Milestones

milestones

Today is a milestone of sorts for me.  With this post I have published 100 blogs since creating In My Own Words. I was a bit surprised to learn that in 2015 http://www.papaswords.com was viewed in 93 different countries.   And yet I still question my impact or influence with my readers, an unfortunate part of my character.

A milestone defined is something that signifies a life event, change or achievement.  Simplified a mile stone is a stone marker used to mark each progressive distance of one mile. Some milestones are dedicated to historical events.  I’ll never forget as a young boy on vacation with my family in the car I would see these road signs that read “Historical Marker Ahead”.  We were usually in too much of a rush to stop to read them and I always wondered what it was that happened at these spots that was important enough to erect a monument for our rememberance. Today when I travel and see these I try to make a point of stopping to read them.  The details in events of the past become more fascinating to me as I age.

Milestones are often a time or opportunity to stop and reflect.  In a month I’ll be turning 55.  I’m not yet certain how I will respond to this particular milestone.  Birthdays, like New Years are undoubtedly the more common milestones we face each year.  Lately I’ve spent much time in self-reflection over my past years.  I will always have the same questions; have I helped anyone along the way, could I have done more, could I have done things differently, how will I be remembered when I’m gone, will I be missed, will I have regerts (like a tattoo gone wrong).  These are questions I can’t help but ask.  These are the concerns of both over achievers and those of low esteem-what is my purpose and have I achieved it or have I fallen short.  I may never know these answers but just asking them help to keep me on track as I approach the next milestone.

I’m not sure what success means.  I still don’t know how one determines if they have fulfilled a purpose or measured up.  What type of milestones have I left along my journey? I can think of a few that if read would encourage others to do something similar. And sadly I can also name a few markers that when read would cause others to not follow the same path.  In that respect I suppose even mistakes can be used as a lesson to others if they take the time to stop along the road and read the historical milestones. I don’t really want to be the person that others look at and say “I don’t want to be like him”, but even that has a purpose.

Life is so full of opportunities for us to make decisions that ultimately determine the markers we leave behind for others.  Our lives are a living milestone, ever changing but always readable. A life may be marked by a successful career or marked by a failed business.  It may be marked by a long and exemplary marriage or by divorce and failed relationships. It can be marked by a life of faith in One who left us many milestones, or marked by a life of indulgence and denial of the spiritual realm. Each and every choice we make on our path impacts our journey and leaves behind a marker for other travelers to stop and read.  We want to believe that our markers are more positive than negative, that our children and family are proud to claim our markers and that others are encouraged to stop and read them on their journeys.

I hope that my posts have been an encouragement to those who have stopped long enough to read them. I keep posting so that even one person may find a nugget or two to help them in their own journey. I write words of hope to compensate for a life of mistakes and lessons learned.  And even if some of the milestones of my own life signify battles and defeats, there’s encouragement in knowing someone else’s course might change as a result. With that in the forefront of my mind, I will begin the second hundred posts and hope that those who come along later and read the markers will be impacted either by my successes or my missteps. Either way it’s all good.

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Influence

 

Networking

It’s been a while since my last post.  When life hits with its surprises and uncertainty I tend to take a critical and maybe even an unfair look at some things. As an aspiring writer I question constantly both my influence and my credibility. Do my words have any positive impact on my readers? Do I inspire deeper levels of thought and reason? Do I adequately reflect my Christian faith? Are my words being read at all?  Am I leaving anything of value behind in my wake?

These questions are certainly not limited to writers. In fact I would suspect many of us at some point in our lives ask ourselves these same questions-why am I here, what is my purpose and who if anyone am I impacting by my speech, my actions or my lifestyle.  However the fact is that every single one of us has some impact on someone, whether positive or negative.  None of us live our lives under a shell or as hermits.  At some point we all cross the paths of others either inadvertently or by God’s design and have immediate influence on that person and in that situation. It would be idealistic to believe we leave behind rainbows and Skittles everywhere we go but none of us are ever on top of our game 24/7.  In fact if you are like me, you have probably disappointed more people than you have helped, or maybe it’s just me.

So what exactly is influence? The dictionary defines it as a noun, “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or the behavior of someone or something…”. When I think of influential people I think of great orators like the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther King or Billy Graham or Ronald Reagan-people who have an effect on others by their powerful convictions and proficiency with words. But as a brother or an uncle or a dad or a grandfather I have an effect, good or bad, on those around me everyday.  Am I making a difference?  Am I having influence? Is there any evidence of positive effect on thought or behavior?

There is a popular passage in Matthew 5 that portrays for us the type of impact we should be having in our circle of family and friends.  Beginning in verse 13 it reads “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand so that it lights all the house. In the same way let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven”.

That is a tall command, a mandate if you will to always be positive in every way, and for many a seemingly impossible task, one that most certainly stirs critical self-review. When you shine a light on your own life to see if you measure up to this extremely high standard of living, the shadows it casts on your failures can be daunting in regards to positive influence. When you have serious questions on the impact you have you are left with only two options; retreat to your shell and assure yourself that no one will be impacted positively by your words or life, or find a way to live above the waves and have an effect on even one or two people.  One choice is easy, the other a real challenge.

If you are one of those who can step out of bed, break your leg but go about rejoicing that you still have one good leg to hop around on, let me just say I hate you! Rather I hate that I am not like that by nature and find it difficult to sing through pain. Yet everything in scripture confirms that I am light, I am salt, I am iron and that whether I sharpen someone or dull them, I have a choice to make each new day on how my response to life will impact or influence those God puts in my path whether I want Him to or not.

And so it is with you.  Peace.

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

man-feeling-down-2

If you are one of those who are always on top of your game, you wake up and kiss the sky and your kitchen sings to you while you make breakfast, this post isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us who don’t live in Disney World, those who strive to live a positive life but still battle the demons of failure, sin and worthlessness-real people.  I am one-I’m with you-those days when you wonder if you really matter, if you are really loved, if you would be missed if you were gone, if you are having any positive impact on those you love and pray for. Those small doubts become large gaping holes of opportunity for attack. Each day is a new war to wage against the dark, spiritual and tangible forces that are well trained at knocking us off course.  If you aren’t the target of such attacks, you aren’t fully engaged in life or your faith. The following are excerpts from a sermon I wrote years ago but still as relevant as it was then.  There are key weapons at our disposal to aid us in our daily battles against weariness, depression and discouragement.

“There are times in our faith walk when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk.  We are on a straight and narrow road, running this race-running like Forest Gump-running and running and running. There comes a time when I just want to stop running.  I see a little spot off the beaten path and I pull off the road just to stop running.  The place I find myself in here isn’t necessarily attractive-it’s isolated-it’s disconnected-it’s quiet.  It’s not lively, it’s not dead-it’s just hereHere is a place where my prayers don’t seem to travel far.  Here is a place that is under the radar from the dark forces of life.

Eph. 6:12 reads “For we fight not against people made of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in heavenly realms”.

The enemy is highly trained to target those who are engaged in their faith.  But as long as I’m here, no one cares.  As a Christian, I know all I need to do is call on Jesus for help and get back on the road.  I can even see the road from here, but it is just easier to stay here.  This is my spiritual funk.

Now that I’ve painted you a picture of spiritual funk, how many of you have been here too?  How can we get there from here?  I have come up with 5 easy but vital steps for Christians to follow to avoid these funks.

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

We are so easily led astray by our own thoughts.  We haven’t mastered the art of bringing every thought into captivity. I have struggles with reassurance issues.  In my mind, I tend to put myself up here more than I should.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much of a parting shot to knock me down to here-an unhappy customer, something the kids say, a series of unlucky events, any form of rejection.  If I believed in blind luck, I would be the one person he can’t see.  When things don’t go your way, or the people around you point fingers, you start to believe that maybe you are the problem. Job’s friends told him he was the reason for all the calamities God allowed in his life, and Job tended to believe them.  We completely disregard every positive thing scripture has to say about who we are in Christ. This is the ultimate trick of the deceiver-he wants to remind us of all our past mistakes, all our failed relationships, all our closet skeletons, and we buy right into this trick.  The result is a feeling of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness, all contrary to what Christ thinks of us.

Philippians 4:7 says this; “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he’s done.  If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  (Vs 8). Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. 

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

There are several good sources of Christian nourishment available to us.  One of my favorites is Christian music.  I’ve always loved music-it is the one medium that can completely change your attitude or actions.  For example, when the classic rock song “I can’t drive 55” comes on, amazingly, I really can’t drive 55.

Music can be uplifting-I’m always amazed how a piece of music that was recorded years ago on electronic media can still become a worship experience in your car.

Our brains are complex recorders-we can recall every good or bad thing we’ve seen or heard in the course of a day.  If that’s the case, we should expose ourselves to positive influence, whether music, or a good book or a good TV program.

Romans12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is a daily process if we are to avoid spiritual funk.

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

This one is interesting to me.  I don’t personally believe that as Christians we are only supposed to hang with other Christians.  That’s not the model Christ gave us.  In fact Jesus, according to scripture, was quite a party animal. But his closest friends were believers.  When we socialize it is important to spend time with those who share your faith-they will become a great help and support to you when you’re in trouble.  And be very careful about those you hang with who are not Christian-they can easily lead you down a different path.  Our non-believing friends need our influence, but we must not yield to theirs.  It is too easy in the course of having a good time to let your guard down or compromise your core values after prolonged exposure.  The friends you confide in will ultimately be advising you.

Psalm 1:1 reads “Oh the joy of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.”

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

I have weaknesses.  I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian, we all have kinks in our armor.  The enemy always knows your weakness.  For some maybe it’s lust, for others maybe pornography.  Some may have a substance addiction-maybe you gossip-maybe you eat too much-maybe you have a gambling problem-maybe you’re just plain crazy.  Having a weakness is not necessarily the problem, especially if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself and to God. However yielding to your weakness over God’s strength  can put you in your own spiritual funk.  Putting yourselves in situations where you could stumble is just not responsible as a Christian.

1 Peter 2:11 says “Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here.  So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very soul”.

What does this mean?  It’s simple really-if you can’t hold your liquor, you should stay out of bars.  If you have an eating disorder, the Carnival Buffet is not for you.  If you can’t get on the internet without migrating to a porn site, stay off the computer.  If you’re down to your last $3, don’t spend it on Megabucks.  If you like spreading rumors, don’t listen to any new ones.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Don’t give our enemy any advantages against you.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be Careful. Watch out for attacks from the devil, your enemy.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some victim to devour”.

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re in a spiritual funk is to spend time alone with God.  Part of being in this place is the feeling of disconnection you feel.  When you cry out to God, it’s as if you hear the echoes of the canyons, but when you pray, you almost feel the prayers bouncing back off the ceiling.  It is in these times that it is most imperative that you habitually seek God out, remembering he hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we don’t feel his closeness.

James 4:7 says “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.  (vs. 10).  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.”

Sometimes our path is dark and cold and each step is just another step of faith into the unknown. But God promised to be with us in the valley of shadows and death, not to take us around it as some might suggest but to be our guide and companion until we can navigate through the density and the turns. Our yellow brick road to Oz may seem more like a muddy trail through an endless swamp but in Christ, we can be sure that our final destination will be worth the hazards of the journey.