From Sadness

There are times and seasons of life when sadness and sorrow come in like a flood. With every wave, it feels like life itself is against us. Why do such times come? There are many reasons. But I don’t want to discuss the why today. Sometimes the why just isn’t enough to help us move past the sadness. And since sadness comes in so many forms and from so many directions, sometimes the why. . . well it just makes it worse. So rather than discuss why sadness comes, I will share the secret to overcoming sadness and sorrow.

There is only one way to overcome every sadness and sorrow known to humankind. His name is Jesus. Now before you say, “Come on Steve, I don’t need another Sunday School lesson,” let me explain. The Word of God prophesied about Jesus, that He would be, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) Jesus not only knew sadness; He knew the deepest of sadness.

Furthermore, the root cause of every sadness here in life under the sun, is that we live in a fallen world under the curse of sin. It doesn’t matter if sadness comes because we sin, because another sins against us, or because the curse of sin on the world brings with it every form of devastation, sickness and death… sin leaves those in its wake with sadness. Jesus understands this root cause of sadness better than anyone that has ever walked this earth. The Bible teaches us that in His time on earth, Jesus never sinned. He is perfect in every way. And to pay the price of sin, in His death on the cross, He not only took our sins upon Himself, “He became sin.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Meaning, he became that which is at the root of every sadness known to humankind. There is no sadness you experience that He is not intimately acquainted with. He is the only One that understands. So, what must we do to move from sadness?

First, you must be right with God by receiving His Son Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin and the salvation of your soul. Until you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, your only hope for happiness is in the people and things of a fallen world, that is prone to sadness. We can find temporary happiness in the things of this world, but the only eternal source of joy and happiness is Jesus.

Second, when are you tired and weary, go to Jesus. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Sometimes the source of our sadness is that we are tired from carrying heavy burdens He never meant for us to carry. Go to Him and receive rest.

Third, when the cares of life come sweeping in like a flood, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (I Peter 5:7) People spend up to $250 per hour to share their cares with people that have special training to treat sadness. But when you are sad, don’t wait to see a counselor. If you need to, make the appointment, but also go to your heavenly Father, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (called the Counselor by Jesus). He is on call for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)

Fourth, strengthen yourself in the Lord. We read in the Old Testament, that at one point, “David was greatly distressed… But David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6) There are many ways to strengthen yourself in the Lord. (If you want to learn how to do this, I recommend the book Strengthen Yourself in the Lord by Bill Johnson.) The key to move from sadness to strength is to recognize sadness for what it is, but not give into it. My Dad taught me to do this in a very simple, yet effective way. As you live your life, tell the Lord you love Him, and you trust Him. And especially when sadness comes, remind yourself of the truth that you love Him, and you trust Him. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) You will be surprised, when you tell Jesus you love Him and you trust Him, how quickly you will move from sadness to praise, which is the ultimate weapon against sadness.

Finally, to move from sadness, rejoice in the Lord. Paul, writing from a prison, a place full of sadness and despair, wrote, “always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-8) Christ in you, gives you the power to rejoice in spite of the sadness, and when you do this, this promise is true, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent, O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12)

For some, the pain and sorrow are so deep, this promise of turning morning into dancing may not be fully realized in this life. While the Bible teaches, we should be joyful in all circumstances, it doesn’t teach that we have to like every circumstance. And in the power of Jesus, we can be joyful in the midst of sadness. But when we are finally set free from the curse of sin, look at this great promise, “He will wipe away every tear.” (Revelation 21:4) But until that day, even if looking through tear filled eyes, fix your eyes on Jesus and move from sadness.

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This Way is Closed

There is a road near home that we like to take because it takes us around the busy state highway traffic.  Recently our town decided to close the entire road and put in a roundabout.   One day, when I was driving home with my youngest son, I decided to drive the back-way even though I knew the detour would take me well out of the way.  The highway was exceptionally busy that day, and so I planned a different way. 

The day was rainy and gray, and we were both very quiet as we drove home.  Then I heard the gentle voice of my youngest say, “This way is closed.”  I smiled, and gently said, “No, it’s not.”  I glanced at him, and he gave me a very confused look.  In his mind, the back-way home is closed, but in my mind, I already had a plan for this, so the way we were on was wide open.  Before he could protest, I gently said, “Trust your dad, I’ll get you home.”

I always love when the Almighty uses life experiences and little conversations with my children to teach me.  The day of this conversation was a Sunday, and I was driving home from church with my son.  The lesson in the church that morning was about Joseph, about how he was sold into slavery by his brothers and how God was with him every step of the way, from slavery to Potiphar’s house, to prison, to being made ruler of Egypt.

The Bible tells us, the Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything did.  Sometimes I wonder, when Joseph was in prison, did he see success, or did he sometimes say, “Lord remember that dream you gave me, You know the one, when my brothers and father were bowing down to me.  I don’t remember these prison bars in my dream.  You seem to have led me down a bad path.  This way is closed.”  To which I am certain the Lord would have gently responded, “No it’s not.  I am with you.  Trust Me, I will get you home.” 

That little conversation I had with my son came at the end of one of the most difficult weeks I can remember.  It was one of those weeks, you know the kind, there is bad news every day, everything is a struggle, and nothing comes easy.  Everything, even the small stuff is a battle, and it feels like the way, every way is closed. 

And as I quietly drove home, feeling like the paths of life had brought me down a way that is closed, I thought about Joseph.  I realized that even though it was a very hard week, the Lord was with me, and every day, He gave me small measures of success in everything I put my hand to.  And as soon as I finished saying to my son, “I will get you home,” I heard His gentle whisper, “Trust Me, the way is not closed.  I know the plans I have for you.  I will get you home.”

If you find your life journey has brought you down a way that is closed.  Look up.  Tell your heavenly Father about it.  Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  Tell Him you trust Him, and listen for His gentle whisper, “I know that plans I have for you, plans for a hope and a future.  Trust Me, the way is not closed.  I will get you home.”

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Shovel – Ready Ground

…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord. (Hosea 10:12)

It was December 2008, the U.S. and world economies were on the brink of utter collapse, and the owners of Westlund Concepts, a small business, heavily invested in the construction market in middle America, were praying and trusting God Almighty for a miracle.  And then the unimaginable happened. President – elect Obama shared details of his planned economic stimulus package.  I don’t remember the speech he gave, I am sure it was amazing…  I only remember 3 words, “shovel – ready projects.”

There is really no such thing as a “shovel – ready project.” By the time a project is shovel – ready, there is a good chance a few shovels have already been put in the ground.  The world in which we live is not a world of shovel – ready projects.  Very few people are running around executing perfect plans.  We simply don’t live in a world in which every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed before we put a shovel in the ground.  The world is much more fluid than that, and life unfolds in a way that is very messy.

Many times, when we think we have something shovel – ready, inevitably something changes, and the things we thought were shovel – ready, suddenly are not.  So, what do we do?  All you can do, is trust that when you put the shovel in the ground, the ground is ready for the shovel, and trust that the vision, which led you to put a shovel in the ground in the first place, will become reality.

But we don’t trust easily, do we?  We want to see the end before we begin.  We want to know without doubt that the action we are about to take is going to work out exactly the way we planned it.  This human condition, this need to see the end of things before we begin something, this need to only work on shovel – ready projects is one reason why we had been successful at Westlund Concepts, well at least prior to 2008 and Mr. Obama’s “shovel – ready projects” promise.  (I still cringe when I hear those 3 words.)

The core product I was responsible for at Westlund Concepts was 3d visualization, and the core purpose of the 3d visualization division was to help developers secure funds from banks or get approval from building commissions to move forward with putting shovels in the ground.  We would show in 3d what the neighborhood, or office building, or library was going to look like before anyone invested too much time or money in the project.

The day after the promise made by the President – elect, the phones at Westlund Concepts, which were already ringing less than prior to 2008, completely stopped.  The silence in the office was deafening.  And the days that followed brought pain to my soul that was unbearable.  Over the next 3 months, we shut down the 3d visualization division of Westlund Concepts and essentially all elements of the marketing division.  My older brother, myself and all the staff were permanently displaced.  Only my younger brother and Dad (the founders of Westlund Concepts) persevered forward with Westlund Concepts.

Our individual journeys from that day in 2008 have taken different paths, but one thing has been true for the four of us.  We and our families have had shovels in our hands, and we have put them in the ground trusting God that the ground is shovel – ready.  On this journey I have learned two simple lessons.  First, When I trust God with the ground, it is always shovel ready.  When I don’t trust Him with the ground, it is not.  In fact, when I don’t trust Him, the ground is often more like solid rock.  Over the past 9 years, I have broken many shovels on ground I failed to trust God for.  Second, I have a responsibility to act from a place of trust and put the shovel in the ground.  The word of God is full of illustrations about planting in the ground and harvesting what the ground produces.  Here is the lesson.  God supplies and prepares the ground.  I must trust Him and put a shovel in it!

As I have learned to trust God more and more with the ground, and put a shovel in it, I have watched Him faithfully provide.  It has not always been easy.  Sometimes the ground was dry… very dry.  And if you are staring at dry ground with shovel in hand, thinking there is no way, keep reading.

By the Spring of 2009, I had taken a new job.  I was significantly under employed and under paid.  I had a mortgage I couldn’t afford; 2 car payments I couldn’t afford; medical bills I couldn’t afford; and 3 children under 7 who I didn’t know how I was going to feed.  I also have the most wonderful wife (whose strength often carried us through), who did her best to not look at me with fear in her eyes.  Needless to say, the concept of trust was not easy.  The ground was so dry, that trusting God and putting a shovel in it was the furthest thing from my mind.

I remember people would remind me of Proverbs 3:5&6, that I should trust God with all my heart, and I was quick to remind them of Mathew 5:45, that He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Early in this journey of trust, it rained and rained and rained.  Most days, it was pouring!

It rained so much, I didn’t want to trust God. I became so angry one night that I was crying so hard that I broke blood vessels in my cheeks.  It was as if my emotional pain literally beat me up and blackened my eyes.  And I yelled at God, “What do you want with me!  Why am I here!”  And he gently whispered to me, “Because I made you, and I love you.”  In that moment, I finally listened, humbled myself before Him, and said, “Ok, I trust You.”  Immediately the rocky hard soil in my heart was softened. A very special transaction occurs when we put our trust in God.  In Jeremiah 17:7-8, the Word of God says when you trust in the Lord, you will be blessed, and the ground of your life will be like the rich, fertile ground next to a river, and the roots of your life will go deep into that ground.

I understand now that it was not the pouring rain which led me to not trust God.  Instead, I did not trust God, and it just poured.  But from that moment of a renewed trust in the Almighty, as I sought the Lord, and said again and again, “I trust You,” something changed in my life.  The pouring rain, become a soft gentle rain.  Most days, it was still raining.  Life was still tough, but as I trusted Him, He made the rain gentle.  I look back and see now, the rain He brought taught me more than trust.  I also learned about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… lessons I would have missed if I never said, “I trust You.”  It is true that He sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  But He controls the rain, and He can make it a driving, pouring rain, or a gentle, easy rain.

Now pouring rain on dry ground does nothing for the ground. It just pours and runs right off.  But a gentle rain… a gentle rain prepares the ground.  Over the past seven years, as I have learned to trust Him more, God has brought gentle rains into my life to prepare the various grounds of my life for the shovel in my hand, so that when I put the shovel in the ground, it is not dry and rocky, but ready for the good work God has prepared for me to trust Him in.  The next time you see storm clouds on the horizon of your life, stop and look around you.  Are you standing in a dry and rocky land surrounded by broken shovels?  If so, don’t turn and run from the storm, but trust God for a gentle rain to make the ground of your life shovel – ready.

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Conversations About Christmas

Now we know that no knows the mind of God, but sometimes I wonder how the first conversation about Christmas went. We have no record of this conversation, but I wonder if it went something like this….

God the Father said to the Spirit and the Son, “I have looked out across Our creation and My heart is broken, for Our greatest creation, who We made to be in relationship with Us…”

The Father paused a moment, then continued, “You both remember Adam’s disobedience?”

Again, the Father paused as The Son and the Spirit both remembered for a moment the pain of that day in the garden, when man’s disobedience tore a great divide between the Creator and His precious creation.

“Well, since that time, they have been against Us. I love them so much, and I so desire to walk in relationship with them,” tears filled The Father’s eyes, as He whispered, “but they are against Me.”

The Son stood still, quietly nodding in agreement, holding tears back for His heart was broken too. And the Spirit desired to move and intercede but He also was still as He knew His time to move had not yet come.

“So what shall we do,” the Father continued, “Who shall go for Us?”

The Son quietly said, “Father, I will go.”

“My Son, do You know what is required? Do You understand what this will mean for You? You are King here. My entire kingdom is Yours. But there….there You will be lowly and humble. If you go, You must go to them as a human child. I have selected a virgin, and she will give birth to You. She is poor, and the man she will marry is a carpenter. They will soon travel to Bethlehem, but there will be no room for them, there will be no room for You, and You will be born in a stable and Your first bed will be a bed of hay, for You will be laid in a manger. Your life there will be a simple life, and then You will spend a few short years teaching those that have ears to hear about Our kingdom. When You teach them, many will reject You. Then You must pay the price, their price, for their sin against us. Your blood will be shed, You will be nailed to a cross…”

The Father paused, as He took His only Son in His arms. With tears in His eyes, He whispered in the Son’s ear, “and You will die. This is the wage of their sin, and You will pay it.”

“I know. I understand. I will go.” Came the response from the Son. “I will gladly pay their price, so that I can erase the divide of sin, defeat death, and provide them a way back into relationship with Us. There is no other way. This must be done. I will go.”

The Spirit nodded in approval as the Father looked at His Son as only a Father who is pleased does, and He said to Him, “My Son, You are the way, You are the Truth, and You are the Life. No one will come to Me unless they come through You.”

Suddenly, He looked away, and He called, “Gabriel, Gabriel, I have a job for you!”

Immediately Gabriel was in His presence.

“Gabriel, I want you to go to a city in the region of Galilee called Nazareth.   There is a young woman there, a virgin, and her name is Mary. Say this to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.'”

Now when Mary had been given this message, she said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Now the conversations about that first Christmas don’t stop there. There were conversations among shepherds on hill sides, and choirs of angels, and wise men traveling far. And for thousands of years since that first Christmas, conversations about Christmas have continued, conversations about this Jesus, Who left His kingdom to come to this world as a baby.

There have also been conversations about Santa Claus, and presents, and the Grinch. There are conversations of red nosed reindeer, and miracles on 34th street, and wonderful lives. And who doesn’t love a white Christmas?

Whatever your conversations about Christmas might be, I trust and pray that your conversations this Christmas are full of joy and peace.   And may Jesus, the One who we celebrate at Christmas time, be at the center of them all.

Many blessings and Merry Christmas!

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Fight the Good Fight

Fight the good fight of faith. (I Timothy 6:12)

These battles will soon pass, and on glorious shores you will look back with thankfulness for the lessons and the endurance and the perseverance these momentary struggles built into your very soul. You will look back on these battles and you will smile, for they will be done, and they will be behind you. For now, as the battles rage, keeping looking up, fix your eyes on Jesus, and smile, for you know your best days lie ahead.

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Not by Sight

I wanted to share an excerpt from a book I am working on.  This is from a chapter titled “Not by Sight.”  Hope you enjoy it and are encouraged by it…

“Now faith is the assurance or the confirmation, of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality; faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.” (Hebrews 11:1 AMP) The writer of Hebrews goes on to instruct us that “without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must necessarily believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 AMP) So it is then, if we do not walk by faith, we cannot take a deeper walk with our Lord. But faith is hard isn’t it?

We want to see and know before we act, so that when we act, we can have confidence and conviction in the outcomes of our actions. But God expects us who walk by faith to walk in such a way that indicates to Him that we know and have conviction that the actions He is leading us in are indeed His good purposes for our lives, so that when we look back and actually see our steps, we will see the great provision and providence of the Mighty Hand of God. This is the proof of what we do not see. We know the One we hope in, that He is good and faithful and that He will never let us go. Never! And we know that this One sees what we do not, and so we put faith in Him to be the One Who sees for us as we walk.

So why is there such a struggle with faith then? It’s our eyes. They get in the way. They only see what is, but they do now see what God sees.

In my own life, my eyes have seen a lost job and what this meant for my family, and fear entered my heart. But God saw an opportunity to teach me to know Him and to trust Him as my provider as He provides for our every need. My eyes saw a pile of debt from a failed business venture, and my heart said, “there is no hope, I will always be a slave to debt.” But God saw an opportunity to teach me how to be a good steward of His great provisions, and how only He can set me free. My eyes saw my 6 year old son, with a serious bone infection in his jaw laying in a bed prepped for surgery, and fear gripped my whole being, and the “what ifs” began to creep into my mind. “What if it’s cancer? What if he dies?” But God saw an opportunity to teach me that He is our great physician and that He would guide the surgeon’s hand and that He would guide the doctor’s treatment because He loves that 6 year old boy more than I can ever grasp or understand. Today, my eyes see my 12 year old son adjusting to his braces, which are necessary to correct for the tooth that fell out of his jaw during that surgery 6 years earlier. And I look back and I see His great provision and His providence and I am confident in and convinced by the One I hope in, know that His eyes see what mine cannot.

These are some of the life lessons that my loving Heavenly Father has so richly used to teach me that my walk with Him is not by sight. So what do your eyes see? Do you see a broken relationship full of pain and sorrow? God sees an opportunity to bring healing and restoration and joy. Do you see a terminal illness that swallows hope like a black hole? God sees an opportunity to display the glory of His eternal sovereignty, and that nothing surprises Him. Nothing! He sees an opportunity to be your strength to persevere, and if He wills, to be your physical healing. But more than this to be the healer of your soul. Do your eyes see emotional pain that is so deep that no drug, no drink, no food, no pleasure, no escape, and no high is ever enough to quench it? God sees an opportunity to give you of Himself so that you will grow to the knowledge and understanding that He is all sufficient.

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Strategic Planning

Successful businesses engage in strategic planning on a regular basis. A leadership team will lay out their plans for the next month, the next quarter, the next year, the next three years, and so on. They do this so that they can set goals and provide vision and direction. Then, once plans have been set into motion, success is measured in the outcomes of those plans. Sometimes the plans come together, and more often than not, the plans need course corrections in order to ensure success. Meetings upon meetings are held, stakeholders come to agreement, and revised plans are set into motion.

The business of our personal lives should follow a similar planning process. Strategic life planning is very important if we hope to live successful lives. But that is easier said than done. Have you ever found yourself trying to get every aspect of your life in perfect order so that you won’t have to worry about tomorrow or next week or next year? Then inevitably something unexpected happens and your perfect plans are not so perfect anymore, and the order that you set into place is suddenly chaos.

Chaos often comes because we forget to consult the Key Stakeholder in our life during the planning process. The Bible gives us instruction about how we should plan. In Proverbs 16:3 we read, “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (NIV).  The instruction here is very clear, when we plan we must first commit our plans to the Lord, but what does it mean, “He will establish your plans?” Well, it doesn’t mean that God is waiting to hear your plans so that He knows what to do. I have heard it said that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

“He will establish your plans” means that God will lead you in the perfect plans He has for you. When we commit our plans to the Lord, we are saying, “God from my point of view, and in the wisdom You have given me, here is what I think I should do. But I acknowledge that you are God, and I am not, and I am committing my ways to You.” When we come to the Almighty, with a humble and sincere heart, He does not laugh. No, I believe His very Spirit is moved and He draws near to us, and He directs our plans with His plans so that His plans become our plans.  And once this transaction occurs, He leads us day by day in the perfect plans that He has for us.

A.B Simpson once observed that “it is very hard to live a lifetime at once, or even a year, but it is delightfully easy to live a day at a time.” Planning is a very good thing. But when we plan, we should always commit our plans to the Lord, allowing Him to direct our steps, day by day. When we do this, it is delightfully easy to live day by day because, we know what ever may come has been committed to the Lord, and we rest in Him and in His perfect plan for our lives, rather than in our less than perfect plans.

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