinking required.

A truth that I learned while attending an addiction recovery group a few years ago is this:  Nothing changes until something changes.  Ever.  If you are unhappy with where you are or where you are going, then something needs to change.  It doesn’t have to be something huge, but it has to be something. And it has to change.  Now.  Not tomorrow.

Now.

Stress Response

How do you respond when the everyday stresses of life reveal places of brokenness within you?  Let me give you an example…

I am currently in the process of training for the Publix Georgia Marathon.  I am right now about 3 weeks out from the race.  The first 10-12 weeks of my training were great.  I was getting in all of my runs; I was hitting or beating all of my paces…it was awesome.  But a couple of weeks ago, as my weekly mileage increased and my paces gradually worked down towards my goal pace, something unexpected happened:  Plantar Fasciitis.

I have dealt with it off and on in the past, but I had taken a few weeks off and thought that it was dealt with.  Sadly, I was wrong.  It was back, and while it’s not quite as bad as it has been, it definitely is there and is forcing me to rethink my strategy.

So I ask again, how do you respond when the everyday stresses of life reveal places of brokenness within you?

I see three possible responses:

  1.  You can avoid the thing that is causing the stress.  This is what I tried to do.  Since the running was causing the PF to hurt, I avoided running.  While this strategy did work to alleviate the pain that I was feeling, it did not strengthen the area and allow it to heal.  Pain avoidance is natural, but it doesn’t lead to healing.
  2. You can push through the pain.  Sure, keep running the longer and harder miles.  You might be ok, or you might make it worse.  And you may destroy much more than your foot in the process.  You might be able to reach your goal, but you will cause more damage and either delay healing, or make healing impossible in the process.
  3. You can spend some time dealing with the brokenness and actually allow the wounded place to heal.  This obviously means some things are going to change in the short-term (lowered expectations) but in the long-term, you can expect to gain these back and more.

In my case, I have decided that healing is necessary.  More clearly stated, healing isn’t a decision as much as it is simply agreeing with reality.  I have stopped running altogether and begun to do some no-impact cardio on my skier.  I am also spending some time everyday strength training and stretching to put small amounts of stress on the area.  Stressing the area just a little and then removing the stress is helping it to become stronger and heal, not just stop hurting for a moment.

One thing that I have found to be true in life is this:  What is true for the body, is also true for the soul.  We find inner healing as well, not from avoiding pain or pushing through and ignoring consequences, but by intentionally focusing on places of hurt and allowing them to heal.

Beginning Again

The only thing that I have ever consistently been in life is inconsistent.  As I review journals and running logs, or just mentally review the one act plays that have accumulated throughout the course of history that is my life, the common thread has always seemed to be:  Surge ahead.  Achieve marginal success.  Face criticism or worse yet, not receive the accolades that I deserve.  Redirect and fall behind.  Repeat.  For most of my life, I have made changes primarily to receive some sort of praise or attention from other people.  When I get the pats on the back, I push on.  When I realize that nobody is paying attention, I move on.  I don’t retain the benefits of whatever behavior modification I am attempting and I seek out the next pathway to praise.

Of course this is a carry-over from my childhood.  Not that my childhood was so terrible.  I grew up in a two-parent home with my mom and step-dad and two step-brothers and a step-sister, or is it half-siblings?  Either way, my childhood was fine, but some of the events of my childhood, along with the way that I interpreted life as a child led to some pretty funky, and life-shaping, bad thoughts.  Thoughts about myself; my family; God.

I have been fortunate enough to spend the last 6 months digging into my beliefs and my past, along with my wife and a couple of dear friends.  The result is that much of the garbage that I was allowing to act as a rudder most of my life has been released.  I don’t feel the urge to perform for praise; nor do I fear that the other shoe is about to drop and God is about to wallop me for not being perfect.  It’s a pretty good feeling.

But not all is well in the house that grace built. I find myself at a crossroads.  As if I have just emerged from a dark woods, an open field before me, and light all around.  Up to this point in my life, I have looked primarily at my past for indicators, or better yet, limiters, of where to go next.  My past has quite literally determined my future.  In the rare moments where I didn’t need the approval of my past, I looked to God, who I just knew saw me as a failure and a gigantic waste of time and energy, and I found more boundaries and limitations, lest I get blasted for attempting too much. 

Now I am only looking at myself, with and from God’s perspective, realizing that there are some things that need to change.  Much of what has gone before was good, I just had the wrong motivations.  I was doing it in an attempt to make much of me, and not the God who created me.  I was desperately searching for the thing that would finally prove to them that I was enough, when God knew that I was enough all along. 

I don’t know exactly what to do now.  Only that I feel like I have the freedom to choose, and to pursue, the relationship with God that He has longed for.  I am beginning again.

But this time from a different place and with a different purpose. 

The Joy of Discipline

Sometimes you write something down to share it with the world.  Other times you write it down so that it will be available to you when you need it again.  This is the latter of the two.

It was brutally cold and windy when I headed out to Kennesaw Mountain for my run yesterday morning.  At one point I saw a bird flying over the roadway, flapping its wings for all that it was worth, and going nowhere.  It was literally frozen above the road, the headwind so strong that the bird was incapable of forward movement.  You could almost see the strain in the birds head and neck as he tried desperately to overcome the wind.  But he never stopped. The last I saw of that little guy, he was still flapping his wings, frozen in time, doing what birds do.

I have not been so strong.  In the past, when the winds would begin to blow too hard, when the goal seemed unattainable, or when I simply felt that I wasn’t up to the task, I would simply change course.  Head off in a new direction, seeking more favorable winds. I was convinced that I would never reach the goal anyway, but I had the ever present awareness that I was missing the mark by taking the easy way out.  Regret.

The word that I can’t seem to shake in my spirit is discipline.  (Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!)  Much like a root canal, discipline is not something that I have longed to make a part of my everyday life.  Discipline is hard.  Discipline requires effort.  Discipline requires denying myself of things that I want now, so that I can have even better things in the hoped-for future.

But the funny thing is, when I allow discipline to have its place in my life, it makes me happy.  More than that, it increases my joy.  It gives me joy to know that my obedience is honoring and pleasing to God.  It gives me joy to know that I am giving myself my best chance at success and the life that God has created for me.  It gives me joy to know that I am living a life that God can use to influence and shape others.  In all areas of life, Upward, Inward, and Outward, discipline increases joy.

In Galatians, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which are love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-CONTROL (or discipline).  Please notice that fruit is singular, not plural.  There is only one fruit, but it manifests itself in many ways.  In my life, it is becoming more and more apparent that these manifestations are related.  I believe that as I allow self-control (a fruit that has always tasted bitter to me), to grow in my life, the other fruit will begin to blossom as well.  My refusal to allow self-control, or discipline, to have its place in my life has worked to slow the appearance of other fruit.

I have always viewed self-control as the Spirit given ability to not do the things that are sinful and harmful to us. But I see that it is also the Spirit given ability to do the things that we must to allow us to grow closer to God and to have healthy and thriving relationships with those around us.  Self-control is DO NOT AND DO.

And so I journal this a reminder to my future self.  When the headwinds are blowing too hard and the effort doesn’t seem worth it, remember that little bird, who persevered in spite of his limitations. 

The winds made him stronger and destination that much more sweet.

“Based on New Information” – Said God Never

I admit that I have been fascinated with the tragic story of Malaysian flight 370 and its disappearance over 3 weeks ago.  It is still amazing to me that in the modern era, when my office can pinpoint the location of my laptop, we have the ability to lose a plane.  I just don’t get it.  But it also reminds me of just how huge and unknown and savage the world is that God has created for us to live on.

Over the last few weeks, there have been repeated changes in the search area.  Typically, these changes have been the result of some “new information” that has been discovered or disclosed.  They have changed the flight’s direction, speed, altitude.  Virtually every detail that could be changed from the original flight plan has been changed. They also turned off the plane’s beacon signal, which makes it impossible for the plane’s owner or manufacturer to locate it.  Combined, this is making it very hard to find this plane.

I realized this morning that this is not the way that my life operates in God’s economy.  There is no “new information” with God.  He knew my beginning and end before the foundation of the world.  He knew every detail of my life.  He has been surprised by nothing.  He knows exactly where I am, where I am going,  and when I am going to arrive at the destination.

How foolish of me to think that I have done something or experienced something that will change or disrupt God’s plans!  He was aware of every decision and hardship that I would face in life before the world was even created.  He knew that my parents would divorce.  He knew that my father would die and that I would stubbornly refuse to reconcile. He knew that I would not finish college.  He knew that I would fall in love and marry at a young age.  He knew that we would struggle financially and make some poor decisions with money.  He knew that our children would be born prematurely and the stress that it would bring on a young couple.  He knew that I would fall into addictions.  He knew that the economy would weaken and that I would find myself unemployed.  He knew that our house would lose its value.  In this world you will have trouble….  He knew all of it and he still created me, in this place and in this time. And with a purpose.

But God’s purpose always has been and always will be about him.  It has never been about my circumstances or decisions.  It has always been about using this life for his glory.

So I hope that they find that plane. I hope that they discover what happened so that the families can have some closure.  And I hope that I will continue to accept that this life is God’s original and perfect plan and I will stop searching for significance . Stop thinking that I have somehow gotten off course and that God can’t find me based on this “new information”.

Today I hope that you embrace the fact that you are who God created you to be. You are in the place and time that God chose for you. And your circumstances and your responses to them are all tools that God is using to draw you closer to him.  All for the purpose of knowing him and revealing him to the world.

For his glory.

Why Can’t Everything (or Anything) Just Be Easy

I was reading through 1 Peter during my devotional time last week, and the closing remarks at the end of the letter really struck me:  My purpose in writing is to encourage you and to assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you.  Stand firm in this grace.  1 Peter 5:12b NLT

Peter authored this letter and sent it to the believers who were scattered throughout the area known today as Turkey.  These people were facing fierce persecution and physical abuse at the hands of unbelievers in the area.  Throughout the letter, he reminds them of all that Christ had done to grant them salvation, and also challenges them to continue living holy lives before their persecutors.

Although most of us won’t experience the kind of resistance that believers faced in New Testament times, we do face significant resistance from the culture and world in which we live.  The world around offers a multitude of distractions, enticements, and alternatives to the things that we know that we should be doing.  Our jobs, schedules, media, activities, and our physical health have become the preferred methods of distracting us and leaving us disillusioned with the thought of improvement in our lives. 

During this time of year, many people review their position in life and resolve to make positive changes occur in themselves and the world around them.  Most never see the change that are hoping to make.  Not because they can’t, but rather because they won’t.  Whenever life gets to hard, or the distractions get too big or too many, they just quit.

I hope that you, dear reader, are not counted among those who quit.  I hope that whatever you are attempting to do, you realize that the hardships that you are facing are there to get you off track, and that you persevere in spite of them, or maybe even because of them.

Peter concludes that passage by telling them to stand firm in God’s grace.  I believe that God gives us dreams and desires that we know that we can not accomplish within ourselves specifically so that we will lean into him more and more.  When we know that he is guiding us, even when the skies are dark and the road is rough, we can confidently trust him to see us through it, if we will just stay the course, and stand firm.