Content but not Satisfied

“It’s just a number,” they said.  Yeah, but, it’s a BIG number.

“You’re only as old as you feel,” they said.  EXACTLY!  Maybe I feel even older!

50.  I’m not gonna lie. I’m having a bit of a hard time swallowing the fact that I am now half of a century old. Why is this such an issue? Lots of people have passed this way before me. And truthfully, I’m the last in my family to do so.  Yet, somehow, they all survived. And some of all those people who have passed this way before me actually seem happy. So, what’s my issue?

It’s not the number so much. It’s the dark realization that, well, my life is nowhere near where I thought it would be. Part of the problem is, I’m not quite sure where I thought it would be at this point. I just didn’t think I’d be … here. 50. Really?

My wife asked me last Saturday if I wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate my birthday – 3 days early.  I said, unequivocally, “No. No I do not. I am not ready.”

The way I saw it, I still had 3 days left of clinging to the idea that “I’m still in my 40’s.”

I told her I had 3 days to …. Lose 30 pounds.

3 days to … get in better shape.

3 days to …. choose a career path I actually want.

3 days to … become financially stable.

3 days to … start a ministry that will impact people and have significance.

The truth is, I’m not … unhappy. In fact, most days I am quite happy.

I enjoy my life. I have a beautiful, amazing, wife of over 30 years who is full of life and joy and most days we still like each other. I have a great family that I am very proud of. I enjoy my friends. I have a good job and work with some really good people. I have a decent home. I’m not hungry, naked, or lacking shelter. In many respects, we have it really, really good. And, just for icing on the cake, every now and then I get to be involved in some directed ministry opportunities.

But, I’m not where I want to be either. And it has nothing to do with my age. It has everything to do with my choices. I just hate feeling … behind, like I’m constantly playing catch-up.

And I think that’s where the disappointment comes in. I’m a little disappointed with where life has brought me to. In truth, I’m disappointed with … myself.

But here’s the thing: Yes, I’d like to be 30 pounds lighter. But that’s not really it. Yes, I’d like to be in much better shape. But that’s not really it. Sure I’d like to have a better paying job that doesn’t make me feel …stuck. But, that’s not really it either. Yes I’d like to have more money in the bank. But that’s not really the challenge. Yes I think my kids have grown up way too fast, but that’s not the issue either.

I’ve found myself pondering the end of life a lot lately. I want my life to have meaning. I want my life to have had an impact. I don’t want to just go through the motions. I don’t want people wondering what to say at my funeral. Especially my family.

There is an innate desire for … something more.  For … significance.

There, I said it.

Some days I feel like my life has had significance. Some days I feel like my life and my influence has had an impact for good. But some days, not so much.

I used to have a great desire for a large pulpit ministry. But as life has thrown so many curve balls my way I’ve had to adjust my definition of “success” or “ministry.” I think my definition is much healthier now.  But, sometimes it just feels like an excuse or a justification for where I’ve landed.

Some days I’m really good at focusing my heart and my attention on those He has put in front of me.  Loving them. Caring for them. And I know deep within my heart that this is what He has called me to. But …

Some days I long for something bigger. Something more.

I don’t think this is the end game. I don’t think this is all there is.

And as I ponder and pray, I think this is exactly what God has called us to.  I think this is the great tension in scripture. Let me explain.

Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be … content. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11-12).

The challenge many people have is that they are always striving for an elusive, idealistic picture. Constantly chasing after an illusion. Pushing, pressing, stretching for something that cannot be obtained. Why? Because it is human nature that every time we reach a milestone or a goal, rather than being satisfied with our achievement, we almost instantly move the goal posts. We got that raise and are making “X” amount of money.  Great! But now we need the NEXT promotion. We reached that sales goal.  Great! Well, since we can do that then we should be able to do even more. Lost “x” amount of weight. Excellent! But now we need to win the competition. In one sense there is nothing wrong with this. But, for many this is precisely why no matter how much they have or achieve, they are never truly happy. Sometimes people are surrounded by so many blessings but don’t recognize them because they are constantly focused on wanting more. They have so much but don’t see it because all they can see is what they don’t have.

And it’s even worse for many believers. Many believers wrongly assume that as soon as they decided to live their lives for Christ that everything was going to suddenly be sunshine and roses. But it’s just not true.

The problem is, when you seek after riches you end up living in the fear of lack. When you seek after beauty you end up living in the fear of being ugly.  When you seek after power, you end up living in fear of being weak. When you seek performance, you end up living in fear of being insufficient. When you seek security, you end up living your life in insecurity.

But, when you live your life pursuing GOD, you end up feeling loved and accepted.

Paul said, I have learned to be content – no matter what state I find myself in. My internal compass is not determined by external challenges. My internal joy is not determined by external circumstances. My internal peace is not determined by external issues.  I have learned to be content.

But, just a few verses earlier he said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).

It is clear that Paul knew there was something more: things that still needed to be done, work that needed to be accomplished. He could have focused on all the things he had done wrong, or all the things he didn’t do that he should have. He could have let bad choices or circumstances derail him from purpose.  But he didn’t. Paul intentionally chose to let go of the past. He wasn’t going to let mistakes, failures, life’s troubles, or anything else stop him from giving his life in pursuit of what God had in store for him. Paul didn’t pull up the rocking chair of life and settle in.

Yes, he had learned to be content … but, he was not satisfied.

Paul found himself somewhere between the “already” and the “not yet.”

Here’s the truth: Life is good. I am content. I choose to not focus on regret. I choose to appreciate, to love, to enjoy what is right before me.

But, I’m not satisfied either. I know there is something more.  And even though I’m half a century old, I am not done.

I am somewhere between.  I choose contentment with the “already.”  But, I am striving toward the “not yet.”

 

 

 

When God Needs Your Help

One Saturday several years ago I exited the house and quickly discovered that my car had a flat tire. I wasn’t in a hurry that particular day so the frustration that would normally accompany this unexpected deviation from my proposed schedule wasn’t present. Instead, I decided to take advantage of this moment. I went inside to look for my 10 yr old son, Samuel.

I found him exactly where I had anticipated, deeply engrossed in some highly intellectual Saturday morning television programming. Though I hated to interrupt his extra-curricular education, I asked him to come help me. After the usual pre-adolescent protests, he begrudgingly joined me outside.

First, I showed him where to find the necessary tools for this job in the back of the vehicle. Second, I taught him how to release the spare tire from underneath the car. During this phase I remember him saying,

“Dad, I don’t understand why you need my help. I’m just a little kid.”

To which I responded, “Just trust me buddy, I need your help.”

I taught him all of the tips and minor details of how to make this a safe and quick job. The first thing we did was put the emergency brake on. I taught him to loosen the lug-nuts before jacking up the car. After I started loosening one lug nut I let him try the rest. Of course, his ten year old arms didn’t have quite the strength that mine did, so after he attempted each one I would finish that portion of the job. I showed him how to find the appropriate spot to put the jack and allowed him to place it there. We then started jacking up the vehicle as I explained to him why we do it this way during the whole process.

As we were jacking up the car he experienced several missteps, including: cranking the wrong direction (several times), wrench slips, tired arms – to the point where I had to do the last several turns myself because he wasn’t able, and even a scraped knuckle on the pavement with a little blood as evidence. After quite some time, we finally jacked the car up enough to remove the tire.

Removing the old tire and replacing it with the spare, we then did the whole process in reverse.

During our tire-changing adventure there were plenty of giggles and laughter, conversation, and just plain old having a good time together. Finally, we finished the job – which took 2 to 3 times longer than it would have had I simply done it myself.

Tired, greasy, dirty, and a little bloody – we went inside to wash off the grime from our hands and arms as a result of handling this highly mechanical job. As he was cleaning himself up Samuel had a slight grin on his face. I said to my son, “Thanks, Samuel, I really appreciated having your help changing the tire.” To which he replied, “No problem.” He paused for a moment then continued, “Ya know dad, I still don’t really see why you needed my help but – I was glad to do it.”

The End.

Today I am reminded of the reality of God’s call.

The Stuff

Sometimes we struggle with a lot of …. Stuff.

The truth is – everybody faces … stuff.  No one is exempt.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how great your job is, how fantastic your family is, how often you go to church, or even how much you pray – stuff is going to happen.

The challenge for the believer is, even when we are struggling through our stuff, we are called, maybe even obligated, to represent Christ well.

I think the world is looking for something different.  Or better yet, some-one different.

I don’t think they are looking for someone to always be upbeat or continually happy.  That seems … fake.

No, I think they are looking for someone to simply be … real.  But real in this way: Someone who acknowledges the “stuff” but is not controlled by it.  Someone who is not derailed by the “stuff” but rather sees the stuff for what it is, just … stuff.  Someone who can see through the stuff to something greater.  Someone who wrestles with the idea that sometimes purpose can be found in the midst of … the stuff.  Someone who can face the “stuff” but still have peace … and hope.

Is it possible that the “stuff” is actually an opportunity? Is it possible that going through “stuff” with faith, hope and peace actually provides the best possible way for us to represent Christ well? Could it be that this is the call of God for us?

Perhaps the Apostle Peter meant something like this when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

So today I pray that the “stuff” would be an opportunity for the calling, rather than the stuff derailing or pulling against the calling.  I pray that we won’t be overwhelmed nor dismayed by … the stuff.  Rather, that the “stuff” would be a launching pad for the calling. I pray that peace, hope and even joy, would be found in the midst of the stuff because recognition of the temporal nature and the true purposes of the “stuff” resides in our hearts. I recognize that it is difficult, maybe even impossible, to walk in the calling when we’re being suffocated by …. The stuff.  And THAT my friend and my God, is why we need Your Spirit, Your strength, Your Presence, Your Reality … today.  So that’s what I’m asking for Lord: Help us to walk in the Calling in the midst of the Stuff. For Your glory and honor may we represent You well today, by the power of Your Spirit – Amen.

I’ve Fallen – But I’m Getting Back Up!

Many times when we look at our history, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the mistakes and successes, it can be easy to beat ourselves up.  And truthfully, maybe we should beat ourselves up from time to time.  But, the wisest man who ever lived once made this astounding statement, He said “The godly (good or righteous) may fall seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked” (Proverbs 24:16).

There are two things I want to say about this verse …and about you.  First, it seems clear that the real issue is NOT about never falling. Never falling only makes one self-righteous, not godly-righteous.  Never falling makes one arrogant and haughty, not humble and meek.  Never falling can make a person self-centered, and prideful rather than others-centered. Never falling does not make one good, righteous, or godly.

Surprised?

No, the truth is, for the good man, stuff happens. Stuff knocks him down. Stuff knocks the wind out of him. Stuff catches him by surprise. Stuff causes him or her to get discouraged, depressed or at the very least, off-track.

(Click here for Practical Steps when “Life” catches you by surprise)

Yes, sometimes a good person gets knocked down. But sometimes, he just falls down of his own volition.  Nobody pushed him there.  Nothing caught him by surprise.  No, sometimes decisions are made, intentional choices, mistakes, and as a result failure arrives.  Sometimes, a good man just … falls down.

Here’s the interesting thing, Solomon never told us how or why the good man falls.  He never discussed what caused it.  He simply said, “a good or righteous or godly man falls down seven times.” It appears that the source of the falling is irrelevant to the author.  Falling down because he was caught by surprise or falling down by bad choices.  The issue simply isn’t the falling down.

Possibly the most important piece of this verse is …

“HE GETS BACK UP AGAIN!”

It seems clear that Solomon was saying the thing that makes a person godly, righteous or good is the fact that they get back up. This is the piece that separates the men from the boys, as they say.  Getting back up.  Knocked down, but getting back up.  Falling down, getting back up.  Good people – drop the ball … and get back up.  Make bad decisions … and get back up.  Don’t plan appropriately … and get back up.  Get disappointed but … get back up. Question God … and get back up. Fail …and get back up.

knocked down2

Let’s be clear: this is Solomon’s description of a good person, a …Righteous person … a godly even. Seriously?

This roller coaster ride, this up and down, this battle, is not what I picture when I think of a righteous, godly man.  No, not at all.  I think of Moses, face glowing, holding the newly etched Ten Commandments.  I picture David slaying the giant Goliath.  I think of Elijah calling down fire from heaven.  These are depictions of righteous men …right?

The truth is that when you study the scriptures you will find every single man or woman that was greatly used by God fits the description found in Proverbs. Every single one of them dropped the ball, made mistakes, reacted poorly, made bad decisions, questioned God, or even defied God.  Every single one … Falling … and getting back up again.

This is what I know about you.  I know there have been times you have declared, “I just don’t really get it, I don’t know the next step or where to go or what to do.”  But, the key is …getting back up.  Yeah, I know you’ve been down. I know you’ve made mistakes. I know you’ve even experienced failure.  But, those things really aren’t the core issue.  The issue is, figuring out how important it is to simply … get back up again.

Sometimes when stuff happens and a person is knocked down it can bring them to a point of questioning their purpose, their abilities, and their hope. And sometimes falling, whether by our own volition or by the surprises of life, can cause us to even question God. Can I trust God?  Has God forgotten me?  Have I blown it so bad that I am permanently derailed?

But listen, there is something deep within you telling you, “I’ve just got to get back up …again.” I can picture God standing by your side right now, whispering in your ear, “you’re gonna make, you’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna get through.  I know because … I’ve seen this before.  I have watched you before.  I KNOW, yes I know, you will … pick yourself back up again!”

Here’s the second thing.  I am convinced that Solomon came to the conclusion that a person can’t really be “good” in the sense he is talking about unless they have fallen down a few times.  How can someone truly have compassion, understanding, forgiveness, grace, or mercy for others unless they have “been there?”  How can a person truly understand someone’s pain unless they’ve experienced some of their own?  How can someone empathize with another’s failure unless they have failed a few times themselves? A person who has fallen and has received the grace to get back up knows how to reach down and help others who have fallen.

This, my friend, is part of your great calling on this earth.  Embrace people.  Love people.  Give them compassion.  Feel their pain.  Where ever they are at that moment in life.  And help them … get back up.  You know what it means to battle, to struggle, to fail.  But, you also know what it means to get back up – sometimes out of your own strength, sometimes through a measure of faith, and sometimes by the sheer grace of God. So help them … help them get back up.

From my view, your gifts, your abilities, and your talents, though important and part of the call of God on your life, are not the most important thing.  There is no denying those are real and significant gifts.  You really are talented.  But, my friend, in my humble opinion, they are not what make you who you are.  What makes you a good person, a righteous person, a godly person is this: a good man falls down a few times, but he always gets back up.

The New Testament reiterates this concept.  In my opinion, the great call of God on your life embraces this verse, “He comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:4).

So, get back up, righteous man or woman.  Get back up … and help others do the same.  Amen.

Click here for Practical Steps when “Life” catches you by surprise

The Pressure’s Off Part 2

In April of 2015 I had the opportunity to share 2 important messages with the folks at Living Word Church in Cleveland, TN.

(The Pressure’s Off Part 2)

At one time or another I think all of us feel like maybe we’ve made one too many mistakes to really achieve our potential, our dream, our goals, or true success.

Fortunately … God never feels that way.

From God’s view, mistakes, or even failure, is not the end of the story. God’s perspective is one of hope.  Everybody falls. Everybody makes mistakes.  Everybody fails.  You can not let those things define you.  The issue is not whether you have fallen.  The issue is whether you get back up.  In fact, God anticipated a few falls along the way.  But, He declares “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Proverbs 24:16).

If you need hope and encouragement … if you need to be reminded that God has not given up on you, then this message is for you.

Enjoy!

The Pressure’s Off Part 2

We Sure Know How to Have Fun.

“We sure know how to have fun!”

It was another brilliantly crafted moment of sarcasm from one of the Gray boys that will be recounted anytime hiking lore is on the agenda.

Moments earlier the only thing that could be heard was the whipping wind, the constant patter of rain, and the chattering of teeth as the four of us huddled together in a three-man tent.  The tent had been thrown together as quickly as possible on an incline that caused about two inches of ice cold water to pool on one side of the tent – right where my sleeping bag lay.

We had taken a beautiful two-day hike into the Wind River Range, WY and spent one day relaxing, recuperating, and fishing a crystal clear mountain lake.  However, my dad, my two older brothers and I crawled out of our tents the next morning to discover a deceitful fog had settled into the valley and a cold drizzle through the night had soaked the landscape and all of our gear. The overcast sky broadcast its intentions for the day. We had a choice to make at this point.  We could hike back the same way we came in or stick with our original plan to hike up and over Flat Top Mountain.  Somebody said, “I think we can hike ABOVE the weather” (I won’t tell you who it was but, his initials are D.A.D.).  Probably not one of the smartest things one of us ever said.

So, up we went.  Lizard head Trail across Flat Top Mountain ascends to about 11,200 feet.  This particular mountain got its name because the top of it is … flat.  In fact, it’s flat for so long that when you hike across it you can forget you are on top of a mountain.  The temperatures dropped to the low thirties. Because we were above the tree line the gusts of wind had no obstacles to hinder them from cutting into our faces. Down-pouring freezing rain and sleet were our faithful companions the entire day.  The four of us exchanged our usual chatter for silence as we trudged along the trail.

Seven hours later I don’t know if I was in a determined zone or a hypothermic daze.  My head was pointed downward to avoid the sting of the sleet as I watched my feet slosh through the water covered trail.  I was feeling extremely sleepy and forcing my eyes to stay open as I marched along.  Suddenly I felt someone tug on my jacket, pulling me behind a huge boulder.  The others had decided we had gone far enough. We quickly set up a tent to shield us from the never-ending storm.  My hands were so cold that they felt like nubs at the ends of my arms.  No matter how hard I tried I could not move my fingers and I couldn’t pull off my gear.  Despite his own soaked clothes, cold and pain my oldest brother saw my predicament and stepped over to help.  He had to peel my jacket off for me as I stood there a little like a frozen mannequin. I was surprised by my own spontaneous, uncontrollable tears that began to flow down my face. Prior to that moment I didn’t realize how bad our situation was.

For the next sixteen hours we huddled together in that small tent attempting to get warm and escape the mountain’s antics.  It was then that my brother uttered those now famous words, “We sure know how to have fun!”

It was also in this moment that I realized the power of these words:

“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. If one falls down, the other helps.

Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night.

By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped” (Eccl. 4:9-12 Msg).

I like being independent.  Usually, I try to handle things on my own.  I don’t like being told what to do and I especially don’t like admitting that I need help.  When I walk into church on Sunday, or in the office through the week, I want people to think that I have everything under control and that I am always cool, calm and collected.

I want to be someone my kids can look up to, someone they respect, someone they can count on when they are in need, and someone they can go to for guidance.  Even my sweet wife, though she knows me better than anyone else – I want her to think I am a strong man who knows the answers and always knows the best decisions to make.

Independence.  Men tend to idolize independence.  Strong, independent, lone-ranger types garner our attention.  We are drawn to the ones who beat all the odds and rise to the top; the sole vigilante against the world of injustice; the singular superhero.  It’s the guys who don’t seem to need anyone else, who have the drive, perseverance and tenacity to push through regardless of the obstacles that we admire.  We eat up the stories of people like Steve Jobs, Muhammad Ali, and Warren Buffet.  We love movies with characters like Rocky Balboa, Pale Rider, or Superman.  Not only do we love those stories – we want to be that guy!

I didn’t realize how much trouble I was in that day.  I would have continued on that path headed for disaster if my brother had not stopped me. I was determined to keep on marching down the trail regardless.  I was in a zone.  The problem with the man who doesn’t think he needs anyone else is he usually doesn’t know when he’s headed for trouble.  God knows that without the companionship, strength, and encouragement of others we will be defeated.  My Dad said, “Looking back I’m glad we had that experience together. It makes you a stronger person.”

God never intended for us to go through this life alone.  He never intended for us to face the hardships, difficulties and circumstances of life by ourselves.  When God saw Adam alone was the first time in the history of the universe that He declared something was “not good.”

To ask for help, advice, or even an opinion is in a small way an admission of weakness.  Weakness is the last thing I want to be associated with.  But, this is exactly the position God wants to bring us to.  It’s only when we get real and admit our weakness that God can really show off.   It is in recognition of our weaknesses that we understand our desperate dependence on God. Our deficiencies prove our need  for the other members of the body of Christ.

The good news is that God already knows you don’t have it all together.  He declares, “My strength is made perfect in weakness!”   When you recognize this truth, there can only be one conclusion: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Cor 12:9 NLT).