Learning a Healthy Lifestyle

“Before I die, I want to experience what it’s like to be thin,” I told a friend a couple of years ago.

I’ve lost several hundred pounds over my lifetime but I always found them again. Like most overweight people, I’m too familiar with diets.

At the risk of highlighting me too much, I’ve decided to share my recent journey in response to people’s questions. Maybe there will be encouragement for someone else.

November 2015

After weighing in at 229lbs, I sat in my friend/physician’s office to get the lab results of my blood work. This was our conversation:

Dr: Mark, your triglycerides and cholesterol are too high and now your sugar is increasing. It may be time for you to begin taking regular medication.

Me: I really don’t want to do that. What if I went on a diet? If I lost some weight would that fix my problem?

My friend stares at the ground for a minute trying to form the right words.

Dr: Mark, we had this same conversation two years ago. I suspect losing weight will help but there’s no guarantee. But this is harder than you just losing weight. You need to embrace a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable. That will probably be a two-year process. If you aren’t willing to take on that kind of challenge, we need to begin the medication soon.

I felt my jaw clinch from determination. This sounded hard. This sounded true.

Me: Give me one more chance. I want to try the two-year healthy lifestyle approach.

January 2016

Here are six things that were catalytic (no particular order):

  1. Self-control: I chose to focus on this one fruit of the Spirit as my New Year’s Resolution. I asked my small group to pray for me, which was humbling but helpful.
  2. Ginger: Since this wasn’t just another diet but a two-year healthy lifestyle change, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Ginger chose to embrace this challenge with me. Bonus surprise? This gave us another point of connection in our marriage.
  3. Shelli: We connected with a life coach, Shelli Birdwell. I needed to raise the bar if I wanted different results. This was the best decision we made! Ginger and I are convinced that we would not have succeeded without Shelli.
  4. Manual:* Along the way, Shelli offered a healthy lifestyle manual which changed how we shopped at the grocery store, how we cooked, what we ate, how much and how often we ate. We had to reread it again and again to change how we thought about food. Ginger pointed out early on that eating healthy meant our pantry was almost empty and our refrigerator was full. (Fresh foods vs. processed foods.)
  5. Workouts: I walk regularly, hike a little, paddleboard a little. I simply need to stay active. However, I lose weight in the kitchen not in the gym. My eating is where I need to focus for now.
  6. Transparency: I had never shared my weight with anyone . . . not even with my wife for the twenty years we’ve been married. It was too embarrassing. For the first time in January I told my wife my specific weight. I needed to own my weight and quit pretending it wasn’t the real me. A few weeks later I told Shelli my weight. This was terrifying but somehow it released some of my secrets and helped me more fully embrace this new healthy lifestyle approach.

*Shelli helped us identify goals, develop a strategy to achieve them, and offered an avalanche of support and ideas along the way. If you’re attempting to change your lifestyle, reading a book (or a blog post) isn’t sufficient.

May 2016

I reached “One-derland” by weighing under 200lbs for the first time in 20 years.

September 2016

I reached the “normal” BMI range. I’m still pretty giddy about that.

October 2016

I revisited my physician having lost 50 lbs. This time he said with a smile, “Mark, your blood work reveals that you are completely healthy. Every category is now in the normal range. Congratulations, you’re hard work has paid off.”

I’m proud of my wife who has lost 25lbs.

Here are a couple of pictures I found of me speaking that represent the “before” and “after.”

mark-before

 

 

worry-pic

We’re almost halfway into our two-year transition of learning a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for your prayers.

Which of these 3 strikes a chord with you?

I am amazed that God continues to use STUCK to help people forgive. I now have an opportunity to write another book and I’d love your help. I have 3 book “ideas” and am curious if one of them strikes a chord with you.

Chapter One

So, here’s a brief summary of my 3 ideas in no particular order:

Book idea #1: A Book on Shame

We all struggle with it but no one talks about it. Shame is one of Satan’s primary weapons to block Christians from accomplishing God’s purposes. It’s the little voice in your head saying, “C’mon! You’re not good enough. After all, who do you think you are?” What we call regret is often shame. It is the swamp-land of our soul. Yuck!

Our enemy has been bullying us with shame every since Adam and Eve. God’s been dragging us out of shame every since the Garden of Eden. The only solution to our shame is GRACE. Yes, you’re story includes brokenness but God’s grace is the star of your story.

This book would highlight shame’s rising voice in our culture, the Biblical history of shame, the cost of shame, your response choices, and the Biblical antidote to shame.

I recently taught a 3-week series on Shame entitled “Hideout” which you can listen to here.

Book idea #2: Intimacy with God

The deepest desire of your heart is to know God personally. But how can you know a God who feels so distant? How is it that some people you know seem to have a daily connection with Him?

At the Grand Canyon, most tourists remain in the tourist-designated areas and take photos for Instagram. From their safe spot they admire the Canyon but few really experience and interact with the Canyon up close. (That was my experience during my 1st visit.)

In the same way, Christ followers must go “beyond the rim” in order to go from being an admirer of the Father to interacting and experiencing intimacy with Him.

This book will discuss how we can go “beyond the rim” into daily connection with God.

Book idea #3: 30 Witnesses

With each story of grace in the Bible, we discover another layer of it’s unlimited power.

This book will tell 30 short stories from the perspective of witnesses. For example, the story of Rahab would be told from her husband Salmon’s perspective as he has a front-row seat to Rahab’s transformation.

The book would be fictional (in order to create a storyline) based on true Biblical stories.

These 30 stories would be mini-chapters (5-6 pages each) so the book would be an easy read or a one-month devotional reminding us that we are all witnesses of God’s grace.

Do any of these 3 ideas strike a chord with you? I want to write something that’s helpful. So, thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

Before you make a significant change, do this one thing

Do you want to change something in your life?

  • Grow your faith?
  • Grow professionally?
  • Lose weight?
  • Improve your marriage?
  • Become a better Mother/Father?
  • Create financial margin?
  • Write a book?
  • Achieve a dream so big that you’re afraid to say it out loud?

Here’s what I know about your dream: You can’t get there alone.

Two years ago a friend of mine made an impromptu trip to Israel with a buddy. They simply bought some maps and knew enough Scripture to have a sense of what they wanted to see. When my friend returned from his trip he was a bit disillusioned because he didn’t see as much as he hoped and didn’t get much out of his trip.

A few months later, I traveled to Israel with a group that hired a local guide for our entire trip. I returned feeling like the Bible had somehow transitioned from “black and white” to “color.” For me, the trip was life changing!

The only difference between my experience and my friend’s experience was the guide.

 

guide

You can change! Your big dream can happen. But you can’t get to where you want to be alone. God created you that way . . . intentionally. He made you to thrive when you humbly lean on others.

“In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” 1 Peter 5:5

You can change but you need a guide. This year I’m putting this principle to the test.

I want to grow professionally, improve my health, and improve our financial plan. It’s unrealistic to find one person to be my guide in all three areas so I looked for a person in each area. I didn’t require an expert – just someone further down the road.

Professionally – I emailed a retired pastor friend whose ministry I respect and asked him to invest in me. He generously agreed and immediately shared his “best practices books” to begin his investment. I anticipate learning a great deal and the only thing it costs me was the humility to ask and the time to read great books.

Health – I struggle with my weight. I hired a coach and my wife and I began choosing healthy habits together. With the help of my coach and my wife, I have lost more than 30 lbs. and we are encouraged about our future. This required a financial investment but this is the best money we’ve spent this year.

If you’re looking for a coach (health, parenting, family, etc.), I cannot recommend Shelli Birdwell highly enough. Connect with Shelli on her website HERE.

Financially – I reached out to a man and his wife who are financially responsible and further down the road than us. They generously agreed. We provided them our family budget (everything), savings, and retirement plan. Then they had us over for dessert to make recommendations to us. I cannot tell you how helpful and reassuring this was. Again, it only required our humility.

How about you? What major changes do you want to make?

Chances are God has already provided you access to a guide. Goals with a guide are likely to thrive! So, whom do you have access to that is further down the road in the area you’re wanting to change? Shoot them an email and humbly ask.

Heather’s unexpected journey

When you feel justified to be angry and not forgive

Chris & Heather hosted our couple’s small group for two years. Their daughter Emily was tragically killed in an automobile accident. It may have been the most difficult funeral I’ve ever officiated. Afterwards, Heather began an unexpected forgiveness journey. Today, she shares her journey as only Heather can. Full-on honesty. 


Two years ago I never gave much thought about forgiveness. It just wasn’t that important to me… it was easier to stay mad and go on about my business… I was stubborn and it didn’t seem to bother me in the least. I know that statement probably made a few eyebrows raise and may have even gotten a grumble out of some people. No one is perfect and I was no exception… I’m still no exception. Forgiveness can sometimes seem so small that it’s hardly worth bothering with or it can seem so big that it doesn’t really apply to your situation. I tend to think it’s whichever suits us at the time just as long as we can avoid the whole thing all together. But sometimes… sometimes, you can’t run away and you can’t justify not dealing with it… it’s too big to sweep under the rug or hide in the closet.

On June 7, 2014… I sat on the porch of my husband’s grandfather’s house talking with our oldest daughter Emily. She was 22 at the time and embodied the free-spirit wild child that caused us many sleepless nights and had us shaking our heads many other times… but she always, always made us laugh. Like most other girls as she was growing up, there was no shortage of drama. When she would come home with hurt feelings or mad because “so-and-so did this to me”, “so-and-so said this” or whatever the case was, I would instantly tell her to stay away and don’t talk to them. So… a few days later when she would come home after school with said person in tow, I never understood… I mean, aren’t WE still mad at them?!?! None of this changed as she got older and when I would ask her how she could just look the other way when someone hurt or wronged her, she would simply say “it’s easier than staying mad.” It aggravated me to no end and if I’m being completely honest, I thought of it as a sign of weakness… or at least I used to.

I didn’t know that when she drove off that afternoon, it would be the last time I would see her. We texted a few times that evening and within a few minutes of my last text, she was gone. She had left the safety of that porch and went to the river in a neighboring town to go swimming with her boyfriend Michael and another couple. I’m not sure why, but when they headed back, she rode in the passenger side of the other car and not in her boyfriend’s car. The two guys started racing back to town, Michael’s car lost control and while the car Emily was in swerved to miss it, they too lost control and crossed into oncoming traffic. The semi hit the passenger side and in an instant, she was gone. When her boyfriend’s car came to a stop, he ran away and wasn’t found by the Sheriff’s Dept for 4 hours. And because of that, it was 4 hours before we were notified of the accident and her death, because they had no way to ID her.

Emily Word

And so began a different life. I don’t know how it’s possible to remain one single body yet feel like you’ve been divided into 3 or 4 and each one of those going down a different road, embarking on its own journey. One of those journeys has been forgiveness… it has been the hardest and has been met with the most resistance. I’ve been through a rollercoaster of emotions when it comes to Michael and it started well before the accident. After several months into their relationship, I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t healthy… in fact it was volatile. I couldn’t understand how two people could bring out the best and the worst in each other, but somehow they managed to do that. I think that I was his first phone call after they picked him up and booked him that night. It’s not a conversation that I remember too well but I do remember that I didn’t know any of the specifics at that time. The second phone call that came a few hours later, I had more information… and I was mad.

We were never able to see Emily again… we were just left with having to take someone’s word that it in fact, was her. Emily had secured her place in Heaven many years before this would happen and I knew where she was, I knew that she would never know pain or sadness and that she could never be hurt again. I clung to my faith the week between the wreck and her funeral, and it was the ONLY thing that got me through. My faith never faltered and I never stopped believing even when I got to the “angry with God” point… which I won’t lie, lasted a long time. I was angry with everyone… this was NOT supposed to happen to us… this is what happens to OTHER people. Any hint of forgiveness was gone. And thus began a vicious cycle that lasted for well over a year.

I remember the first time during all of this when I was met head on with what I thought was the choice of “forgiving” Michael. We sat in the office of the District Attorney and had to re-hash everything… to decide how we wanted to proceed. A plea agreement was presented, we accepted it and that was that. “That was that”… to say that I was naïve would be an understatement. It was probably my first lesson showing me that I knew nothing about what forgiveness really was. Just because we didn’t push things and try and get the harshest punishment there was, didn’t mean I had forgiven… but I thought it did at the time. But then Thanksgiving came and she was still gone, then Christmas and then her birthday. And with everything that came and went with her not there with us, the anger and resentment grew. Just as it seemed to subside a little, something would happen and once again the fire would be stoked. When you combine grief, anger and guilt… guilt because of the wrongs you can’t right and for not being able to protect your child… it creates a storm that will leave you exhausted, bitter and destructive.

There was probably close to a year that I didn’t have any contact with Michael. I think that was probably good for both of us. But in December of 2015, he contacted me via Facebook and let me know that he would be released and back in town the following month on January 11. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t know how to feel. I was tired… tired of being angry then okay… tired of rehashing everything… tired of trying to figure out how I felt. I stopped praying the day after Emily’s funeral… I remember that moment with complete clarity… but I started again… eventually. At first it was awkward, I didn’t know what to say and truthfully, it didn’t seem sincere. So my path that led me back to praying began with me opening up to God with how and why I was so angry at Him… and eventually I found my way back. I had been praying for God to show me how I needed to feel, even though I knew exactly how God would want me to feel. Maybe this was an exception… I mean, it seemed reasonable to justify why I should be angry and not forgive.

I think it was a day or two after he got back to town that I reached out and asked him if he would like to go to the cemetery with me. He did. I had been feverishly praying about how to handle my emotions and how to handle this day, should it come about. On my way to pick him up, it wasn’t God that I talked to… it was Emily. Looking back, I know that God was giving me the answer as to how I should feel but I wasn’t as open to it as I thought. I was looking for the answer I wanted… not the one I needed. On my way over there, I begged and pleaded with Emily to somehow let me know how she wanted me to feel. If she wanted me to be mad, then I would be mad. I had so much that I wanted to say to him, so many questions… so many accusations… so many terrible things I wanted to say…

When he walked around the corner something happened… to me… I felt it and I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t angry, I didn’t hate him and I didn’t remember one thing that I had prepared myself to say. I couldn’t have been mad if I had tried and honestly, I was pretty mad about that. What I saw when he walked around that corner, was the person that Emily loved, she loved the good and the bad even though I never understood it. I saw a 21-year-old who will have to live the rest of his life knowing that he played a part in the death of his girlfriend and his best friend… I saw someone who looked lost and who was going to have to find their place in this world as a different person. We stopped and he bought flowers then off we went to the cemetery. It was the first time he had been able to go and I guess that I was needing to see a certain reaction… and I did… it was remorse, it was hurt and it was regret. As we sat out there and talked, I could almost feel myself forgiving him. It was an emotional visit and when I dropped him off and drove away, I knew that was not the end.

I have journaled my way through my grief and other emotions over the last year and a half and wanted to share my view of forgiveness as well. A few days after our visit to the cemetery, I posted this… In the last year and a half, I’ve had to work a lot on forgiveness. It’s not an easy thing to do because we always feel justified in the reason we can’t or won’t forgive a person. The one thing I know is that forgiving someone doesn’t change what happened… but neither does not forgiving them. Forgiving does not make you weak, it does not make you lesser of a person. It does not make you stupid or crazy. If fact, it makes you the opposite of all those things. Staying angry will slowly eat you alive and you won’t even realize it. What is the hardest part? It is knowing you will have to defend yourself and argue your point on why you forgave someone. It’s knowing that relationships and friendships will end or forever be changed. Why do I choose to forgive? It’s because I needed to… it was good for me and good for him… it’s what we are supposed to do… it’s because it makes me feel better emotionally, mentally and physically… it’s because we all need to be forgiven by someone for something and it’s got to start somewhere.

Over the next month or so, I would take him to the cemetery when he wanted to go. I also would pick him up on Tuesday’s, go eat dinner and then drop him off at one of his groups he had to go to. I had… and I have, forgiven him. And in doing so, it changed me. My heart was no longer as heavy and I was able to deal with some aspects of my grief that until that point, I felt, were slowly killing me. Do I think that we will be a part of each other’s life for years to come? I don’t know… but probably not. We will always share something and have one thing in common… we loved a beautiful, amazing girl who changed our lives. But, I know that his life will continue… I know that one day he will find someone, fall in love and maybe even have kids. And when that happens, I will be okay. It’s what I would have wanted for her… if she still had the chance.

Navigating a Fog

Yesterday morning I was walking along the coastline at Surfers Point and the fog was thicker than I’ve seen in a while. I was certain the ocean was there even though I was seeing less of it than normal. The fog made the ocean look more like a moving puddle.

Fog

Can you relate to the surfer in the above picture?

Do you feel like you’re navigating through a fog in your life right now?

Do you need to make a decision but can’t seem to gain clarity?

Fog is a reality but I’ve noticed four things that cause fog to linger longer in our lives:

1) Ignoring Emotions

Several years ago my emotional fog was thicker than it had ever been. Certain truths (God loves me, God is with me, and God has a plan for me) had always been “ocean-deep” anchors in my life. That’s why I was surprised when anger, hurt, and anxiety hid these truths. Instead of ocean-deep truths, they began to feel more like moving puddles.

Emotions are great indicators but terrible leaders. Emotions reveal that something important is happening in your heart which requires your attention. If you ignore your emotions, the fog will linger.

If you’re experiencing an emotional fog, I recommend Chip Dodd’s book, The VOICE of the HEART.

2) Hiding Doubt

Our doubts can confuse us and create a fog. We may wonder, “Is God ashamed of me or mad at me for doubting?”

We know exactly how Jesus responded to one man who doubted. One man confessed his doubts by telling Jesus, “I believe but help my unbelief.” Jesus didn’t rebuke him or his doubt. Instead, He responded by answering the man’s honest prayer with a divine miracle: Jesus healed the doubter’s son.

There are two different kinds of doubt: Doubt with the desire to believe (the man who approached Jesus) and doubt with the determination to never believe.

Hiding your doubts causes the fog to linger.

If you’re experiencing a doubting fog, pickup Barnabas Piper’s new book, Help My Unbelief.

3) Unconfessed Sin

Did you know that sin blurs your vision of God? We all experience this because, well . . . we’re sinners.

In His Beatitude sermon, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will SEE God.” -Matt. 5:8

A purified heart sees God more clearly. However, allowing sin to remain encourages the fog to stay.

4) Season of Testing

“Sometimes God hides himself from us even when we continue in the life of faith. On occasion God may withdraw his gracious presence to test us or to discipline us but always with the view of making us stronger. Even the most godly Christians sometimes have to pass through a dark night of the soul where they have to believe against all sight, reason, and understanding.” -Donald Bloesch

Here’s the GOOD NEWS: Though it feels permanent, the fog will lift. It will.

Sometimes you need to heal.

Sometimes you need God’s intervention.

Sometimes you need to repent.

Sometimes you hold on and walk by faith, not by sight.

One day we will enter Heaven where the veil will be forever lifted.

A few minutes later the fog was already lifting and I took another pic

A few minutes later the fog was already lifting and I took another picture

I guess that’s why many of our Scriptures and songs throughout history focus on the need to “hold on.”

A few minutes later the fog continued to lift and the ocean was visible again

A few minutes later the fog continued to lift and the ocean was visible again

It turns out those aren’t moving puddles covered by a fog but God’s gentle reminder that the ocean is nearby.

The night my wife ran down the stairs naked

Will someone hurt my kids today? Will my friend finally make the brave choice and prioritize his marriage? Will our country elect the “right” president? Why are people so worried about a red holiday coffee cup? Will Tony Romo’s clavicle heal in time? I worry about all kinds of important and silly stuff.

Do you struggle with worry? Maybe you worry about your marriage, career, education, finances, a broken relationship, or retirement. Worry can become as much a part of our life as breathing.

worry

Now, I know I’m not in control. But I worry as if I am. Then a moment like the one I experienced last week happens and reality slaps me hard across the face.

I was sitting in our living room scanning ESPN’s mobile website to view the latest NBA rankings. Don’t judge me. It was a perfectly routine moment . . . until it suddenly wasn’t. My 10-year-old son taps me on the shoulder and he’s standing but sort of hunched over, drooling, and not able to catch his breath because a piece of popsicle he’d been eating had lodged itself in his little throat.

I jumped up and hollered for my wife who was upstairs taking a bath. Even though I’d taken CPR classes and vaguely remembered what to do, I knew my wife (who’s also a school nurse) was the person to “fix” this.

As my son continued grasping for air, my two oldest daughters were on the couch screaming for their Mom because they had quickly assessed that Dad was out of his league here. Meanwhile, I was now standing beside my son holding his shoulder and asking my wife (in a loud, somewhat desperate tone) to, “COME DOWN NOW!”

In that moment of panic I was certain of one thing, as soon as Ginger gets here everything is going to be okay.

Suddenly, my wife emerged running down the stairs naked. Somehow, she traveled a flight of stairs safely (despite being dripping wet) and assessed the situation in about 5 seconds. About the same time the problematic piece of frozen sugar water melted enough to allow my son to begin breathing again.

I was standing there having added absolutely zero assistance. While holding my son, my wife calmly looked up and said to me, “Can you make sure all of the blinds are closed?”

Umm . . . sure. That I can do.

What a strange night. I’ll never forget the feeling of my routine instantly became fear, panic, and worry.

Life is like that isn’t it?

You never know when your routine will be interrupted by fear, panic, and worry.

That’s what happened to the disciples in Mark 4 when a routine boat trip was interrupted by a life-threatening storm. The disciples were worried – heck they feared for their lives. Jesus, who had been sleeping suddenly emerges and calms the sea. Then He asks the disciples the most odd question, “Why were you afraid?” They must have been thinking, “Because we almost died!!!!”

But Jesus was asking, “Why did you spend time worrying? I was so close by. You just needed to call on me.”

When I was standing beside my choking son, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do but I knew exactly who to call. Jesus wants us to have that kind of confidence in Him during our worry.

Today, if a storm is raging around you and you don’t know what to do, cry out to Jesus. Invite others to cry out to Jesus with you. He’s got the whole world in his hands so we don’t have to worry as if we do.

After all, a loving parent is willing to do anything for their child. Even run down the stairs naked.

Shhh!

The one thing you must stop saying

“I’m learning a lot from your book. I wrote down my story in one paragraph and am focusing not to tell it again.”

(Facebook message I received from a man on Sunday)

He’d just finished reading chapter three in my forgiveness book and he took the challenge! What challenge? To keep quiet.

Let’s be honest. Telling your story might be a little bit fun. Okay, it can be a lot of fun! But it eventually paralyzes you.

After you’ve been hurt, two things usually happen and people rarely connect the dots:

  • You tell your story
  • You struggle to forgive

It turns out your story is part of the problem. Every time you tell someone else what your offender did, you strike a match in your heart lighting a bitter flame.

Quiet Please

I know this about you – you’re telling a story right now. Even if you’re not telling anyone else your story, you’re telling yourself your story. So, what’s your story?

Here are three reasons you should be paying attention to the story you’re telling:

Reason #1: Your Story Fuels Your Emotions

Your mind is like a filing cabinet full of categorized memories. For instance, every time you recall a memory from the emotional category of “anger” you access the other anger memories filed nearby. Maybe you’ve notice when you’re telling your story that you often remember other times you’ve felt angry and you feel yourself suddenly more “fired up”. Your story is fueling your emotions.

Reason #2: Your Story Isolates You

Every time you tell your story, you further isolate yourself from the people you most care about. Repeating your story as a victim quickly removes your warmth. You are pushing people away by rehashing your story. Even though you want to draw sympathy and support, your story sounds like a broken record and people can endure that kind of noise for only so long.

Reason #3: Your Story Reveals Your Heart

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” -Luke 6:45

Your public words reveal your private heart. Your story is your heart’s MRI. So pay attention to what you’re saying and what you allow your mind to dwell on.

Jesus was:

  • Betrayed by his friend Judas
  • Abandoned by his closest friends, the disciples
  • Rejected by the religious at Caiaphas’ Council
  • Physically and emotionally assaulted by strangers
  • Humiliated in public by Herod
  • Falsely condemned by Pilate
  • Publicly crucified

If anyone was ever entitled to tell his story as a victim, it was Jesus. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus did something odd.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. — Isaiah 53:3-7, emphasis added

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But

Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” — Matthew 27:12-14, emphasis added

Jesus said nothing.

No story.

Silence.

If his answers had been transcribed, it would have read “. . . .”

As I read these verses, I feel myself begging Jesus to defend himself and shout something like, “People, I’m innocent! I’m holy. I’m your creator. I could speak and the earth would swallow you up. I could dropkick you from Jerusalem to Rome! Don’t you know who I am?”

That’s what I want him to say. That’s the story I would shout.

This treatment of Jesus isn’t fair! These people obviously misunderstood Jesus and his motives. Why didn’t Jesus speak and clear things up?

He could have at least said, “People, I’m here to save you. After all, I created you and I know you intimately. I left Heaven so that we can have a relationship. These charges are false.”

But our Savior said nothing.

The maker of vocal cords waited in complete silence.

I envision extended periods of awkward, pin-drop silence in Pilate’s court. Even today, we’re struck dumb by Jesus’ non-answer answers. Why didn’t he speak?

I believe it’s because Jesus knew something I often forget: words get in the way.

Jesus taught that forgiveness isn’t found in speaking, but in surrendering. Forgiveness isn’t found in defending, but in dying.

That’s why I feel so much encouragement when someone chooses to stop telling his or her victim story. That’s what our Savior did.

That doesn’t mean you should carry your burden alone. Choose one or two people, like your spouse, a close friend, a pastor, or a counselor with whom you can share your story.

But stop telling everyone else.

Period.

Remain silent.

Even pin-drop, awkwardly silent.

 

Desert University

How can you have unshakeable faith?

Have you ever admired someone’s unshakeable faith? No matter what life throws at them, they seem to have this deep trust in God and this big faith. It’s an attractive quality isn’t it?

But how can you have unshakeable faith?

Instead of a deep trust, maybe you find yourself asking, “God, why would you let this happen?,” “Where are you?,” “Does you really care?”

That’s where my mind goes sometimes.

Then I bump into one of those people who displays an unshakeable faith. I’m immediately drawn in while wandering, “How did they get that kind of faith?”

I have noticed the people who have unshakeable faith are always graduates of Desert University.

Desert

Did you know that God has a university? There are no campuses, dorms, or football fields. It’s not mentioned on U.S. New & World Report “top universities” list but it is a profound institution of higher learning.

Graduates of Desert University have a deep faith that others admire.

I’ve taken a few courses there. Maybe you have too.

Every time I talk with someone who has unshakeable faith, I always ask them, “How did you develop such a deep trust in God?” Almost every time they say, “Well, there was this unexpected thing that happened and God brought me through it.”

Maybe you’re going through a desert right now. Maybe you have a broken relationship, a financial hardship, the loss of a loved one, a lengthy illness, a broken marriage, a stalled career, or unfulfilled dreams.

How will you respond? If you’re like most people, here’s how we respond while we’re in the desert.

4 Ways We Respond in The Desert

Level 1: Feel despair

Desert experiences usually surprise us, disappoint us, and last longer than we want. Despair is a natural response.

Question: Do you believe that God is in control? (Fortunately, this doesn’t require you believe that your circumstances are good.)

Level 2: Surrender to what God’s doing IN me

When I view my circumstances as something that’s being done TO me, I resist and fight. But when I view my circumstances as something that’s being done IN me, I surrender and rest.

Question: Are you ready to surrender?

Level 3: Use my experience to serve others

Is it possible that all of this isn’t even about you? You are part of a bigger story God is writing.

Question: Could God use this event to encourage someone else?

Level 4: Use my experience for God’s glory

Jesus was asked why a man was blind from birth (obvious desert)? Jesus said, “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn 9:3)

Question: How can I use my experience to give God the glory?

God’s promise to you while you’re in the Desert

Duet. 32:10-13 “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him.”

If you’re enrolled in Desert University right now, embrace God’s promise even if you don’t feel His presence. You’re on your way toward unshakeable faith.

The desert is the place where God speaks. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” –C.S. Lewis

As God walks with you, someday He’ll whisper these amazing words to you: “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north.” Duet. 2:3

Have a Broken Relationship? Want to Reconcile? These 6 Guidelines Might Help.

“[Reconciliation] is a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation
with reality can bring real healing.” — Desmond Tutu

Last week a lady tearfully told me that her husband was now mending a long-term broken relationship in his life. She was clearly so proud of him! She said he was using the 6 reconciliation guidelines in my book STUCK. Those guidelines seem to be resonating with many people. That is incredibly humbling.

Today, I want to share the guidelines with you. If you know someone with a broken relationship, consider sharing these guidelines with them.

reconciliation

The great paradox of human relationships is that we are created to heal each other from the hurts we inflict on one other. But before we jump into the reconciliation guidelines, let me offer one caution.

RECONCILIATION IS NOT REQUIRED

Reconciliation is not entirely up to you. In fact, it may not be possible or even recommended. Reconciliation is not an option if:

  • Your offender is abusive and reconciling would cause further injury
  • Your offender has died
  • Your offender does not want to reconcile
  • Your offender is unrepentant

It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile. In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added).

You are only responsible for your behavior. When it comes to living at peace with others, do your part. But your offender also has a part. If you are the only one making the effort toward reconciliation, then it’s unlikely to happen. If they are unwilling to do their part, reconciliation is not required.

If reconciliation is appropriate, here are the six guidelines I recommend:

Guideline #1: Depend on God

Do you remember the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel? Do you know why they were battling? Because, after a twenty-year separation, Jacob was about to try and reconcile with Esau. So, Jacob wrestled with an angel demanding God’s blessing for what he was about to do. As Genesis 32:26 tells the story, “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (emphasis added). Despite his wisdom and wealth, Jacob was dependent upon God.

Constant prayer helps you maintain a dependent heart throughout the reconciliation process.

Question: When was the last time I prayed for this person and about our broken relationship? It might be wise to stop right now, and ask God for His wisdom and grace.

Guideline #2: Aim for Peace

Peace is much more attainable than trying to fully restore a broken relationship back to where it was. In Romans 12:18, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added). The goal of reconciliation is peace.

Maybe you want to reconcile with a parent, child, former spouse, former boss, or former friend. A deeper relationship may eventually develop, but begin by aiming for peace instead of bowing under the pressure of trying to restore a friendship.

Question: Am I hoping things will be like “the good ol’ days”? Or, am I aiming for peace?

Guideline #3: Seek to Understand

Seek to understand the other person’s perspective instead of presenting your side. Prov. 18:13 “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Resist the urge to present your case or defend yourself.

Instead, quietly listen, then restate the other person’s perspective. Ask them if you’re understanding their perspective accurately. Real progress can be made when they agree that you understand their perspective.

St. Francis of Assisi, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Question: Am I ready to hear their perspective without defending myself?

Guideline #4: Don’t Accuse

If it’s appropriate, share your perspective, but avoid finger-pointing or accusations. One rule-of-thumb is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You betrayed me,” you could say, “I felt betrayed.” “I” statements allow the other person to respond without feeling defensive. Use “I” statements to help you share honestly but without accusations.

Having an objective person present to help you “stay on track” may be helpful.

Question: Who will help me stay on track sharing my perspective vs. defending myself?

Guideline #5: Apologize Early

Early on in the process, find something for which you can offer regret or an apology. An early apology will go a long way toward rebuilding trust and it reveals your humility and commitment to reconciliation.

James 5:16 reads, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Question: What am I specifically and genuinely ready to apologize for?

Guideline #6: One Issue at a Time

Deal with one issue at a time. There may be one major issue of disagreement. However, most broken relationships include many smaller issues of disagreement. In order to accomplish Guideline #3, Seek to Understand, you’ll need to address each issue individually. Make sure the other person feels completely heard and understood on each issue before moving on to the next one.

Question: Am I willing to patiently hear their perspective on each issue?

If you’re thinking about initiating a reconciliation process, I know you feel fear. I sure did. Maybe it will encourage you to read someone else’s reconciliation story. Here’s mine.