Mar 21, 2019

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Post Office

With the risk of coming across weird(er), I will admit that I think I hear from God. No, not audibly, but deep in my spirit.

And, at the risk of exposing others; I will go out on a limb and state that MANY people will confess that they too hear from God.

I would love to say that it is an exact science or formula: I ask God something and He answers me; clearly and very concisely. But, if I did have that ability or gift, I would probably somehow misuse it for my own gain.

What I am referring to are the times when we hear a prompting to do something or to not do something and we either take action steps or we don’t.

Sometimes it is hearing where I placed my phone or keys. This has been very helpful in saving me valuable time of unnecessary searching.

Sometimes it is hearing to call or write someone who is struggling. Oftentimes the other person will communicate that what I did was exactly what they needed to hear during a time when they were struggling or sad or sick or...

Sometimes the sense is to not open an email or friend request on Facebook. And when I obey, I save the embarrassment of seeing images that I really didn't need to see.

I had one of those promptings today. I wrote a check to a ministry and placed it in an envelope to be mailed. In the past I would have just placed the envelope in my mailbox, put up the flag, and it would be picked up and delivered as per my request.

But, for the past six months, we have been having trouble getting our postal carrier to pick up the mail from our box. So, I made a decision to take the letter up to post office later in the day.

A short time later, I decided to take a walk and heard a prompting to take the envelope with me. I reasoned to myself that because the post office was in a completely different direction, I decided to NOT take the envelope with me and that I would stick to my original plan.

As I was putting on my boots, again I heard to take the envelope with me with further instruction that I would see a postal carrier on the way.

Still, I reasoned that I didn't want to misplace the envelope in my backpack and put the envelope in a place where I would see it when I returned home, after which I would take it to the post office.

As I headed out the door, I heard a third time to take the envelope with me. Again I ignored the prompting and continued on my journey.

As I crossed the street one block from my house, a postal carrier crossed my path. I stopped and briefly thought about heading back to retrieve the envelope so that I could give it to him. But I didn't and continued on my journey.

I went another block and once again, a different postal carrier was also crossing the road. Ok, that's two of them and I realized that I should have listened and obeyed. I continued on my journey, not letting the missed opportunity trip me up.

I walked another two blocks and, you guessed it, I spotted another postal carrier. This one was already on the other side of the street. 

I want to give you the full picture of my situation and state that the walk from my house to my destination was only five blocks! In my short journey I had three opportunities to hand my envelope to a postal carrier who would have taken it to the address on the envelope.

AND, even as I sit here and write this blog, another postal carrier came into the shop and briefly spoke with me! 

Four postal carriers in five blocks.

On the surface it may not have seemed like that big of a deal; but not obeying never really does seem like a big deal. Oftentimes, because of free will, we pick and choose what we obey and follow. 

But I had been given instructions and I had chosen to ignore them; and it cost me something. What it cost me was a piece of my heart that was now clouded by disobedience. 

I had justified not obeying, and anytime we do that we end up setting a course that has the potential of becoming a rut that will impede our drive through life... 

Which reminds me of a sign on the Oregon Trail that said; "Choose your rut wisely; you will be in it for the next 200 miles".

Oftentimes these ruts become a way of life and we grow cold and deaf to the promptings and end up missing out of the insight that God was trying to give us.

The solution is learning to listen to His voice and knowing what His voice sounds like so that when the promptings come, they can be followed knowing Who is speaking. 

Jesus said; "My sheep know My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:27) 

And: "Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (John 10:5) 

Simple obedience, in all things, is what He is looking for. This is for things that are wrong to do as well as things that He wants us to do. And to not follow them can mean life or death to us.

King Saul ran into this hard lesson in 1 Samuel 15. Saul was told by God to go attack and utterly destroy Amalek and EVERYTHING the Amalekites had. The LORD told Saul to fight against them until they were all consumed.

But Saul decided to ignore what he heard and kept alive the best of the livestock and Agag the King; destroying only the things that were despised and worthless.

Saul hadn't listened to the LORD, so God spoke to the prophet Samuel instructing him to go speak on behalf of the LORD to King Saul.

When confronted by Samuel, Saul rationalized that he had performed the commandment of the LORD and that the people had spared the lives of the animals so that they could be sacrificed to the LORD; as an offering...

Samuel told Saul that it is better to obey than sacrifice; in ALL things.

Not following what Saul was told to do cost him the kingdom. Because Saul rejected what the LORD said, He rejected Saul from being king. 

A simple act of not doing what the LORD had said was probably not done 'just this one time'. My guess is that Saul had developed a pattern (a rut) of not fully following what the LORD said; things that were wrong to do as well as things that were right to do. 

Saul had learned to rationalize and justify what the LORD had said one prompting after another; like me ignoring the prompting to take along a piece of mail...

I want to learn from my mistake as well as the mistakes of others like (the former) King Saul. 

I want to learn to say yes to whatever He says to do or to not do. 

I want to develop a rut of automatic obedience for His Name’s sake, as well the sake of others whose paths I cross.

Time for me to go mail my letter; which would've been half way to its destination if I had obeyed my prompting...

Mar 14, 2019

Holding My Breath While Trying To Breathe

There were five of them sitting around the table today. All of them looked retired and able to slowly sip their coffees as they seemed delighted in each other's company.

"I want you to know that you have always been a good neighbor and friend and I am going to miss you...” one of them said to another and was met with a warm smile.

"So when did you sell your house?" another man asked and then waited to hear of the process of selling his house that he had lived in for a long time.

"Do you have any plans for what you are going to do with the snow?"; another friend chided, inquiring as to whether he was planning on taking the snow with him to his new home. 

Laughter filled the coffee shop as each gave their opinion as to how to get rid of the snow and other items that he didn't plan on taking with him when he moved.

In time, the conversation turned to medical issues and tests and blood pressure revealing that they were much older than I.

They were also much more relaxed than I as they seemed in no hurry to finish their coffee and "do some real work..."

I'm sixty one years old this year. Slowly, methodically I transition into the next phase of life; whatever that means...

It was always my understanding that as one gets older it would be easier to relax and yet to come up to the coffee shop today took a lot of effort.

My plan was to come up here yesterday; and yet my day was soon filled with the tyranny of the urgent, and quickly the day was over.

So today I got up, showered, took time to read my Bible and several devotionals for the day before heading out the door. 

But, before I could actually leave, several attempts to grab my time came up as I wrestled to get out of the house with as much effort as getting an overweight lady into a pair of size small pantyhose!

I received multiple texts from multiple people seeking my attention and response. And with each response, another text would come in response to my response, keeping the conversation going.

And, when not responding to the texts, phone calls and emails would also "take-a-number" and seek my attention.

As I ponder the "interruptions", I speak to God that it is a nice 'problem' to have so many friends who want to talk. In this world of individuals, I so blessed to have the 'problem' of so many who would like to talk. I am a rich man.

But, as I tried to get to my task of heading out the door, I found myself actually having to give myself permission to stop and to rest and to slow down. And no amount of justifying that I needed to leave and get some writing done was working.

You see, I have a very large office in my home and with Cathy gone for the day, I really have no reason that I can't get work done at home. In fact, while sitting here a neighbor came in and chided; "Ain't you got nothing to do?" referring to me sitting and drinking coffee.

I showed him my IPad and explained that I was working.

The main reason that I come up to work here one day a week (rather than working at home) is so that on days when I am not meeting with individuals or couples for counseling, I don't go stir crazy. The noise of the coffee shop keeps me reminded on these long winter days that I am not alone in this world.

Coffee shops aren't just about coffee; we always have an ample supply at home. No, they are places to sit and ponder and dream and write and socialize.

But I digress as I once again slow myself down and enjoy the environment which I am in.

Why, oh why, is it so hard to slow down? Possibly because I am trying to do so in my own effort; using all of my own methods. I was trying to hold my breath while trying to breathe; and it wasn't working.

Something had to give...I thought as I sat and eaves-dropped on the table across the room from me. These men seemed to be in no hurry to go anywhere; geographically or even in conversation.

It is on days like these that I realize the futility of trying to do things on my own; after all that is why I am sitting in a noisy, crowded room instead of sitting at home alone.

I realize just how much I need the LORD to direct my steps. And to lead me. And to complete the work that He started. And everything in between today and perfection.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way.” (Psalms 37:23)

Once again I realize that the LORD isn't asking me to change anything but trying to be my own lord. He wants me to stop and to pause awhile and KNOW that He is God. He is LORD, He is in control.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalms 46:10)

Once again I am reminded that this walk or journey that I am on is about trusting Him more; which is something that I need to rely on Him to do. I need to believe that He will increase my trust in Him. 

“Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalms 37:5 NKJV)

He will bring about change in my life as He leads me through opportunities for me to see that I really can trust Him. He is trustworthy and can be relied on. He faithfully shows me that He is faithful.

I can stop trying to hold my breath as I try to get through my day and allow Him to be the very breath that fills my lungs. 

“For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (Acts 17:28)

And so I stopped; even paused what I was writing, and listened and talked with people who crossed my path as I slowly drank my coffee as I stopped trying to be the LORD of my life today.

So where are you at today, my friend? Do you know Him as your Savior? That's really where it all starts. Today is the day of salvation to all who call upon the Name of Jesus.

He simply wants you to acknowledge (confess) your wrong doing (sins) and admit your need to surrender to Him. He died and was buried and rose again to pay for your sins (and mine). It is a free gift to you that cost Him His very life.

He wants you to come to Him TODAY.

And to you who already are a follower of Jesus; resting totally on the completed work of His death, burial, and resurrection: Have you once again surrendered your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? 

Or have you once again tried to take control? My exhortation is for you to stop trying to hold your breath and to really allow Him to be your breath.

“You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Psalms 104:29)

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Mar 7, 2019

Surrender VS Quitting

On March 12, 1995 I was ordained as a pastor. At the ordination ceremony the worship team sang; "All To Jesus I Surrender".

It was the cry of my heart that day and has sustained me during times when I wanted to quit; to run from the calling that is on my life to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful that His love has kept me faithful to the calling and that His Holy Spirit has continued to keep me going forward.

This year, 2019, I start my twenty first year as a pastor, and the song of my heart is still the same: I SURRENDER!

As the Apostle Paul wrote it so eloquently:

“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24 NKJV)

“I Surrender” Songwriter: Matt Crocker Hillsong Worship

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

And find me here
Lord as You draw me near
Desperate for You
Desperate for You

I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know You hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me
Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

I surrender
I surrender
I wanna know You more
I wanna know You more

I Surrender lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

Feb 28, 2019

The Plausible Deniability Clause

I am always amazed at how much the mind can retain and recall with only a hint to remind of us of an event from long ago. I say amazed because some days I can't remember why I came into the of the many joys of sustaining head injuries.

As I sit in a local coffee shop writing this blog, I thought of one such event that took place in this very building about fifty three years ago when I was eight years old. 

The coffee shop has had three different owners over the past twenty three years. Prior to that, the building had been a pharmacy that I would frequent when I was a young lad.

Periodically, my dad would let one or several of us siblings accompany him as he took a walk from our house to the pharmacy to make a purchase. This trip I was the one who went with him.

When we got to the store, my dad gave me some money so that I could pick out something from the candy aisle. I took the money from him and started the process of choosing an item that would meet the allowance given to me.

In short time, I was able to narrow down the wish list to two items; both which cost the same amount of money. I stood in the aisle pondering my decision. In one hand was a piece of candy; the other hand held a toy.

Both of the items together were twice the amount of money that I was given. So in other words, in order to make budget, I would need to choose ONE because that is all of the money that I had available. 

I'm not really sure what was going on in my young mind as I plotted how I could acquire BOTH items for the price of one.

I suppose I could attribute it to the damage that I had sustained when a few years earlier. I was horsing around and fell backwards off a chair and split the back of my head open on a cast iron radiator; requiring many stitches to close up and I had knocked myself out starting my long history of knock-out concussions.

Standing in the pharmacy, I rationalized that if I ate the candy item, then I would still be able to get the toy; thus paying for one but getting two. So, I proceeded with my plan to take the toy up to the counter after secretly eating the candy outside of the view of my dad or the pharmacist. 

I made my way to the counter to purchase the toy. The druggist asked me if it was just the toy or was it also the candy and made some veiled reference to the candy he had seen me holding. 

I told him that I had decided to just purchase the toy, not the candy; and did my best to look confused towards my dad as though to say; "Do you know what he is talking about? All I have is a toy..."

I had used the "plausible deniability clause". I had told the truth that I WAS only purchasing the toy; but not being honest that I had already consumed some candy without paying for it.

"Plausible Deniability" is being honest that I was only paying for the toy, all the while pretending that because the candy was consumed, therefore, I didn't need to pay for it. After all, how can you charge me for candy that I don't have? Did you actually see me eat the candy? 

‘Plausible’ simply means to have an appearance of truth or reason that seems to be believable, but often times is really deceptive.

‘Deniability’ is the ability to deny something, as knowledge of or connection with an illegal activity.

To this day I am somehow convinced that in spite of by best effort, the pharmacist knew what I had done and yet chose to not accuse me of theft.

And, for those of you who have taken the bunny trail and are now thinking; "Hey, Pastor Tommy, you shop lifted!" I interject that I DID confess my sin to a priest shortly after this experience to make amends with God.

So, as I sit here today writing this blog, I realize that there have been many times in the past when I have also used the "plausible deniability clause" in other areas of my life. 

For example, I have done it when I have changed the conversation as the person I had been talking about (like my boss or parents) came into the room.

Instead of continuing my comments or criticism, I gave the appearance that I had been talking (the whole time) about something else; something edifying and not at all slanderous towards him or her in any way.

Another example would be sneaking looks at someone other than my wife. After all, I only took the first look (albeit it was a LONG look) while I was giving the appearance that I was looking at something else as I made conversation about something in the background such as the sunset or a tree.

Another example would be when I had used a search engine on my computer to look up something that looked to the untrained eye like it was lovely, pure, and wholesome, so that if someone saw my screen, they would think that I was searching something that was OK.

But, inwardly, I was actually so close to the line hoping that something that I shouldn’t see might show up on my screen that was wrong or explicit or naughty. 

I could use the plausible deniability clause by stating that I’m not “technically” looking at pornography; after all it is only Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

Then, I could be shocked at what popped up on my screen…After all, I was just doing research…

But, the truth is that it still opens a door for lust, fantasy, or wasting time online, making it easy to tolerate these “harmless” activities.

Hidden behind the lies that we tell and the things that we do are evidences that our heart is wicked and deceptive and wants to be close to sinning, all the while giving the appearance as though it isn’t doing anything wrong. And, it shows how clouded our discernment can be.

It is no different than what Aaron told Moses that he cast the gold into the fire, and this calf came out. (Exodus 32:24).

Aaron had told the truth that he threw the gold into the fire. He omitted the fact that they had made themselves a molded calf out of the gold to make a ‘god’ for the people who had been grumbling in Moses’ absence.

The Bible says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

The Bible warns us; evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13)

And finally, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

Those verses communicate to me that using the plausibility deniability clause I can not only deceive others, but I can be deceiving myself.

They tell me that I may thinking that I am getting away with something ‘now’, but it will affect the future and how honest I will be.

Now is the time to change the path we are on if we want to break free from this lifestyle of deception and live honest and transparent lives.

Today is the day to look outside of ourselves to the only One who can truly set us free; His Name is Jesus.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1) 

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)

Jesus said: … "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:31 & 36)

Have you had enough of how you have been using the plausibility deniability clause and want true freedom?

Call 1-888-NEED HIM. Someone is waiting to talk with you

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Feb 21, 2019

Stepping On The Gas Will Make You Spin Out and Get Stuck In A Rut...

I live in Minnesota where stopping a car in a hurry on a slippery road can be very challenging. Eventually you learn (sometimes the hard way) not to drive too fast for road and weather conditions.

Driving in the winter is not the same as driving in the summer. In fact driving in the winter is counterintuitive to how you drive in the summer.

Driving too fast can cause you to slip and slide (and potentially) lose control of your vehicle. Driving slower not only gives you more control of your car but it also gives you more time to react other drivers and road conditions.

Driving a vehicle that is equipped with anti-lock braking systems (ABS) takes some of the stress out of this fun-filled moment on the ice. ABS helps keep the wheels from skidding, enabling you steer better while the vehicle slows down and actually stops the vehicle faster.

ABS brakes are an advanced braking system that works with your regular brakes by automatically pumping them. The first time you use them, you’ll notice some pulsating and possibly a growling sound. I am told that is normal...and takes some getting used to; especially if you are my age.

Actually, many drivers struggle with the idea of letting the vehicle do what it's designed to do. It's counterintuitive to take our foot off the brakes so that the vehicle can come to a stop. So we struggle because not stepping on the brakes and over steering when we are sliding seems like the wrong thing to do.

But seasoned drivers in this cold climate know that slamming on your brakes can immediately put you in a skid. And yet, when we hit ice (seen or unseen) and start to slide into the car in front of us or through an intersection, we panic and step on the brakes with all of our weight, even though we know we shouldn't.

The same is true for trying to go forward after coming to a stop. It's also counterintuitive to take our foot off the gas because we believe that stepping on the gas pedal will get us going faster.

But putting all of our weight on the gas pedal makes us go slower and can cause the vehicle to spin out and get stuck in a rut.

Simply put, to be successful, you have to do the opposite of what you think and let the vehicle do what it's designed to do.

This lesson is true for our lives as well. The best way to do what we are supposed to do at times can seem to be counterintuitive. We are raised in a society that teaches and trains us to push harder to get our breakthroughs.

We are taught that we are supposed to worry and fret and struggle to meet our goals. It seems counterintuitive to not worry and to trust.

The whole idea of standing still and pausing when we are anxious grinds against our very fiber as Americans. And yet, if we are honest, we have caused our share of emotional "rear-ends" as we have collided into loved ones as we panicked and slammed on the brakes

If we're really honest, all we really do is spin our wheels and are unable to get any real traction.

Perhaps you find yourself there today; stuck in a snowbank of life; buried up to your wheels with no shovel wondering how to get unstuck. You've tried everything with no success and you are willing to try anything.

My word for you today is STOP!

Applying more weight to the brakes or gas pedal is only going to get you stuck further. STOP! Help is on the way.

The children of Israel had to learn this lesson when they were at the Red Sea (Exodus 14). They had just been freed from the Egyptians and we're making tracks, when all of a sudden they came too an impasse; THE RED SEA! Everything that they had pondered too do wasn't the answer.

They needed to simply STOP!
"And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Standstill, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever." Exodus 14:13

Even though it was counterintuitive, they did stop, standstill, and saw the deliverance of the LORD.

Time and time again, all throughout the Bible, we read stories of situations where people have struggled to NOT apply the brakes as they were sliding and NOT apply the gas as they were slipping. Stories where they had to come to a place where they paused awhile until they KNEW that the LORD was in control. It is a place that the LORD is calling us all to go to...

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10

It is a place that He longs for us to come to be; to remain in.

"It is good that one should hope and wait quietly. For the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:26

It is a place of rest where we learn that He wants to be the power to help us stop when we need to stop and to go when we need to go. But He is the One who gets to decide. We simply allow Him to do what He does best; take care of our lives.

"You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” 2 Chronicles 20:17

Not sure where to start? Call 1-888-NEED-HIM or drop me an email.

All Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.