Monday, March 24, 2008

To the Woman I Love; My Wife

It was nothing short of God event that I met and married my wife. God knew before we were born that she was to be my wife and I her husband. It took forty years before God introduced us though. Prior to our meeting I just could not make a relationship work with anyone. I made every mistake in the book. I allowed the enemy to lead me around and let him convince me to make several unhealthy choices in relationships.

My sweet wife has always lived her life seeking God first in every way. Since I had chosen the opposite path and lived by my feelings it took some forty years before I was worthy of meeting my wife. By that I mean, God allowed me take a hard look at my life and all the areas I failed to put Him first. When I began seeking Him in my decisions, guess what? He began helping me make better decisions.

The best decision I have made (second only to choosing salvation) is choosing to ask my wife to marry me. She is my best friend and best mom in the world. She is kind, compassionate, caring, and great woman of God. She has taught and continues to teach me so much about how to have God filled marriage and healthy relationship. I still make mistakes don’t get me wrong. But with love she always helps me correct my mistakes and learn from them.

I love my wife deeply. I had no idea this kind of love existed. It is a love that goes beyond the natural or physical. It is spiritual. As God intended love between a man and his wife should be.

I love you my sweet wife!! Now and forever!!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Dear Dad

When I was a child I used to love spending time with my father. It didn’t really matter what we did as long as we were doing it together. My father worked hard all of his life to provide for our family. I watched as he would get up at 1:00 a.m. every morning to be at work by 3:00 a.m. He would work a full day then come home in the afternoon and try to spend a little time with my sister and me before dinner.

My dad didn’t have a cushy office job like many of my friend’s dads. No, he worked in the freight industry driving tractor trailer trucks and lifting freight all day long. He was always in very good shape from all the walking and lifting he had to do. No need to go to a gym. He got his workout in by working every day. What a concept. I have seen him out work guys half his age including me. He had great physical strength. When I turned 15 he put me to work. He would back a trailer up to a dock and my job was to unload and stack all the freight onto the dock. He would always jump in and get me started then he had to leave and do other things while I finished unloading. In the summer the heat in the back of that trailer was miserable. In the winter it was freezing. The work was hard. Bending and lifting all day long. Even as a young man it was physically challenging.

From an early age my father taught me about strong work ethic. He used the time he had in the back of that trailer to talk to me about hard work and life. He taught me that there is honor and pride in a hard day’s work. At the end of the day you should be able to go home and feel like you had accomplished something. He never focused on the amount you were paid for your work but just on the work itself. He taught me things like “always do your best”, and “finish what you start”. He taught me that God blesses those who work hard to make an honest living. Lessons that have stuck with me all my life. Lessons, I hope I pass on to my own children.

My dad, now in his early seventies, has slowed down dramatically. All that hard work has taken its toll on his physical body. The man I knew growing up, strong as an ox, is now weakened. It is hard to watch this transition. Long gone are the days he and I used to spend working together. But I will forever hold onto the memories of those hot summer days and the cold winter ones too, spent working side-by-side with my dad. I will hold onto the values and lessons he tried to teach me.

I love you Dad!

Friday, February 15, 2008

You Ain't Seen Nothin Yet

Growing up in the 70's in a rural Arkansas town was a blessing from God. Of course I didn't appreciate those simpler, less complicated times then....but oh what I would give to go back in time. Back before video games, the internet, ipods, BlackBerry's, cell phones, satellite television, and yes, I guess even blogs. No one locked their doors. Instead of watching TV we actually played outside. We rode bikes, went to the swimmin hole, went to the fishin hole (those are two different holes by the can't catch fish with a bunch of splashing going on), caught June bugs and tied their legs to a string, caught lightning bugs to put in a jar (no bug was safe from being captured and thrown in bug jail), sometimes we would just lay in the field and watch the clouds float overhead and talk. (If I want to talk to my kids today I have to email them or text message them and they may only be in the next room....) When did talking in person become un-cool?

A big part of my childhood was spent in a stereotypical Southern Baptist church. My parents took us to church every time the doors where open. And if my parents couldn't take us my grandparents or aunts and uncles took us. We went to Sunday School, Training Union, Choir Practice and every summer Vacation Bible School. Which when you are a kid doesn't seem like much of a vacation.....especially in the 70's. You see back then not all the rooms had air conditioning and when it got too hot in the room they just sent us outside.....In the see if we could do such things as carry an egg on a spoon for 50 yards or some other silly game. Oh yea I forgot RA's on Wednesday evenings. Now there is an old Baptist boys group you may have forgotten about or may never have even heard of...."Royal Ambassadors". I suppose we were ambassadors for Christ, but there never seemed to be anything too royal about it....

There was really no escape from church for me growing up. My uncle was the pastor, my grandfather was the "song leader" (another good ole southern term), my grandmother cleaned the church and my dad filled in wherever he was needed. It seemed like we were at church all the time. I took church for granted.

When I got older and moved out on my own I found myself not going to church as much. As time went on it became easier and easier to find reasons to NOT go at all. You see I didn't ever think about what God intended the church to represent. Oh I knew it was His house. And we were supposed to go there to worship Him...but for me that's my brain stopped. God intended the church to be so much more than a place to worship. The big part I missed out on were the relationships. God intended for us to build and nurture relationships with other believers. It took me way too many years to realize this. Looking back now I see how I lost relationships with those I grew up in church with and I missed out on making new ones over the years.

God not only wants us to build and nurture relationships within the walls of our church home but also with those we come in contact with outside those walls. God puts people in our lives for a reason. We may not see it in the natural but rest assured it's true. God has placed it on my heart over the past several months to reestablish and nurture relationships with people I have met over the last 15 years. God knew it would not be an easy task for me to go back and contact all of these folks and humbly ask them if they would like to reestablish a relationship be it professional or personal or both. He knew I was moving way out of my comfort zone. I was scared but I did it anyway. And you know what? God is faithful. Everyone I was able to contact was receptive. God had already prepared their hearts. All I had to do was be obedient and make that call or send that email. He took care of the rest.

I guess part of the point I am trying to make is that it is easy to fall into the trap of taking church for granted. Just go through the motions. Show up, endure some fire and brimstone and go have a big Sunday lunch. At times it all may seem a bit boring. But let me challenge you to do something I did almost two years ago. Activate you faith. ACTIVATE your faith! What does that mean? I mean live each day like it might be your last. If we knew we only had 24 hours to live I bet most of us would make each minute count. We would tell this person "I'm sorry" and that person "I love you" and the next person "Thank you" and so on. We would do our best to get our affairs in order and make things right with those we wronged and those who wronged us. We would focus on relationships in our lives. Well what if we did that everyday? What a difference we could make. If you think being a Christian is boring then you have not activated your faith. You Ain't Seen Nothin Yet!!! Activate it and hold on for some of the most exciting and rewarding times of your life.

I would like to leave you with this passage from Job22:21-30

21 "Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.
22 Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart.
23 If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored: If you remove wickedness far from your tent
24 and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines,
25 then the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you.
26 Surely then you will find delight in the
Almighty and will lift up your face to God.
27 You will pray to him, and he will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows.
28 What you decide on will be done, and light will shine on your ways.
29 When men are brought low and you say, 'Lift them up!' then he will save the downcast.
30 He will deliver even one who is not innocent, who will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Fear Factor

What are you afraid of? What is your greatest fear? Why do we fear certain things? Does everyone have fears or is it just me? How do we overcome fear?

Have you ever stopped to think about the things you fear? We are fearful of many different things. One of the greatest fears for a lot of us is public speaking. Some people fear riding in airplanes while others fear driving on the freeway. We fear animals, insects, heights, small spaces, snakes, the dark, the light, the outdoors, the dentist, the doctor, our boss, our spouse, our parents.....We fear we won't make enough money, loss of a job, not getting a promotion, getting a promotion, not enough responsibility, too much responsibility....Whew!!! And so on, and so on.....This is just the tip of the "fear" iceberg. The list of fears can be a long one. Some well founded mind you while others are not. It is probably a good thing to fear alligators. It's silly to fear that the Patriots won't win the Super Bowl. (I mean come on, you know they are gonna win).

It is okay to fear things in life. But we cannot allow fear to control our lives. Fear can paralyze us if we allow it and Satan knows that. Fear is one of the enemy's strongest weapons. That is why it is so important for us to turn our fears over to the Lord in prayer. Jesus promises us that we have nothing to fear, not even death. Remember when Peter saw Jesus walking on water and he wanted to walk out on the water and meet Jesus? Jesus told Peter: "Come" he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith" he said, "why did you doubt?" Mathew 14:29-31

How do we overcome fear and doubt? Fortunately, God provided us this little book called the Bible. If we read His word and apply it daily He helps us manage our fears. How do we "apply" His word? It is as simple as stopping when a negative thought enters your head and asking the Holy Spirit to give you positive, life giving words from the Bible to counteract the negative. Sometimes, I have to pause several times a day and repeat this exercise. This may be something new for you and that's okay. God wants us to pause throughout our day and reflect on Him. If we yield to Him, He will bring us freedom from our fear and give us a peace like we have never known. I invite you to try this and see if it makes a difference in your life.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Out with the old, In with the new

Greetings and Happy New Year!! It has been a while since my last post. The holiday season always seems to be such a busy time of year. Rush, rush, rush. Sometimes we barely take time to slow down long enough to really enjoy this time of year and what it truly represents.

December is the month each year we Christians choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we may forget not everyone celebrates Christmas. To a certain segment of the worlds population December is just December. But if you are a Christian this is the time of year to focus on the Christ child. God loves us so much that He sent His only son into our world in human form. Jesus came not to judge us but to serve us. Many people think of Jesus as a great leader because of the miracles He performed. But if you read the stories written in the New Testament carefully you will see that Jesus was always serving. When the multitude needed to be fed, He fed them. When the storm came upon the disciples at sea, He calmed the waters. Before His death He washed the disciples feet. By serving, He was leading. When you think of leaders today who do you think of? Your boss, the president, politicians? How many of those folks would get on their knees and wash your feet?

Then there's January. The beginning of a new year each year. A chance to start fresh. Too many times this is not the case though. We allow our past to keep us from taking that fresh start each year. I know I have been guilty of that. How bout you? For several years I have felt so bad about things in my past that I never allowed myself to start fresh. That is.......until now. This year, for the first time in a long time I am allowing the past to be the past and forgive myself. I am going to embrace God's gift of a new year to start fresh. I encourage you to do the same. We cannot change the past. But with God's help we CAN change our future.

So out with the old and in with the new. Let the past be the past and the future be the future. Our past does NOT define who we are, it molds us into who He wants us to be.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities and One Hillbilly

I grew up in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains just 7 miles north of Dogpatch U.S.A. So I guess that makes me an official Hillbilly. I wasn't content with staying in the hills so after a proper raisin and schoolin I landed a job that allowed me the privilege of travelling throughout the United States. I have travelled by bus, car, plane, train and boat. I have seen small towns and large cities. I have seen such wondrous sites as the Rockie Mountains (Colorado), Smokey Mountains(Tennessee), Blue Ridge Mountains(North Carolina), and the Ozark Mountains(Arkansas/Missouri). I have seen the Mississippi Delta, the plains of Oklahoma, the Texas Pan Handle, and the Desert in Arizona and Nevada. I have felt the warm Florida sun and bitter cold of a Minnesota winter. I have been to places like Boston and Washington D.C. where the founding fathers of our great nation once lived. I have seen the fall in New England (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts) and wine country in California. I have been to the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee where my childhood hero's Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett fought with Indians and wrestled bears. I have been to the top of the Arch in St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. I've been to the "Windy City" of Chicago. I have seen where the Little Rock Nine went to school and the streets of Birmingham Alabama where so many stood strong for civil rights. I've seen the rebuilt Atlanta after Sherman burned it down in the war between the states. I have had "brats and beer" in Milwaukee and eaten boiled peanuts in South Carolina. I went to boot camp at Fort Knox (where they keep all the gold). I have driven down the highway that passes the Louisiana State Penitentiary where I saw the guards on horseback with loaded guns supervising a chain gang of prisoners. I have toured the Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland where many of our nations great military leader attended. I have literally been from sea to shining sea.

Yep, I have been truly blessed to see a lot of this great country. There are still several places I haven't been and look forward to seeing one day but there are two places I have been that will forever stand out most in my mind. New York City and San Fransisco. Why these places? Is it because of the deep rooted history in each of these cities? Is it because each of these cities hold a romantic lure? Is it because of all the tall buildings and sites to see? No, none of those things. The reason I find these two cities so interesting are the people who live in them. Okay, I know what you're thinking....."Something ain't right with him". "SF is home of the Presidio, Fisherman's Wharf, Cable Cars, The Gold Rush of 1849, The Golden Gate Bridge, Dirty Harry Movies where filmed there, and NY is home of the Empire State building, Museums, The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Plaza, The Today Show, Broadway, Times Square" and so on. And you're right all of those things are very interesting to see but to me not as interesting as watching the people in these two great cities.

If you ever get the chance to visit either or both of these cities try to see all the sites you can. All the ones you have read about or seen on the travel channel. But while you are busy seeing all the sites take time to just stop and park yourself at an outdoor cafe or bench and just watch the people for a while. It is amazing. If you watch long enough and pay close attention you will see which ones God is talking to. Yes, that's right. I said you will be able to recognize which ones God is talking to. Okay, it took me a while to figure this out myself. So let me tell you what to look for.

Eventually, you will see a guy walking down the street in tattered clothes, hair unkempt, may or may not be pushing a shopping cart. He will be totally oblivious to everyone around him. It will seem like he is talking to himself and sometimes maybe even arguing with himself. But naa naa. Pay attention and listen a little closer to what he is saying. I saw a guy just as I described walking down the street in NY and he kept saying out loud (as if he were arguing) "NO! But I can't do that! NO! Leave me alone"! At this point most people are trying desperately to avoid him. They will not make eye contact with him and are moving quickly to get away from him. That's when it hit me. What if he is NOT talking to himself? What if God is saying something like "Bill, you are my chosen one to do a great work". Only Bill is saying "NO! But I can't do that"! And God says "but I need you Bill, only you can do this". Bill's reply "Leave me alone"!

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying God only talks to people in NY and SF. And I am not making fun of those in these cities who are down on their luck and may have serious mental issues. This is my light hearted attempt to point out that sometimes we are too quick to judge others based on a quick glance. What we may quickly dismiss as strange behavior may actually be something divine. In many cases God does not call the equipped, He equips the ones He calls. How many of us today would think Moses was crazy? I mean come on he claimed a burning bush was talking to him. Saul a man who killed Christians for a living was called by God to do great things. Why would God choose a man who was a murderer? David who committed adultery and murder was called by God to lead a nation. Why choose David who broke God's commandments? We have all sinned. God tells us in the New Testament that He did not come for the righteous but has come here so the unrighteous can be saved, not by works or the law, but by grace.

The point is, is that God can use any of us if we are willing. Even a Hillbilly like me! Is He calling you to do something? Has he called you in the past? What was your answer? Did you answer by saying "NO! I can't do that" NO! Leave me alone"? or Did you follow His calling? Remember to be aware of where you are if you choose to have your conversation with God using your outside voice. You never know who might be watching.......

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Who am I? Why am I here?

I remember the first time anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was in the eighth grade. My vice principal called me into his office to discuss my grades. I was an average student. I was also involved in athletics. Truthfully, I spent more time working on my jump shot than I did hitting the books. Academics were boring to me at the time. So when he asked me “What do you want to do when you grow up” I never thought twice about my answer. I said, “I am going to play professional basketball”. He smiled and replied, “What is your backup plan”. I was confused by this reply. I remember thinking to myself; Backup plan? Why do I need a backup plan man? I am going to play in the NBA. He knew some things I didn’t at the time. He didn’t discourage me, don’t get me wrong. He just knew that only a handful of the best players ever make it to play professionally. He knew that any number of things could happen to my initial plan and I would need something else to fall back on. He was trying to get me to think. Think about my future.

God knew before I was placed in the womb “who” He wanted me to be and “why” He created me. So, why has it been so hard for me to figure it out? Things happen in life to cause you to move in different directions. Sometimes God is in them and sometimes not. God gave all of us “free-will” to make our own choices. When we decide to move in one direction or another we also decide if we are going to “choose” to involve God in those decisions. The reason it has been so hard for me to understand God’s plan for my life is because at many decision points in my life I chose NOT to seek His guidance or direction. I made my choices based on my feelings at the time and did not consider future consequences. It may take weeks, months or years before you realize the consequences of not seeking God’s guidance. In my life, every time I made choices without seeking God’s will, they have all and I mean all brought about negative consequences. My decisions without God took me away from His plan for my life.

God can take those negative consequences and use them to teach us discipline, faith, and obedience. We can learn from our mistakes. We can learn if we are willing to ask for forgiveness for not seeking His will in the first place and ask Him to bring us back into His perfect plan. God wants us to live happy, healthy, productive lives. He also wants us to seek Him in everything we do. (Before we do it). So how did my NBA career turn out? Well, I never made it to the NBA. I also did not have a backup plan. You see after my meeting with my vice principal in eighth grade I did not make one. As a matter of fact I never thought about our conversation again until recently. It makes sense to me now. God placed this vice principal in my path at a point in my life where the decisions I made began to count. They would set the course of my later years. I didn’t understand that then. It was in high school when I first realized I would not be going to the NBA. Even after it was clear to me that I would not fulfill my dream of playing professional sports I still did not seek God’s guidance or put a plan “B” in place. It was at this point that I just began to float through life. I chose to handle life all on my own without a plan. I called all the shots. I made all the decisions. Life became a series of one bad decision after another.

As I look back over my life I see the blessings now. Things I took for granted over the years. Things I thought I did on my own. Now I realize God was right there all the time. He has been faithful to me even when I have not been to Him. He was providing and meeting my needs through every bad decision. Times when I thought I was all alone, He was there to comfort me. While I was busy complaining, He was busy providing. God got my attention this past year when I suddenly lost my job and almost everything else.

About a year before I lost my job I started rebuilding my relationship with God. This was no accident. For the first time in my life I prayed on a consistent basis. I was asking God to help me understand His plan for my life. I began reading my Bible. I found a church home. He quietly began answering my prayers and was gradually pulling me back in line in preparation for His future plans for my life. Part of His future plan for my life was meeting my wife. You see at the same time I was praying God help me understand His plan for my life I was also praying and seeking His guidance regarding a wife. I told God if I were supposed to be alone then so be it, but if I am to meet someone then He choose that person. He answered this prayer when I least expected it. I met, courted, and married my beautiful wife in the same year prior to losing my job. I was feeling pretty good about things. This getting my life right with God thing isn’t such a big deal after all. I have a beautiful wife, new car, new house on the golf course, a relationship with God, a church home, heck I am all set. Wrong!

I thought I had done everything I was supposed to do and I was on auto-pilot when everything around me seemed to start falling apart. Even though I invited Christ back into my life again, I never activated my faith. I never claimed God’s promises for my life. I never thought that in order for me to fulfill God’s plan for my life I would have to sacrifice everything material. Foolishly, I thought I was ready to begin (and fully expected to do so) receiving blessing upon blessing just because I asked God to show me His will for my life. Wrong again! In the past year I lost my job, my car, my house and I almost lost the love of my life. It took some time for me to understand that all my material possessions had to be removed from my life so that I had no distractions from God and His plans for my future. During the time it took for me to come to that understanding I reverted back to my old ways and made some bad decisions. Instead of falling to my knees and thanking God for what was happening I became angry. I chose to deal with my losses by pulling away from my wife. She remained steadfast and continued to pray for me constantly. At times it was almost more than she could bear. But she remained faithful. Faithful to God and me. In time we began praying together again and I began to realize God had to tear me down completely in order to rebuild me and equip me to carry out His plan for my life.

I found myself asking “Who am I” and “Why am I here”. Without realizing it over the years I allowed all the wrong things define who I had become. Since I had no real plan to begin with all those years ago and I did not choose to seek God in any of my decisions (until this past year) I had to be torn down and rebuilt. Not to date myself but it was sort of like the old television show “The Six Million Dollar Man”. Remember the intro where the narrator says “We can rebuild him. Make him stronger, faster than he was”. Well that is exactly what God had to do with me. Once I began seeking his plan, He began to make it known. I had to learn that jobs and material possessions did not define me. The Bible says “Where your heart is, your treasure is also”. I had to decide where my heart was. If my heart is with God then that is where my treasure will be. So I chose God. He is always there.

One final thought in closing. If you are going through a similar situation or know someone who is and either you or they are struggling with questioning God’s plan, I want to assure you God is real and He is a loving God. My wife and I went from a six figure yearly income, living in a nice home on the golf course, driving a new vehicle to being jobless, carless and homeless. We had so sell every piece of furniture, appliances, etc. We had no great reserves of money saved. I received a small severance package that is now depleted. My unemployment benefits are now depleted. When we lost the house and all our possessions we prayed about what to do next. We acquired an older model car which we packed with just the clothes that would fit and our two dogs and hit the road. We allowed God to lead us. Our plan was to go where God wanted us to be. Many nights we did not know where we would lay our heads. God faithfully provided a place every night. Most of the time we never stayed in the same place more than one night. We met some incredibly generous people along the way. Not only did we not know where we would sleep, we did not know where our meals would come from. God faithfully provided. We also had the dogs to consider. God again faithfully provided for their needs. When possible we would stay with family as we traveled across the country. We continued to pray diligently that God show us where he wanted us. We were led to a place where we did not know anyone or have any prospects of employment. Our prayers became more specific as we felt God calling us to this place. We prayed that if this is truly where He wanted us that doors begin opening. Again, God was faithful. He opened the doors we needed to find housing. Soon after we settled in He led us to a church home where we have met and continue to meet some amazing people. This story is now really just beginning as this blog entry is ending. We have started a new chapter in our life and our walk with God.

It has been an amazing journey over the past year to say the least. We have experienced God’s provision in a way that would never have been possible if we had played it safe and chose not to follow His calling on our lives. By stepping out in faith and trusting Him completely and not leaning on our own understanding God is giving us a tremendous story to share.

Isaiah 60:1 (TLB) “Arise, My people! Let your light shine for all the world to see! For the glory of the Lord illuminates from you.”

Inaugural Post

This is my inaugural blog post. For the last couple of months I have been exploring the idea of starting something that promotes a message of hope and encouragement. My wife suggested that I start a blog. So here I am.

This blog is intended to open dialog about hope and encouragement through the sharing of some of my real-life experiences, inspirational stories of others lives, and hopefully some humor along the way.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a purpose. Some of us are called to share our stories in order to fulfill our purpose on this earth. Lately, I have felt that calling. Sometimes it helps us to read about someone elses experiences in life. It's kind of like going to the movies. The actors we watch on the big screen are acting out a story. If you are like me (depending on the movie) you sometimes can associate personally and emotionally with the story being acted out. It's as if the writer followed you around then wrote a movie about your life or a particular season in your life. While the stories I share in my blog will probably never be turned into movies they are intended to make a connection on some level with you (the reader) in such a way as to inspire hope.

I would like to say "Thank You" to my wife for giving me the courage to start this blog. You are my inspiration and my best friend. Happy Birthday Baby!!!!!!!