Trusting God Through Changing Landscapes

iStock_000003913381SailingSunset

We are sitting in our rented beach condo, enjoying a slow, restful morning before the sun peeks it’s warming presence and invites us outdoors. Pandora is playing an Amos Lee station and the melody of a familiar song has sent me into a reflective state.

I must have listened to the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac 50-100 times in the fall of 2012 as I traveled weekly for a 3-month stretch, commuting from Knoxville to Nashville.

A ballad of change, parts of the song so aptly describe the fear and the resolve that I was experiencing as I had made the decision to transition from full-time ministry in Knoxville to starting a new job and serving as a pastor bi-vocationally in Nashville, in order to help plant a new church in the Franklin area.

“Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too”

That’s exactly how I felt: resolved to push through the fear of change; in a word, I was resolved to “go.”

The realization had set in that I wasn’t getting any younger. My children were getting older, too, and I was absolutely convinced that God was calling me and my family right then to relocate to a new area for the sake of the gospel and to trust Him to make our steps secure.

Pushing Through The Fear, Embracing The Change

Within a matter of months, everything in my life changed. I had a new residence, a new place of employment, a new church to help start, a new circle of friends, a new city to explore, and a new group of people to reach out to.

We moved from eastern time to central time, where the sun sets at 4:30 in the dead of winter and sirens sound in the city to indicate when a tornado could be spinning through.

We had to learn our way around a grocery store again, find a new auto-mechanic (our van has over 175k miles on it), and make first-time visits to a dentist and eye-doctor (I’m thankful that my son’s new baseball coach also happens to be an excellent Optometrist, and one of the guys I see regularly in the line at Starbucks is a local dentist).

The fact is, change is hard. Some change is scary. Some is exciting. But all change brings both life and death, the birth of new things and the loss of others.

No matter how you shake it, new is uncomfortable. Yet, people don’t come to Christ without new conversations. Churches aren’t planted without change (both for the sending and the sent). Growth in any area requires that we stretch ourselves beyond what we are accustomed to normally.

It’s right in the midst of the discomfort that God meets us with His grace.

Psalm 23 reveals to us a God who gently shepherds His people throughout the changing landscapes of life. Sometimes there are “green pastures” and “still waters.” At other times, we find ourselves walking through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Yet, wherever we walk, we have the assurance that “surely goodness and mercy will follow {us} all the days of our lives, and {we} will dwell in the house of The Lord forever.”

If The Lord is calling you to a new normal, keep this encouragement close to your heart:

“Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” – Joshua 1:9

God is with you. By His grace, you can sail through the changing oceans tides and you can handle the seasons of your life. The life that is built on Christ is secure, regardless of the changing landscapes.

EnCourage: Examining The Purpose for Our Words

Hunger

Entering the office on Monday, I encountered a very strange smell. I quickly discovered that the refrigerator door had been left slightly cracked over the weekend and that it had obviously not been cooling its contents properly.

Everything that was supposed to be cold had become quite warm. You know exactly what happens when cheese and dairy gets hot. It molds. It decays. It rots, and then it inevitably stinks. My co-workers and I spent the first half-hour of the day cleaning out a nasty fridge!

The sobering reality of our experience is that our words can have a similar effect as the refrigerator in my office. They can either preserve and sweeten our relationships, or they can corrupt, decay, and rot them. For good or bad, our words have power.

Ephesians 4:29 says,

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Thankfully, God has designed our words to have a preserving, sweetening effect on others. As the people of God, we have the privilege of speaking in ways that build others up. Our little words can actually impart grace!

There have been so many times over the course of my life, when God has used someone’s words to impart grace to me.

    Hope comes through words.

    Comfort flows through words.

    Counsel is given through words.

    Forgiveness is extended through words.

    Grace is imparted to us through words.

God wants to use our little words to encourage, strengthen, comfort, and build up His people.

Those who have been consistently torn down by this world can be built up by God’s Word, through us.

Isn’t it encouraging to know that you can be a means of imparting grace to someone else today?

And even in the midst of our imperfections and the times we fail, we can look to the one who was perfect in all of his communication and never spoke a corrupt word. We look to Jesus and have hope:

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment — what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).

“And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29)

The good news for all of us is that there is a Savior whose words and actions were fully pleasing to God, the Father, and those who are in Christ have been clothed in his righteousness.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:1,14,17)

Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this series by looking at The Potential In Our Words.

Attitudes Are Contagious

iStock_000011037137Contagious

I don’t know about you, but I personally had a rough start to the new year.

The first full week of January, I had the flu. I had taken a trip to Knoxville to attend a wedding, and as I returned home I was immediately confronted with a fever of 102, cold chills, a deep cough, and corresponding aches and pains all over my body. It was not my ideal way of attacking my new year’s goals.

When I returned to work a few days later, I discovered that several guys from my office had started the new year in a similar fashion (at home, laid up in bed, sick). The interesting thing I noted was that the sickness hit 4 people from our office at the exact same time.

We must have all been exposed together.

The Flu Isn’t The Only Thing That Is Communicable

Everyone knows that the flu is very infectious. It is easily transmitted by physical contact.

My oldest daughter instinctively scoots her chair away from any of her siblings who are sick because she doesn’t want to “catch” their illnesses.

Attitudes work in much the same way. They are contagious. They are easily transmitted from one to another.

That’s why it’s so important for us to monitor our own attitudes and to be cognizant of ways in which we are being influenced by others.

After one particularly challenging day this week, I vented my frustrations to my wife. She replied with a very convicting and helpful statement:

“When you come home and complain to me, it is contagious and tempts me to be grouchy with my circumstances and take it out on the kids.”

Ouch. Through my wife’s correction, I saw how my sinful attitude was infecting the whole family like a communicable disease. By the grace of God, I repented and asked her forgiveness. My attitude changed and my family was spared from a cycle of harm.

God’s Goodness Is of a Spreading Nature

In contrast to a destructive attitude, we have the wonderful opportunity to impart grace to those who hear our words (Eph. 4:29), and grace spreads.

Richard Sibbes has written that “God’s goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness.”

“That is peculiar to God and to those that are led with the Spirit of God, that are like him; they have a communicative, diffusive goodness that loves to spread itself…God’s goodness is a spreading, imparting goodness” (The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume VI, page 113).

What I’ve discovered is that an environment that is saturated with criticism begets criticism. Others are critical toward you and your knee jerk reaction is to then find fault in them. Before you know it you are “biting and devouring one another” (Galatians 5:15).

If we are not careful and we spread criticism, fault-finding, back-biting, complaining, and a culture of put-downs, we’ll end up spreading destruction. Attitudes are contagious and “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

On the other hand, we can look to our gracious God and spread his goodness and glory to those we interact with.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exodus 33:18-19, ESV)

I am so grateful that God has revealed Himself as a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness! (Exodus 34:6)

As we meditate on how merciful and gracious He is toward us, how can we not spread His grace and goodness to others?

God’s mercy and His grace are contagious.

O Lord, please work in us what is pleasing in your sight and make us more like You, for the good of Your people and the glory of Your Great Name!