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.

The Bible Belt – “The Land of Never Enough”

Prefer audio version? Click play (2:31)

After 30 years or so in the ministry there are things you start to notice, things that stand out. There are patterns of thought and behavior that seem to be deeply woven into the fabric of Bible Belt mentality. One such pattern that runs very deep among born again believers is that one can never do enough to get,….or stay, in good standing with God.

If you wonder why I say that, here’s why; I hear it all the time; “I don’t go to church enough”, “I don’t pray enough”, “I don’t read the Bible enough”, “I don’t have enough faith”, “I’m not a very good Christian”, I hope I”m going to heaven”. I just heard this from a man yesterday, “I think God has given up on me”. I refuted that lie as quick as I could!

“It’s like being on a treadmill of performance in an effort to earn their righteousness”

It’s a prevalent attitude with many people always thinking they can never do enough, or be good enough to satisfy the Lord. It gives the feeling they’re trying to serve a God that’s unreasonably demanding and impossible to please. It’s like being on a treadmill of performance in an effort to earn their righteousness; A state, in fact, that many never seem to arrive at. This is a problem of the highest order, in my opinion, because it gives an incorrect image of ‘Who’ God actually is. It’s one of the greatest misportrayals the world has ever seen. There are many out there who’ll live their entire lives believing they were never quite acceptable or good enough to please God. And, what’s worse is that it leads one to believe that the Father’s love based entirely on our behavior.

Sad,…. Sad,…. Sad!

The Danger of Never Enough

The danger of ‘never enough’ exists anytime a mixture of law and grace are preached. And, sadly enough…..that’s what happens most of the time in the Bible Belt. Paul spent the last half of his life contrasting law and grace. He knew them both well….in fact better than anyone on the planet in his generation. He was a staunch defender of grace even after it caused him to be beaten more than once and left for dead. It was controversial then….it’s controversial now…..but only to those who believe their behavior is what makes them righteous.

The Father doesn’t love you because you’re good…..He loves you because He’s good!

So, tell me, what’s on your list of things to do that make you righteous? And, while you’re at it explain to me where the line is of, enough….or not enough. Truth is, if you never read your Bible, if you never went to church your righteousness isn’t diminished one bit. I’m not advocating that….just pointing it out! You’re not righteous because of what you do…..you’re righteous because of what He did! The Father doesn’t love you because you’re good…..He loves you because He’s good!

THAT, in itself, makes me want to do good!

Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina

Good fathers would never keep their children in limbo over such important things! So, pack your bags, enjoy your relationship with the Father….. and get out of the land of never enough!

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!)

……as long as you’re speculating!!

The human mind is an incredible thing! We have the God-given capacity to think, reason, deliberate, decide and imagine.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

It’s been said that we only use a small portion of our mind…and having dealt with people in at least part of seven decades I can totally concur! Easy, ….just kidding!

A lot of my life is spent working through messy life situations with people. It requires me to be a good listener, be willing to hear both sides of a situation if that’s the case, be willing to give hard advice when it’s needed…., you know, the tough love kind. It requires that I do my best to get the Lord’s counsel on any given situation and to communicate it in a way that people can understand.

In fact, I often pray this at the end of a counseling session, “Lord, the things that I said that You would’ve said….burn those things into their spirit”, “but anything I said to them that You wouldn’t say…..let them forget it before they get out the door.” I’m sure He’s faithful to do that. Even though I’ve been doing this for years now, I don’t want to get to the place that I’m so confident in my own ability to give advice that I run completely past the wisdom of the Lord. So far, so good!

“It’s crazy sometimes how a person’s mind can immediately go to all the things that could go wrong.”

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

It’s crazy sometimes how a person’s mind can immediately go to all the things that could go wrong. Our imagination is a wonderful thing but it can be a beast when it’s working against us. It can totally eat our lunch when we get on the wrong side of it. The reality is that some of those things can and do go wrong. I mean, the possibility is there.

But, I say, if you’re going to speculate about how bad it might get and all the things that could go wrong….then it seems only sensible that you should at least try to speculate what might ‘go right’!! 

Speculation can gnaw away at your faith.

We‘re so geared to think in a negative way that we might not ever do that unless someone, (like me!), reminds us! *(actually, I need reminding sometimes myself!)

Speculation can gnaw away at your faith. But, as long as you’re speculating….why don’t you speculate about what might go right?!

…..or we could just take the Bible’s word for it:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Cor. 2:9

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!?”

$$$ – 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!