Oct 12, 2017

Rink Closed for Resurfacing

In a hockey game, intermissions affect the outcome of the game in the respect that they give players a chance to rest and allows team coaches to evaluate the team’s performance and to make changes regarding strategy as required.

They also provide an opportunity to clean/resurface the ice.

I need to take an intermission in my life to take some rest, allow me to talk to my Coach (God), to spend time with Him, to evaluate my performance, and to make changes regarding strategy as required, as well as to clean/resurface the ice. Metaphorically of course.

So, I am taking an intermission from writing for a short season.

In the interim, please check out my Blog Archive.

 “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Today, please take some time to think about life and death and what’s important. Death is a reality - but so is God's offer of salvation in Christ. Is your hope in Christ? Don't put off your decision for Him, because you could be called into eternity at any moment - and then it will be too late.

Take time to talk to God and to talk to your friends. Take time to think about what’s important. Take time to slow down and smell the roses; it will be next week soon enough.

“Keep your stick on the ice; I’m pulling for you!” -Red Green


All Scripture is from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Sep 30, 2017

Light Dawns in the Darkness…

It was a cool September morning this past Friday; the twenty ninth of the month, to be exact… and I was driving to work at 6:50 in the morning and I thought to myself; “When did it get to be so dark out? How did I not see the cloud of darkness coming?"

“Just last week at this exact time it was sunny!”; I reason with myself…pondering a bit more I asked; “Or was it just this past Monday?”

When did it get to be so dark at 6:50 in the morning? How had the summer skies given way to the impending darkness that would be my normality for the next five or six months? 

Gone were the morning drive times filled with sunshine and bright skies.

Gone were the sunny mornings that greeted me and made my drive from my home in St. Paul to my office in Minneapolis.

Really; “When did it get to be so dark out? When did this darkness creep up and slowly descend upon me? How had I not seen it coming?"

Recently, I realized that another cloud of darkness came upon me as well.  At first glance it seemed that it had come with the same sudden and unforeseen entrance as the shifting of the time for sunrise had been this past week.

It came up slowly, almost methodically and even when it was fully encapsulating me I didn’t see at; not at first anyway.

In fact, it wasn’t until my wife Cathy brought it to my attention that I, too, saw that a cloud of darkness had settled over my life and pondered; “When did it get to be so dark out?” When did this darkness creep up and slowly descend upon me? How had I not seen it coming?

But as I have looked back over the previous months I realized that the signs had been there all along; in fact, others also saw them and some had asked Cathy what was going on with me…

I had been persistently sad, anxious, and feeling "empty". I felt hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, worthless, helpless… and times I was irritable.

Some days I had difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions. I was restless and instead of working less, I pressed in and doubled up my efforts, and worked more! Even that I was blind to, as most workaholics are…

At a couple of times, I dodged thoughts of suicide; which were easily dismissed as I thought about my family and didn’t want to inflict pain upon them; so I pushed the thoughts away.

At times I had a loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including spending time with my wife. I had decreased energy, fatigue, felt slowed down. I struggled with both a low appetite and other times overeating and weight gain.

At times I had insomnia and frequently woke up early in the morning and then couldn’t get back to sleep.

The worst part for me is that nothing seemed to really satisfy my soul; I couldn’t “hear” God speaking to me. I am a follower of Jesus Christ; a Christian. And one of my daily rituals is spending time reading the Bible, and for two solid months the words were dead to me; no revelation or life.

During this time, attending church was merely a religious activity that I did each week as I desperately longed for a real encounter with the living God.

Worship was dry and even the distant memories of times of refreshing added to my sadness as I remembered them and compared them to my present “reality”.

Yes, I was grateful for times spent with my wife and family and friends; but deep in my soul my heart was dying for life!
-
When did it get to be so dark in my life? How had the “sunny days” given way to the impending darkness that would be my normality for the next few months? 

It wasn’t something I planned or wanted (or as I soon discovered) was able to talk myself out of. And because I don’t struggle with depression, I didn’t realize what was happening.

Yes, I have highs and lows, but not depression. In fact, this, to my knowledge, was only the second time in my life that I was in a cloud of darkness called “depression”.

It had enveloped me and became a “second skin” that I was aware of, but not cognitive to the point where I did anything more that try to shake it off. I thought that I was just having a “bad day” …

I was deep in a darkness that had so become my normality, that even the reality of all that was good in my life still didn’t shake my sadness.

Telling myself to work harder and longer didn’t help either because anxiety and depression is just plain rotten and its effects tore apart my very soul! 

As I looked back over several months, I concluded that I had some unresolved pain or trauma or issues that I had not dealt with and my body, soul, mind, and spirit were crying out for me to pay attention; something was wrong!

And I needed to be OK with not being able to pull it all together and charge ahead. I needed to be OK with letting others know that I wasn’t “fine” and that I needed their help.

I will admit that it can seem to be so embarrassing to say “HELP, I NEED CARE!”  But we all do, you know.  Burnout is serious. Depression is serious. Not being able to get free is serious. Being so deep in it that I was blind to the cloud is serious!

It’s hard for me to take off the mask and admit that I am hurting; especially when I wasn’t aware that I had been running on auto pilot and was very low on fuel.

I came to realize that it is God’s desire to point this out to me (and to others who love me and whom He will also use to revive my soul). Restoring me takes first place on His agenda; He really wants me to be whole.  

I needed to be OK with stepping out of the traffic and taking a long, loving look at God and to be still, knowing that He is God (see Psalm 46:10)

I needed God to remind me that I was a part of something bigger than me; I am a member of the Body of Christ. He had others who needed me to get healthy, but not me trying to figure out how to do it or putting on a mask of appearing to be healthy.

I needed to just be who I was at that movement; someone who was hurting and be OK with that. NO MASKS!  Most of all, forgive myself for mistakes of the past.  God has never cut me off from His love.  I needed to take it!  I AM LOVED!

I am happy to write that in time, worship and revelation in His Word returned to me. My heart knows God wants to fill the broken places with His Spirit! Bible reading and church are life giving once again! And songs of worship once again greeted me as I awakened each day new day.

I wish that I could write this today and share with you that everything is OK; but it is not…my metaphorical batteries still need recharging (or replacing) and my fuel tanks are still low.

I am realizing that I still can be set off and become discharged very easily…I still need rest and recuperation throughout my day, evening, and (especially) throughout the night.

But I am aware and I do feel and I am starting to see light breaking into my life replacing the cloud that has been my “reality.

And I need to still be OK with the process of God to bring complete healing to me. But that His job and I need to be good with letting Him do it as He sees fit; after all, it is not only His job; it is all about Him and His namesake.

Dear reader, I am not sure where you are at today or why you chose to read this longer than usual blog. I didn’t write it to draw attention to myself or to come across as one who had any real answers. I simply wrote to make some sense of my life as my distorted mind tries to play games with me.
 
But if you, too, are struggling with depression, I do feel great compassion and concern for you, because you too need rest and recuperation.

Is God’s voice pretty silent right now?  I imagine it is for you (and in some areas, it still is for me). In that place it’s hard to hear encouragement and I understand.

My exhortation is that you simply let God come and rescue you. Let Him take you to where you need to go.

Let God be the One who removes the darkness and brings light back to your shattered world.

Let God bring the healing and relief that you so desperately long for. Hope is not beyond your reach; but let Him do the work.

Your part is to simply cooperate with what He tells you to do; He is asking you to trust Him.

So, let go my soul and trust in Him; the wind and waves still know His Name

If you find yourself today in a similar state of mind and you are trying to push through in your own strength, my exhortation to you is to STOP…and REST!

Jesus longs for you to call out to Him today.

He is waiting for you to respond to His mercy and grace that has already been extended to you through Jesus Christ. And you can; today. And it can make all the difference in the world as you look for hope in your present world. Let Him bring you REST.

Need further help? Someone is waiting to talk with you. Call either: 1-888-NEED HIM or 1-877-2GRAHAM (1-877-247-2426).

"Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous." (Psalm 112:4 ESV)

      Pastor Tommy Oestreich 
© 2017 River of Hope Ministries. All Rights Reserved                                 

Sep 21, 2017

The Consequences of Saying Yes to Sexual Temptation

A quick scan of the major news media sources reveals that scandals involving infidelity and immorality are being exposed almost daily.


It seems that no one is immune including athletes, coaches, politicians, teachers, and yes, even more than we would like to admit, the clergy.

Careers and lives are ruined as families are ripped apart in the aftermath of a series of poor decisions by leaders who thought that it would NEVER happen to them.

Some of these decisions were caused by giving into temptation from simply being worn out from pouring out into others without refilling the tanks.

And yet, not everyone who is tempted needs to give in; there is a way out.

I’m thinking of Joseph (in the Bible). Let me refresh your memory from Genesis 39:6b-12 (MSG):

“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

Did you catch that? Joseph, instead of giving into temptation to have sex wuth this woman was able to FLEE!

How? GRACE. There is always GRACE to assist us in fleeing:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Whenever I feel particularly vulnerable to sexual temptation, I find it helpful to review what effects my action could have:

·        Grieving the Lord who redeemed me.

·        Dragging His sacred name into the mud.

·        One day having to look Jesus, the Righteous Judge, in the face and give an account of my actions.

·        Following in the footsteps of these people whose immorality forfeited their ministries.

·        Inflicting untold hurt on my spouse and children; losing their respect and trust.

·        Destroying my example and credibility with my children, and nullifying both present and future efforts to teach them to obey God ("Why listen to a someone who betrayed us?").

·        If my blindness should continue or my spouse be unable to forgive, perhaps losing my spouse and my children forever.

·        Causing shame to my family; especially when asked to step out of ministry.

·        Losing self-respect.

·        Creating a form of guilt awfully hard to shake. Even though God would forgive me, would I forgive myself?

·        Forming memories and flashbacks that could plague future intimacy with my spouse.

·        Wasting years of ministry training and experience for a long time, maybe permanently.

·        Forfeiting the effect of years of witnessing to my family and reinforcing their distrust for ministers that has only begun to soften by my example but that would harden, perhaps permanently, because of my immorality.

·        Undermining the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community.

·        Bringing immense pleasure to Satan, the enemy of God and all that is good.

·        Heaping judgment and endless difficulty on the person with whom I committed adultery.

·        Possibly bearing the physical consequences of such diseases as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, and AIDS; perhaps infecting my spouse or, in the case of AIDS, even causing their death.

·        Possibly causing pregnancy, with the personal and financial implications, including a lifelong reminder of my sin.

·        Bringing shame and hurt to fellow pastors and elders.

·        Causing shame and hurt to these friends, especially those I've led to Christ and discipled:

·        Invoking shame and lifelong embarrassment upon myself.

I’m not sure where you are at today or why you’ve read this blog. You may be in a state of transition because you haven’t fled when given the opportunity. Instead, you gave in and you may be wondering; “Is there any hope for restoring me back to health and wholeness?

I can heartily state; “Yes, there is hope that a broken life can be restored again!”


All Scripture is from English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Sep 14, 2017

Bienvenidos

Hi, my name is Gus. My mom sent me down to welcome you to the neighborhood.” He was around five years old and had loving parents who would become great neighbors and who still live down the block today.

That was 32 years ago in August 1985.

Over the years we watched Gus grow up, get married, and eventually have children who spend time at our house picking berries or just stop by to talk. His oldest has the same gift of hospitality that his father Gus has!

We would get another visitor, Nathan, who was around eight years old, would greet us a few days later. I first saw Nate when every day he would bring his LARGE dog down to our house so that his LARGE dog could do his daily duty in our front bushes. One day, I had enough, so I asked Nate to not do it and he said nothing and walked away.

So, I grabbed a shovel, scooped up the dog’s “present”, and brought it back to Nate’s house; and told Nate that his dog had left something at my house. Nate was not receptive to me returning his dog’s property. I left it on his lawn and went back home.

About five minutes later, I saw an elderly gentleman walking down the block escorting Nate by the ear. It turned out to be Nate’s grandfather who was helping his single mom raise him and his two brothers.

When they arrived at our house, Nate was very lovingly exhorted to apologize for what he had been doing for months even before we had purchased the home.

And then Nate said; “Oh ya, I’m supposed to welcome you to the neighborhood.”

Eventually he came to mean what he said because when it would snow, he would occasionally shovel our walks and, when he was doing lawn care, he aerated our lawn just to be nice, and ten years later he purchased my pickup truck.

I am happy to report that almost every time that Nate stops over at his mom’s house (and sees me outside) he either stops over to say “hi” or shouts; “Hey Mr. Oestreich; hi!”

Nate (and his brothers) have turned out to be great men; mom and grandpa (and eventually step-dad) did an excellent job raising them.

“Welcome” in any language is a simple gift that takes so little to say; but can have lasting effects on the hearer.

Webster defines it as: ‘to greet hospitably and to accept with courtesy or cordially’. ‘To accept with pleasure the occurrence or presence of’  

Because of the effect that it had on our lives when we were the newbies on the block, Cathy and I try to be a “Gus” to new people who move to our neighborhood. At the first sign of someone moving in we try to make it a point to go over and say; “welcome” to them into our world.

At the church that we attend, we have members who come from well over thirty different nations so you might hear greetings like; “Karibu” (Swahili) or “svāgat” (Hindi) or “akeyi” (Haitian) or “bienvenidos” (Spanish) or “huānyíng guānglín" (Mandarin) or “bienvenue” (French) or “bine ai venit” (Romanian) or “si argun naaf gammachudha (Ethiopian) or “sawatdee-krap” or “sawatdee-kahwhich” (Thai)…

The Apostle Paul exhorted the church in Rome to; “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7 ESV)

The Greek word translated there as ‘welcome’ means: to take to oneself, that is, use (food), lead (aside), admit (to friendship or hospitality)

Jesus exhorted us to welcome people. He said in Matthew 25 that When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on his glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats….” (see Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus goes on Matthew 25 to say that part of how we are judged by God in the last day will be whether we welcomed people in our lives… “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.”

Who are the people that the Lord would want you to reach out to; to say, “Welcome” to? In your neighborhood, place of employment, church, family, and even your own home?

Who are the least of these that Jesus is calling you to reach out to today?

Who is God calling you to be a ‘Gus” to and say; “bienvenidos!”


Scripture from English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Sep 7, 2017

Sand, Rocks, and Trees

Recently, Cathy and I spent three days and two nights up on the North Shore. It is located on Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It is a destination that we have been going to over the thirty six years that we have been married; as well as the times when we individually went to that area prior to our marriage.

Our goal was to go from St. Paul to Grand Marais; staying in Two Harbors at night. The whole trip from St. Paul to Grand Marais can be done in a little over four hours. The from St. Paul to Two Harbors can be done in around two and one-half hours. We would have gone to Canada, but I forgot to take along our passports.

In the past, my goal was to get from point “a” to point “b” in a little time as possible; because I had a destination to get to. Over the years I have been trying to slow myself down and take in the scenery along the way.

Each and every time we discover something new and exciting that we hadn't seen before. This time was no exception.

What stood out to us this time was how many different beaches and coves there are on Lake Superior. It is almost as though someone had sorted out all of the rocks, sand, trees, and water into different beaches and coves on the entire shoreline of Lake Superior! 

Let me share with you some of my observations…

ROCKS: Each and every beach or cove has a different type, shape, and color of rocks. Some beaches have jagged rocks that are hard to walk on without the right type of shoes. Some have rocks so smooth they look as though someone came in and tumbled them in a rock polisher. Some have rocks that were all the perfect rock for skipping. Some were perfectly round made out of taconite or sand.

Some rocks were black; others were orange, gay, white, tan or red. Some were dull, and some were filled with stones that sparkled as they reflected the sunshine. Some areas even had rocks that look liked someone had gathered all of the variety of stones and melted them together into individual rocks made up of a composite of multiple types of rocks.

SAND: Each and every beach or cove has a different type, shape, and color of sand; from jet black to pristine white, as well as orange, gray, tan and red. Some of the sand was large grains, others were as fine as dust. Some was warm and some was cold to the touch.

WATER: Each and every beach or cove has a different type and color of water; from choppy to calm, from green water to almost clear. Some that was so clear that one could almost drink it and some was so covered in algae that one wondered why the water was stagnant.

TREES: Each and every beach or cove has a different type and color of trees; from pine trees to hardwoods. Some were tall and some were short; almost like bonsai trees! Some were fallen; others were so attached into the rocks that the very winter storms that ravage that area couldn’t remove them from where they were planted.

WILDLIFE: Each and every beach or cove has a different type of wildlife; from birds to fish to other types of waterfowl.

ATMOSPHERE: Finally, Each and every beach or cove has a different type of atmosphere. Some were crowded, while others were secluded. Some were covered in debris, others were pristine with absolutely no trash in any form. Some felt inviting while others gave off a feeling of uncertainty.

Some were harbors for large ocean-going ships, while others were places for kayakers to explore as they calmly paddled along. Some were littered with trash and even old ship wrecks that contained a reminder of who vastly different this great lake can be from one location to the next.

All of these different coves were on the same lake and yet each had their own unique things to offer to anyone who was willing to stop, wait, and observe. Each and every one came with the observation that someone had to have put this all together as part of some master plan.

My thoughts and take away:
Don't just go through this next week as though you are running a race; you already did last week.

Don’t go through this week thinking that you are alone and that no one is behind all of this placing into your life each and everything that is necessary to make you who you are called to be.

Don't just go through this next week as though there is no master plan for your life. Let God show you what He is doing.

Don't just get through this next week; there is so much to see that you won't notice if you don't slow down and enjoy the trip and soon you will be at thirty plus years wondering how the time flew by.

I'm praying for you and looking forward to your observations.


Aug 31, 2017

Adore - Erik Nieder

My feet are tired in need of rest
So I come to the water’s edge
You’re all I have and all I need
Wash over me with perfect peace
Chorus:
I will adore You
Be still before You
Eternal King, Jesus my everything
I will adore You
:
These weary hands have nothing left
So I come to the water’s edge
You’re all I have and all I need
Is more of You and less of me

Bridge 1a:
I will seek You, I will find You
When all of my heart be surrendered to You
In all of my longing, in all of my waiting
In all of Your glory Your grace will meet me

Bridge 1b:
I will seek You, I will find You
When all of my heart be surrendered to You
In all of my longing, in all of my waiting
In all of Your glory my God You’ll meet me

Aug 24, 2017

Aug 17, 2017

I Have Calmed and Quieted My Soul

Psalm 131 English Standard Version (ESV)

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

    O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
    I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

   2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

   3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
   from this time forth and forevermore.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Aug 10, 2017

I Don’t Understand

We all been there. Someone is trying to explain something to you and after going through an explanation you respond with; “I don’t get it.”

And, so, with all of the confidence of an American Ninja Warrior trying to run up the “warped-wall” one more time, they take another shot at it.

And you respond once again; “I still don’t get it.”

And they respond by trying to explain it to you again and you end up being even more confused and dazed; or was it the other way around…

So how do you feel? Lost, confused, ashamed, stupid, wondering what is wrong with me…all the above?

The problem is that much like anything else that is explained to us, we don’t always grasp what is being said simply because we don’t always have the same vantage point as the one who is trying to teach us or explain something to us.

In Luke 18:31-33, we read a story when Jesus is telling His disciples for the third time how He is going to die and then be resurrected.

These are men who had been with for three or more years. These are men who were with the greatest Teacher to have ever walked the earth. These are men who at any time could ask Him anything! These are men who were hand selected to be a part of His team…
 
And Jesus is trying to make another attempt to get them to understand something very important.

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.  They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

And yet, as we will read, after all the teachings and all of the time that they spent with Him, they still don’t understand what He is talking about.

V.34 “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”

After all of the teachings and all of the time that they spent with Him, even they still don’t understand.

I guess that means that we also are qualified to be a disciple of Jesus Christ; right?

Yes….But, let me remind you, the problem is that much like anything else that is explained to us, we don’t always grasp what is being said simply because we don’t always have the same vantage point as the one who is trying to teach us or explain something to us.


I like how Oswald Chambers puts it:
God called Jesus Christ to what seemed absolute disaster. And Jesus Christ called His disciples to see Him put to death, leading every one of them to the place where their hearts were broken.

His life was an absolute failure from every standpoint except God’s.

But what seemed to be failure from man’s standpoint was a triumph from God’s standpoint, because God’s purpose is never the same as man’s purpose.

This bewildering call of God comes into our lives as well. The call of God can never be understood absolutely or explained externally; it is a call that can only be perceived and understood internally by our true inner-nature.

The call of God is like the call of the sea— no one hears it except the person who has the nature of the sea in him. What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes.

Our real test is in truly believing that God knows what He desires. The things that happen do not happen by chance— they happen entirely by the decree of God. God is sovereignly working out His own purposes.

If we are in fellowship and oneness with God and recognize that He is taking us into His purposes, then we will no longer strive to find out what His purposes are.

As we grow in the Christian life, it becomes simpler to us, because we are less inclined to say, “I wonder why God allowed this or that?” And we begin to see that the compelling purpose of God lies behind everything in life, and that God is divinely shaping us into oneness with that purpose.

A Christian is someone who trusts in the knowledge and the wisdom of God, not in his own abilities.

If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the calm, relaxed pace which should be characteristic of the children of God.

So the next time that you find yourself in a quandary because you don’t understand, remind yourself that you may not be seeing the fuller picture.


Remind yourself that you are in great company and let the Lord take you to place of retelling you what you need to know as you once again say; “I don’t understand.”