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!

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

“I Am the Danger”

That’s one of the most memorable, ‘iconic’ phrases in the popular TV series, Breaking Bad.

The show ran for five seasons on AMC. (*you really should watch it if you haven’t!)

The story is built around Walter White, an underachieving high-school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque with a brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, who’s a federal DEA agent. Walter goes out on a routine drug bust with Hank where he accidentally encounters Jesse Pinkman, one of his former, and way below average, students escaping the drug bust from an upstairs window. The two make eye contact and that’s how the story begins.

Walt is mesmerized by Hank’s talk of the amount of money these meth dealers are making. The story gets more complicated when Walt discovers he has inoperable lung cancer. His worry about that and how his family will make it without him consumes him until he comes up with an idea.

He looks up Jesse, who has all the contacts in the drug world, and the two enter a bizarre partnership whereas Walt begins to manufacture the purest crystal meth anyone has ever seen, blue meth. And, the adventure begins.

Photo by Eduardo Romero from Pexels

Much of this took place without Walt’s wife, Skyler, having any notion about it. She found out about it at a point and after an intense conversation/argument with Walt about it she says, Walt if what you’re saying is true….you could be in a lot of danger”. To which Walt angrily, emotionally….and, actually, truthfully declared in a loud voice, “I am the danger!”. And, seriously …..he really was!

In our walk with the Lord, there are plenty of roadblocks and challenges of about every kind you could think of.

In our walk with the Lord, there are plenty of roadblocks and challenges of about every kind you could think of. Any of these things have the potential to take us out or at the very least stall us out in our journey with Him. We’re encouraged in the Bible that these things are all a normal part of the Christian life. The struggle is real, so they say.

I’ve been tempted that way in the dark hours so many times it ain’t funny

But, in the final analysis, it really comes down to you….and your willingness to exercise the faith that already resides within you.

You’ve heard the old saying about certain people, “You’re your own worst enemy.”

That can be true of any of us if we’re not careful.

You see, nothing……and I mean nothing, (*or nobody!) can keep you from fulfilling the destiny the Lord has purposed for you……except you! ‘You are the danger’!

You might be tempted to bail on that plan. I’ve been tempted that way in the dark hours so many times it ain’t funny. But to do that would be a sure guarantee of missing my own destiny.

There’s bound to be those points in time that we have to decide, YES….or NO to the plan of God.

You’ll either be the ‘Danger’ to yourself and risk forfeiting your own destiny……or you’ll be the ‘Danger’ to the enemy (your adversary, the devil) that he’s always dreaded you would be!

So, make no mistake.You are the Danger!

The choice is yours!

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$$$ – Being a “Thousandaire” Might Just Be Better Than Being a “Millionaire”!

It goes against logic, I know. But after 60 + years of observation…I think it’s true. Now, for starters, I haven’t yet had the experience of being a millionaire….but I’ve been a ‘thousandaire’ for years. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve dropped below the qualification limit a few times down through the years…..especially during my illustrious rodeo career. But for the most part, I’ve been a steady thousandaire.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Pexels.com

I’ve noticed the last few years as I’ve gotten older that I don’t need as much ‘stuff’ as I use to think I needed. All those things that we ‘needed’ and thought would make us happier……didn’t! I think it’s part of actually growing up and maturing and learning in part, what’s really important in life.

I’ve observed throughout my life those who had lots of money. Even had friends growing up whose parents were very well off. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, it’s to be commended in most cases. It’s America; we can do just about whatever we want to do. And for those who really find their niche and do well financially, it’s a very good thing. I did notice that some of the rich kids didn’t try near as hard at sports as some of the less fortunate. They had enough athletic ability, alright,…..but the ‘try factor’ was lacking. It really showed up during my rodeo career. It’s a broad statement,….and not always true, but the rich kids weren’t nearly as gritty as those who had nothing to fall back on. 

“I’ve been hungry and I’ve been full; I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. I’ve learned to be content in whatever state I’m in”.

Paul

The human spirit is an amazing thing. We’re created to conquer and to succeed. Everybody loves the story of those who overcame extreme odds to succeed in life. It’s a very good thing to ‘have’ to get up and go to work and put in a good day…every day. It’s good to learn to manage our finances and resources and to live within our means. We can do a lot more than we think we can….but if it’s always been done for us….we’ll never know. If we never have to really ‘try’, we might just not ever do it.

I recently told a friend, “This time next year I’ll have 9 grandkids”. He jokingly said, “You’ll never be able to afford Christmas”...to which I replied, “I’ve never been able to afford Christmas yet!”(We raised 5 of our own!) But, you know what?? We’ve had great Christmases for, going on now, 39 years! We have somehow survived….just being ‘thousandaires’!

Paul said it in the Bible. “I’ve been hungry and I’ve been full; I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. I’ve learned to be content in whatever state I’m in”. He’d found the ‘secret’ to true happiness and contentment. His ‘joy’ was in the Lord!

I’m only a thousandaire but if family and friends and relationship with the Father were measured in money……I’d be a millionaire many times over!! I’m really, really rich in the things that matter most to me!

Why Losing Your Mind Might Be a Good Thing

man holding box covering his head with BRAIN written on box
Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

Doesn’t sound like much of a good idea. But, I bet most of us at one time or another at least thought we might be losing our mind. The human mind is an incredible thing. It processes thousands of bits of information in a matter of seconds and does it all day long in most cases. In those things that we need access to our mind, on a good day, can find information much quicker than the fastest computer.

But just as our mind can be our strongest ally in reasoning and decisions that we need to make, it can just as easily get in our way at critical times. The Bible encourages us to ‘renew’ our mind; that is to ‘make it new’! If we don’t renew our minds we will remain static in our progress and especially in our spiritual growth. Renewing our mind can be accomplished in a variety of methods. Reading and studying the written Word is one of the classic ways to do it. Listening to that ‘still small voice’ of God is another key way to have our minds renewed. And, on a strictly natural level sleep is another of the things that can renew our mind. There’s no doubt about it our mind needs a little rest from the rigors of daily life and all of the challenges it can have.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”

The Bible says we have the mind of Christ! I think that’s something we need to stop and think about more and pursue just exactly what that might mean. I think what we’ll discover is that because the Holy Spirit lives in us all the information we need about any circumstance is available upon our request. We’re on a ‘need to know’ basis with the Lord! Whatever we need to know in precise timing is ours if we’ll just tap into it!

Paul said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”. The key word here is ‘let’. We have all kinds of logical information in our mind that’s available to us in milliseconds but sometimes our own human logic stands in the way of kingdom logic. If we’re to ‘let’ the same mind be in us that was in Jesus we have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He gives us the mind of Christ in our affairs. We need to learn to ‘let’ that kingdom logic take the place of human logic.

It’s gonna take some work but it’s do-able. The Spirit of God will help. One of the great paradoxes of the Bible states, “He who loses his life will find it.” I don’t think it’s a far stretch to assume the same would be true with our own minds as it is our life. “He who loses his mind will find it.” That’s getting our own mind out of the way and letting the mind of Christ in!

So, seriously, …..losing your mind might just be a good thing!

Check this one out: We’re on a “Need to Know” Basis With the Lord!

Get Out of Your Way!

You wanna get somewhere in life? Sure ya, do! If you’re going to get that done you need to take my advice and get out of your way. Don’t get your feelings hurt just yet ’cause I get in my own way on a fairly regular basis, too. Trying to learn not to!

You see, God has a pretty unique plan for all our lives. He’s guaranteed us a fulfilling life if we’ll just listen up, pay attention and follow Him. But, we have to deal with all the negative stuff we’ve heard our whole life in the process. So much so that if we’re not careful those things can stall us out from fulfilling our destiny. For some strange reason, we’re more apt to believe that we can’t accomplish something significant than to believe that we can. I mean, we have God on our side! We routinely quote, “I can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.” While in everyday life we struggle in menial little things that bog us down and discourage us. Enough of those things strung back-to-back can put us in a mode of perpetual failure. If that’s going to change, you gotta get out of your own way!

Solution: We need to get re-centered on our true identity! You have been handpicked by the Father as His own son or daughter. Of course, you have to **accept that but that’s really all that’s required. Seems easy enough, huh?! You’re a chosen son of the Creator of the Universe Who wants to be a Father to you. Start to lean on Him in every situation. He likes that! He’ll help you up out of the ditch and get your feet on solid ground again if you’ll let Him.

So, get out of your way! ‘Cause a lot of good stands to happen if you’d just do that! Get your focus on and stop spending so much time looking in the rearview mirror!

There’s no tellin’ what you might accomplish in life if you can just get out (and stay out!) of your own way!

**“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God”          John 1:12

Why Losing Your Mind Might Be a Good Thing

Photo by SHVETS production from Pexels

Doesn’t sound like much of a good idea. But, I bet most of us at one time or another at least thought we might be losing our mind. The human mind is an incredible thing. It processes thousands of bits of information in a matter of seconds and does it all day long in most cases. In those things that we need access to our mind, on a good day, can find information much quicker than the fastest computer.

But just as our mind can be our strongest ally in reasoning and decisions that we need to make, it can just as easily get in our way at critical times. The Bible encourages us to ‘renew’ our mind; that is to ‘make it new’! If we don’t renew our minds we will remain static in our progress and especially in our spiritual growth. Renewing our mind can be accomplished in a variety of methods. Reading and studying the written Word is one of the classic ways to do it. Listening to that ‘still small voice’ of God is another key way to have our minds renewed. And, on a strictly natural level sleep is another of the things that can renew our mind. There’s no doubt about it our mind needs a little rest from the rigors of daily life and all of the challenges it can have.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”

The Bible says we have the mind of Christ! I think that’s something we need to stop and think about more and pursue just exactly what that might mean. I think what we’ll discover is that because the Holy Spirit lives in us all the information we need about any circumstance is available upon our request. We’re on a ‘need to know’ basis with the Lord! Whatever we need to know in precise timing is ours if we’ll just tap into it!

Paul said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”. The key word here is ‘let’. We have all kinds of logical information in our mind that’s available to us in milliseconds but sometimes our own human logic stands in the way of kingdom logic. If we’re to ‘let’ the same mind be in us that was in Jesus we have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He gives us the mind of Christ in our affairs. We need to learn to ‘let’ that kingdom logic take the place of human logic.

It’s gonna take some work but it’s do-able. The Spirit of God will help. One of the great paradoxes of the Bible states, “He who loses his life will find it.” I don’t think it’s a far stretch to assume the same would be true with our own minds as it is our life. “He who loses his mind will find it.” That’s getting our own mind out of the way and letting the mind of Christ in!

So, seriously, …..losing your mind might just be a good thing!

Check this one out: We’re on a “Need to Know” Basis With the Lord!

There’s a Better Way to Do It Than Cold Calls & Contracts

You know what I’m talkin’ about but let me clarify;

Cold Call – Unsolicited calls on (someone), by telephone or in person, in an attempt to sell goods or services.

Contract – Contract killing is a form of murder in which one party hires another party (often called a hitman) to kill a target individual or group of people.

Now, for starters, ….I ain’t specifically talking about either of those topics in the strictest sense. But those are the things that come to mind when I get asked by someone to go and talk to their friend or family member about the Lord. That’s what I call, putting out a contract on ’em. Their friend may be going through a rough patch in their life or they may be having problems that really do need the input of someone representing the Lord. The folks asking are nearly always well-meaning and clean hearted about it but I start to put on the brakes when I feel the conversation moving that way. It really makes me uncomfortable, especially if I don’t know the person having troubles, and I think it’s the Holy Spirit that makes me feel that way.

In all fairness, because I do what I do, people somewhat inaccurately believe that I should do this any time I’m requested to. I did it a few times back in the day before I learned better….and I’d have to say that my win/loss record was way less than impressive if you know what I mean! If you stop and think about it, it’s disrespectful to that person to ask someone to talk to them if they don’t know about it! Put your own self in their shoes. Nobody likes being ‘blindsided’! People just don’t like that! On the other hand, there are those out there who have been put under condemnation by their church or church friends telling them they need to get out there and tell everyone they know about Jesus, a method that I’m wholeheartedly against. Those guys will still probably do it for ya.

Here’s what changes everything. If your friend has given you permission to ask someone to visit with them then it’s OK. In fact, I’ll be one of the first ones to show up and help. Or, and this is a big one, if you ask me and I believe the Holy Spirit has directed me to do it (He does those kinds of things!) then, by all means, I’m going to! The Father will take care of the rest! But the best case scenario is that YOU talk to your friend about the Lord. You can tell real quick if he’s open to it or not. If not, don’t get pushy! Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. If he knows you can be trusted he’ll likely ask you about it later.

If you’ve put a contract out on someone before don’t get all twisted up about it. You cared about your friend and that’s a good thing but learn from the situation, keep caring about people and move on.

But, if you plan on putting a contract out on someone and don’t have your friend’s permission and he’s not expecting it, ……..I’m probably not your guy!

Don’t Let the Old Man In Pt II

You can read Pt 1 here.  Whatever you do, go to Pt 1 and click the link on the song if you haven’t already done it. I promise You’ll like it.

Totally different perspective today. And, ……a little disclaimer up front especially for those wives out there whose hubby keeps coming home late after a drinkin’ binge, and in a bad mood! This is not gonna be about that! Sorry. ……maybe next time.

The Bible uses the terminology, ‘old man’ and ‘new man’ on several occasions. It’s an interesting analogy. The ‘old man’ refers to the old us. You know, the BC (Before Christ) version of us, and how we thought and behaved in our old life as hopeless, habitual sinners. That ‘old man’ was hard to leave behind. He didn’t go away without a fight and he still tries to come back every chance he gets. The Bible says that our ‘old man’ was crucified with Christ. To sum it up Jesus took on Himself all our sins and shortcomings and received the recompense for all our wrongdoings. In essence, on the cross He endured and received everything we had coming……and in turn, we received everything He had coming! Now, people, THAT is some kind of trade-off!!

So, in the future, as you’re being conformed into the image of Jesus you’re guaranteed to run into all kinds of challenges. You’re gonna get tested to the core! Your patience is gonna seem like it’s running plumb out. You’ll be tempted to go back to your old ways. In fact, there’ll be plenty of times it seems like the right thing to do.

But, you gotta get your focus back on! Get your priorities realigned again.

And, whatever you do, ………don’t let the old man in!

Col 3:9-10 – “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed”

Eph 4:24 – “…..put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

 

“When Push Comes to Pull”

Yeah, I know, the little saying doesn’t go quite like that. It usually goes, “when push comes to shove” but in a world where, at times it feels like everyone’s pushing for something, or about something, it’s kinda nice to not get pushed. In fact it’s nice to not ever get pushed if you ask me.

Example; I don’t like it when car salesmen push. We were only a few hundred dollars apart on a used car deal some years back. We wanted them to install a DVD player and the salesman, who had been pushing on us for a couple of hours, finally pushed me as far as I was going! He really ticked me off. I went to the car and was ready to leave. When he saw that he was going to lose the sale he started back-peddling. I’d had enough and told him I was done! He kept on. He finally told me he’d install the DVD player for the money we’d offered him for the car. I said, “I don’t care if you put 5 DVD players in it, I ain’t buying it!” We left. He called me four or five times the next week but I didn’t budge. Why? ‘Cause I was tired of gettin’ pushed!

People, by nature don’t like to be pushed. I think the Lord made us that way. You see, He’s not a ‘pusher’. Some of His people are but that shouldn’t be a reflection on Him, but sadly it is. We didn’t go to church when I was a kid and I had a few ‘churchy’ friends who were always pushing on me. I didn’t like it then….and I like it less now. It doesn’t feel good. Pushing people toward God doesn’t work. But there are a bunch of believers out there who can’t seem to figure that out, as well-meaning as they might be.

The Book says, “No man comes to the Father except that the Father ‘draws’ him”. God doesn’t push; in fact it’s against His nature to do that. But He draws us, pulls us in, with His mercy, His grace…..and His love. It has an altogether different feel to it. It feels right, …..because it ‘is’ right! God’s people are often referred to as sheep in the Bible. I don’t know much about sheep but they tell me that you really can’t ‘drive’ sheep. They’re much easier ‘led’. If you think about it….we’re a lot like sheep in that respect; we respond much better when we’re led than we’re driven. 

Everything the Father does with us is pulling us toward Him. It’s not a harsh or invasive thing at all. It’s gentle, and easy on us……and easy to respond to.

So, maybe religion needs to stop and re-assess the methods, some of which obviously don’t work, ….and let push come to pull!

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