It’s The Hardest Part

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

The Waiting’ – Tom Petty

Learning to wait is one of the hardest things for both the natural, and the spiritual man.

We lost a great American treasure a few years ago, in my opinion, when Tom Petty unexpectedly passed away. One of the great rockers of all time, who grew up in Gainesville, FL, and was the victim of some pretty violent abuse at the hands of his dad. Music, as it turned out, was a welcome escape from that environment for him. His mom bought him a cheap Sears guitar when he was 14 and the rest, as they say, is history. His band, The Heartbreakers, accomplished what few other bands have ever achieved…and that is the fact that they stayed together, for the most part, for over 40 years! Some would argue that Petty lacked vocal perfection, but if you were fortunate enough to make one of his concerts (we did twice in the last 3 years of his life!) you would hear the bigger part of twenty thousand people, young and old, singing along with every song…..word for word, for two and a half hours! So, Tom Petty fan or not, you’d have to admit that he’ll go down in history as one of the all-time greats.

“….I hear in just about every song something that catches my attention, something that I can apply spiritually….”

Now, I don’t think every song out there has a spiritual message, unless, of course, you want it to. But most songs of any genre will have a line or two that, if you think about it…and try just a little, could definitely be applied in a spiritual way. I’m a ‘music guy’, not a musician by any stretch (I could only wish!), just someone who loves music. So, I hear in just about every song something that catches my attention, something that I can apply spiritually and maybe pass along to someone else who can catch the truth contained. Many of Tom Petty’s songs have those things I’m talking about; “You Don’t Have To Live Like a Refugee” *(click to listen) would definitely be one. Gonna write something up on that ‘un one of these days. And, how about, “I Won’t Back Down”? Now there’s a, nearly perfect, spiritual warfare song; one that you could actually sing on Sunday mornings if you’d loosen up just a little.

“….as we mature in the Lord, learning to wait is an invaluable trait….”

But one that recently caught my attention is a song called, “The Waiting”. Written around 40 years ago, and not designed to be a spiritual song, whatsoever, it does have a line or two that holds some pretty profound spiritual truths. “The waiting is the hardest part”! Boy, ain’t that the truth!? Learning to wait is one of the hardest things for both the natural, and the spiritual man. We live in a culture that has trained us to want everything immediately; I mean, ….right now! But, as we mature in the Lord, learning to wait is an invaluable trait…and one that’s not often found even among believers, sad to say.

I wish I could say I had it perfected. But, waiting on the Lord hasn’t come easy for me. I guess you could call me a ‘slow learner’ in that respect. But I’m a lot better than I used to be…and I think I’m getting better. It comes with an understanding that God has His ways and He’s precise in His timing. In another way, it’s one of His ways of teaching us to live by faith. At any rate, waiting on the Lord is a virtue that we should all try to attain.

“Waiting, as hard as it is, …..might just be the most productive thing you can do.”

So, whether it’s a promise from Him you’re waiting on, a prophetic word that has yet to materialize, or maybe even a prayer you’re wondering if He heard or not, ….waiting, as hard as it is, …..might just be the most productive thing you can do. Make no mistake about it, Tom Petty had it right; the waiting is the hardest part!

Photo by Keegan Houser

...oh, and by the way, the Bible holds some amazing promises for us as we learn to wait. Isaiah 40:31 *(go read it!)

The Lessons I Learned from Jeff

Photo by JJ Whitley

He’d done plenty of crazy things and even the locals weren’t sure what he might do next!

The last year we lived on the ranch in the Texas Panhandle I had the responsibility of taking care of 2500 head of cattle. About 1800 of those were close to 40 miles away north of Canadian, Texas on the expansive Urschel Ranch. I’d go up about three times a week and spend the day horseback checking the cattle; getting a decent count on them, making sure they had water, making sure none of them were out of the pastures they were supposed to be in. It’d make for a long day but it was enjoyable to me.

I was about three years into my walk with the Lord. Didn’t know much but I was learning a lot. I had given my testimony a couple of times and was already feeling the call for ministry…even though I had no idea what all that might mean. A friend and I had a cowboy church service (years before anyone ever heard that term!) at the Hemphill County Expo Center in Canadian and I preached the message. That was a first! I have no idea what I preached about but I do remember that one of my friends since childhood (a few years older than me) got saved that day. Let’s just call him, Jeff.

He struggled with deep depression, was separated from his wife, had trouble sleeping and agonized over the things he was ordered to do in Vietnam.

Jeff was a cowboy and had been in some of the very worst combat fights in Vietnam. In three different battles there were over a hundred US troops under fire….and all three times less than fifteen came out alive. Jeff was one of the ones each time. But, it had left an indelible mark on him. He struggled with deep depression, was separated from his wife, had trouble sleeping and agonized over the things he was ordered to do in Vietnam. 

Jeff was a scary looking guy; Well actually if you weren’t friends with him….he just didn’t look scary….he really was scary. He’d done plenty of crazy things and even the locals weren’t sure what he might do next! He hair was cut short on the top but long in the back…..way down past his collar. He had about 6 top front teeth totally gone! He wore denim shirts with the sleeves cut out of them and he had lots of tattoos; something not that common in those days. He spent a lot of his spare time at the gym pumping iron and was quite a specimen of a man.

His intimidating look had the attention of just about every person in there.

Part of my regular routine the times when I’d go up to check cattle was to make it back to the Dairy Queen on my way home and catch Jeff after he got off work. I made it a point. I was doing my best to encourage him and give him good, sound advice. I’d pray with him every time before I headed home. One particular time we were in the DQ when a Greyhound bus made its stop there. The place was completely full of people. Jeff got there before I did and saved me a spot. His intimidating look had the attention of just about every person in there.

Yep…….I’m doing so good, I got rid of all my plastic explosives yesterday!!”

Bear in mind that when he talked, Jeff talked really, really loud; maybe louder than anyone you’ve ever known! I asked him that day, as I always did, “Jeff, how are you doing?” He replied in his loud voice, “Andy, I’m doing really good!”. I knew that I needed to press in a little more. “But, Jeff, …..how are you really doing?” And in a voice a lot louder than you need to be talking in Dairy Queen he said, “Yep, Andy, …….I’m doing so good I got rid of all my plastic explosives yesterday!!” You could’ve heard a pin drop! Every eye in the house was on us! It was funny, ….in a crazy kind of way; all those people started gathering up their food without saying a word and getting out the door as fast, but as inconspicuous as they could. It was like they didn’t totally believe him. I bet some of them are still telling that story today!

“But, the Lord spoke clearly to my spirit at that point and said, “It’s Ok, Andy, …..you’re not the one that’s taking care of him anyway.”

I learned a lot in my experiences with Jeff. I made it a mission of mine to help him. I wanted him to be OK; I wanted him to be well. Julie and I had planned a little vacation and were planning on being gone for about a week. I got real worried that if I wasn’t there to check on Jeff that he wouldn’t be alright. I even told Julie as much. I was actually afraid to go on vacation fearing he would implode. But, the Lord spoke clearly to my spirit at that point and said, “It’s Ok, Andy, …..you’re not the one that’s taking care of him anyway.” That put it in perspective for me. God always knows the right thing to say, and always at just the right time.

Photo by RODNAE Productions

I wish this story had a happy ending….but it doesn’t. Several years later Jeff was living downstate in Texas and took his own life. I can’t help but believe that the Lord has lots and lots of grace for people like Jeff. 

I’ll never forget the things I learned…and I look forward to seeing him in Heaven.

Running On Empty

Click play for audio devotional (2:21)

As songwriters go, I’d consider Jackson Browne one of the best in the business. In fact, way back in the 70’s, Glenn Frey and Don Henley (the Eagles) moved in above Browne in a $60 a month apartment in L.A.

They admitted they learned, and perfected their craft of writing songs by listening to some  of those ‘mind boggling melodies’, as Rolling Stone magazine described Jackson Browne’s songs. They agreed that he was just a notch above anyone else who was writing in those days….and there were a bunch of ’em. One of those songs, “Running on Empty”, was the title track of his ‘Live’ album in 1977 and is, to this day, the most played of all his songs on Classic Rock stations. On an interesting note the song was written while Browne was struggling to make it and, in his own words, “I was always driving around with no gas in the car”.

“….I took the time off to just get away from it all.”

A few years ago I had just returned to the office after five weeks off. Haven’t done anything like that in the 33 years since we started Trinity Fellowship. I didn’t take the time off to fast and pray. That would definitely be time well spent but I took the time off to just get away from it all. No studying, no preaching or teaching, no late night emergency phone calls, no funerals……no nothing! Pretty much everybody’s job has its own level of stress. Ministry’s no different; and people ain’t lined up to tell you good news!

It’s easy to get in crisis mode, and if you’re not careful…..never get out.

It took at least a week to get out from under the load of ministry that I’ve been used to. And, maybe another week to get in full, no stress mode. But, with the support I have from the people around me (they’re the best in the business!) I finally started to actually relax. I think I was like a lot of folks who are out there today, running on empty……and maybe not even knowing it! It’s easy to get in crisis mode and if you’re not careful…..never get out. It’s unhealthy, and a bunch of ministry people don’t make it!

“When we’re running on empty we won’t even come close to doing our best work.”

The Father, Himself, rested on the seventh day…and He designated and set aside a day for us to rest, too. Most of us don’t do it; don’t know how, never even tried it. We’re too busy doing all the things we know we should be doing. But, the Sabbath was made for man! We should learn how to do it! When we’re running on empty we won’t even come close to doing our best work.

Maybe we could learn to work ‘smarter’, not harder.

Hardly anybody can get as much serious time off as I had, I understand that. But, we could learn to take a day a week to get out from under the load. Maybe we could learn to work ‘smarter’, not harder. It’ll take some time, no question.  But if we’ll make it a priority…..we won’t have to be running on empty!

i

Click here to listen/watch my favorite Jackson Browne tune (you’ll like it!)

A Lifetime of Faithfulness

I bumped into a Friend in the post office a while back. He’s a retired pastor in his late 80’s.  He just sold his home and he and his wife are entering an assisted living facility in a neighboring town. He retired from the ministry a short time ago. Spent his whole life ministering in a small country church. A whole lifetime of faithfulness. I have a lot of respect for guys like that.

It made me think; I doubt he ever made much more money than to barely get by. Not rare to have to find some kind of supplemental income. Probably never got asked to speak at a big conference anywhere. Never gonna have his picture or an article in Charisma magazine. Not even gonna name a street after him in his little town. He’s not one to complain about that kinda stuff. It obviously wasn’t what was important to him. He just kept on being faithful.

Photo by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

He knew everyone! I bet he knew three or four generations of people there where he ministered all those years. Went through all the ups and downs with ’em. Everything from burying their grandpa to seeing a new baby boy welcomed into the world and entire families devastated by some of the tragedies life brings. Held their hands when they didn’t have any hope for what they were facing. Always clinging to, and pointing them to God. And, in a little church like that in a tiny community, the Pastor has to do everything. Preach every Sunday for decade upon decade. Marry ’em, bury ’em, and everything in between. All the while getting the usual criticism that goes along with the job. Think about how much wisdom he gained in a generation or more. Think about how much he would have to offer…….anyone.

In my conversation with my Friend, he lost his train of thought a time or two and apologized for it. He even said, “Well, that’s the problem I have now.”. I ‘felt’ his pain at that very moment and it grieved me. Even makes me tear up while I’m writing.

Photo by Sergey Katyshkin from Pexels

It’s been a whole lifetime of faithfulness, to the Lord and to the people He entrusted him with. It makes me wonder if anyone really noticed; if anyone did much more than say, “Thank ‘ya”. But, I have an opinion about men like my Friend. You don’t have to agree with me but I bet ‘ya when we get up ‘there’, you know, in Heaven that guys like my Friend are gonna be getting some heavy-duty hardware when they start passin’ out the rewards. I think we might be surprised at how honored ‘then’ they might be as compared to those who won world acclaim here on earth. We should honor them now, ….but we probably won’t…

Some people just don’t appreciate a lifetime of faithfulness like that.

But I do!

….and I think the Father does too!

Well done, Friend!

Sharpen Your Saw!

Click play for an audio version of the post below

Have you heard the story about the two guys who were pitted against one another in a wood cutting contest?

They both were given brand new chain saws, all the fuel they needed and the rules were that they would cut firewood for eight hours and the one that had cut the most wood would receive a cool million dollars. That’d be enough to motivate just about anybody.

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding from Pexels

There was a twenty foot curtain between the two woodcutters and enough downed trees to keep them busy for a long, long time. The starter fired his gun and the cuttin’ commenced!

They were going at it with everything they had. One of them never let up. The only time he stopped his saw was to refuel. But there were plenty of times that he noticed that the other guy’s saw wasn’t running at all. That just made him that much more determined to cut more wood. After a few hours he was getting weary but he still kept cutting, determined to win that million dollar prize. He could hear the other guy’s saw part of the time but part of the time it was silent….so he knew he must be a long ways ahead of him with his growing pile of firewood.

The contest went on for, seemed like forever. It finally came down to just a few minutes left before the end of the eight hours. The one woodcutter was utterly exhausted but was confident that he was way out in the lead.

He never stopped cutting all day; only stopped three or four times to get a drink but immediately went back to work. He was feeling pretty good despite being completely worn out. He knew there was no possible way the other guy had cut as much wood as he did. Too much time with the saw not running. He was already thinking about what he’d do with that million dollars!

The official signaled the end of the contest. It was now time to drop the curtain and see who the winner was. When the curtain dropped the determined, exhausted…but confident woodcutter was totally dumbfounded! He couldn’t believe his eyes! The other guy had cut nearly three times the amount of firewood as he had. How in the world could that happen!?

He had to ask, “How could you have possibly cut that much more firewood than me?” “I never let up; I never took a break; I just barely stopped long enough to get a drink of water”. And, all day long I noticed quite often that your saw wasn’t running.” “What were you doing all that time that your saw was silent?”

The other woodcutter calmly replied, “I was sharpenin’ my saw!”

About everyone I know is doing all they can to keep up in life. For most there’s no lack of effort and hard work. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we’re winning or not. But it makes sense in this day and time to learn how to work smarter, not harder. You should ask the Lord what that means for you. The details will be different for each of us but there’s no doubt about it……….we all need to sharpen our saw!

So Easy A Caveman Can Do It

Remember the Geico commercials? The storyline involved a couple of cavemen who lived in modern society. The point was that using Geico’s website was “so easy a caveman could do it”, indicating that being a caveman didn’t require all that much intelligence.

Their response that they were being discriminated against, or at the very least had their feelings hurt, drew a lot of attention and got a lot of mileage for Geico.

I think a lot of times we make our Christian life a whole lot harder than it ought to be. I’m not saying life can’t be hard; it can!

But, just the fact that we’re believers should simplify it in a very profound way.

cave man carrying lit torch walks dark path
Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

Think about it this way; There should never be a time or situation in our life where we don’t know what to do. We have the Holy Spirit living in us to show us the way at every turn. The Bible even says about us, “we have the mind of Christ”! We have the awesome assurance that when we leave this life we’re immediately in heaven.

Our eternal security is sealed! 

That should relieve us of a lot of unfounded worries! And, instead of having the daunting task of, somehow, trying to plan out our own life…He’s even already done that for us. We must, however, be ‘connected’ to Him to find out all the details of that plan. But…He doesn’t make that hard.

He’s even promised to never leave us nor forsake us; that in itself should make even the harshest situations easier to endure.

But, undoubtedly, the most important thing of all is that God is a Father. It’s a relationship that anyone can understand. He desperately desires to interact with us on a personal basis. He’s done everything possible to make that a reality for us. All we have to do is to engage…..and immediately begin to enjoy the benefits.

You’ve heard the term, “It’s complicated”, right?

Well, this isn’t complicated. In fact, “it’s so easy even a caveman can do it”!!

Check this one:

It’s Complicated

Don’t Bring Me Down

The Electric Light Orchestrathe ELOis an English rock band formed in 1970 by songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lynne. Their music was characterized by the use of instruments not commonly associated with rock music such as violins, cellos, oboes, clarinets, French horns, and bassoons. Thus the ‘orchestra’ designation in their name. With the use of those instruments, you can accurately surmise that they had a very unique, but appealing sound. The band had a number of very popular songs. Interestingly enough, my favorite ELO song, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, (click on the link for video) recorded in 1979 was their very first song not to include a string section. It was ELO’s highest-charting song in the US, peaking at #3.

As an avid music lover, I’ve found that just about every song has a title, line, phrase, or sometimes even just one word that, with a little imagination, can reveal some content that makes for some good spiritual conversation. This song is such a one. “Don’t Bring Me Down”.

Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels

We have incredible potential with our attitudes and words were spoken to those around us to do one of two things….lift them up, or…..bring them down. Looking back over my life I remember those who had a kind, encouraging, uplifting word for me. Those kinds of folks will do more for ya than you can imagine. Encouraging words lift us to another place. They help us believe in ourselves. I mean, if someone else believes in me then I must be OK, right?!

Uplifting words have a healing effect on the human psyche. You’ll find yourself gravitating to those who have a kind word for you. And, it’s exactly the opposite for that other bunch that doesn’t have any good thing to say about anyone. Chances are that person was surrounded by parents, friends, or peers who couldn’t say anything positive to them. And, it has become the norm; it’s contagious. I read recently that it takes 40 positive, affirming words to counter just one negative, condemning, or cruel critical comment toward someone.

I may miss the mark. I may not always say the right thing. I may not handle every single situation perfectly. I might even do something that is just plain dumb. But, say something that lifts me up. Give me some encouragement! Speak life into me! Tell me something that’ll help me.

But, ……don’t bring me down!

Try these:

“Critics, There’s One on Every Corner”

“Sticks and Stones”

The Mountains are Talkin’!

….and you’ve heard ’em too, whether you realize it or not! There’s also a great possibility you’ve been listening way too much to what they’re saying! I bet you’re wondering just what I’m talking about. Well, Jesus knew we’d be facing mountains in the natural course of our life so He addressed it upfront for us. “Whosoever shall say to the mountain, be removed and cast into the sea, and doesn’t doubt in his heart that those things he says, he shall have whatsoever he shall say.” 

Now, realistically I can’t imagine why I’d ever want to move an actual mountain from one place to another. As far as I’m concerned they’re all exactly where they’re supposed to be. On second thought I wouldn’t mind having a couple of small ones out here in Western Oklahoma just to look at now and then, …..but it is what it is. One would then have to surmise that maybe Jesus wasn’t talking about a literal mountain at all but about the problems, obstacles, and potential dangers we all face in life.

Photo by Roussety Gregory from Pexels

I’d be surprised if anyone reading this little piece didn’t have at least some obstacle facing them right now. It just seems to work out that way. Mountains talk a lot! And when you have one, the mountain will be in your face talkin’ smack from the time you wake up ’til you go to sleep at night. ……sometimes even in your sleep! “You ain’t gonna make it!”. “You’ve got cancer!”. “He doesn’t love you anymore!”. “Your friends are talking about you!”. “You’re a failure!”. “You don’t do enough good stuff for the Lord to love you!”. And, the list goes on and on. Mountains are relentless! They don’t let up! The more you listen, the more they talk!

“Whosoever shall say to the mountain, be removed and cast into the sea, and doesn’t doubt in his heart that those things he says, he shall have whatsoever he shall say.” 

Jesus

I know you learned when you were a little kid to not ‘talk back’. Talkin’ back would get you in big trouble in those days. That was good advice then. But now, well now things have changed. You gotta start talkin’ back! I’ve found, for me, the most effective way to talk back to the mountains is to find a scriptural promise that directly affects the lies the mountain is saying to me. Every time that mountain tells me I ain’t gonna make it, ……I’ll declare the Word of the Lord out loud to my mountain. You can bet your boots I’m gonna talkback! And, I’m gonna do it like I mean it even if it feels like I’m spittin’ in the wind.

That’s exactly what Jesus did when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Three times he appealed to logic in trying to deceive Jesus; each time Jesus answered with, “It is written…”. Worked then for Him, ……..and it’ll work now for you if you’ll just do it!

The payoff

You’ll find that your level of faith rises every time you declare the Word to your mountain. Your mountain will begin to diminish in size. It’s all about perspective. Your faith is being tested and your faith will grow as a result.

So, yeah the mountains are talking. The question is, “What are you saying to your mountain!?”

Let’s Start an “I Love You” Culture!

Photo by Brett Jordan from Pexels

I grew up in a household where the “I love you’s” were very common. I didn’t realize how important that was until I was all grown up. As a matter of fact, I don’t guess I really came to the stark realization of just how important that was until I began to encounter person after person who didn’t have the same luxury as me. It has been a bit of an eye-opener of how many people my age never heard their dad say, “I love you.”. From experience, I’d say that moms are traditionally a lot better to say it than dads. But, saying it is important……and more important than you might imagine.

In my part of the world, I’ve been in the Texas Panhandle or Western Oklahoma all my life, it seems to have been part of the culture. Not sure if the same would go for other parts of the USA or the rest of the world for that matter but it wouldn’t surprise me. Fact is there are myriads of people out there who didn’t hear “I love you” in their home, from their parents or their people and as a result, they don’t say it either. It makes an incredible difference to hear it. I can’t number the times I’ve sat in my office with people of all ages with one after the other recanting their heartbreak over wondering if they were loved at all. Of course, in most if not nearly all cases they were loved, ……just not told.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

I’m free with the term and I’ve found out that if you tell other people you love ’em in a little bit they’ll return the favor. For many who are not free with it, it may feel very awkward and unnatural at first but as time goes by it’ll start to feel like second-nature. My best example is one of my close friends; he grew up in one of those homes where he was loved but it wasn’t said. He caught the significance of what I’m talking about and started the process with his grown sons. It caught on! Now I’ll walk through our offices and hear him on the phone with one of his boys and they’ll finish the call with, “Love Ya”. It blesses me to hear that! It’s doable and you can do it too!

Now, here’s something serious to think about. If we didn’t hear it from our parents and if we believe we weren’t loved, when we start to connect with God, who is a Father, it’s extremely hard for us to believe that He can love us either. It profoundly affects the most important relationship you’ll ever have! The more you trust the Father, …..the more fulfilling your life will be! ………we need to fix this!

Tell me about your own experience. Is it easy for you or not? What difference have you seen with your people upon being told, “I love you”? Let me hear your stories.

So, here’s my proposition. I’m startin’ an “I love you” culture! It might even turn into a revolution. Wouldn’t that be something?!

Who’s with me?

Will the Randall Terry’s of America Please Stand Up!

*I wrote this blog several years ago but never posted it. With the current state of our nation and the controversy raging over abortion I thought it would be timely to post now. – AT

There are only a few people around today who would even remember Randall Terry. And those who know him and have kept up with him would probably shrug their shoulders in disgust at the mention of his name. Terry would undoubtedly be accurately labeled as a ‘right-wing activist’ especially by the liberal media in America. They hated him then and it’d be worse now! In fact, I remember a lot worse things said about him some thirty years or so ago; extremist, is another word used to describe Terry, and again it’s probably pretty accurate. But there are more than several thousand young men and women out there in America somewhere who owe their very existence to Randall Terry.

In the nineties, Randall Terry’s organization, Operation Rescue, was involved in bringing much-needed attention to abortion doctors and clinics around the United States who engaged in, among other things, third trimester and partial birth abortions. Operation Rescue and Terry, personally, were involved in almost every kind of lawful activity in their effort to stop young girls from having abortions. He was arrested and jailed too many times to count for picketing abortion clinics, but he did more than anyone in that era (maybe ever) to put a stop to the indiscriminate killing of unborn babies. He was a continual thorn in the side of Planned Parenthood and organizations like it.

Terry’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, at least up to this point. Since the nineties he was accused of adultery, ended up with another woman, made a string of bad business decisions, said a lot of dumb stuff to the media and gave up the reins to Operation Rescue which, it seems (since I don’t hear much about it today) is not making much of an impact against the killing of the unborn. To me, he is a hero fallen from grace; we should pray for him. I wonder who will take up the cause?

And for the thousands of thirty-somethings who are now alive, only, because of his efforts, I can’t help but wonder…..How will they vote in 2020?