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Ants!

Ants don't have to be a bother inside. Get rid of ants naturally. | Metro

We got to hang out with two of our three daughters and their families this weekend at my sister and brother-in-law’s in Kansas City. This is a rare treat for us. We don’t very often get to see more than one of them at a time, and almost never all three at the same time. Thousands of miles separate us. So when we get to be together, it’s a party. Lots of hugs and kisses. Lots of laughter. Lots of love. It was great!

When the end of the weekend came, instead of driving all the way through from Kansas City to Edmond (about 6 hours), we drove 3 hours to our oldest daughter’s in SE Kansas and spent the night there. While we were on the road to get there, she sent Debbie a text message that said they had come home to an ant infestation in their kitchen. They live rural, so ants and critters are part of life for them. But if you know our Becky, you know that ants are NOT OK!

When we got there a couple of hours after they had gotten home, Becky had cleaned out her kitchen cabinets and was Shop Vacing with enthusiasm (though not happy enthusiasm..), sending hundreds of ants to a godless eternity, where they belong. A driven woman, she was.

Since I have watched her grow up and know her nature, I knew the smartest thing I could do was stay out of her way. Which I did. Lucky for me, staying out of the way is one of my primary Spiritual Gifts. I knew better than to tell her that there are places where ants are considered a delicacy, raw and/or fried. So I just buttoned my lip and hung out in the other room.

Her husband sprayed the outside perimeter of the house, and they set ant traps. Four or five times before bedtime, she went back to the Shop Vac in the kitchen and sucked more ants up. First thing this morning, she was back in vacuum mode.

I have every confidence that she’ll rid their home of these unwanted pests. And probably sooner than her neighbors would have, had they experienced the same infestation. She’s got the tenacity gene.

I don’t like ants, either. I fully support her all-out war on them.

There are ants that I hate more than the ones that dwell in the ground and feast on anything sticky in or on our kitchen cabinets, though. I first heard of them from a friend, Shonna Erickson, a wonderfully skilled Marriage and Family Therapist I got to work with at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, and then read about in a book by Dr. Daniel Amen, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. These ants are Automatic Negative Thoughts. A.N.T.s. I have been plagued by them since I was in grade school. A veritable infestation. It may not have started for you in grade school, but I’m pretty sure you’ve got your own share of A.N.T.s, too. Here’s a few of mine from grade school and jr. high, which have, sadly, endured well into my adult years:

“You’re too short to ever be good at basketball or football.”
“But you’re too fat to be a jockey.”
“You’re not bright enough to be at the head of your class. You can’t do math or spell. So.”
“Preacher’s kids never get invited to the Cool Kids’ Table, so quit wishing for it. For crying out loud, you mom buys all your clothes (except for the ones she makes) at J.C. Penney!” (This was before J.C. Penney got a little bit hip.)

These are only a few of the A.N,\.T.s I feel safe enough to share. There are dozens more. All the others are far too ugly to share in a public forum.

I have a whole separate category of theological A.N.T.s. Like, “Go ahead and try, but you’ll never be good enough to satisfy God.” Or, “This Grace-Thing you keep hearing about? That’s not for you. Not until you get better. Refer to the one before this one on the list…” Or, “God is so disappointed in you.” Or the ever-popular, “You’ll always be like this (whatever bad I had just done).” Or this one that’s done me lots of damage, “God’s not coming through on this. Again.” That one’s very closely related to that one. “Nothing ever works out for you. Just brace yourself and deal with it.”

And then there’s this one that just doesn’t seem to want to go away: “You’re a fraud, and when they find out (and they WILL find out), you’re toast.”

Feeling my pain yet?

What do you do with these A.N.T.s? How do you make them go away? No, really. I’m asking you. If you’ve got a way to do this, I’d love to hear about it.

Here’s the only thing that’s worked for me. I stole this idea from Jon Acuff’s book, Soundtracks (which I highly recommend). Jon says to ask three questions of these messages that keep playing in our mind: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it helpful? 3) Is it kind?

There’s a good chance that these A.N.T.s I’m talking about (Acuff calls them broken soundtracks because they just keep playing over and over in our minds) won’t make it past the first question. Most of them are lies. And most of them come from deep in our memories, which means they’ve been playing and crawling about in our minds for years. This means they’ve got a virtual highway burnt into our neuropathways, and that makes them hard to eradicate.

Second question: Is it helpful? How many of the A.N.T.s crawling around in your mind are actually helpful? For me, the answer is NOT MANY! That mental voice that’s almost constantly saying (and often shouting), “yer not enough!” and “you’ll never make it!” is never helpful. If it’s ever happened that one of those voices said, “This is going to be really hard, but if you apply yourself, you can do it,” I have no memory of it.

And then the third question: Is it kind? You need to look as objectively as you can at your own A.N.T.s and answer that question for yourself, but for me, NONE of mine are kind. Brene Brown once wrote, “Speak to yourself as you would to a friend.” Great advice. There are times you have to be brutally honest with a friend, but if they’re really a friend, you’ll be kind when you do this. Most of us aren’t very kind to ourselves. At least not in the mental conversations we have between our ears.

So what are we supposed to DO about this stuff? Well, I don’t have a money-back guarantee, but here are a few things that at least offer some practical things to go to work on.

First, PRAY! Ask God to empower your effort to exterminate your A.N.T.s., and to open your heart and mind to the truth about what He believes about you. The best start point for any improvement effort or enterprise is prayer. So start there.

Next, in partnership with God and His Spirit, IDENTIFY YOUR A.N.T.s. Call them out. What are the messages you keep hearing in your heart and mind? Write them out. Get them out of your mind and onto paper (or your screen; but paper is actually better – I’ve got a whole big explanation for this, but not now).

In the margin of your page beside each of your identified A.N.T.s, write T H K. Then circle T if it’s True, H if it’s Helpful, K if it’s kind. If it’s not True, Helpful or Kind X over all three of them.

That much isn’t that hard. From here on, it gets a little more difficult. So strap in.

What you do now is RETIRE these A.N.T.s and broken soundtracks. Your make a conscious decision, with God’s help, to shut these messages down when they pop up. One way to do this is to say to yourself when one of them jumps up, “Wait a minute. I already retired that A.N.T. Be gone!” It won’t work every time, but it works better than you might think.

Then you REPLACE THEM. For some of us, this is the most difficult thing of all. It’s also part B of Retiring them. You replace these lies with truth.

Here’s an example from my list. A.N.T. = “You’re too short to be good at football or basketball.” Replacement = “Dude, you’re an almost perfect height for golf.” Here’s a better replacement, though: You’re just the height God wants for what He wants to do in the world with you.

There are hundreds of truthful replacement statements about you. Most of them will sound strange and maybe even boastful when you say them out loud to yourself. You’ve never thought most of them about yourself. In fact, you may not believe them about yourself. Telling yourself what God says about your redeemed self is the best truth to tell yourself. If you’d like some help with this, send me an email at steve@truenorth.live and I’ll send you a simple document that will help you with this.

The point, the objective on this is to break the chains that A.N.T.s and broken soundtracks have on you, and move into your best life by believing about yourself what God says He believes about you. It will take effort and intention. None of this will happen accidentally. But you’re not on your own with it. You’re in partnership with the One who made you and knows you better than you know yourself. He’s also the One who wants you to live your best life. So strap in, put your hand in His and start exterminating A.N.T.s and breaking broken soundtracks.

The Big Three

The Three Things You Should Have Read This Week (08/31/18) — Pastor Matt's  Blog

Have you ever thought about how many things come in triads, sets of three? Like chipping, putting and driving? Or offense, defense and special teams? Or earth, wind and fire? Or blood, sweat and tears? Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin? Or Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player? Or Faith, Hope and Love? Or for most of the married people I know, three that were included in your wedding vows: love, honor and cherish? (A couple of generations ago, it would have been “love, honor and obey,” but since the 70s and 80s, we’ve made an adjustment. I’m good with love, honor and cherish. If those three are in place, the obeying part will usually happen more or less naturally.)

Since shifting my role and career fully into counseling, I see lots of married couples. Most of them because things have gone sideways in their marriage. I can only think of one or two in my 45 years of ministry in churches, and how a couple of years in private practice who came because their marriage was really good, and they just wanted to make sure they were doing all they could to keep it there. The rest came because of problems. Sometime BIG problems.

So it’s rare when I see couples the first time that they’re oozing love, honor, cherishing. Usually what’s oozing is pretty toxic. My goal is to help them discover that there is love and honor and cherishing in there, if even just a tiny hint of it, and walk with them as they do things that will grow these things. Depending on how long the unloving, dishonoring and disregarding has been going on, it could take anywhere from a few dial clicks of correction to a pretty full-on life make-over to get back to love, honor and cherish. And even if it’s just a few dial clicks, it takes a high degree of commitment and effort from the couple to make the changes that this process takes.

Here’s something about this process that’s changed my life since I learned it. No matter how much I want to see the changes made in their lives and marriages, they’ve got to want it more than I do. In fact, until they want it more than I do, there’s almost no chance of it happening. I have a counselor friend that will sometimes tell a client, “I think I’m working harder at this than you are, and that’s not going to work. Let me know when you’re ready to get in the game.”

Discovering that my role isn’t to do the work, but is to help them figure out what they need to do, and then help them move toward that, has changed my life. It took me longer than I whish it had to figure out that it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change people, and I’m not the Holy Spirit. But learning that has set me free.

So thanks for letting me unburden my soul on this…

Here’s why I’m writing about love, honor and cherish. Nothing in family relationships makes them more healthy than these three things. The one thing that most promotes health and vitality in a family is having God at the center. Until this happens, no amount of merely human effort will do much to change things in a consistent and lasting way. But when He’s there at the center, three things that will always be there and happening to one degree or another are loving, honoring and cherishing. These things mark a healthy family.

I believe they happen in marriage and family life in a trickle-down way. It starts with putting God in the center and partnering with Him to discover and reflect His nature in the way we live as individuals. And then when two individuals with this as their goal get married, loving, honoring and cherishing trickle down to them from God, the Author of all three. It’s not instant, and it doesn’t happen accidentally, but God brings as much of Himself to the relationship as we allow Him to. When children come along, loving, honoring and cherishing trickle down to them because they see these three things being expressed by their mom and dad. And when this happens, the result is a thriving, healthy, mostly-happy family, though not a perfect one.

I don’t know anyone who would disagree with this, philosophically. (There are probably lots who wouldn’t, but I don’t know them.)

The problem isn’t in philosophical agreement, though. It’s down here on the runway where life happens day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In the world of dirty laundry, bills to pay, jobs that take more than they give, cars that break down, homework, little league and enforcing bedtime schedules. Unfortunately, I know lots of families who philosophically agree with my trickle-down idea, but who have little love, little honor and little cherishing going on. It makes me sad, and I think it breaks God’s heart.

But there’s a positive side to this. Moving out of the brokenness of marriages and family life where loving, honor and cherishing isn’t happening doesn’t take a post graduate degree. It takes some education, but it’s not a matter of anybody not being smart enough to do this thing. Here are a few ideas I’ve got:

  1. Make a decision that you will not be satisfied with the status quo. Decide that you will begin taking steps in partnership with God to build in love, honor and cherishing into your marriage and family.
  2. Don’t wait for anybody else to come on board with this idea. Do the things that are needed, even if you don’t see much movement in anybody else. This part is about you, not them.
  3. ASK GOD FOR HIS DIVINE HELP. I probably should have made this number 1 on the list. None of the rest of the list will happen without this.
  4. Make a list of behaviors that you’ve seen in and from other people that capture love, honor or cherishing. Friends, family members, casual observations as you’ve done life, characters in books you’ve read. Look around. Intentionally start looking for things that communicate love, honor and cherishing.
  5. Figure out your spouse’s and your kids’ Love Languages. If you’re unfamiliar with the Love Language thing, here’s a website that will help you: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/ There’s even a quick electronically scored assessment you can do for FREE.
  6. Connect what you learn about your spouse’s and your kids’ Love Languages with the list you made in step 4.
  7. Make it your goal to do something off the list you came up with in step 6 every day.

SEVEN STEPS!? That sounds complicated. It’s not as complicated as it seems. But it’s more important than you might think.

And here’s the best part: nobody wants you to effectively and consistently love, honor and cherish your spouse and your kids more than God does. If ever there was a prayer He wants to answer, it’s the one you’ll pray in step 3. So do it now. Don’t wait for a better time. There won’t be one. You have an enemy who’ll make sure of that. But you also have an Ally Who has already defeated your enemy, and Who’s just waiting for you to ask Him for His help.

Mind the Gap

Mind The Gap – John Maxwell

If you ever get the chance to visit London, GO! You’ll need to take plenty of money, because the US dollar is pretty weak in the world right now (thank/blame whomever you want for that), but GO.

I never would have imagined that I’d get to go, but God opened doors for us, and Debbie and I got to spend a few days there on one of our trips back to the US from Europe a few years ago. It was fantastic. If you love history, London leaks it. I’d go back in a heart-beat.

If you get to go, you’ll likely take the Tube (the subway system) to get around. For a couple of Okie transplants to Las Vegas, subways were few and far between. It was almost like an amusement park ride for us. The Tube will take you very nearly everywhere you need to go in London.

You’ll hear the recording and read the warnings, “Mind the gap,” every time you get on and get off the Tube. It’s a kind warning, since there is a gap between the platform and the car which could cause no small personal damage if you didn’t account for it. And the British accent of the man or woman on the recording is very intriguing to Yanks like us. The saying’s also on coffee cups and post-it notes in most all the gift shops in the city. It’s kind of one of those iconic things for London.

We’ve got a picture of the Mind the Gap warning on our digital photo frame, and every once in a while it spins up when I’m waiting for my coffee to brew through the Keurig. It’s a good reminder for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it sparks off some great memories of those days we enjoyed there. And second, it’s a worthy caution for my life.

It’s the second thing there that occasions this blog.

All of us need to Mind the Gap. All of us have gaps in our lives. No matter how mature and together you are, there are gaps in your life. You know about some of them. Things you whish were different, but which you haven’t yet got around to devoting time and energy to fixing. Things that seem beyond fixing, which you just have to work around because they resist fixing. And then there are gaps you have and don’t’ know you have. Mental, emotional, behavioral, spiritual gaps that you don’t realize you have. If you’re married, your spouse knows them. And if you have kids, your kids (especially if they’re teens or older) know what they are. They may not bring the subject up, but they know about your gaps. They may be afraid of you from time to time because of your gaps. Everybody’s got them.

There’s a tool social psychologists sometimes use to illustrate this, called the Johari Window (see graphic).

Framework 5: The Johari Window | Framework Addict

It doesn’t explain everything you need to know about gaps, but it’s a good place to start a discussion about them. The point of the Johari Window is that you want to make the Area 1, known by self, larger and larger, and Areas 2, 3 and 4 smaller and smaller through self-awareness. All three of these areas (2, 3 and 4) represent gaps in your life. Things you’re blind to, things you hide (from others and even from yourself), and things you simply don’t know about.

In human relationships, these gaps create problems. Sometimes BIG ones. I’d say most of the marriage problems I counsel couples with happen because of issues with Areas 2, 3 and 4. If you’re married, I’d bet a dime that they account for most of the conflict and issues you experience with your spouse. When you put two people who have gaps together in a relationship, there’s plenty of opportunities for misunderstandings, hurts, even deep wounds.

Only one person who’s ever lived had no gaps. Of course, you know this is Jesus. He had no Areas 2, 3 or 4. He knew everything there was to know about Himself. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be God. He hid nothing.

But, just in case you didn’t get the memo yet, you’re not Him. You’ve got gaps. Me, too.

In Psalm 139, David wrote a poem-prayer with a very bold and gutsy Gap-related request.

23Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Essentially, what he was asking for was for God to reveal to him his gaps. Any and all of them. Show me, God, what I don’t know about myself. Until I see these things, I won’t be able to walk fully in Your way, the way everlasting. I’m asking because I want to walk in Your way.

If you’re a follower of Christ, you’ve got to Mind the Gap. We never grow to the point where we have no gaps or where we don’t need to mind them. It’s part of our human condition. I often wish God would just eliminate them from my life. But He doesn’t. I think I know at least part of why He doesn’t. He wants me to depend on Him for growing insight and maturity in my walk with Him and my relationships with others. When I let them, living with and growing in my understanding of my gaps grows both maturity and humility in me.

David didn’t ask God to get rid of his gaps. He asked Him to show them to him. I think that’s the point. David’s desire was to walk in the way everlasting. That’s not possible without testing of thought and behavior. And for most of us – it’s sure true of me – we will walk with a limp in the way everlasting. Just like everybody else who ever has, except for One.

So here’s my challenge. Think deeply, prayerfully, about all the areas of your life – your friendships, your career, your recreational pursuits, your family, your habits, your preferences, your walk with Christ. And then ask God to expand Area 1 by showing you more about your Areas 2, 3 and 4 in each of these arenas of your life. Pray David’s prayer. And then in partnership with Him, Mind the Gap.

Nobody Will Ever Know by Em-One

If you’re a sports fan, you probably have seen the articles and editorials or heard sports talk people talking about a high profile college football coach, an NFL quarterback and a former NBA player who may have either ended their careers or sent them into hibernation because they believed one of the biggest lies the enemy of our souls tells. “Nobody will ever know.”

Inappropriate encounters with coeds. Accusations from dozens of massage therapists who were sexually accosted. Live feeds with strippers. These are the ones we’ve heard about because they surfaced into public light. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe there are others (many other, potentially) that just didn’t make it into the media’s limelight.

Millions of other men and women with far a smaller social standing footprint and notoriety have believed this lie. They just didn’t make it into your Facebook feed. It Resulted in marriages ending. Families being blown apart. Jobs lost. Even prison terms. All because it seemed so plausible that nobody will ever know. Except people found out. And when they did, all hell broke loose.

People tend to have short memories when it comes to the crimes and misdemeanors of celebrities. You know. It’s probably time for the coach to retire, anyway. And besides, coaches get fired all the time. The ex-NBA star will probably pick up a contract with another network, or with the same one when the dust settles. The quarterback will probably land a position somewhere with another NFL team once things cool down. That’s just how it works in the celebrity world.

But most people aren’t celebrities. And when the lie they get sucked into comes home, their lives will be forever altered, and not for the better.

I think of some of the men I counsel who listened to the lie. They waited until their family was in bed, and then snuck to the computer and began clicking their way to the first of a cache of porn sites, thinking, “Nobody will ever know.” Two hours later, they break free of the trance and manage to shut their web browser down, feeling filthy and disgusted with themselves.

I think of some of the women I’ve counseled who clicked on the friend request from a high school beau, thinking it would be nice to re-connect. A casual, “How ya doin’,” became, “can I see you,” and before she knew what had happened, she was in a full-blown affair, without the will to break it off. So she just kept trying to cover her tracks and hide her movements. Until she couldn’t any more.

I don’t judge these people. John Wesley was right, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I have compassion for them. But I also know that the road they will have to travel to break the patterns that hold them hostage, especially if they want to restore the relationships their choices have broken, will be long and difficult. I know that making amends for the damage they’ve done, and breaking free of the guilt and shame they feel, will not be a quick or easy process. It won’t happen in a moment. God’s forgiveness is free, and it happens in a moment. But the trust of people they’ve betrayed isn’t. It almost always takes longer than anybody would want it to take to earn it back.

When we’re calm and fully rational, the lie is obvious. In a world that’s totally saturated with media and technology, virtually nothing can be done that nobody will ever know about. Ask anybody running for a public office. Ten year old tweets and pictures posted to the internet (possibly even innocently) routinely come back to bite the candidate and scuttle their campaign. And, by the way, you don’t have to be running for office for this to happen to you.

The problem (or one of them) is that Satan rarely starts whispering this lie when we’re calm and fully rational. He lurks, waiting until he knows it will seem reasonable, when our sensibilities are compromised. In the 12-Step Recovery Movement, they use HALT for those times. HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. There are other times when we’re vulnerable, but these four times are nearly always times when our defenses are weak and our thinking mind is easily hijacked. These are times when it seems entirely plausible that nobody will ever know.

Here’s an important reality, in addition to the reality that technology makes nearly every move we make available for review. There are always three who will know. Always. First of all, there’s you. You can be in denial, but unless you have actual brain damage, you know that you did it. You might try and convince yourself that it’s not that big a deal, or that (and this is a big one) you can stop anytime you want, but even if you have a convincing case, you know you did it.

Secondly, Satan knows you did it. This may seem kind of kooky. There are lots of ideas about what the devil can and can not know, but I’m convinced he can observe us, even if he can’t read our mind. He saw it. And it gives him data to work with for locating your weaknesses and blind spots. This is important because they’re the bull’s eyes for his targets. It’s easy to forget, but his goal is to take you out. Take a look at 1 Peter 5:8. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Not “someone to mess with,” or, “Someone to make miserable.” Someone to DEVOUR.

And third, God knows. He can’t be fooled. There’s no hiding from Him. (Ask the prophet Jonah…) Which, when it comes to our sin choices, is bad news.

But there’s good news. He wants to forgive us for the sin we’ve committed. He has said this dozens of times in dozens of ways. I love how the Apostle John wrote it in 1 Joh 1:9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. This is an INCREDIBLE promise. But it is conditional. If there’s an if, it’s conditional. IF we confess our sins… If we admit our sin. If we quit trying to conceal it. My favorite definition for confession here is agreeing with God on the nature of our sin. If we see it for what it is.

To be forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness is the best feeling a human can have. It means spiritual and emotional freedom.

And here’s something that takes it to another level. The prophet Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 31:34. speaking for God, “…I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Not only are our sins forgiven, they’re forgotten. Forgotten by the One who is capable of remembering EVERYTHING.

I believe humans are nearly incapable of forgiving and forgetting like this. When we’re the offender, we really want this to happen. When we’re the offended, well, maybe not so much. And yet there are times when as the offended, we want to forget the disloyalty, the betrayal, the personal injury. But really forgetting it is very hard. Almost impossible.

But with God, when He forgives, He forgets. And that’s a breath of life and hope.

In this moment of calm rationality it’s worth calling the lie out for what it is, for seeing it for the satanic manipulation it is. I once heard a teacher say, “It smells like smoke because it comes from hell.” I think that’s the case with this lie. It smells like smoke because it comes from hell. See it for what it is.

And then call down the grace of God, and then partner with Him and it to see the lie every time it tries to insinuate itself into your heart and mind.

Satanic Sneakers

I don’t like to admit that I spend time scrolling through my Twitter feed most mornings, but I do. It’s a nasty habit that I’m trying to kick. Over the last several days there have been a bunch of tweets about a satanic rapper who Nike has made custom sneakers for, which bear his satanic message. When I saw the first of these tweets, I thought, “Are you kidding me?! No way. That’s got to be a hoax.” Turns out, it’s no hoax.

Anybody else really not feeling comfortable with this?

I know, one pair of sneakers does not an entire culture make, but… But I’m old enough to have been around in a time when if this had ever even been suggested, it would have instantly been smacked down. It wouldn’t even have gotten out of the brainstorm, let alone to the design table. In fact, whoever suggested it would probably have lost their job. And the ACLU wouldn’t have come to their rescue. (Mainly because there was no ACLU…)

You are perhaps broad-minded enough to not get upset by these tweets and what prompted them, but I’m not.

But this blog isn’t about me mounting a campaign to complain these sneakers away. In case you haven’t received your memo, our complaining means basically nothing to Nike. I’m writing about what I think this actually is: a warning shot.

There’s another memo you should have gotten that says, “In the world you will have tribulation.” And one that says, “Everyone who lives a godly life will be persecuted.” And then the one that says, “…make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.”

I don’t like it, but the reality is that the world is an evil place where evil people seem to thrive and evil things happen. One day, when Jesus returns, all the evil in the world will be ended and everything will be set right. But that day hasn’t come yet. For now, we’re living in a world that is under the spell of the Evil One. Hence satanic sneakers.

This isn’t the only warning shot being fired. Scan the headlines of whatever news feed you want and you’ll get more than you need or want of warning shots.

So I’m asking a question for every Christian Mom or Dad. What are we supposed to do with this?

Disclaimer: I don’t have the ultimate, absolute answer to these questions. I have suggestions, though.

Suggestion One: PRAY! I mean, every day. Earnestly. Specifically, pray for Got to keep your kids from the influence of the evil one. Jesus prayed this prayer for us in John 17:15. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  That’s a prayer to pray for your kids ALL THE TIME. And for yourself, for that matter.

Suggestion Two: MONITOR. Monitor what’s coming into your home. Especially what’s coming in through your TV(s) and computer(s). This is difficult. You can’t know what your kids are looking at every minute of their waking day. I’m not suggesting that kind of monitoring. Trying to do that wouldn’t work, anyway. Your kids are way too tech-savvy. They’d figure out a work-around on it. What I mean is that what comes into your home matters, so pay attention to it. I once heard a guy say they didn’t watch network TV in their home for the same reason they didn’t drink out of the toilet. That’s pretty harsh, but the principle isn’t bad. Set boundaries. At the very least, monitor the amount of screen time your family spends. For most families, 10% less than you think would be reasonable is probably about right. OK, I don’t know that for a statistical certainty, but I’m pretty convinced that most families are way over the line of what’s reasonable. And when you figure out your boundaries on this, talk with your family about both the WHAT of the boundaries and the WHY for them.

Suggestion Three: TALK BACK TO YOUR SCREENS. When you see lies on TV or the Internet, say so. If your kids are in the room, they’ll hear you. They may think you’re a little nuts, but the already do, so. They’ll see you and hear you. The point is simple. When you call out a lie, you can talk about it with your kids. Explain why you think it’s a lie.

Suggestion Four: TABLE TALK. Conversation at meal time is one of the best tools in your parenting toolbox. This is where you will more likely transmit your values than anywhere. But to have table talk, you have to have meals together. At a table. With phones face-down and the TV turned off. I don’t want to be naïve, but I think a lot of the problems families have could be mitigated by this habit.

Suggestion Five: GET BACK TO CHURCH. Sounds like a preacher’s advice. But it matters. For more reasons than I’ve got time to write about or you have time to read about. Not the least of which is that it communicates a message to everyone in your family that God is your center. It won’t communicate that message well if the rest of the week He never gets a word in edge-wise, but if you attend church, you at least have a couple of hours where He gets center stage. And that’s something. So get back to church.

Suggestion Six: PRAY SOME MORE. In fact, solicit the prayers of people you know well enough to know that they pray and walk with God. Make an agreement with them that you’ll pray for each other’s families, following Jesus’ example (see Suggestion One).

Last Suggestion: TRUST GOD TO DO WHAT ONLY HE CAN DO.. Which is to guard the hearts of your family. Whatever may happen in the world around us, you can be confident that God isn’t taken by surprise by any of it. He’s in control, even when things are chaotic and nutty. Even when Nike makes and sells satanic sneakers.

My Favorite Saint

May be a cartoon of text that says 'I have to Pee. He's touching me! I feel sick Are we there Yet? I hungry. 19x00 Saint Patrick regrets his decision to drive the Snakes out of Ireland.'

I grew up in a Protestant home. A conservative, independent, non-denominational home. So conservative, independent and non-denominational that I thought we were anti-denominational. So you might guess that with this church background I didn’t get much education regarding Roman Catholicism. Actually, the education I got was that Catholics were bad. Probably weren’t going to heaven. I was 49 years old before I ever went inside a Catholic church.

But in these last years of my experience, I’ve discovered that not all of the Catholic faith and tradition is evil. I’m now thinking that there may be some Catholics in heaven after all. Getting this off my chest is cathartic. Thank you.

One of the things I’ve discovered in this little journey of mine is that there are a few saints I admire. Even a Pope or two. My favorite is Saint Patrick. And since we’re celebrating his day soon, I thought I’d attempt to wax eloquent on him.

On March 17, we’ll be celebrating the anniversary of his death (not his birthday). This is a fact you’ll want to file away in case you get on Jeopardy and the category of “The Saints Go Marching In” comes up. On March 17, 461, Patrick, bishop and apostle of Ireland, dies at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland. Fittingly, history has it that he died in the church he had established there, 40 years earlier.

Patrick’s story could easily be made into an engaging movie or novel. He grew up in an affluent family in Britain, and evidently had a good life as a boy. As good a life as anyone would have had in the 400’s. Adequate food, a good home, a good education. But that came to a screeching halt when he was captured and enslaved at age 16 by Irish marauders. For six years he was their servant, which was the common practice of Irish marauders. During this time of servitude, Patrick grew deep in his faith in God. Through a series of events (which you might want to read about for yourself) he was able to escape, make his way back to Britain to be reunited with is family.

There he studied for the priesthood, and was eventually ordained a bishop. In a dream, Patrick heard God calling him back to where he had been a slave, Ireland. So he went. He arrived in Ireland in 433 and began preaching the Gospel, converting many thousands of Irish and building churches around the country.  He lived in poverty and humility. He practiced what he preached.

In a very interesting book, which I highly recommend, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill writes that St. Patrick was responsible for keeping literacy alive in Ireland.

There are many myths and legends about St. Patrick. One of which, maybe the most famous of them, is that he drove the snakes from the island into the sea. They’ve never returned. Hence, the graphic at the top…

Today, St. Patrick’s day is celebrated around the globe, and not just by Catholics. It involves shamrocks, wearing green, proclaiming the luck of the Irish, and, of course, green beer. In Chicago, they die the Chicago river green. By the way, if you’ve got kids at home, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing green on the 17th or they will pinch you. It’s a rule. And one kids never break.

Here’s my favorite thing about my favorite saint, though. Not the shamrock, which he is said to have used to illustrate the Trinity. Not the luck of the Irish. If you look at their entire history, they haven’t always been that lucky. And not the green beer. It’s this prayer attributed to him.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

If there’s a better prayer for a believer, I’m not sure I know what it would be. Especially that next-to-the last stanza. I want Christ with me, before me, behind me, in me, beneath me, above me, on my right, on my left, when I lie down, when I sit down, in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, in the eye that sees me and in the ear that hears me.

I have a strong sense that this is how Jesus’ prayer, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” will come to pass.

And I think that if on this St. Patrick’s Day believers prayed a similar prayer and cooperated with God’s answer to it, the world would change in all sorts of amazing ways.

Corps of Discovery

Lewis and Clark: The Corps of Discovery Expedition -

Years ago I read a Stephen Ambrose book, Undaunted Courage. It’s a recounting of the Lewis and Clark journey from St. Lewis to the West Coast. It was a captivating read. You probably already know most of the story. These two guys, more than 200 years after their accomplishments and deaths, are the most famous of all American explorers. I’m not sure their contributions could be overstated. Ambrose didn’t think so, either. If you’re still a little quarantined and looking for something to read to pass the isolated hours, or if you’re just ready for a good book, I recommend Undaunted Courage as a worthy read.

Among the many challenges and trials the Corps of Discovery encountered in their expedition, the most discouraging one was discovering that the waters of the Olympic River, which they knew they would be able to float down to the Pacific Ocean, wasn’t “just over there,” like they had assumed. Turns out they were right in their assumption that the Olympic River would take them to the Pacific. The problem was what stood between them and the Olympic River. The Rockey Mountains. Nobody but the Native Americans knew the Rockey Mountains were in the way until the Corps saw them rising on the horizon.

Imagine the emotions Lewis and Clark and their crew must have felt when they realized that after the long, hard months of traversing rugged and unyielding wilderness, thinking that the Olympic could be just around the bend, realized that what was ahead of them was more daunting than what they’d traversed. Way more daunting. Seeing the rugged silhouette of the peaks on the horizon would have done me in. I’d have been thinking about finding a way to build a little cabin there at the edge of the range, on the east side of the eastern slope, chop fire wood, and settle in until spring, so I could head back on the reverse route of how I got there.

Ambrose’s title, Undaunted Courage, is aptly selected. That’s absolutely what it took for the Expedition to press on.

I think a few of us had one of those kind of Corps of Discovery moments on about Feb. 15 or so. Sort of.

We’d pushed through 2020, with all it’s twists and turns and disappointments and frustrations and losses, and when the New Year came, lots of us thought, “OK! Let’s get this lousy year behind us and move on into the Happy New Year! 2021’s got to be a move in a better direction.” So we rang in an optimistic beginning of the New Year. It was going to mark the start better times.

Um. No.

It’s not the same thing, but by the middle of February, a lot of the world was looking out at a Rocky Mountain horizon. The reality dawned that there’s a good chance we’re not just around the corner from better times. Depending on who you get your news from, it’s looking like we may not want to push around the corner, because something as bad as (or worse than!) what we’ve moved through is waiting for us there.

I’m not a very optimistic person, so it could just be me. Something makes me think I’m not the only one who’s wincing at the thought of what might be ahead, though.

Will schools open (as in all day, 5 days a week)? Will we be able to go to baseball games and movies and church? Will we ever not need to wear a surgical mask? Will California open? Will the government keep on doing what they’ve been doing, and keep on not doing what they’re not doing…? Will Mr. Potato Head be left alone, or will he have to reassign himself? Will the vaccine work? In other words, will the world go back to some kind of Normal?

If you’re on social media, you know you can find 3 or 4 answers (different answers) for these questions. And you don’t have to poke around long to find them. It’s frustrating and confusing to me.

It raises what is the most important question for me: “Who do I trust?”

And that brings me to the point I want to make.

When things are uncertain, trust is more important than at any other time. Who you trust, and why you trust them comes gets really important then. On one level, when things are running smoothly, and we’re happily getting life the way we’ve ordered it, trust isn’t very hard. It’s almost optional. When life’s running this way, we get lulled into believing we can make it just by trusting our own good will and wit.

But we got a pretty strong wake-up call over 2020 (and so far in 2021) that life isn’t certain. Our own good will and wit won’t do the job.

The lock may be coming off of the world sometime in 2021. It could be soon, but the indicators leave me a little discouraged with that view. If it happens, I’ll be a happy camper, but I’m not counting on it. There are too many forces at work on this, so if somebody tells me a solid date, I’ll believe it when I see it.

In the mean time, my challenge is to figure out what to do about the Rocky Mountains ahead of me. I’ve got a couple of ideas.

First of all, I need to remind myself that even if it doesn’t feel like it, God is in control. Yeah, yeah. God is in control. Got it. That’s a really good Sunday School answer. But what about all this chaos and what feels like a falling sky? Exactly. This is exactly when I most need to remind myself that all this nuttiness and confusion isn’t just random and by chance in a universe that just moves along with no real meaning and no master. There really is a God Who is Sovereign Master over all of it. There really is One Who is in control, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it. I have to bring myself back to this reality often. A simple way to do this is to say out loud, “You’re in control.” Take a deep breath and say it again.

Your brain gets “programmed” by repetition, so repeating the words, “God, You are in control,” out loud to yourself is a great practice.

Second, I have to make some effort to live (behave) as if I actually believed this. This is the hard part. I have to answer this question: what would I do if I really believed God is in control? DO is the operative word. How would my behavior be effected by my belief? That’s kind of the bottom line question of the Christian life, isn’t it? A good follow-up question is, “What would that look like?”

It’s not really rocket science. Like Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery, perseverance is the key. These two things just might help you put your trust in the One Who’s got it all under control.

FATIGUE

5 reasons why driving with an almost empty tank is bad for your vehicle |  Auto Care – Gulf News

As I type this, we’re nearly a year into what was supposed to be a 14 day national intervention to mitigate the impact of a virus none of us had ever heard of and knew almost nothing about. That was the start of a very long and vexing season. Vexing on so many levels.

People died from Covid 19. The report I most recently saw was half a million people. Millions of people were infected and hospitalized. More millions were ill from it and many more millions were exposed and confined to isolation and confinement because they were potentially contaminated, and could have been infected and/or contagious.

Businesses (nearly whole industries, in some cases), schools, sports on every level were completely shut down. A large number of the business that were shut down will not reopen.

Depending on what part of the country you live in, the shut-downs continue. Debbie and I have friends in Germany and the Czech Republic, and the shut-down there is even more severe there than it is here.

Two big things (thought there are more than two things) have come from all this, I think. First of all is frustration. Second, fatigue. They are actually sometimes joined at the hip. If you’re frustrated for very long, you will get fatigued. When you’re fatigues, your threshold for frustration is low. Way low.

I had a conversation with a young mom the other day who was worm smooth out. She was on empty. I could see it in her language – verbal language and body language. I could see it in her affect. She and her family live in a part of the world where lots of “virtual learning” happens. Actually, in her opinion, there’s more virtual than there is learning. She was done. Frustrated. Fatigued.

My oldest daughter is a 1st Grade teacher. She’s had to do “virtual instruction” through this crisis season. It took more work and more emotional energy for her to do this than to show up every day in her classroom and teach an over-sized group of kids in person.

Nobody in the “virtual” loop has had it easy.

Working from home sounded kind of nice at first. And for a little while, it was. Drinking your own good coffee. Snacking out of your own fridge. Wearing your sweatpants. Pretty good, initially. But it didn’t take long for that to wear thin. After a pretty short time, it wasn’t fun anymore. Can I get an amen?

I occasionally come across blogs that promise unique and effective ways to keep from getting fatigued, ways to never let your tank get empty. I’ve come across them, but never read them. I think they make a promise they can’t deliver on, so I don’t bother. My experience (and the experience of a pretty good roster of authorities) is that you can’t keep your tank from going down to “E”. The truth is, there’s no way to totally prevent fatigue. So if you’re looking for a formula for not getting fatigued, you’ll want to be done with my blog right now, because I don’t have that. Sorry.

What I want to ask you to think about with me is what to do when you’re running on fumes, when you feel you’re being held hostage by fatigue. You’re feeling it. Your family’s feeling it. So here we go.

First of all, and most important of all, take what you’re feeling – not an explanation for what you’re feeling – to God. Pour it out. It doesn’t even have to be articulate, and it certainly doesn’t need to be poetic. King David was a poet, and although he used poetic language, he had no trouble telling God about his fatigue. In a couple of places, he wrote about feeling weak. Look at Psalm 6:7 (NIV)  My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.

Here’s another one that sounds a little similar and way familiar. Psalm 31:9-10 (NIV) Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.

Second thing: Ask God to do what you can’t do for yourself. Ask Him to restore your soul (as in Psalm 23:3). Offer it sincerely. It’s a prayer He wants to answer. God understands your fatigue. The shepherd knows the sheep. So ask Him for this.

Next thing: Go to bed. Right. OK. Go to bed earlier. Turn off the TV and retreat to bed. You’ve got little kids, though. The only time you have any time to yourself is when they’re in bed. And on lots of days, this is the only time you can get anything other than taking care of them done. OK. You don’t have to go to bed 2 hours early. If you can get in bed a half hour earlier, that’s a win, even if a small one. Think through what keeps you from going to bed earlier and figure out what you could do to push those things out of the way, at least for a week. You might be surprised at what that will do for you.

Next: Breathe. Deeply. Most people don’t. Most of us are shallow breathers. Especially under stress. When you’re fatigued, you’ll be breathing shallowly. Intentionally take 5 or 6 deep breaths. You may want to do it while sitting down, in case it makes you dizzy…

A couple more: Listen to some soothing music. Not everybody is a music aficionado. I get that. But almost anybody can figure out how to settle in with something that feels good to them. If you’ve got a computer or a smart phone, you won’t even have to buy CDs for this. Poke around on your web browser and find free recordings to play back. Let the music sooth the savage beast in you.

Last one: Start or end the day – or start AND end the day – with Scripture. Just a few minutes with God’s word can reorient you and refocus your heart and mind. My favorite part of the Bible for this is the Book of Psalms. If you have a smart phone, put the You Version of the Bible on it as an app. It will make it easier to get your hands on the Bible. Go to your app store or Android store and search for You Version. You can put this on your tablet and on your computer, too (https://www.youversion.com/the-bible-app/). If the feel of print on paper is good for you, get your Bible and put it where you can easily get to it.

These things won’t make everything all better, but they can help you get a little fuel back in your tank.

Milestones

milestones - Hub City Times

As I write this on January 10,2021, I’m celebrating a personal milestone. Well, not so much celebrating it as reflecting on it. We’ll celebrate it later this week in Phoenix. Ten years ago today, I should have died. I had a heart attack and “coded.” Three times, I’m told. God’s grace and the quick thinking of my friend, Danny Hinkle, made my death temporary.

A series of what I think of as miracles were provided by God to bring me back to the land of the living. Start with the fact that I was with Danny, who had the week previous been refreshed on CPR by his daughter, so that when he looked over at me in the car and saw that my eyes had rolled back in my head and that I wasn’t breathing, he knew what to do. He started pounding on my chest with his right fist and looked for a place to pull the car over. The place turned out to be 118th and Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale, AZ.

He dialed 911 on his iPhone and put it on speaker while he ran around the car and climbed in on top of me to give me chest compression. Less than 4 minutes later the second miracle happened: EMTs arrived. They pulled me out of the car, confirmed that I had no pulse or respiration, and started their work on me. They “hit me with the paddles” and finally got both pulse and respiration (a third miracle), and got me in the ambulance. I coded again. They hit me again and revived me (another miracle). We headed out for the hospital, which was less than a mile away (another miracle). I coded again in the Emergency Room, and they were able to revive me. Another miracle.

Mercifully, I have no memory of any of this. The last thing I remember is passing the Mayo Clinic, westbound on the way back to Danny and Anita’s, and closing my eyes. The rest happened without my direct participation or awareness. Or consent, for that matter.

A skilled cardiologist (turns out he’s one of the leading cardiologist in the country) at Scottsdale Health Care (which turns out to be one of the best cardiac hospitals in the nation) performed an angioplasty on me and opened my LAD artery (the one they call the “widow maker”) and was able to place a stint. I think this was another miracle. No surgery. No cracking my ribcage open to reroute arteries. I was up and walking down the hall of the cardiac unit the next day. Not briskly, but upright and walking on my own power.

There’s more to the story I’m reflecting on – a good bit, actually – but I won’t bore you with it. Today, 10 years later, I’m living a healthy life – in some ways a healthier life than I’ve lived since my 20s. My heart issues really don’t get in my way. At my age, it’s hard to decide whether it’s just Bro. Ass (my aging body) or my cardio issues that limit my energy. I can do pretty much all I want to do. Since 2015, Debbie and I have had the honor of being part of an international ministry (Open Door Libraries) that takes us to Europe and the Middle East a couple of times a year or more (when we’re not held hostage by Covid 19). Heart issues haven’t kept us from broad travel and meaningful ministry both here in America and in our 3 Open Door Library locations. My cardiologists are happy with how I’m getting along, and have given me pretty much a clean bill of health. I check in once a year. That all feels a little like a cluster of miracles.

I’ve had the blessing of being able to tell my story many times. And afterwards, often people tell me some version of, “Wow. God wasn’t finished with you here. He must have something important in mind for you!”

Fundraising Forecasts for 2016…a head scratcher | Copley Raff

I take this as a compliment, but after 10 years and a lot of reflection, embarrassingly, I really can’t put my finger on what that important thing is that I was saved for. Kind of a head-scratcher for me. The best I’ve been able to do is to take life as it comes at me and do the best I can, in partnership with God, day by day.

I’m really grateful that in these last 10 years God’s given me the chance to watch my 4 grandkids as they grow up, and watch their moms and dads be awesome. I’m so thankful I’ve had these last 10 years to enjoy my Proverbs-31-woman wife. She’s more beautiful to me today than she was 46 years ago when I saw her walk down the center isle at the Boulevard Christian Church in Muskogee, OK, at our wedding. I had almost 5 more years of ministry in Las Vegas, and then a great 3+ years on staff at a church of wonderful people in NE Iowa. And as I mentioned earlier, more than 5 years of working with Open Door Libraries and the amazing staff there. For the last year and a half, I’ve been walking with God toward a shift in my ministry career from church-based to pastoral counseling (pretty close to the 1% mark within my sweet spot). It’s been a bit of a zig-zag route from January 10, 2011 to January 10, 2021, but I think I’m moving forward in partnership with God and His Grace.

I didn’t go out into the wilderness or up on the mountain top to get a special word from God before I started moving forward. I just did what I thought was next. No telegrams or emails from God. No writing on the wall. Just a sense that the best thing for me to do was what seemed next to me.

There are others with a deeper background and bigger faith than I have who have written and spoken about getting their mission given to them from the Lord in terms they couldn’t mistake. I envy these people. Sometimes I feel guilty and embarrassed that I didn’t get that clear word from God. I’ve more or less gotten over these feelings in the last 10 years. I’ve come to believe this is how God decided He wanted to write my story. I figure the smartest thing I can do is (paraphrasing something Oswald Chambers once said) trust God and do what’s next. I’m convinced that’s good enough for God, too. I hope it’s not bending the context, but I think His word to me is similar to what He told the Apostle Paul, “My grace is enough for you.”

Walking in that grace is what I’ve decided my mission is. I think it will work out over time as a series of milestones ahead until, according to His will and timing, I’m done. As of today, He and I aren’t done.

Good Riddance

Amazon.com: Good Riddance - Black Logo on White - 1.25" Round Button:  Clothing

In a couple of days, we’ll say goodbye to one of the most difficult years many of us have experienced. A little more than 3 months into this year, the world was turned on its ear, and for much of the world normal life came to a screeching halt. OK. Maybe not a screeching halt, but at least a screeching almost-halt. The hitherto robust and growing American economy was choked into a sputter. Travel all but stopped. Toilet paper was impossible to find. Lots of people lost their senses. Lots of people went into a panic-driven survival mode.

And lots of people lost loved ones to a virus that had never been seen. There have been viruses like Covid-19, but nothing exactly like it. Most of the scientific community began pulling all-nighters to try and figure it out. And pharmaceutical companies, driven by compassion for the world and income potential, began a blitzkrieg effort to produce an effective vaccination for it in record time.

Data and numbers began to emerge. A plethora of meanings were assigned to them. Power shifted. Politics found a new sandbox to play in. And, boy, did they play.

Businesses closed. Many started this as a temporary closing, but ended up permanently closed. Employees were furloughed or laid off. Many were left without any guarantee of having a job to return to in the future.

Along with this came Lockdowns. What started as a 15 day effort to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus stretched into months. “Stay at home; save lives.” Except it didn’t seem to work. Covid-19 didn’t go away. But stability did. Mental health tumbled to lows that are unique to my lifetime.

I could go on and on, but I’ll force myself to stop. I don’t imagine I need to convince you that 2020 has been a pretty lousy year for most of us. For lots of us, it will feel good to say, “Good riddance!” to the year 2020. When January 1, 2021, comes, I think we’ll probably all breath a sigh of relief, and hope and pray to be able to emerge from the one we’ve just endured and into a much better future. The jury’s still out on whether or not we’ll be able to crowd together in Times Square and watch the ball drop, though.

Which brings me to my point, really. Forgive me for being pessimistic about this, but the truth is, we have no guarantee that 2021 will be any better than 2020. So there you go. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Like it or not, that’s the truth.

There is no guarantee that turning the calendar page to January 1, 2021 will put everything to rights and life will settle back into a better, more comfortable and acceptable normal. The one thing I can confidently guarantee about the new year is that it will bring its own set of challenges. Some will no doubt be extensions of the challenges and difficulties 2020’s brought us. Some of them will come in the form of other new setbacks.

Has this ever not been the case? Please let me know if your experience has been different than mine. All of the 67.5 years of my life that I can remember have had challenges and setbacks. Not to the degree that or in kind with what 2020 has brought, but every year has had its own set of them.

I think the New Testament writer, James, knew this. Here’s what he writes in timeless wisdom in what we have as chapter 4 of his letter to the churches of his day:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 

“You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” Strong words. The future, even the future in as near-term as tomorrow, is unknown. This is a reality that is easy to forget or ignore. Especially in a world where technology has become so powerful and accessible that we easily get infected with the lie that we can control most everything. And what we can’t control, we can somehow fix.

Enter Covid-19.

Apparently we needed the reminder that, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So here’s a telegram from China to get our attention.

Saying (mostly to ourselves, but to others, too), “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that…” is a way of reminding ourselves that God is in control. We can plan, and probably should. After all, part of stewarding my life is planning. But all the planning in the world will never insure life will go the way I want it to. That’s not my department. I literally have NO control over this.

Chuck Swindoll once wrote, “Ten percent of life is what happens to you. Ninety percent is what you do about what happens to you.” Chuck is a wise man. I think he’s absolutely right. His words here are perfect for 2020 and our step over the threshold of 2021.

You can spend a lot of time trying to figure out why 2020 happened the way it did. You can spend a lot of time railing against what happened in 2020 and what it’s done to you. But you can’t change it. What you can do is decide what you will do about what happened in this monumentally difficult and challenging year.

I believe this is especially important for Parents. Your kids are watching you to figure out how life works. How you do life in response to these challenges is so important. You’re a living textbook for your kids. Whether you want to be or not. So, Mom, Dad, partner with God and model for your kids how someone who knows God is in control faces uncertain – even disappointing – times.

I’ve got a few suggestions for this. First of all, Acknowledge that this is hard. Denial won’t help you. Pretending that everything’s just hunky-dory won’t work for more than a little while. So call it what it is. Hard.

Second, don’t get stuck in the reality that this is hard. Your direction is always a function of your focus. If you focus on how hard this is, and get stuck in that focus, your direction will take you into an emotional tail-spin. So once you’ve confronted and acknowledged it, move your focus to Step Three.

Third, seek God’s wisdom and partnership as you navigate these deep and choppy waters. Pray for His help privately. But also pray about it with your kids. At meals. At bedtime. At any time, really. And as tempting as it might be to whine about it in prayer, consider this phrasing: “Lord, we’re in a really hard time, and You know it. Thank You for being right here with us. We put our trust in You to make us wise so that we can make the best decisions about what to do about what’s happening around us.” Use your own words, but take the focus off your problems and put it on the One Who is faithful to never leave you, to never forsake you. Both you and your kids need to be reminded of this.

And fourth, when God answers your request for wisdom and gives you an idea, THANK HIM FOR IT IN THE PRESENCE OF YOUR KIDS.

“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Seeking His wisdom, and then pursuing it, will put you in His will, where you can do this or that.

And in this same letter, James gives us some of the most hopeful words on this: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 NIV) God wants you to call out to Him for wisdom. He wants to give it to you. So ask. Often. He won’t find fault with you on this.

If you’re thinking this isn’t rocket science, you’re right. But it’s counter-intuitive. So counter-intuit and begin weaving it into the fabric of your life and your family’s life as we face the unknown future.