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Irreplaceable Influence

October 30th, 2014

“I thank my God every time I remember you.”  Philippians 1:3 NIV.

Cultivate friends whose lives and faith encourage who you want to be.

My thoughts and comments today are about “irreplaceable influence.”

My friend, Don, told me of a conversation many years earlier when I had said to him, “Thank you for not letting me be what I would have been without you.” Though I do not remember saying those words, I trust that I did. I aspire for those words to accurately reflect my gratefulness to God and appreciation for my family and friends whose love and lives have made me want to be better than I would otherwise have been. Anything noteworthy is owed to others’ kindness and God’s mercy; my faults and foibles are mine alone.

There are no such “self-made men or women,” and if there were they would have little of which to boast. “As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NLT. Along the path of my life, people made a difference in who I am still becoming. People invested in my life, as well as our marriage, family, and ministry. Often selflessly and sacrificially, friends shared irreplaceable time, priceless experience, practical counsel, needed correction, and patient forgiveness. Such friends are above price, God’s gifts, for whom I realize how important they have been, and continue to be. Some people are alongside for a season of life, others for a lifetime, but all are irreplaceable in the process of God’s work in your life. As is true of all of us, I remain a work in progress.

Families provide a legacy. From most of mine, I learned how to live; from a rare few, I learned how not to live. My grandparents had much to do with shaping my earliest years. Looking back, I learned the privilege and priority of family from them and the security of being loved and willed to succeed. My parents taught me about my Christian faith by their Godly example; the consistency of their lives confirmed their words. Still today, my convictions and choices are influenced by my Mom’s songs and my Dad’s sermons. My wife has modeled caring and selflessness that challenges my desire to be more than I have been. Our children and grandchildren enrich our home and family every day by sharing our values, passions, and service to God.

Teachers contributed to who I am becoming. A fourth grade teacher taught me a love for language and learning; a Sunday School teacher invited me to know and love Jesus; a college professor changed my life through his friendship and counsel; a minister’s diligence and loyalty to the Word of God created my passion to know and share truth faithfully; friends became mentors giving Godly counsel. The example and personal availability of so many spared me from the mistakes I would have made and unwise paths I might have taken. Others’ unshakable belief gave me the courage to venture further than I would have dared without their company.

In the three congregations we have served, Church families made ministry a lifelong joy. People have been as gracious as God has been generous. Our marriage and children are blessed with the kindness of those we served, as well as those who partnered in ministry alongside us. All have made our journey more safe and satisfying than would have been otherwise, and Gayle and I are grateful to God and you.

Life apart from good and Godly friends is unimaginable. Indelible impressions formed my habits and heart. Our years have been graced by a quality of valued friendships I could never have anticipated. Now, across a lifetime of years our friendships are counted as Gayle’s and my greatest treasure. Walking without such pleasant company and invaluable encouragement is unthinkable. God planned that from the beginning.

With intentionality, cultivate people whose lives and faith encourage who you want to be and to what you are called to do. Such friends bring to mind Paul’s words, “I thank my God every time I remember you . .  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be . . filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:3-11 NIV. To a company of people, I gratefully say, “Thank you for not letting me be what I would have been without you.” By the grace of God, I hope to be that kind of person to others.

Today, my prayer for you is to develop friendships whose influence you find irreplaceable.

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Expectations

August 17th, 2012

“Look for the best in each other . . do your best to bring it out.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15 The Message

Whatever credit accrues for your character or accomplishments is rightly shared with friends.

My thoughts and comments today are about “expectations.”

More often than not a child or teen’s behavior lives up to what is communicated as expected of them. Of course, there are times that generality may fail to apply, just as happens with adults. I have observed that a person’s reasonable expectations of others are typically proven to be true. People who look for good in others usually find that. Conversely, people who expect the worst from others usually find what they’re looking for as well.

I think that people are most likely to assume goodness in others when they truly like people and strive themselves to be their best. This seems to be supported by the Apostle Paul’s description to Titus, “Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those . . [whose] consciences are defiled.” Titus 1:15 NLT. If always expecting people will disappoint, check your own heart. Sometimes what you readily see in others may merely be a reflection of your own heart; the faults we ignore in ourselves can seem glaring in others.

With deliberate exaggeration, Jesus accented the folly of judging another’s faults while ignoring your own. “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye . . when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? . . first, get rid of the log in your own eye, then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” Luke 6:41-42 NLT. Specks and logs! Maybe we should take care of the worst first.

The Bible makes your objective simple and clear: “Look for the best in each other and always do your best to bring it out . . this is the way that God wants you who live in Christ Jesus to live.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15 The Message. Do you consistently “look for the best in others?” Inclination, interest, attention, and a listening heart are essential relational skills to see the best when others are too preoccupied or busy with themselves to notice. God asks you to not only see what might be overlooked by others, but also contribute to others by your support and encouragement.

Honest, accurate affirmation from friend or family makes a powerful difference in anyone’s life. “Jesus is the divine yes – God’s affirmation . .” Read 2 Corinthians 1:19-22 NLT. Along my journey, there have been many gracious people who saw things of God in me that I dared not assume for myself. They affirmed those qualities or abilities, and then tirelessly supported their further growth and development. My friend, Don, reminded me of once saying to him, “Thank you for not letting me be what I would have been without your friendship.” It was accurate; his affirmation and expectations prompted my desire to be better. I hope, in some measure, I have done the same for others.

To my parents, church families, friends, teachers, and especially to my remarkable wife and family, whose affirmation and companionship made me better, thank you. Whose friendship makes you a better person than might have happened without them? Whatever credit accrues to you for character or accomplishments is rightly shared with them. Thank God for them, and thank them. Do better than tell them; write them so they can read it again and again and be encouraged.

My prayer for you today is that you recognize the contributors to your achievements.

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Meanwhile

August 15th, 2012

“If [where you are] prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7 NIV

God will both direct and use circumstances to mold your heart and will to His own.

My thoughts and comments today are about “meanwhile.”

A few days ago, I said a tearful farewell to Don, a life-long friend. He walked with grace and courage through four of the toughest years imaginable. Multiple times doctors said he would not live; multiple times God sustained him in ways not explainable. It was not where he wanted to be, but being there, he walked with God with a dignity and trust that was exemplary. Meanwhile, he learned to live fully, worshipping and serving God in spite of his suffering and physical limits. Alongside him, I learned about God’s will and true courage, about being your best in the worst of times. I love what a friend wrote upon hearing of his death, “He fought a battle with cancer; he finally won!” Indeed he did.

Life, even for the best of people, is not always simple and easy. Life is not one grand sweep of blissful time; it consists of a myriad of moments which are working together in the purpose and providence of God to conform you to the image of Christ. See Romans 8:28-29 NKJV. God will both direct and use circumstances to mold your heart and will to His own. There are occasions when you are in times and places by the will of God that you would not choose. What you do in those times shapes who you are and the extent to which the purposes of God can be worked out in your life. Your comfort is not first priority. In those moments, you might ask God for deliverance that may not come when you want, nor as you like. At those times, it is critical that you know God well and trust Him and His ways absolutely. Read Philippians 4:11-13 NIV.

Israel found themselves in Babylon as captives. All they wanted was to return to Jerusalem, the sooner the better. In their distress, they preferred prophets with reassuring words. You can always find people to say what you want to hear. Through Jeremiah, God told Israel, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you . . pray to the Lord for it, because if [where you are] prospers, you too will prosper . . therefore, build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” Jeremiah 29:6- 7/28 NIV. In confusing times, you need people who will tell you what you need to hear, and you need to hear what God says. You can blame or build; you can pout or prosper; you can wait or work. Meanwhile does not feel like a good time, but in the will of God it is the best of times.

That is not what they wanted to hear, but it was what they needed to hear. God was working on their behalf and for their good, even if they could not see that yet. See Jeremiah 29:11 NLT. God is as committed to your well-being in difficult circumstances as in the best of times. Read those verses again, slowly and carefully. You won’t escape every unpleasant circumstance on your preferred schedule, but you can make your situation, and yourself, better in the meanwhile. God has not forgotten you, nor will His love fail you. God always answers prayer; His answer may not be the answer you were wanting. Meanwhile, what you do makes all the difference in who you become.

My prayer for you today is that you live every moment to the fullest measure.

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