Made In The Middle

Every story has a beginning, a middle and and end.  Beginnings are exciting and full of hope.  A new baby, a wedding, 1st job, or the first few miles of a marathon, most of us love new beginnings  and we celebrate them.  The end of the story can be pretty cool too!  Golden wedding anniversary,  retirement from a great career,  when you have been praying for years for that family member who is far from God and see them come to faith in Christ.  Or  like my wife and I seeing our son graduate from college after some tenuous years in High School.  Beginnings and endings are where it’s at.

It’s in the middle is where things get hard.  The truth is we are “Made in the Middle,” and how we navigate the middle determines what kind of a person or what kind of a leader we will become.  How many Christian leaders can we point to who have been built successful ministries and then lost their way.  It can be hard to have faith when you’re in the middle of something.  The longer we spend in the middle, the harder it gets.  In raising children it’s the teenage years that can be a challenge.  How about midlife, it’s not the most fun season.

We see the reality of ‘Made in the middle‘ throughout the Bible.  In Exodus 14 –  the Nation of Israel is fleeing from the Egyptian army, they find themselves in the middle.  They are trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, and the people of Israel begin to panic.

 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the       Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, 11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? 12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” 13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lordrescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

We are no different, we sometimes find ourselves in the middle of difficult circumstances, things take a bad turn and we don’t know what to do.  We pray and God is silent.  We feel the weight of things bearing down on us.  Sometime it feels like we are living through a storm, the waves are coming over the bow, and we fear we will find ourselves at the bottom of the sea.  In these moments of intense pressure is where our relationship with God is deepened and our characters are formed.  From the pressure of life, we can become weary and find our faith growing weak.  This can lead us to begin to compromise and even sell out our convictions.  As Christian leaders we can loose sight of our calling, we can begin to use people for our our benefit that God once called us to love & serve.  WE LOSE OUR WAY!

The odds you can predict the path of your life are very small.  The unpredictable, sometimes the unthinkable happens, things we don’t see coming.   God does not expect you to predict the path of your life, but just to walk in it, to walk in faith.   Like the Israelites, It’s hard for us not to doubt when we are in the middle being pressured on all sides.  The hard part, the middle, is where most of life is lived.  The 1st day is not hard, the last day is not hard, but every day in the middle is hard.

What do we need to know about the times we find ourselves in the Middle?

When the people of God were stuck in the middle between the Red Sea their enemies   and Moses has a message for them, and his message also applies for those of us who find ourselves in the Middle as well:

1.  Don’t be afraid.

2. Just stay calm.

3. The Lord Himself will fight for you.

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lowing, keep the faith, walk in humility, lead faithfully.  Jesus can take the sting of the things that hurt us away.  If you are in the middle today, Its an invitation to push through, faith is believing in things we can’t see.

Reflections on Mothers’ Day

Proverbs 31:26-27

“When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.”
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The 2nd Sunday in May is celebrated in almost 100 countries around the world as Mother’s Day, a day to remember and honor our mothers.  This last weekend many of us took time to do something special: write a card; send flowers; or purchase a gift for our mom.  My mom turned 78 a few months ago, and with each year that passes, I realize how lucky I am to still have her in my life.  We gathered this past Sunday for Mothers’s Day brunch.  My parents, wife, our 3 son’s, daughter-in-law and grandson were all together for the day, creating an indelible memory in my mind and heart.
As we sat together around the table eating eggs, french toast and sipping coffee, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy & gratitude for the day.  I realized what a blessing it is, at age 54, to have my mom in my life, a person who has always loved and believed in me.  Life is never perfect or without it’s troubles, but in moments like that around the table, I became aware of God’s gracious love toward me and my family.
As I sat there, I  watched my 3 sons 14, 19 & 25, serve and love their mom with their words, gifts and actions.  The capstone of the day was watching my oldest son honor his young wife celebrating her first Mother’s Day, that was beautiful!
My wife and I also celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary on Saturday.  For the last 30 years I have known her deepest desire has been to be a wife and mother.  To see her on Sunday with all her boys around her, talking and laughing, in itself was honoring her, amazing!  I could not help but think about how good God has been to this faithful woman.
I realize that for many reasons, not everyone was able to celebrate with their mom this past Sunday.  If that is the case for you, I can imagine you may have experienced some sadness on Mother’s Day.  My hope is that it was a time to replay the fond memories of your mom and be grateful for her influence in your life.
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Mother’s are a part of the foundation on which our culture and society are built.  Mom’s do much of the heavy lifting in our families, serving, nurturing and loving their children and husbands,  helping them to reach for their dreams in life.  All of us have something to be grateful for today, that women in our life we call mom, whether she is our biological or adopted mom, she is the one who gave of herself to make our lives better.
Thank You Mom!

Possibilities

th  Another year has quickly passed into the annals of history, and a memorable year it was.  2014 was filled with global & personal challenges, and more growth for me than any time in recent years.  As I stand just inside the door of a new year, and look to the future, the word that comes to mind is “possibilities.”  “Unspecified qualities of a promising nature; potential” Webster.

For me, celebrating the New Year is like pushing the restart button, a fresh start in the important areas of my life.  A chance to rethink the journey and how I am navigating, a chance to make course corrections.  God has given us a road map for the journey in the Bible.  In it we are encouraged to take stock of our lives and make any necessary changes to live as God intends us to.  Hebrews 12:1 (NLT) says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

We see three important things in this passage.  1)  Life is like a race of unknown duration.  We don’t know how long our race/life will be, but if we have a chance at winning the prize, we need to lighten the load so we can run our best race.  Here the load can be several things but one is specifically mentioned, sin.  Sin is like loose shoe laces on our life and if we are not careful, it will trip us and we will fall.  2)  We don’t run alone.  We are told that there are a great crowd of witnesses to our lives as followers of Jesus and they are cheering us on through our struggles.  3)  The race is not going to be easy.  Life will have it’s difficulty, and we will be required to endure to win the race.

As I think about the possibilities before me in 2015 my mind is filled with anticipation of what can be accomplished.  In the days & weeks ahead I will be intentionally thinking, planning and structuring my life around the possibilities God has for me, my family, friendships and ministry and I would encourage you to do the same.

Realistically, like most years, 2015 will have it’s high points and it’s lows.  But, I am confidant of this, that God is working out his plan in and through me, and you too!  In the words of King David in Psalm 27:13:

 “I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Happy New Year!
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Revolution

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Kiev, Ukraine

This week I had the opportunity to spend some time in the City of Kiev in the Ukraine.  If you have been watching the news you know of the current standoff between the people and the leader of the Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych, around issues of corruption and abuse of power.  The situation is complicated by the pressure being applied by the Russian President Putin, to put down the rebellion and align with Russia.

We were in Kiev meeting with Church leaders from all over the Ukraine.  We learned some more about their history, from the murder of Jews during the II World War, starvation of the population under Stalin and the oppression of the modern Soviet State before the fall of communist in 1991.

Our new friends took us to see Maiden (pronounced Maydawn) where the town square has been blocked by barricades.  The protesters have taken over the city center occupying  city hall and a number of other government buildings (they say they belong to the people).  The youth are leading the protest, but there are those of all ages, and from all appearances, they seem willing to give their lives for the freedom of their country.

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As we walked past the barricades, the tents and cooking stations we saw a people resolute in their cause.  The local population supports the protesters by daily bringing food, firewood, clothing, supplies and money to meet the needs of those fighting for the cause of freedom.

The streets of Maiden could not help but make me think of Les Miserables, the story of the French Revolution and those who gave their lives for freedom there.  I hope the situation in Kiev has a better ending.

Nothing like a stroll behind the barricades to make you appreciate the freedom we enjoy in the United States and those who secure it for us.  This experience made me appreciate again the men & women of the United States armed forces who fight to keep our nation free.  Not only do they fight for our nation, they fight to keep people free all over the world.

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I would ask you to pray for the people of the Ukraine and especially those who control the government.  Their future as a nation is in the balance, pray that God would intervene and there would be a peaceful resolution to this crisis that advances the cause of freedom in this country and region.  It is a powder keg and has the potential to ignite something effecting all of Europe, Russia & the United States.

Home Away From Home…One week in the BVI

"In Recess" at Jost Van Dyke

“In Recess” at Jost Van Dyke

A long-time dream came true for me this last week as I have been made my home on a 41′ sailboat, sailing through the British Virgin Islands.

The opportunity came a few months ago when a friend of mine invited me to to crew on a boat for the week sailing in the BVI.  I checked the calendar, talked to my amazingly generous wife , figured out a flight using frequent flyer miles, and the trip was a go.

It has been an unbelievable week,  I stand in awe at God’s creation and power as a result of all I have seen and experienced in the last few days. The pristine beauty of this part of the world amazes me.

Our first day out we snorkeled over the “Wreck of the Rhone,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Rhone, a British mail ship sunk  off of Salt Island on October 29, 1867.  Seeing the massive 310 foot ship lying on the bottom of the sea like a filleted fish was amazing!  Seeing the anchors, huge steel prop and metal framework made me think how incredible the seas power is to destroy such a huge ship.  Then my mind wondered about the men & women who were on the ship, both passengers and crew, what were they thinking, what must have endured.   Over 123 souls perished when the ship sunk.

Sailing to Wreck of the Rhone

Sailing to Wreck of the Rhone

My first time at the helm, we were sailing to Marina Cay through a gale.  As I stood at the helm, I could feel the power of the sea and the wind as I tried to keep the ship on coarse.  The wind was so strong…at one point the ship was leaning significantly to port, I slipped on the wet deck, my feet went out from under me, and I was hanging on by the huge pilot wheel.

God made His mighty power evident to me that day in the torment of the sea!  I saw His power up close and personal.

Me On "In Recess"

Me On “In Recess”

As a part of my schedule, I am taking a seminary class on the Book of Isaiah, with Dr. Van Gemeren, at Trinity Divinity School (a fantastic class).  This week, the BVI has been my classroom.  What a place to study about our creator and His purposes for His people!  God is teaching me many things through the book of Isaiah (more on that later).  No question about it, God took me to school this week.  He showed me amazing and wondrous things through His Natural Revelation (creation), and wondrous things through His Special Revelation (the book of Isaiah).  I am grateful for both.

Kane Garden Bay, Tortola, Island

Kane Garden Bay, Tortola, Island

Here are a few of the lessons I learned this week, 1) God is good and sometimes If you are patient, dreams can come true.  2)  Time with good friends is priceless.  3)  I still like 80’s music.  4)  Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see God or know Him, but, God has revealed Himself, His nature and character in the things he has made as well as the things He Has said.

My home away from home was a gift for which I am extremely grateful!

Ironman – Part III – The Finish Line – “You are Ironman!”

Tucker Dunn

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Jordan Zarraonandia

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Sunday June 23, 2013 was the most amazing day!  The alarm went off at 3:30 AM.  The big day was hear.  Tucker & Jordan were heading out to the car, their bikes were already checked in the day before as well as their race gear.  All they had to do was dress and get themselves to the starting line for the swim.

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My son Ty and I were volunteering all day at 3 different locations during Ironman.  We had to be at our first assignment by 5:30 AM, which was the first bike aid station at mile 6.  Ironman begins with a 2.4 mile swim, so we did not expect to see the frontrunner cyclist until around 8 AM.

Next at 11:30 AM we reported to the transition area from Bike to Run, where we helped the athletes transition to their running gear.  Transitions are very important for racers, so if we could help them shave a few minutes off their time, that would be a good thing.

We ended the day with the final shift at the finish line from 8:30 PM – 12:00 AM where we expected to see Tucker & Jordan cross the finish line.  It was a long day, but more fun than you should have on a Sunday.  We met lots of interesting people and were able to help hundreds & hundreds of people achieve there dream.

We saw Tucker & Jordan a number of times during the day as they passed through each of these stations.  We were able to get updates and encourage them along the way.  They both were doing well, but were tired coming off of the 112 mile bike…with lots of hills!  Jordan had broken 2 spokes on his bike and was delayed significantly while he figured out a repair.  He had time to make up in the run if he was going to finish.

We were able to follow their progress on an app called IronMobile, both of them were slowing their pace especially on the 2nd half of the marathon, but each would find the finish line in time to hear the words of Mike Reily, “You are Ironman!” before the 17 hour deadline.  They had hoped to cross the finish line together, but due to Jordan’s bike troubles that did not happen.

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What does it feel like to swim, bike & run your hardest for over 16 hours?  What’s it like to get the the point of absolute exhaustion and have to keep going and going?  What are the things you endure, think about?  How do you find the will to keep yourself from quitting 100 times along the way when you so very badly want to?

The Apostle Paul talked about a race in Hebrews 12:1And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Paul also said in I Corinthians 9:24 “Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  In the case of Sunday’s event, the prize was crossing the finish-line and getting that medal around your neck that says “Ironman.”  Not to mention bragging rights for the rest of your life! Tucker said he was going to add Ironman to his resume!  I guess he & Jordan have both earned that.

But what is the bigger picture?  Paul tells us, life is like a race, a very difficult and challenging race, the Ironman of life.  If you are going to cross the finish line and win the prize, you must keep focused and disciplined.  I think the lessons that Tucker & Jordan learned by doing Ironman will be lasting and have application in their careers, family and spiritual lives.  We can all learn from this and we can run the race of our lives to win the prize that Christ Jesus has in store for us.

Congratulations Ironmen!  You are truly amazing!

Ironman – Part II – Slaying the Giant

2013-06-22 12.15.51Well, the day has arrived…Ironman is tomorrow!  Months of training, discipline and hard work will come to bear on one of the most physically challenging athletic competitions on the planet.

As often happens, sometimes life will through you a curve ball or two.  Ten days ago, Tucker came down with a very bad cold including a fever, aches & upset stomach.  The Doctor diagnosed his issue as a virus that needed to run it’s course.  So, he has been slowly nursing himself back to health.  Today was his first day feeling well again.  This severely cut into his ability to train and taper his workouts…bummer!

Jordan had his own issues, he tweaked his neck, and could barely turn his head.  He nursed it with patches, massage & rest.  He is also feeling pretty good heading into tomorrow.

Race day waits for no one.  The alarm will sound at 3:30 am and no matter how they slept or how they are feeling, they will rise and face the giant they have been training to slay.  Even if they feel they only have a slingshot and a few small stones to do it with.

It takes a man of great character and strength to face his giant against all odds.  The words of The Quitter by Robert Service seem appropriate on a night like tonight.

When you are lost in the wild and scared as a child,

and death looks you long in the eye,

and your sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle

to cock your revolver and…die.

But the code of a man says:  “Fight all you can,”

and self dissolution is barred.

In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow…

It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard.

“Your sick of the game, well that’s a shame.

Your young and your brave and your bright.

“You’ve had a raw deal!” I know–but don’t squeal,

Back up, do your damnedest, and fight.

It’s the plugging away that will win you the day,

So don’t be a piker, old pard!

Just draw on you grit; it’s so easy to quit:

It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that is hard.

It’s easy to cry that you are beaten–and die;

It’s easy to crawfish and crawl;

But to fight and to fight when hope is out of sight–

Why that’s the best game of them all!

And though you come out of each grueling bout,

All broken and beaten and scarred,

Just have one more try–it’s easy to die,

It’s the keeping-on-living that is hard.

Our hopes and prayers will be with you tomorrow and throughout your day you will spot me here and there along the way.  See you at the finish line!

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