This Is My Life!

I remember a television program we watched years ago when we lived in the UK called “This is Your Life.” In each weekly episode the host made a surprise visit to the subject for the week’s program at work or home and presented them with a big red-covered book engraved with the title, “This is Your Life.” Then they were taken to the television studio where for the next hour friends, co-workers, and family members told of events and experiences in the subject’s life that had special meaning to them. There were always emotional moments as surprise guests were introduced and happy, memorable, and even bitter-sweet experiences were relived. It’s as if they were able to bring together friends, family, experiences, humorous occurrences, and accomplishments, and take a snapshot of it all and say, “This is Your Life.”

This Is My Life! I certainly don’t need a surprise visit from a TV Show host, but sometimes I really need to slow down, sit quietly, and take a little time to take a snapshot of myself, my relationships, my activities, my accomplishments, my failures, and my frustrations, and simply and honestly say, “This Is My Life!”

This Is My Life! (And it’s not quite what I had imagined it would be!)

When we were young we had dreams of “what I want to be when I grow up.” To a greater or lesser degree we dreamed of what we might accomplish, where we would live, what our lives would be like by now (whenever and whatever our current “now” is!) The life I now have may not be what I had imagined, but it is the real place from which I am going forward into a future that I cannot see but which I have firmly committed to God.

This Is My Life! (And it’s never going to be “just right!”)

I’ve always had a tendency to think that “things will be just as they should be someday.” Someday it will all be just right. I’ll have the perfect situation and all the problems and pressures will be gone. But I know that’s just not realistic.

From the time I was a kid in the 50’s the expectation in western society was that things would just keep getting better. There were so many improvements in technology and medicine and communications that it seemed we would eventually solve all our problems and have a near perfect life. It’s true that there have been remarkable advances in practically every area of life. The fact that I can sit here at my desk and have almost instantaneous contact with people I know all around the world is remarkable! That I carry a “phone” in my pocket that is not only a phone, but a camera, a computer, a library, an entertainment center, and much, much more is remarkable! Actually, take a minute and think of some of the other ways technology has made our lives remarkable!

There are also a lot of things remaining in our imperfect world that technology and communications and medicine haven’t been able to fix. People are still dying of cancer, being killed in road accidents, and willfully harming each other. There are wars and earthquakes and famines. It’s not a perfect world, and sometimes it seems as if it is not even a very good world, but it is our world and it is the real world. It’s what we have. It’s how things are. It’s where God put us to make a difference.

There will always be challenges and difficult things to deal with. There will be difficult people to deal with. (I wonder if sometimes I’m one of someone else’s “Difficult People!”) And even if somehow everything else were to get fixed, I will always have me to deal with. I’m not what I ought to be and not what I’m going to be, but thank God, not I’m not what I used to be!

This Is My Life! (Some of the factors that have contributed to form the present reality of my life are):
• Good things that others have done. Parents, spouse, teachers, friends, others who have helped and supported me. For these I need to thank God and appreciate and thank those people.
• Wrong things that others have done. People who have betrayed me, people who have abused me, people who have taken advantage of me and let me down. For these things I need to forgive these people and release them from blame and judgement. I need to ask for and by faith receive God’s grace to heal wounds, memories, and relationships.
• Good things that I have done. Development of good character qualities; good stewardship of talents, resources, and relationships; achievements in school, work, or ministry. For these things I need to continue to apply the same principles of wise use of opportunities, good decision making, and practical self-discipline to the life I now have.
• Wrong things that I have done. Wasted opportunities; poor stewardship of time, talents, and resources; sins against God and others by words and actions. For these things I need to acknowledge my mistakes, my poor stewardship, my willful wrongdoing, and ask for God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those I have wronged. I need to make restitution where possible. I need to accept God’s forgiveness and cleansing and allow Him to change my heart and mind.
• Circumstances and events that seem to have no basis in fault or moral consequence. Financial reversal, sickness, disappointed expectations, unexplained tragedies. How often these things lead to depression and discouragement. You know, when good things happen to us we tend to accept them as blessings from God and we may even see them as rewards, as if we deserve them. When bad things happen we tend to think of them as totally unfair and sometimes attribute them to an attack from Satan or even blame God as if He doesn’t love us. I almost shudder as I write this because I know my own tendency in these matters only too well.
• Sometimes in these challenging and difficult things, God reveals a cause or purpose and we seek to understand. Sometimes He reveals nothing and we seek to accept the unfailing love of Father God.

This Is My Life! (And this is how it is!)

• I don’t fully understand how it got to be this way (some things I do understand – see the first four bullet points above) and I don’t know all that I will need to do in moving forward from this point. But this is where I am now, this really is my life, and God still loves me and He does have a purpose for my life.
• These are the things I have to face and deal with. If I deny it, excuse it, complain about it, blame others for it, it just stays the same or gets worse. If I accept it, take responsibility for my part in it, seek God in the reality of it, things can begin to change for the better. God’s faithfulness will see me through.

This Is My Life! (So what do I do next?)

• Living by faith means having hopes and dreams. It means seeking a desired future and praying and working towards that future. God’s power can bring it to pass.
• Living by faith also means accepting that things are as they are. I will accept that things are as they are. I will pray and exercise my faith for things to be the way I want them to be. I will trust God to bring me through.

This Is My Life!

Paul said “I have learned to be content.” Contentment is an attitude that affects everything about how we see the world around us. Contentment is learned, not born into us.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NIV)

Paul also said “I press on toward the goal…” I believe that an important part of growing to maturity in faith and Christian character is learning to live a life that balances acceptance and contentment with an unwavering determination to press on in Christ.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)

I wrote a series of blog posts in May of this year on Thankfulness and Gratitude. If you missed any of those, here’s a link to Part 1 of my Thankful Series.

This Is My Life! (Is This As Good As It Gets?)

There’s a scene from the movie “As Good As It Gets” where Jack Nicholson’s character steps into the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office and says to the room full of neurotic and troubled people, “Have you ever thought that this might be as good as it gets?” What do you think? Is this as good as it gets? By God’s grace and power this is not as good as it gets. But this is how it is right now!

I hope these thoughts have been helpful. I hope most of all that these thoughts have stirred up your soul to think thoughts like these about your own life. At any stage of life, in any situation of life, there’s so much to be thankful for and so much we can do to move forward in Thankful, Grateful Faith!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Gardening Lessons

Hi Friends, this blog post is a bit longer than usual. I’ve included quite a bit of scripture in the text because I felt that some of you would want to use this article as a sort of handbook to put some of these things into practice. I don’t mean this to be “preachy”! I hope you find it helpful! Grace and Peace, Jim

In October 1997 Jean and I moved from Leytonstone (London E11) into a house in Chingford (London E4), northeast London. One of the reasons we chose to rent the new place was the large back garden. We love gardening and this place offered great possibilities. The garden had been badly neglected for some time, but we’re experienced gardeners and we knew we could handle it. (Note: In England, in terraced housing, the term “back garden” is inclusive of everything out the back door of the house between the fences of the neighboring houses on either side. The back garden is exactly the width of the house itself, and includes any lawn, shrubs, trees, flower beds, walkways, and possibly a small green house or garden shed.)

We pictured ourselves sitting in the back garden on the patio on warm summer evenings with a glass of iced tea and a nice meal. We saw BBQ’s in the summer with friends over for the afternoon and evening. And we could already see the beauty of roses, petunias, peonies, chrysanthemums, snap-dragons, fuchsias, and all the other stuff we like to grow and enjoy.

So I went to the local garden center and bought some rose bushes. On the morning of rose planting day we walked up and down the garden with coffee cups in our hands, looking and planning and we found just the right places for the four rose plants. But in one of those places was a very thorny bush-tree called a pyrocanthus. In another of the chosen places was a dead shrub-tree of indeterminate type and origin. Both had to be removed to plant the roses.

The pyrocanthus, or firethorn, is incredibly thorny! And to get at the roots to dig it out, I first had to cut off about 1000 thorny branches that poke and jab and very effectively defend itself against pruning and removal! It is a very painful process to prune and remove a pyrocanthus!

The dead shrub was entangled in the most incredible network of ivy vines and runners, coming over the fence from the neighbor’s garden. The ivy had not only taken over the fence, and killed every plant and shrub it could get hold of, but it hindered me from removing the shrub which was already dead! And besides that, the whole matted mess of ivy was full of spiders. I hate spiders!

I hacked and clipped and sawed and chopped for hours: Thorns in one place and ivy vines in another. I was beginning to despair and I wanted to quit when I saw how little progress I was making and how everything I tried to do simply led to another thing that must be done first. But I persevered and hacked and chopped. When I finally got the pyrocanthus chopped back and dug out by the roots, and when I finally got the ivy hacked and chopped back (don’t forget this is my neighbor’s ivy, not mine!), and when I had finally dug out the dead bush by its roots, I stepped back to look at what I’d done. The entire garden (or so it seemed) was piled with thorny, clingy branches, vines and dead stuff that somehow had to be disposed of. And I still hadn’t even begun to plant the roses!

Jean came and helped me and we began to bag the stuff. I clipped and chopped it into smaller bits and she began to pack it into big black bin bags. The bin bag count was growing and the piles of branches and vines seemed not to be shrinking, but we kept on and then finally it was the last bag and it was done. Nine big bags full. And now what on earth are we going to do with all this? I began to consider the options: Try to burn it? (not permitted)!; Find a dump and haul it two bags at a time in the car?; Put one bag per week in the wheelie bin for the next two months?; Move away and leave it?

Then I remembered something I had seen come through the letter-box from the local council about rubbish pick-up dates. It seemed there was something about a special rubbish pickup for “garden waste.” I found the leaflet in the file and sure enough, the council will pick up as many as ten bags of “light garden waste.” I had nine bags. I phoned the council and discovered they would pick it up and haul it away for free within five working days. I only had to put it in the front garden and leave it and they would come for it. Grace!

So for up to five days it’s going to sit out in front of the house and everyone who passes by can see my trash! Never mind, it’s on its way out! Someone will come and take away all this rubbish I generated in the process of beginning to clear out my garden so we can enjoy it this summer. Now I can begin to plant some things that are useful and beautiful. Our garden can actually become the fruitful and enjoyable place we want it to be!

And I thought, “How like my life is this experience with the garden.” I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my life could be and should be from the teaching and examples in the Bible and from the lives of other mature Christians. I want my life to be like that. I’ve got a desire and a passion for that. The question is: Am I willing to work at it to get it that way. And can I actually do it? And how do I actually do it?

The Apostle Paul writes to young Christians about this stuff. He says: 1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. 5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7 You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. 12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. 16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:1-17 NLT)

Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:15-25: 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:15-25 NLT)

As I process this stuff, I begin to realize that here’s a man who was an Apostle, who was powerful in faith, who wrote most of the New Testament, and he understands how I feel. He is dealing with the same stuff I’m dealing with. Like my gardening experience, some things in my life are like thorny pyrocanthus bushes, defending themselves against my efforts to remove them. Other things are like clingy ivy vines, entangled with other things in my life until it seems impossible to get rid of them.

You know, I think sometimes we avoid getting close to God and to other believers because we know we’ll have to face and deal with some thorny issues and we’re not sure we can actually do it. Sometimes it’s easier to just stay out of the garden and sit on the couch scrolling through social media than to begin to plan and do the gardening. Sometimes we begin and it just becomes overwhelming. We think, “What have I gotten myself into?” We just want to quit. So how does the Bible tell me to deal with it? How do we actually do this?

1. Get focused on what we want to be, to become. Get a picture of the person we are destined to be. We look to the Bible to set standards and give hope. We fellowship with God to keep our spirits sensitive and strong. We fellowship with mature believers to learn from their example and receive their practical insights.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. (Colossians 3:1-2 NLT)

2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12:2-3 NLT)

25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25 NLT)

2. Begin to get rid of the things in our lives that don’t fit the picture: things that hinder or entangle us, things that pull us in the wrong direction. Take decisive action. Face it. Deal with it.

5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 3:5 NLT)

8 But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. (Colossians 3:8-10 NLT)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NLT)

3. Identify and own the specific things that entangle us. Everyone has particular sins that entangle. These are not necessarily the same for each of us. But they are there. They must be identified and “thrown off.” The process of getting rid of these things is: 1. Repent (Turn around) 2. Confess (Face it honestly, take responsibility) 3. Rid yourself of it (Take some decisive action to renounce or forsake it) 4. Call the Grace truck to come and get the rubbish and cart it away.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9 NLT)

4. Begin to clothe ourselves with righteousness. We accept full responsibility to begin to act like the person we expect to become. The Bible teaches us what is right. The examples of others can show how it’s done. This may take lots of practice, it may involve trial and error. Don’t quit just because you didn’t get it right the first or even the fifth time. Once you identify the behaviors and qualities that you need to put on, you just begin to do them. Not perfectly, not getting it right every time, but “doing the stuff.”

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15 NLT)

5. Accept discipline from the Lord. God’s discipline proves that we are truly His children and that He truly loves us. God’s discipline is essential to maturity and fruitfulness.

5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6 For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” 7 As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11 NLT)

1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. 7 But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father… 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. (John 15:1-8, 16 NLT)

Dear friends, we can do this thing! We can be men and women of God. We can grow, mature, clean up our act. We can be fruitful for God. Let’s allow God’s grace to work in our lives and let’s determine we will never give up!

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8:1-2 NLT)

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Lessons Learned From The Phone Company

Last week’s “Notes from My Journey” blog post, “Life on Hold” , was mostly about how we deal with the frustrations of delay and of “not being in control” of some aspect of life. This week I’m looking at some of the lessons this process has taught and re-taught me through the years. Pardon me for being so subjective here, but the things that happen in my life are the things I learn most from, y’know!

Let me just take a moment to remind you of the story… On the 15th of October 1999, we moved from inner-city London to a house in the forest outside Bend, Oregon. The day we moved in was a Friday so it was Monday the 18th of October when we contacted the phone company and ordered phone service. After a few minutes on the phone we discovered that the house had never had phone service connected and that it would require two miles of phone line to be run from an existing service point in order for us to have a phone line.

How long would this take? With the need to apply to the US Forest Service and the US Bureau of Land Management for permits to run the phone line across 10,000 feet of government land, the projected date of service was 31 March 2000. It would take five and one-half months to get the necessary permits and about two days to install the cable to connect us to the phone network.

Woe unto me! As Job said, “The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me!” (Job 3:25 KJV)

Remember, this was 1999, so “dial up” internet connection was the order of the day. For someone as dependent on the phone as I was for communication, email, and internet access, this was almost too much to bear! I remember when we lived in Kingston, Jamaica from 1984 to 1991 and our phone service was frequently out of order, the very first thing I would do when I came into the house or when I got up in the morning was to go over and pick up the phone and check for a dial tone! And now to be told we would be without a phone line for the entire winter just really knocked me flat.

As this situation unfolded over the next few months, here’s how it worked: We were not entirely cut off from the world without any phone communication at all. We had the use of a cell phone for voice communication. But in order to send and receive emails and access the internet we had to travel nearly three miles through the forest to the home of a kind and generous neighbor who let us connect our laptop computer to their phone line for dial-up access the internet.

Then the wait began. Everyone we knew was praying that our phone line would be connected sooner rather than later. Whenever we saw our friends the first question they would ask is, “Any news about the phone line?” It would have become a joke if it had been funny. But it really wasn’t funny to me and this experience became a real, but not easy, learning process in my life.

Winter came and with two feet of winter snow on the ground, the daily trip to check email became a challenge. Spring eventually came and the snow melted and still no phone line. The projected phone service date of March 31 came and went and two and a half more months of delay and frustration followed. We finally got the phone connected and heard the dial tone for the very first time on June 16, 2000, eight months and one day after I heard those words, “Sorry, Mr. Stephens, but there’s no phone service to your house.”

When the shock of discovering that we would be without a phone line for internet access through the severe High Mountain winter first hit me, I imagined the worst. In fact the way it worked out in day by day living was less traumatic than I expected. It was challenging, difficult, and frustrating, but taking it one day at a time, it was “doable.” Taken a day at a time, with the Grace God gives, most of the challenging things we face are perhaps less catastrophic than we first imagine them to be.

During the eight months of Autumn, Winter, and Spring that had passed since we moved into this house, I learned a lot about waiting, about myself, and about God’s Grace to deal with disappointment and delay. I’ll try to put into words some of the lessons I learned through that and other “waiting” experiences, and perhaps some thoughts on how to apply these lessons in life.

Lessons Learned From The Phone Company

Here are some of the lessons I learned during that long winter in the mountains (And find myself re-learning over and over because I seem to have such a short memory that must constantly be re-taught!):

God truly is My Provider. He doesn’t always provide what I want when I want it, but He does provide a way to live and the grace to live with the way He provides. He provides on His terms and in His time. He sometimes provides what I want but always provides what I need. He provides for the development of my character and my faith and not just for my pleasure and my comfort.

I can learn to live with God’s present provision. I need to be more flexible and not say, “It has to be this way or that way.” I don’t need to worry or fear or try to figure out in advance just how it is all going to work out. God is my provider. God will provide. I can live with the provision He gives in the way He gives it.

I need to trust God more and whine and complain less. I am capable of making a real fool of myself by constantly complaining and whining about how hard my life is and how unfair the situation is. There’s a time to tell people your problem and enlist their prayers and concern and there’s a time to simply tell God and leave it with Him.

It’s not healthy to spend too much time thinking and talking about something you simply cannot change. It’s best to do what you can about the situation, give it to God, and get on with what you can do about living the life you have. The Apostle Paul had a situation like this. Here’s what God told him… 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NLT)

If you let it, one unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire can take over your life and make you incapable of enjoying and appreciating the rich blessings you have. I tend to focus all my attention on the unsatisfied desire and forget to appreciate the many gracious and generous provisions God has made. I recall hearing Al Miller, my pastor in Jamaica often saying, “There’s always more going right than going wrong in your life!”

After a while you begin to hit Prayer Request Fatigue. People get tired of hearing that the prayer hasn’t been answered yet. People want to hear the request, pray about it, and then hear that it is all taken care of the next time they speak to you. When we pray earnestly about things and the answer is delayed or doesn’t come at all, it raises issues that we’d rather not deal with about our faith, others’ faith, and God’s willingness and ability to answer.

The people in my small group really cared about what concerned me. These people I met with every Tuesday evening for prayer and sharing really did care and really did pray for me and my needs. It is important to find a small group of believers to share life with.

That which seems to be a big crisis to me doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. For me, not having a phone line was a big crisis. For some, not having a phone line would be a welcome break from pressure and interruptions. For me not having a phone line was a crisis of near “Biblical Proportions!” For Jean it was only a minor inconvenience. When we look back on eight months without the phone line it is clear that we managed to get done what we needed to do. Jean was gracious enough (most of the time) not to say, “I told you so, oh you of little faith!”

The answer will come eventually and when it does it won’t make your life perfect! When we are focused on one need or desire, there it is a tendency to believe that when it finally happens, life will suddenly be perfect and we will “live happily ever after!” In fact, when the answer comes and the desire is fulfilled, life will still have its needs and imperfections and it is amazing how soon the thing will become “common” to you.

Is there a time to simply stop praying about something we desire or need? The weight of emphasis in the Bible is that we should continually cry out to God for the thing we desire or need. Only once does God say, “Don’t ask anymore!” and in that instance He makes it clear to Paul that there is purpose in the unanswered prayers. (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 and Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 7:7-11).

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1 NIV)

7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11 NIV)

Lessons Learned From The Phone Company

I realize my little “telephone story” may seem trivial compared to the things that some of you are facing. The principles of survival and success remain the same for my “little” situation or your “big” crisis:
• Face it
• Embrace it
• Give it to God
• Live the life you have
• Never give up

I hope this helps!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Life On Hold

For Those Whose Lives Are, Have Been, Or Ever Will Be “On Hold.”

It’s a challenge to know how to move forward in terms of re-engaging with the world around us right now. The COVID pandemic, with its myriad responses for so many of us (for all of us actually) is moving into the rear view mirror and we’re not sure whether we’re going “back to normal” or trying to piece together a “new normal” or how this is all going to settle out. My communication with friends from around the world, including many of you who are reading this blog post, has made me aware that the government, church, business, and social responses have been ever-changing and often confusing! Many of you are in places where the lockdowns continue or have recently been re-instated. Others are in places where some restrictions are lifted while others remain. Others are presently experiencing a sort of Wild-West free-for-all and frustrated by the sudden lack of order in the process.

Anyhow, I’m not going to keep banging on about COVID. We’ve all been “On Hold” in some ways and how we respond to the next steps in the process can reveal a great deal about a great deal! And you may be “On Hold” in some way or ways I know nothing about. So I’m going to tell you a story about an “On Hold” experience that taught me a lot about myself…

When we moved from London to a cabin in the forest thirty miles southwest of Bend, Oregon in October 1999, the very first thing we did upon arriving was to contact the phone company to connect us for phone service. We discovered right away that the house had never had phone service, and that in order to connect a phone line to the house it required that two miles of phone cable be run, partly overhead on existing power line poles and partly underground in a trench. We further discovered that in order to run this phone cable, permits had to be issued by the United States Forest Service and by the US Bureau of Land Management each of which controlled part of the land that the cable had to pass through.

There was an initial flurry of activity with engineers and surveyors coming out to have a look at what had to be done and where it had to be done. Then our order was assigned to the phone company’s Delayed Order Department (that had an ominous sound to it from the beginning!), and we were given a case number and told that as soon as the necessary permits were obtained and as soon as the winter snows (which hadn’t even arrived yet) were gone, the phone line would be installed.

Thus began my winter of being put on hold! In order to contact the phone company’s Delayed Order Department, I was required to dial an initial number, then work through a series of menus (automated menus several layers deep were still relatively new to us all in 1999!) which I negotiated by listening to a computer voice and pressing the appropriate key on the phone and eventually I would hear a voice telling me “you have reached the Delayed Order Department. All our case managers are currently dealing with other customers. Your call is important to us and will be answered in the order in which it was received.” And then the “On Hold” music would begin to play.

    • “Just let me put you on hold for a moment.”
    • “Will you hold, please?”
    • “Your call is important to us.”
    • “Thank you for holding. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”

It is so frustrating to work through a multi-layered computerized menu for ten minutes only to be put on hold! And the longer you hold, the more you feel you have invested in the process and the harder it is to hang up. And you still need to get through to the person or agency who has power over some aspect of your life or you wouldn’t have phoned in the first place!

Life on Hold…

It’s not just the phone company or a business or government agency that can “put you on hold.” Sometimes it seems like life itself is “on hold.”

Life on Hold can be the feeling you can’t do things you need to do because you’re waiting for someone else to do something, to make a decision, to act. You may find yourself waiting for the decision or action of someone who doesn’t seem to have your best interests at heart or who doesn’t have the same priorities as you. You may find yourself waiting for some sequence of circumstances to fall into place before you can move forward.

Feeling as if your life is on hold may be a particular problem of people who desire to live purposefully. It can also be the problem of people who desire to serve because the desire to serve often puts you in a place of depending on the decisions and actions of others.

Some people are “on hold” because of a difficult marriage; some are “on hold” because of complicated family situations; some are “on hold” in frustrating, dead-end jobs. Some are filling ministry positions in churches where the congregation or the senior pastor has you “on hold.” Debt may have you “on hold.” Poor health may have you “on hold.” Waiting for retirement or for the kids to be grown and on their own can give a feeling of being “on hold.”

When your life is “on hold” it seems like everything gets projected into the future: “someday it will happen…” Energy drains away, discouragement sets in, creative thoughts are consumed by being and feeling “on hold.”

Why Am I On Hold?

If you’re at all like me, you want things to have a reason. You want it to make sense that you’re on hold for some larger purpose that will eventually be revealed. Here’s a “reason” joke: “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that I’m stupid and make bad decisions!”

Anyhow, when I was looking for a reason that the phone company had put my life “On Hold” I asked myself questions like the following:

    • Is it to better know and fulfill God’s will and purpose?
    • Is it to fulfill my responsibility to others?
    • Is it because of my own actions or bad decisions?
    • Do I have an unhealthy dependence on someone or something?
    • Is it merely a matter of timing?
    • Am I being impatient?
    • Is there a work of grace to be done in me through this experience?

While there may have been elements of any or all of those in my situation, I never got an answer to my question, “Why?”

But as I processed through the eight months of waiting for the phone to ring, I thought of a variety of reasons for a variety of situations of “Life on Hold”:

    • You’re getting an education, formal or otherwise.
    • Your spouse is not on the same track spiritually so you can’t move forward.
    • Your children are a primary responsibility. When they are grown you’ll have greater freedom.
    • You find yourself raising your children’s children.
    • You’re working faithfully and waiting for retirement.
    • You are in debt and you “owe your soul to the company store!”
    • Ill health prevents you from doing all you feel you should be doing.
    • You’ve experienced a business failure and you’re trying to pick up the pieces.
    • Your parents are in ill health and becoming dependent on you.
    • There is some other covenantal obligation that demands your fulfillment.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71 NIV)

Life On Hold… Is There Really A Reason And A Purpose?

Sometimes it is simply necessary to be “on hold.” I believe it is important to take an honest and objective look at our situation (get some help with this if you can’t be objective) and see if there is divine purpose in being “on hold.” Is God using this time on hold to speak to you? What’s the music playing in the background? Is it the voice of God?

Life on Hold… Using The Phone Call Metaphor To Think About What To Do And How To Live When Your Life Is On Hold.  There are some things you can do while your life is on hold! It’s your decision after all. What you do now and what you do next is up to you!

    • Decide if it’s really important to get through. Make it your decision rather than someone else’s. Am I holding for something that is not really God’s best for me?
    • Sometimes you can leave a message. Pray about the situation and release it to God. Let it go to God and get on with life. “Commit your way to the Lord..” Psalm 37
    • Don’t allow yourself to begin to “whine” and blame God or others for your frustration. There is a real danger of developing resentment against those you feel have put your life on hold. Live as unto the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord. In everything give thanks.
    • Be willing to “hang up” the phone and be confident that God knows your number and will call you when He’s ready. What if I’m out? He’ll leave a message. Sometimes you just need to hang up and get on with life! Let Go!
    • Find some practical things to do while on hold. Live each day as it comes. Find purpose in each day’s plans and activities. Develop personal disciplines of time use and accomplishment.
    • Make the very best of your present situation. Learn to be content in all circumstances. Realize – Remember – Know that each day is now. Each day is part of the reality of your life. Tomorrow is probable but not certain.
    • You do have today. This is your reality. This is your life! Live the life you have. Make it purposeful. Seek to live with purpose and integrity while “on hold.” You may find you’re not on hold after all! You may find purpose and satisfaction in the very thing you felt was “holding you” from purpose and satisfaction.

Life on Hold… I Don’t Have Time For This!

After many years of pretty intense ministry activity, developing the Bible Training Centre in Jamaica, then going to the UK and developing the schools there and then launching into training pastors in Africa, the winter of 1999-2000 I found myself in an isolated log house in the remote mountains of Central Oregon and I began to feel as if life was over and effective ministry was finished. I knew better. I knew that God had given us this opportunity to rest and reflect, but I still felt that life was “on hold” nonetheless! I thought, “I haven’t got time for this! Doesn’t God know the clock is ticking?”

During this time three good friends spoke honestly to me in a season when I was feeling that my life was “on hold.” Hugh Laybourn spoke to me of future hope and encouraged me to look up and ahead. Darryl Rodman spoke to me of rest and refreshing to renew strength and prepare for a new level of ministry. Ray Stokes spoke to me of past achievements and of my present attitude and encouraged me to appreciate and make the best of the current situation. All three were very helpful. Do you have someone who can “speak the truth in love” and caringly confront you?

Out of months or sometimes years of “being on hold” may come one insight, one revelation of grace and truth that turns your lump of charcoal into a diamond.

Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning of life, but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the evils of these days. Don’t be vague, but grasp firmly what you know to be the will of the Lord.  (Ephesians 5:15-17 JBP)

There is a sense in which for the committed believer, life is never on hold. God is working on us and in us in every delay, every frustrating experience, every setback we experience. God works in us so that He can more effectively work through us.

I hope you find some insight in my “On Hold” story that is helpful to you. I still struggle with some of these things. For me, the nature of my learning and growth, the nature of my slow progress from who I am to who I want to be usually involves more than one experience in the process of learning the important lessons. The most important thing is to keep going. Let God determine how many lessons it takes. Keep showing up. Keep responding to the grace God sends your way. Don’t quit!

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV)

 As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.


Choices – Making Decisions We Can Live With – Changes 3

This is part three of a brief impromptu series on Changes and Transition. You can read “Part 1 – When God’s Grace Lifts” here. “Part 2 – The Transition Zone” is here. I think you’ll find some helpful thoughts and ideas in this series.

Choices Have Consequences: Our Lives Are Shaped By Our Choices.

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. (Genesis 13:11 NLT)

Genesis 13:11 tells us that when the time came for Abraham and Lot to separate, “Lot chose for himself…” Lot made a decision based on superficial observation, selfish interests, and wrong values that ultimately led to his downfall and the loss of everything he had.

Our lives consist of segments involving time, location, activities, and associations, segments that are both linked together and separated by the choices we have made. Because choices have consequences, the way we handle choices has a lot to do with how life treats us and what we experience and accomplish in life. (Moses – Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua – Joshua 24:15; Elijah – 1 Kings 18:21)

• There are a variety of things to be considered in making choices. There are a variety of ways in which people handle choices. But choices are a fact of life and must be dealt with. The Bible has some very practical wisdom for us in the area of making right and wise choices.
• Some periods of our lives are “decision-intensive.” These times may be heavily loaded with decisions, both large and small. These decision-intensive times can be very stressful and trying and it may seem the most difficult time to make good decisions because of the pressure we feel. In these times we must be especially careful to apply wise decision making procedures.
• Don’t try to avoid decisions and choices. Avoiding decisions is making decisions by default. But don’t go to the opposite extreme and make decisions impulsively or thoughtlessly. Sometimes the stress and anxiety of choices is relieved by just making the decision, even though it hasn’t solved the problems. Having made the decision, we can then focus on steps of action.

Facts About Choices:

• Some choices set events in motion that determine the present and future direction of our lives. Just as faith releases power in the heavenly realm that causes things to happen in the earthly realm, choices set in motion chains of events that cannot be undone.
• Some choices are mutually exclusive. Most often, one choice leads us through a door into a particular segment or chapter of our lives and excludes other possibilities. By making one choice, we exclude the possibility of another choice. By taking one course of action we exclude the other course of action.
• Some choices lead to entanglements. These entanglements could be debt, unhealthy relationships, business or ministry commitments, a whole range of things. This can have serious negative consequences for us if we have been careless or impulsive in our decisions.
• Some choices lead to loss and destruction: Loss of reputation, Loss of opportunity, Loss of freedom, Breakup of relationships.
Some choices are more important than others. Take time, seek God’s will, get godly and wise counsel concerning the important decisions in your life. Which shirt shall I wear today? Where shall we go for lunch? Who will I marry? Should I leave this church or give it another try? Some people spend more time over the choices on a menu than over determining the will of God.

We Must Have A Proper Basis For Making Right Choices.

Here are several things we must be aware of in preparing to make good decisions – decisions we can live with:
• Emotions can run high. Emotional reactions can vary from enthusiastic over-reaction to hesitation, fear and panic. Work with facts, not just feelings. Make sure that you have clear factual information on which to base your decision.
• Avoid making decisions under pressure. This is the time when tragic mistakes are most apt to be made. These are often reactive decisions. Is a decision really required, or am I looking for a quick way out of a difficult situation?
• Write up a balance sheet which includes the pro (+) and con (-) factors. Be honest with yourself if you want a good decision. You may want to make a Yes / No List of reasons for and against the decision. You may also make a Yes / No List of possible consequences of the decision.
Research and investigate all aspects of the choice or opportunity that you are considering. Consider the options and the potential consequences.

To Consistently Make Good Choices – Decisions You Can Live With – Consider The Following Things:

Is it a Right thing? Does it measure up according to my Code of Ethics? This is a right and wrong issue. We must develop a Code of Ethics by which we govern our choices and actions. Some things we will do and some things we won’t do. Right and Wrong. Absolutes. Good and Evil. Yes and No. Based on Scripture and its practical application to life. (Joseph – Genesis 39:9)
• Does it violate or break any of God’s laws?
• Does it break or violate any vows or commitments I have knowingly entered into?
• Does it violate the trust anyone has placed in me?
• Does it compromise my conscience or my convictions?

Is it a Good thing? This is about the effect and consequences on others and on myself. This can include being sensitive to others’ feelings and wishes. This involves thinking of someone other than yourself.
• Is it good for me, my family, and my other responsibilities?
• Will anyone be hurt by it?
• Will it enhance or damage my testimony of God’s Grace?
• Will it help me better influence others for God?
• Does it lead to entanglements that hinder my freedom to serve my God?

Is it a True Value thing? Does it measure up according to my Value System? We must develop a value system based on God’s value system. Eternal values over temporal values. People over projects. Purposes over possessions. Integrity over peer pressure. It matters what people think, what you think, and what God thinks. You must decide how much it matters.
• Is this going to produce gold, silver and precious stones or wood, hay and straw? (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:10-13)
• Will this decision lead me to invest in God’s kingdom or in the world system.
• Am I looking at the long term or the short term?

Is it the best thing? This is about priorities. Good, better, and best. Sometimes good can be enemy of best in our lives. (Luke 10:41-42)
• Does it match with what I know to be really important in my life?
• Does it lead to growth and challenge?
• Is there something else I know would be better or more important?

Is it a God thing? Is it consistent with God’s revealed will and purpose for my life? In order to have a basis for right choices, we must have an unconditional pre-commitment to the Will of God as it is revealed to us. David said, “I delight to do Your Will O God”, and Jesus said “Not My will, but Your will..” Am I willing to put God’s will first in my choices and decisions? (Psalm 40:8; Matthew 26:39, 42)
• Is it consistent with how God has led me so far? Does it fit the pattern? When trying to discern God’s leading, be careful to distinguish between Spiritual and Mystical.
• Is it consistent with what I know to be God’s will so far in my life?
• Does this strengthen or weaken, build or destroy the important things in my life?
• Does this make me a better, more effective servant of God?

Is it a Me thing? Is it right for me and for who I know I am as a person and as a child of God?
• Is it consistent with my heart’s desire? Do I even know my heart’s desire? Or do I continually say, “Well, on the other hand..” If we are double-minded we will not be able to consistently make right decisions.
• Is it consistent with my personality? We can change if we desire something enough. It is a tragedy to see people who are living below their calling or potential simply because they aren’t willing to put forth the effort to change or overcome a weakness.
• Is it consistent with my strengths and weakness? Risk versus security; know if you can stand the pressure of risk-taking.
• Is it consistent with my skills and abilities? Skill can be learned and abilities can be acquired. If the decision is important enough to me I will be willing to put forth the required effort to equip myself for the task.
• Do I have peace and joy about it? “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts…”

Some Practically Spiritual Advice For Decision Making:

Count The Cost. Are you willing to pay the price? Be realistic. Every decision has its consequence and every choice has its cost. Sometimes the right choice, the godly choice is sacrificial. (Matthew 13:44; Luke 14:28)

Seek Wise Counsel And Advice. Scriptures on importance of wise counsel: Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 19:20; 1 Kings 12:8

• Get your counsel from someone who has more than theory, someone who has it working in their life. Don’t get financial counsel from people who are up to their necks in debt and don’t get marriage counsel from people who are twice-divorced and on their third marriage!
• Get your counsel from someone who will tell you the truth and won’t just tell you what you want to hear. Each of us needs good friends to tell us what we want to hear, but we also need true friends to tell us what we need to hear.
• Get God’s counsel. Pray and seek the Lord’s will. Allow time and space for God to communicate with you. Cultivate the skill of hearing and recognizing God’s voice. Predetermine to unconditionally obey the Lord.

Be Prepared To Hold Steady Under Pressure. Don’t be surprised by pressure and difficulties. Even right choices can lead us into times of trial and challenge. Be steadfast – unmovable. Finish what you start – don’t be a quitter. Don’t be a “spiritual butterfly”, flitting from one decision to another when things get tough. (Ephesians 6:13; Hebrews 10:35-39; 1 Peter 4:12)

Remember That God Is A Redeemer – A Restorer. He is “The God of the Second Chance.” See my blog post “The God of Things as The Are” here. No matter what the past, there is a new beginning for the present and hope for the future. Don’t waste your life and miss today’s opportunities because of the “what if’s..” and “If only’s..” that previous wrong decisions throw at you. In case we make wrong decisions and bad choices, we accept the responsibility, we deal with the consequences, and we get on with life! Right choices made in faith can sometimes break the chain of consequence. Don’t underestimate God’s grace and mercy. Put your confidence in the redemptive work of Christ at Calvary. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5)

This post is loaded with points to ponder and scriptures to explore and seek God’s inspiration and direction. It’s a lot to take in and a lot to process. Don’t get bogged down in the details as you read it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts to the things that will help the most!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

The Transition Zone – Changes Part 2

June 28, 2021

Hi Friends, Here’s Part 2 of an impromptu 3-part series on Dealing with Change and Transition. If you missed last week’s “Part 1 – When God’s Grace Lifts”, it would be great if you’d read it here before you read today’s post! 

I remember years ago, every Tuesday night at a certain time, something weird would happen on the TV. First there would be some spooky black and white images (this was in the days of black and white TV, so no extra points there), then there would be some spooky music “na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na”, then a spooky guy named Rod Serling would appear on my TV screen and say “You have just crossed over into the Twilight Zone…where nothing is really as it seems!” I suppose that somewhere in the world of television reruns, you can still find those “Twilight Zone” images and occurrences on your TV. But let me tell you about another weird and spooky place that you are likely to experience, maybe more than once. Let me welcome you to the “Transition Zone…where nothing is really as it seems!”

God normally directs and moves people in seasons of life, work, and ministry, with periods of transition between those life seasons. When we are in or entering into one of those recurring “in-between” times we are in the “Transition Zone.” The Transition Zone is potentially very dangerous time and place!

When God’s Grace Lifts from our current situation, we begin to experience friction and frustration (both internal and external). The things that once satisfied no longer do. Our hearts begin to withdraw from present activities and responsibilities. Creativity and energy level drops. The everyday details of responsibility begin to produce irritation and an “attitude” develops. It can seem as if there’s no passion and no way to get the pilot light lit again.

When change is thrown at us by season or circumstance or by the decisions or actions of others, we can feel a loss of control, and find ourselves in an emotional tailspin. We may feel as if we’ve been robbed or assaulted or “mugged!”

Before attempting to deal with the negativity and frustration we may feel, we’ve got to determine if it is Transition or Transgression. This is the time to ask the Holy Spirit to examine your heart and expose hidden faults. These must be dealt with through repentance, confession, and cleansing as they are exposed. Once it is clear that it is transition and not merely transgression, it’s time for Transition Management. Transition cannot be avoided and it must be managed!

The time of Transition is a crucial time of letting go but letting go in a responsible way. Move too fast, you become irresponsible. You let people down, violate your own integrity. Move too slow, you become irritable, then irascible. You risk losing respect for those you serve, the work you’ve been doing, perhaps even begin to tear down what you have labored to build.

If you find yourself in the Transition Zone, the next step is to identify the situation: Determine what needs to be done, what steps to take, what resources are required. God supplies resources for what He purposes for us to do.

Once again, Welcome to the Transition Zone! Here are some things about the Transition Zone that every visitor needs to know.

1. Nothing is really as it seems. In the Transition Zone, problems seem larger and blessings seem smaller than they actually are. You must “Magnify The Lord” through thankfulness and praise to get things into proper perspective. These are some of the feelings and perceptions that occur in the Transition Zone:
• “I look like a fool and feel like an idiot. I left in a blaze of glory to go and make my fortune in a distant land and now I have nothing to tell the people back on the other shore who told me I shouldn’t go. I’m stuck here in a kind of limbo. What will they think? How will I vindicate myself?”
• “Maybe I was wrong to take that step. Maybe I should have just accepted things as they were and learned to live with it. Maybe I should think about going back. Maybe I really blew it and as a result, life as I have known it is over.” (This part is true! Life as you have known it is over! Life as God wants you to know it is ahead in the fog somewhere!)
• “I have committed the unpardonable sin in leaving a place of security, as frustrating as it had become. There will never again be a place for me to really function in ministry and service. The only place God could really use me is in that particular place and situation.” (See, it’s good to look at this in print. It looks really silly when you write it out, doesn’t it?)
• “I left a good situation in a place I was really happy (In Egypt we were having such a good time!) “You want fries with that?” So now God is going to punish me for leaving what He had provided.” Actually, God is going to check your attitudes and reasons and then provide for you where you are now. He is the God of Things as They Are. (Note: You didn’t leave a good situation in a place where you were really happy. You left a place of growing frustration to follow God and your heart and took a step of faith to start a new life. So start a new life!)

2. Anything Can Happen Now! The purpose of the Transition Zone is to take you to a place where things can happen that could not happen where you were before. Remember how you felt when you first became aware of God’s call and purpose for your life. You were so confident that “Anything Can Happen!” It still can. But it is partly in your hands and partly in God’s hands. Put yourself entirely in God’s hands and then you will be better able to deal with the part that is in your hands. Don’t insist that everything be set in concrete too soon. As soon as the next step occurs, the “Anything” that can happen narrows down to “Certain Things” can happen. This is the season of opportunity. Let God run it His way.

3. The rules have all been changed. You no longer “have to..” get up in the morning at a certain time, be somewhere at a certain time, go to the hall on Saturday and set up for Sunday church. In fact, you no longer “have to..” do anything. Now the big question is, “What do you do when you don’t ‘have to..’ do anything?” How you handle yourself when the rules are taken away determines what the next set of rules needs to be. How you handle yourself now will figure significantly in what you will be doing ten years from now.

4. The Transition Zone is not in color nor is it in black and white, it’s shades of grey! At first grey makes it seem featureless and even hopeless. There is no clear sense of direction. But keep in mind that anything God wants to show you will stand out very clearly against a grey background. Keep your eyes open. You’ll have to watch out for the danger of eyes being focused only on the TV, a paper-back book, or a web page. Watch out for the tendency to only look down at your feet when walking in fog. Keep your head up!

5. What was is no longer and what will be is not yet. Before you entered the Transition Zone, it seemed as if you would be only too glad to be rid of what had been and that what would be was just around the corner. That’s because when God is leading you forward, He somehow seems to forget to mention the Transition Zone. (Moses: 40 years, Joseph: 13 years, David: 13 years, need I mention others?) Remember that the very purpose the Transition Zone exists, the reason you entered it, was so that what was would be no longer and what will be can be!

6. It’s easy to become confused and lose your way in the Transition Zone. You must not lose sight of why you entered the Transition Zone. Your ability to remain calm depends on it. Accept the fact that the Transition Zone is a grey, foggy, confusing place with no sign posts or beacons, not even a map. But there is a reason you entered and there is a way out. You must stay calm and apply to yourself all the lessons you have learned previously. Some of those lessons you have experienced, others you only know intellectually. This is the proving ground. But whatever you feel, whatever you experience remember…THE ONLY WAY OUT IS FORWARD.

7. There is no way to predict how long you will be in the Transition Zone. It depends on factors you have no way of knowing.
• Some of the factors depend on you: Lessons you apply, principles you operate, disciplines you exercise, attitudes you develop and maintain.
• Some of the factors depend on circumstances: Timing, job openings, people God brings your way, opportunities that have reached maturity, tests God has determined to apply. Do your part as well as you can. God will do His part perfectly!

8. Determine to make the best of the time you have in the Transition Zone. Once it is over and you are in “What will be,” you won’t find it easy to have time for some of the things you need to establish as disciplines and patterns. If you establish them now it will be easier to maintain them when you are in “What will be.”
• Daily Bible Reading. Follow a plan. I recommend a Through the Bible in a Year reading plan. Do it at a set time each day. No excuses!
• Keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings, and events that take place in the Transition Zone. Enter some info each day. You and others will need the insights you gain later.
• Get up and go to bed at a set time each day. Don’t let day run into night and night run into day. Set your own schedule. If God is going to be able to use you effectively in any task or role where you don’t have external controls, you need to develop this kind of discipline while you can.
• Set yourself projects with schedules and deadlines. Job search, fixing up the house, exercise, creative computing or writing, getting acquainted with the community, getting into church. Make your own list.
• Get out of the house. Take a walk. Walk 30 minutes a day and gradually increase it to an hour a day. Use the exercise to feel better and the time and distance to talk and pray.

Some Additional Transition Zone Thoughts:
• Type I: When your Transition is from A > to > B. Moving from one clearly defined position or role to another. This is hard. But it’s easiest to explain to others and to vindicate yourself to your adoring public.
• Type II: When your Transition is from A > to 0 to > B. Moving from a clearly defined position or role to another more or less clearly defined role but with a delay in between. This is harder. Harder to explain, harder to maintain your dignity in your own eyes and the eyes of others.
• Type III: When your Transition is from A > to 0 while waiting for B to be revealed. Moving from a clearly defined position or role to a period of no role, but with the expectation that God will reveal His will in His time. This is hardest. It’s impossible to explain. It looks like failure. It is humiliating. It can be financially embarrassing. Think of Elijah moving from the victory at Carmel to the wilderness, the tree, the gentle whisper and the new anointing. (1 Kings 19; James 4:10; John 5:41, 44).

The Type III transition is not only difficult but loaded with danger, in that the feelings of uncertainty can lead to making rash decisions or making rash statements or commitments.
• When you’re going through any transition, it is important to have people near who are more or less objective, people who care, who know you, but who can see the situation apart from the emotional state we’re in. If it is a Type III transition, it is imperative to have someone to help us monitor the process and to avoid dangerous errors.
• One of the good things about a Type III transition is that whatever work or ministry you do from this point onward will be uniquely you. It won’t be shaped by the responsibilities and expectations of a role, but will emerge from within. It will be developed out of the desires and concerns of your heart, the unique gifts and skills God has given you, and the relationships you have developed and will develop.

This little article grew as I was writing it. It is written from experience in how the Transition Zone feels, in how to deal with it, and in how to come out of it. Please bear in mind that we all are pilgrims who are seeking God’s purpose and we all spend some time, or even time after time, in the Transition Zone. We all face the realities of season, circumstance, and transition. Welcome to the Transition Zone! Enjoy your stay, but don’t settle here! Grace and Peace, Jim Stephens

I hope the first two parts of this brief series on Change and Transition have been a blessing to you. Next week we’ll look at one more aspect of Life Changes: The Choices We Make. Don’t Miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

When God’s Grace Lifts – Changes Part 1

June 22, 2021

The past (FIFTY YEARS!) year and a half has been unsettling to us all in so many ways! It has been a time of great change! It has been a season of realizing we are not in control of so many things we assume we control! It has been a time when our patterns and routines have been challenged and disrupted. It has been a time when we have in many ways lost our grip on the concept of “normal”. Pretty much everyone I know has experienced unsettling change, and there’s little doubt that there’s more of that to come.

The change we experience can be initiated in a lot of different ways: We can initiate change by our own choice and action. Change can be imposed on us by the choices and actions of others. Change can be circumstantial. All change is unsettling to some degree, but the changes that hit us without our choice or approval can be the most unsettling and disruptive of all. And if we can’t see a pathway back to normalcy and at least some degree of control, change can have a deeply negative effect on us.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write about change and transition–about how it comes to us; and we’ll consider together some ways we can respond well to change and make the best of the options and opportunities we have when change comes our way.

First, we’re going to consider the change that comes our way “When God’s Grace Lifts”! Wondering what I mean by “When God’s Grace Lifts”? Here’s what I’m thinking:

    • We are saved by the Grace of God. We are kept by the Grace of God. We are called to service by the Grace of God. We are enabled to serve by God’s Grace-Gifts.
    • If you are God-called, you are WHO you are by the Grace of God. If you are God-called you are WHAT you are by the Grace of God. If you are God-called, you are WHERE you are by the Grace of God.
    • So what do you do when the Grace of God begins to lift off you in a particular situation or place of service?

Most of us who have dedicated our lives to God’s service are functioning in the situation we’re in by God’s grace and His grace alone. We may be living in what to others seem to be abnormal circumstances, but to us it seems perfectly normal. We may be operating way outside our skill level or comfort zone, but the grace of God in which we are living and functioning makes it seem as if it is completely unremarkable! God gives grace for a sense of peace and normality in the most unusual situations and circumstances. We function daily in those situations, and it seems normal for a long time.

But then we begin to notice something is changing. It’s like what happens inside the engine of a car. A car engine is subjected to incredible stresses and extremes of temperature that can produce friction between the metal parts of the engine. In order to carry away the heat and prevent damaging friction, the engine is lubricated by oil that is constantly circulated around and between the moving parts. As long as the oil is fresh and clean and the oil level is full, the engine can operate smoothly for many thousands of miles. But if the oil level drops too low or the oil becomes contaminated, friction develops, heat builds up, and the engine can be severely damaged in just a few minutes.

Like the car engine, we may be ticking along pretty smoothly. There’s little or no friction, the temperature is normal, life is sweet! Then suddenly we find our attitude begins to deteriorate. Little things that we have taken as normal and acceptable begin to really grate on us. We become critical of people. We lose the motivation to keep going. We become irritable and negative and it seems as if it only takes the littlest thing to set us off.

In this mode we can easily become disagreeable at home, negative with friends and co-workers, and we may lose vision and momentum in work and ministry. As we look at our responsibilities and as we try to look forward to the things that we need to be doing, the motivation has evaporated, and it’s as if we simply “can’t be bothered!”

Depending on our personality and character traits, we may tend to withdraw and become depressed and isolated, or we may attempt to increase our level of activity and involvement by sheer force of will in an attempt to “jump start” ourselves.

If we have leadership responsibilities at a time like this, we know we mustn’t let others, especially those we lead or those we are accountable to, know of our struggle, so we may attempt to hide it. This can become very much like wrestling with an alligator and trying to tie it up and stuff it into a bag without letting anyone notice what’s going on.

At this point we are in an increasingly difficult and potentially dangerous situation. If we continue to try to hide our struggles from those around us, we risk damage to ourselves, our families, and those we are called to serve. If we come forward and try to explain what we’re going through and how we’re feeling to our people, our co-leaders, or our supervisor (whatever form that role takes in our accountability structure) we may be perceived as weak, unstable or uncommitted. “Just take a couple of days off and pull yourself together!”

When we begin to feel frustrated, lose vision, and become irritable, we need to take time to determine what is going on:

    • Am I overloaded with responsibilities and activities and simply feeling the strain of it?
    • Is there a problem or conflict with someone that needs to be resolved?
    • Is there sin in my life that I’m not dealing with that is causing me to feel this way?
    • Is this a test of my integrity, stamina, or perseverance?
    • Is it time for a change due to God’s Grace being lifted off me to live and function and serve in this situation?

As you consider the cause of your frustration, think about these possibilities:

    • If it is schedule or responsibility overload, take stock and pace yourself. See if there are activities others can help with. See if there are responsibilities others can assume.
    • If it is a relationship conflict, take the necessary steps to resolve it. Whether it requires conciliation or confrontation – deal with it.
    • If it is sin, repent, confess, and deal with it. (1 John 1:9-10)
    • If it is a test of integrity and responsibility, be faithful, fulfill your commitments.
    • But if it is due to the lifting of God’s Grace for service in the place or situation in which you are serving, then you may be facing a decision with long-term consequences for you and others around you. It is important that we properly handle and respond to the lifting of God’s Grace.

A word of caution: Don’t use the “Lifting of God’s Grace” as an excuse for failing to persevere under difficult circumstances, for failing to deal with difficulties, for failing to work through a difficult relationship.

Some steps of action to consider when we find God’s Grace is Lifting:
1. Don’t panic. The Grace of God brought you into this place of service, the Grace of God has kept you in this place of service, and the Grace of God will take you into your next place or level of service.
2. Begin to talk to God about how you are feeling. Be honest with God and honest with yourself. Listen to yourself in prayer. Try to distinguish between your feelings about how things are and “how things actually are!” Don’t allow yourself to see everything as negative and useless. Ask God for direction. Ask God for strength. Ask God to help you preserve your integrity and a measure of dignity! Ask God for help to avoid doing anything stupid!
3. Begin to talk to your spouse or if you are single, to a trusted friend, about how you are feeling. Again, be honest about it. Don’t make too much or too little of things. Listen to yourself as you talk: Are you whining?; Are you angry with someone?; Are you feeling guilty about something?; Are you disappointed in something that has failed or not met your expectations?; Are you feeling betrayed or let down by someone?
4. Bring yourself to the point where you are willing to “put it all on the altar” of sacrifice to the will and purpose of God for your life. Be willing to offer up to Him your position, your sense of achievement, your security, your ambitions. God may take it from you or give it back to you, but in any case, God will accept your willing sacrifice.
5. Try to take some time to get perspective on things. If you can go away for a few days to a quiet place to think and pray, do it. Take a mini-retreat (Click here for mini-retreat information)  with your spouse and talk and pray about how you’re feeling. If you can’t get away, take a couple of half-days, put your phones on silent, and talk and pray. If you can lighten your work load for a while, do it. But don’t just go along trying to do “business as usual” if all the oil is draining out of the engine. The heat and the friction will soon do some damage!
6. This is a good time to do some journaling. Write your feelings, your concerns, your fears. Write your hopes, your dreams, your burdens, and your ambitions. Write your ideas: “Some things I would really like to do if time, money, and location were not an issue..” If you have kept a journal, spend some time looking back to see if there is a pattern in the development of how you are feeling.
7. If you have been given words of counsel or encouragement, if trusted people have given you words of prophecy or insight, go over those things again. If you have recordings of them, listen to them now. If you made notes about them, go over the notes. If you remember the person speaking to you but can’t remember much of what was said, phone them and ask them if they remember what they shared with you. In all of this, be active, not passive. Seek God’s will, listen for God’s voice, watch for God’s hand.
8. Get some advice or counsel from trusted friends or peers in ministry or from people whose character and wisdom you respect. But don’t expect someone else to answer all your questions or make your decisions for you. Be careful about talking too much or too soon to those you are leading. You may be struggling, but you are still their leader. Don’t undermine their confidence or throw them into a panic.
9. When the Grace of God begins to lift in a particular situation or ministry responsibility, we still have to finish well. Don’t do or say things that will hurt others or make it hard for others to trust you. Don’t “drop the ball.” It’s important that we find the strength to carry out our responsibilities until we can release them in a mature way. It is important that we don’t begin to tear down what we have been laboring to build up. It is important that we fulfill our commitments.
10. Prepare for God to lead you forward. Be willing to move on if that is what God requires. Be willing to let go of your security. It may be painful. It may require that you step completely out of your comfort zone. It may require great sacrifice. But it will keep you in God’s will, it will keep you growing and maturing. And it will keep you under the Grace of God for life and service.

When the Grace of God begins to lift, you need to act quickly but not move too fast!

    • Act quickly to determine the cause of the changes taking place in your heart, mind, and attitude.
    • Begin to examine your heart and attitudes, to communicate with trusted friends, and begin to look for the Grace of God to lead you forward.
    • Don’t move too slowly and allow your attitude to deteriorate and damage your reputation and relationships.
    • Don’t move too fast and fail to fulfill your commitments and responsibilities.

Remember that it is by God’s Grace that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are doing.

Next week I’m going to write about “The Transition Zone”. Once you’ve begun moving forward into a season of change and transition, some of the old patterns don’t work any longer. It’s an in-between season and situation and we must be ready to respond carefully and wisely. I think you’ll find some helpful thoughts and ideas in next week’s post on “The Transition Zone”. Don’t miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

The God Of Things As They Are

Click here for Jim’s latest Health Updates.

Some time ago, I received a letter from a young man, one of our past students at East London Bible Training Centre. This man, whom I will call Dan, is a leader in one of the London churches with which we have had significant involvement. In the letter, Dan outlined his involvement with the church, his leadership role, and then expressed some concerns he had about his effectiveness as a church leader.

Dan referred to the great expectations he and his wife and the other leaders had about his leadership role. He mentioned some very positive and encouraging prophecies he had been given specifically about his leadership and the fulfillment of God’s purpose for him with relation to the local church.

Then Dan expressed the concern that he had failed to completely and wholeheartedly respond to the call and challenge of leadership and that through distractions and half-heartedness he had betrayed or failed God, the church, and himself.

Dan said that he was feeling that perhaps he should step down from leadership and perhaps even move from the church to make room for others to develop into effective leaders.

Then Dan asked me two specific questions:

    1. If, in terms of God’s promise, purpose, and requirement, we fail at some point, is that it? Are we finished? Of course, we know that God in His mercy and grace will forgive, but does that mean we are finished in terms of God’s good plans and purposes for us?
    2. Is it possible, if we have once failed, to again receive God’s anointing and to fulfill God’s purpose for effective service? If we have missed God’s original plan for us is there a way to get back in the game?

These are good questions and address issues that each of us has wrestled with at some point in our lives. Is there only a plan A, or is there also a plan B? If I miss plan A, does that mean that the best I can ever hope for is an inferior plan B?

Before I go any further on this topic, let me point out three people in Bible accounts who missed it at some point in their lives and ministries:

  1. David, God’s anointed Shepherd King of Israel, sinned terribly through an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the conspiracy to murder her husband. After repentance and accepting God’s discipline, he carried on as God’s chosen king. He wrote many of the Psalms that teach us and help us to understand God better and provide a vehicle for our praise and worship.
  2. Simon Peter, who in a time of crisis denied three times that he even knew Jesus, went on to preach the church’s inaugural message on the day of Pentecost. Peter became a key leader in the growing church and helped the Jewish believers see that the Gospel was Good News for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He wrote 1 and 2 Peter, very challenging and encouraging letters to leaders.
  3. John Mark, who failed to follow through on his missions commitment to Paul and Barnabas, went on to write one of the four gospels. His gospel, probably written with the assistance of Simon Peter, shows us much of the humility, goodness, and practicality of Jesus.

So be encouraged, friends. There’s still hope, even when you miss it!

Now, I’d like to take a look at Dan’s concerns and questions about the callings and purposes of God in another way.

Years ago, I first read the poem “When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted”, by Rudyard Kipling. The poem contains a phrase which spoke to me very deeply. I don’t base my theology on the poems of Kipling, but I know when God takes a thought or phrase and plants it in me in a foundational and formative way that it is truth. Kipling’s poem, “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted” closes with this phrase: “….The God of Things as They Are.”

That phrase became a revelation of God to me. When I begin to get pressed down by thoughts of “What I should have done”, “What they shouldn’t have done”, and “What might have been”, God reminds me that He is not the God of “What might have been”, but He is “The God of Things as They Are.” He is my God, now, in the situation exactly as it is. I am His child and servant, now, in my situation exactly as it is.

I have a tendency to waste time with “If Only’s” and “What If’s”. The “If Only’s” tend to focus on things done or not done in the past that cannot be changed. (There is no future in the past.) The “What If’s” tend to focus on things in the future that may or may not happen. (This is also called worry or anxiety.) Mark Twain said, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened!”

God’s purpose for Jean and me has led us to make a number of major decisions, changes, and moves over the last forty-plus years: selling our business, going into full-time ministry, moving to another state to pioneer a church, moving to Jamaica to serve as missionaries, moving to the UK to start and develop the Bible Training Centres, writing the Foundation For Christian Service course for African churches and conducting Pastors Training Workshops in Central Africa, then eventually moving to Oregon, in the USA, for a season of fruitful ministry in ways and situations we could not have imagined!

So many times when I look back at the situations, events, and seasons linked by that series of moves, I think, “If only I had moved more quickly in that case”, “If only I had waited a little longer that time”, “If only they had followed through on their commitment.” The list of “If onlys” becomes unending when I let my mind go in that direction. There may be lessons to learn from the “If onlys”, but the key is to learn them and move on.

Sometimes when contemplating an upcoming step of faith, I begin to think “What if I get it wrong – wrong move – wrong timing?” or “What if I discover I can’t handle it?” or “What if they don’t follow through?” It’s easy to become paralyzed by fear when you get into the “What ifs”. The fact is, the “What ifs” are not only unknown, they’re unknowable. If we spend too much time with “What ifs”, we’re dead in the water.

In the book “Prince Caspian”, from the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, the Pevensie children and Trumpkin the dwarf are making their way from Cair Paravel to the Table Mound and are getting quite lost. Soon Aslan appears to Lucy and shows her the way to go. However, she is the only one who can see Him and the way that He is indicating is less logical than the way that all the others want to go. She eventually gives in to the pressure from the others and goes their way which gets them all into trouble. Later, Aslan comes to her and tells her that she should have followed him. She complains that she would have been alone, and asks what would have happened if she had acted correctly. Aslan answers her, “To know what would have happened, child? No, nobody is ever told that.” “Oh dear”, said Lucy. “But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan.

When we dwell on “If only..” and “What if..”, on “What would have happened” and “What might happen” we are asking God to be “The God of what might have been”, or “The God of what might be.” The God we worship and serve is “The God of Things as They Are.”

It is appropriate to ask some questions when we are dealing with a difficult situation in which things haven’t turned out as we expected, or when we’re facing major decisions. We need to realize that there are “good questions” and “bad questions.”

Some Good Questions may be:
• What have I learned from this situation?
• What should I do now?
• Where do we go from here?

Some Bad Questions might be:
• Why does this stuff always happen to me?
• What might have happened if I had / had not done..?
• What’s the use in trying anymore?

I am coming to realize that God is not so much the God who has a “plan A” for me and then no plan or option if I fail to fulfill it to the letter, nor is He the God who has a “plan A” for me and then switches to a possibly inferior “plan B” if I don’t fulfill “plan A.”

God is the God of things as they are. My situation, my mistakes, my right and wrong decisions, the things others did or didn’t do that I had no control over yet they affected my situation… All the positive and negative factors, all the consequences of right and wrong decisions, all of my strengths and weaknesses…. He is the God of all that!

So there is no longer “What might have been” to deal with, only “what is”. And there is not a “What might be” to worry and fret about, only “what will be” as I move ahead in faith, dealing with this present reality and moving into God’s future reality and purpose for my life.

So let’s accept the present, learn from the past, and press on into God’s future and His purpose for each of us!

I’ve included the full text of Kipling’s poem here:

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted
Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it—lie down for an æon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from—Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.




Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life – Thankful Part 5

June 8, 2021

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing that’s happened as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

Whole Life Thankfulness – Thankful for my life

I’d love it if you’ll take three minutes and watch this video clip from the movie Joe Versus the Volcano.

When I first saw this movie years ago, as I watched this scene, God spoke something into my heart and started me on a quest (or something very like a quest) to live as much of my life as possible with a “Thank you for my life” attitude and outlook.

Oh God Whose Name I Do Not Know! Tom Hanks’ character Joe didn’t know the name of the God who had given him his life. I have the privilege of knowing the name of that God! He’s Father! He’s My Shepherd! And he’s the God who has given me nine years more of life on earth than my dad had. (And that’s just so far!)

If you read my recent series of posts “Not Disappointed”, you know that late in life, in my mid-sixties actually, I began to discover that my dad must have been way more important to me than I realized. My dad died in 1988 at age 69 and 166 days. I hadn’t seen him for a few years because Jean and I were missionaries serving overseas, and one of the things missionaries sacrifice is time with family. My dad and mom were able to visit us a couple of years after we moved to Jamaica. We were still living in the village in the mountains and my dad had a great time doing carpentry projects for the church and the children’s primary school. My dad was old school enough that he didn’t complain about having to do most everything with hand tools, because even if we’d had power tools, the electricity wasn’t consistent enough to count on. It was a great time!

Then he and my mom had gone back home to Oregon, and Jean and I and Melissa had moved to Kingston and started the Bible Training Center. Life was full and busy and it had been nearly two years since I’d seen my dad before he died. I was so thankful to be able to get a flight to Medford, Oregon, and thankful that they delayed the funeral a day so I’d be able to be there!

But twenty four years later, when I was approaching age 69 and 166 days, the age my dad lived to, I made an electronic calendar in Microsoft Outlook to count down to when I reached the age he reached. Somehow, it became really important to me to mark the age when I had lived as long as he lived. Kind of like the short-timer’s calendar we all kept in Vietnam to count down to the end of our tour of duty.

On the day I lived as long as my dad had lived, something happened in me. A good something. I decided, chose to believe, and made it a core principle of my life that every day from that point on was a gift from God. I know, they all are aren’t they? But this was a kind of defining moment for me. From that day forward, every day of my life is a grace-gift from God!

Not every day of my life since that day has been a pleasant day or enjoyable day. There have been lots of challenges, setbacks, pain, and heartache. Imagine that! And there have been joy-filled days, and restful days, and victories, and celebrations. You know, like normal life is.

And though I still get anxious about stuff and I feel envious or critical of people sometimes, that is not the core of my attitude toward my life. My life on its good days and its bad days is a gift from God. I’m thankful for my life!

In this series, we’ve considered Four Stages or Qualities of Thankfulness. (There may be five or six or however many you might discover on your life’s journey through sunny meadows and dark valleys.)

    • I don’t think these are a linear progression from one to the other. For me, it can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another.
    • I can find myself at any of these four stages in the same day.
    • I know that I want to arrive more frequently and stay longer at the “Thankful For My Life” stage of thankfulness!

Let’s determine to live our lives with an Attitude of Gratitude. I know it’s trite and it’s a cliché. But I also know that there is a way of living Thankful, living and thinking and acting out of a deep gratitude to God for the gift of life.

Don’t forget that Gratitude doesn’t come through having what you want, it comes through wanting what you have.

Be consciously and intentionally grateful for what you have, and don’t waste the moments of your life whining and complaining over what you don’t have! Express gratitude and thanksgiving continually!

I hope there has been an insight, or encouragement, or even a challenge for you as you’ve read this series of posts. Let’s explore the entire range of thankfulness and keep moving toward that place where we are more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time, simply Thankful for our Lives!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.


Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks – Thankfulness Part 4

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m learning that “Gratitude is an Attitude” (see what I did there?) of the heart, not merely a reaction to favorable circumstances.

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

The transition from Gratitude as a momentary warm, fuzzy feeling prompted by circumstances, to Gratitude as an attitude of your heart, a settled response to God and his goodness, is a process. It’s a process that involves joy and pain, blessing and loss, and it’s worth its weight in gold!

I’m learning that you can be thankful IN everything, without being thankful FOR everything!

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

When I look back over the years the most thankful things I remember have not always been the easiest things! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest progress in my maturity, attitude, and character! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest Gratitude to God! I love it when things go smoothly, but when I face challenges and God comes through, sometimes the Gratitude is almost overwhelming!

Thankfulness – In Everything Give Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

It’s not “FOR” everything give thanks. It’s “IN” everything give thanks.

It’s not being false and hyper-spiritual and saying silly stuff. It’s looking for the good in the bad, the beautiful in the ugly. And then intentionally, and sometimes with great effort and determination, focusing on the good and the beautiful. And being thankful for the good in the midst of a situation that includes things that are not good.

In the midst of a situation that includes pain, loss, uncertainty, and confusion we can choose to focus on the good: The kind words of others, the kind and caring actions of others, things that we still have, things that offer a glimpse of hope. We can focus on good readings on the lab work, rather than on the fact we have the disease. We can focus on the energy we have rather than on the energy we’ve lost.

I remember a Holy Moment during our daughter Stephanie’s cancer battle in 2019-2020 when Jean, Stephanie’s mother, used scissors to cut off Stephanie’s remaining hair (which had begun coming out in clumps). Then Philip, Stephanie’s husband, shaved the remaining fuzzy hair from her head. And I stood by and watched love, courage, and faith working together in one of the holiest moments I’ve had the privilege of being part of!

There were many not so holy moments (at least they didn’t seem holy to me at the time) during Stephanie’s battle with the disease, but I’ve chosen to let that Moment stand out in my memory. And now, nearly a year on, the follow-up exams have been clear. I have to admit, it’s easier to give thanks now for the current good news, but let’s set our hearts on the kind of thankfulness that finds something beautiful and thankworthy in the “In Everything” seasons.

It’s not “FOR” everything give thanks. It’s “IN” everything give thanks.

I’m learning. I don’t have all this stuff worked out so that there’s never a moment of angst or fear or loss. I’m learning. And I’m well aware that I haven’t faced all my “In Everythings” yet. There may come an “In Everything” that’s way beyond my pay grade. But I’m learning. I’m getting ready for the “In Everythings” that are still ahead by practicing my “Giving Thanks” in the ones that come along.

Practical stuff:

There is an element of “Well, it could be worse!” and some “Glass half full or glass half empty” thinking in all of this. But one thing I’ve learned about Thankfulness is that it has to be expressed in some way. When we look for the thankful things amongst the “In Everythings” of life, when we search for them, identify them, then we can call them out by saying “Thank you” to God, to other people, to our own anxious souls, something powerful and transformational happens.

This comes more naturally to some of us than to others, but I recommend you make a conscious decision to “In Everything Give Thanks”. Then start to do it…
• Look for the thankful things.
• Identify them when you find them. Name them. Call them out.
• Express your Thankfulness. Say thanks. Thank God. Thank people.

Let your giving of thanks in your present situation prepare you for the giving of thanks “In Everything”. You and the people you love and influence will not regret it!

So far we’ve been thinking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks!

It’s not as if any of these are the ultimate goal of Gratitude. They’re more like stages in a process. They’re more like places we visit and revisit on the journey of our life. And I’m still convinced that these are not something we move through in linear progression or that there are better and worse kinds of Gratitude. In my experience, I find myself moving through the spectrum of Thankfulness pretty frequently. But I do want to grow in Gratitude so I spend more and more time simply being Thankful for my Life!

Next week we’ll wrap up the Thankfulness series with Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life! Don’t miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.