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!

How to Find More Time to Read

iStock_000028155448Time to Read

Sometimes I’m envious of my kids and how much time they have to read.

Yesterday, my wife took our children to the Library, a weekly ritual of hers, and they returned with a huge stack of books. Each one immediately set off to a quiet place to read and devour what he/she had received. They were occupied for hours, and I know it won’t be long before they all make their way through every bit of their reading material and will be begging for another Library trip.

It’s a lot harder for me to find time to read. In fact, in this season of life, I have to fight hard for it. I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones sentiment, as John Piper describes it, that “the fight to find time to read is a fight for one’s life.” Piper states,

“I, for one, am not a self-replenishing spring. My bucket leaks, even when it is not pouring. My spirit does not revive on the run. Without time of unhurried reading and reflection, beyond the press of sermon preparation, my soul shrinks, and the specter of ministerial death rises. Few things frighten me more than the beginnings of barrenness that come from frenzied activity with little spiritual food and meditation.” John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, page 66.

Here Are Some Ways I Am Fighting To Find Time To Read:

    1. Plan Time To Read. You would think that if you value something so much, that you wouldn’t have to be disciplined about it. But that’s not the case for me. With the regular demands of family life, work, and church-related responsibilities, reading time does not come naturally. I have to literally plan time to read. I have found that I do my best reading and thinking in the morning hours between 5-8am, before the rest of the family is fully active. I have some very good friends who think better at night, and they use their late-night hours to read. The important thing for me has been to find a time that works best for me, and to establish a rhythm and routine of reading.

    2. Take a 20/20/20 Approach. If I wait for large-chunks of time to appear before I crack open a book, I may be waiting for a long time. However, even in the busiest of seasons, I find that I can usually carve out 3 separate 20-minute time-slots to read each day, for a total of an hour a day. I do this by reading for 20-minutes in the mornings before going to work. I can then utilize my commute (20 minutes round-trip) to listen to an audio book or sermon series. Finally, in the evening, I can read for 20 minutes before going to bed. Evening reading is the hardest for me because I tend to fall asleep, so I prefer more time in the morning.

    3. Cultivate a Love for Reading in the Home. If everyone is occupied with a book, it’s so much easier for me to be occupied with a book. Some of my favorite times are when the entire family is curled up on the couch reading separately. (This should get easier as the kids get older). My wife and I try to cultivate a love for reading in the home, first by example and then by regular trips to the Library or Bookstore, by discussing what we have read at the dinner table, and by reading together in the evenings.

    4. Utilize Weekends and Vacations To Read. Weekends and vacations provide a wonderful time for us to rest through reading. Here you have large chunks of time that the hustle of regular weekdays does not provide. It’s fun for us to think ahead and plan for what books we want to enjoy or tackle over a vacation. God has met me in profound ways through reading as a means of grace in these times of extended reflection.

    5. Be Creative and Enjoy It. I have a friend who listens to audio books while he travels. Because he has a good bit of travel time for his work, he said he is able to listen to a book a week, on average. That’s 52 books a year consumed during travel time that could otherwise be easily wasted! Taking this approach, I recently set up a speaker system in my bathroom to enable me to listen to audio books while getting ready for work in the morning. Using my iPhone, I can continue listening to the same material while I commute and when I exercise. I’ve found that doing this often affords me the opportunity to consume an extra hour a day of reading material, while making other mundane activities more enjoyable.

    6. Give Up Something Else. Finding more time to read may mean that we have to sacrifice something. It may mean that we turn the TV off by 9 or 10pm. It may mean that we limit our time online. Personally, I didn’t join FaceBook until 2011 and only joined Twitter in 2013. I enjoy them both. I’m also amazed at how much time those two sites can suck from you, if you are not careful. I can no longer use the excuse that I don’t have 20 minutes to read, because I know for certain that FaceBook and Twitter take at least 20 minutes of my day, each day.

Again, it is a fight to find time to read. And it’s a fight that’s certainly worth our attention and effort!

How do you find time in your busy schedule to read?

The Danger of Setting Goals

iStock_000021351648Danger of Setting Goals

This is the time of year when people typically begin to review the past, relish the fondest of memories, and imagine a brighter future for the days to come.

New Years’ Eve Celebrations will necessarily be followed by massive clean-up efforts, and fresh resolutions will tack the door frames, hallways, and refrigerators of our everyday, ordinary lives.

New Year, New Start

New Years’ Resolutions get a bad rap at times. Perhaps it’s the universally-accepted phenomenon that these types of “commitments” can easily be short-lived and then we’re delivered back to the desperate norm of the most basic of goals: survival.

So, let me add my voice to the barrage of other bellowers berating the besetting “sins” of setting goals.

Here are 4 dangers I see in setting goals:

1. They provide clarity and focus

It’s so much easier to rush from one event to the next, frazzled and frantic amidst the rush of frenetic activity. Your heart races, your body pulses, and you tend to “feel” more when you’re stressed and anxious and hurried and un-focused. Setting goals provide a clarity and focus that takes away that anxious feeling of not-doing-what-you-should-be-doing-when-you-should-be-doing-it. So, I don’t recommend setting goals if you prefer the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort-of rush. It’s certainly not for everyone.

2. They hold you accountable

We love the phrases “no commitment required”, “no monthly fee”, “no obligation”. Who wants to sign a contract when you can get the same type of service with no commitment? This may work for some cell phone and cable-tv services, but it typically doesn’t work in trying to achieve our goals. Setting the goals is the easy part. Committing to them is what requires hard word and effort. It’s what helps us push through “the messy middle.” If we’re committed to our goals, they hold us accountable. That’s a dangerous thing if you’re opposed to accountability, hard-work, or effort.

3. They help you say “No” to other things

The word “No” has to be the most hated word in the English language. It’s the first thing a toddler screams about. Tell a 2-year-old “No” when she is about to put a fork in an electrical outlet, and two things happen: 1) you will save a life, and 2) your ears will hurt. “No” enforces limits. “No” establishes boundaries. “No” tells us that we can’t be everywhere, do everything, read every blog, participate in every event, and still achieve our every goal. In other words, “No” puts an end to our continual lust for God-like status. It reminds us that we are finite beings and that only God is infinite and unlimited in his power, wisdom, love, and strength. If you don’t like the word “No”, you might not want to set any goals this year because establishing clearly defined goals helps you say “No” to other things.

4. You just might achieve them

Perhaps after reading the preceding dangers, you are still with me in your desire to set goals. If that’s the case, I understand. However, you do need to be very careful of this final danger. This one is a tricky-one, and it may be the most dangerous of them all, so let me explain. In the event that you do decide to set clearly defined goals that provide focus and clarity, you decide to commit to those goals and be held accountable to them, and you learn how to say “No” to other things in order to achieve your goals, be very, very careful of this lurking danger:

You just might achieve your goals.

What are your goals for the new year? How will you hold yourself accountable to those goals? What do you need to say “No” to in order to achieve your goals? I would love for you to leave any comments in the comment-section below.

Need Your Soul Revived? I Recommend A Reading Plan 

iStock_000021072677Bible Reading

Conquering the Distaste for Reading

I used to hate reading. I would have rather done anything in the world than sit down and read a book. The idea of devoting focused time on some sort of reading material seemed so boring. I would think,

“Give me a video game or a movie, some music or a football, but please don’t hand me a book!”

Of course, this negative attitude toward reading made some classes in high school rather tricky because I was often required to write papers on certain books that I had “read.”

To circumvent my displeasure of reading, I skillfully learned the art of interviewing my friends about the details of a book before a paper was due, and then writing the paper from content I collected in my interviews (not a habit I would recommend to my kids!).

Now I LOVE to read. If I had my choice of any leisure activity, it would most certainly involve time invested in a book (probably on a beach, and most-definitely with my wife and kids close beside me).

Question: So, what in the world changed my point of view?

Answer: I met Jesus – that is to say he revealed himself to me – and the night I met Him I discovered that He had authored a Book (2 Timothy 3:16).

I can still vividly remember opening a copy of my pocket New Testament shortly after I was converted. I began reading in Matthew, voraciously soaking in every word and underlining words-of-life in red ink like a ravenous scavenger.

Though my conversion sparked a love for all kinds of reading, there is One Book that has remained constant in my daily life: The Bible.

Since the day of my conversion, I have never stopped reading it. It’s hard to believe that this upcoming year I will be making my way through the entire Old and New Testaments for the 17th time, and it has never grown old. (Note: Pocket New Testaments fall apart when carried in your pocket daily – poor design if you ask me!)

Looking at the copy of that tattered and taped-up pocket New Testament always reminds me of the miracle of my conversion. It also reminds me of the value of Scripture.

What’s So Special About the Bible, and Why Should We Read It Regularly?

Simply put, Scripture teaches and our experience confirms that God’s Word is not like any other book in the world: it is a living book, breathed out by God Himself (Heb. 4:12-13). The Word of God is inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative and sufficient for life and godliness (Psalm 12:6; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). God’s word is necessary for us to understand the way of salvation. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:14;17), and God promises to accompany His Word with saving and sanctifying power (Isaiah 55:10-11; John 17:17).

So reading is a form of feasting for the Christian soul. If you need your soul revived this year (as I know I do!), hear again the psalmist’s declaration:

“the law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” (Psalm 19:7).

Whatever your sentiment has been in the past on the topic of reading, I want to encourage you to make it your prayer and earnest pursuit that in the present, this year will be one in which you are devoted to the Word of God.

Scripture teaches that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, emphasis mine). Since our souls are nourished by every word of Scripture, and we are to live by every word of Scripture, why not make a plan for reading every word of the Bible?

Simple Plans for Simple People

There are many Bible reading plans available to help us with this goal, and it’s never too early or too late to start.

My personal favorite plan is The One Year Bible which guides you daily (and quite manageably) through an Old Testament and New Testament reading, as well as a reading from the Psalms and Proverbs. I have found with this plan that if you devote 15-20 minutes a day, you will very easily read through the entire Bible in one year (our 10-year-old daughter is beginning her 3rd trip through the entire Bible using this plan, so I know anyone can do it!).

We want to be people of The Book. This year, may we all give ourselves to soaking in the Word of God.

As a result, may our souls be revived by God’s Word and may we continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18)!

5 Benefits of Running with Faster Friends

Running with Faster Friends

I have the privilege of working with some amazing people at Provisions Group. It’s an incredible environment. My colleagues work hard, and they run hard. Literally.

One of my co-workers has completed 5 marathons. Another is a very accomplished, officially sponsored triathlete. (Chad Nikazy writes in his spare-time about “The Gentle Art of Balancing Marriage, Parenting, and Triathlon. He has over 4,600 subscribers to his blog, trifatherhood.com).

The owners of our company are excellent athletes and continue to compete in races around the area. Several of my co-workers completed a 50k trail run last year and there are a few here with Iron-Man competitions under their belts (hint: a 50k trail run is longer than a marathon). Needless to say, it’s an energetic atmosphere and you can always find someone ready to run or work out with you.

My Internal Dilemma When It Comes to Running

It’s difficult to keep up with guys who have been running for so long when I’m just getting started (In fact, I think it would be difficult to keep up with them even if I had been running for years).

So, I have a choice to make each week, and with each new invitation to join them for a run. I can either bow out, or I can man up. I can shrink back, or I can stretch myself.

I’ve always been glad that I’ve joined them – once we get back to the office. On one of my runs, as I was struggling to catch up, I identified what I am calling “5 Benefits of Running With Faster Friends.” This is what I have to remind myself of as I tie my shoelaces on the way out the door.

5 Benefits of Running with Faster Friends

1. The Challenge.

As a novice runner, it’s very challenging to hit the road with very experienced runners. The pace is much faster than if I had set out for a run on my own. I have to push myself, and it’s hard. But I know that running with faster friends has a sharpening effect on me. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). The benefits I gain from embracing the challenge are worth all the effort involved.

2. The Camaraderie

There’s nothing quite like a band of brothers attacking a challenge together. On one of my first runs with my friend, LJ, the final stretch was filled with his encouragement: “COOPERS AREN’T QUITTERS! COOPER’S AREN’T QUITTERS! COOPERS AREN’T QUITTERS!” I was breathless, but with every one of his proclamations, I rose to the challenge and finished the course. There’s a bond created from running with faster friends. When I’m faced with difficulties, I want to hear LJ’s voice in my head and keep pressing on.

3. The Refreshment

Even in the cold months, running outside through downtown Franklin has a refreshing effect on my body and, in turn, has a positive effect on my soul. I think of a very helpful quote from Charles Spurgeon:

“He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best.” Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p. 158

It’s good for the body and the soul to get outside, even if that means running with faster friends.

4. The Humbling Effect

Because I’m running with faster friends, I’m usually bringing up the rear on all our outings. That’s humbling for me! I think it’s also good for me. I’m reminded when we run that I don’t always have to be out in front, leading the pack. Instead of bemoaning my own weaknesses, I can acknowledge the strengths of others, and I can seek to learn from my faster friends. It’s the only way to grow, which leads me to my final point.

5. The Growth

Unless you are Usain Bolt, there’s always someone faster. And unless you are King Solomon, there’s always someone wiser. Proverbs 13:20 says “He who walks with the wise, grows wise.” It’s wise to walk with the wise because when you walk with the wise, you grow wise.

Maybe it accelerates our growth even more if we run with them. At least, this is what I am going to continue to tell myself the next time I tie my shoelaces and head out the door for another run with my faster friends.

What thoughts inspire you to keep running with faster friends?

First time reading my posts? Thanks for stopping by! I would love to connect with you on LinkedIN. Here’s a link to some information about me and I hope you will stop by revivingthesoul.com for more encouragement, as well.