The Best Monday I’ve Had All Week!

The Best Monday I’ve Had All Week!

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A friend of mine, while serving as the preaching minister in a local church, became known for consistently saying, “Today’s the best Sunday I’ve had all week!”.  At first glance, it may be easy to chalk that up to it being the only Sunday in the week, but it was really a statement about attitude rather than frequency.  I’ve worked in ministry long enough to be certain he wasn’t saying that everything had gone just as he had wanted during the previous week, or that the events of the day were even going fully according to his plan.  No, I believe it was one tool of many which he used to remind himself and others that it was a day given by God and a day meant to be used to honor God — no matter what!

I thought about that example today as I worked through my morning routines on a Monday that is anything but routine.  While we often think of Monday as the start of a new work week, it almost always has baggage from the previous week hanging around.  For me, last week was filled with struggles and issues that remain unresolved but aren’t really within my ability or responsibility to resolve.  Nonetheless, they weigh on me and can have a tendency to fill my mind to the point of distraction and even discouragement if I let them.  With last week’s burdens still hanging over me, I woke up to fresh snow that I wasn’t expecting — meaning extra work to start the day.

But then my routine kicks in.  The sidewalks are cleared, the building is cleaned and prepped for the day, and I settle in to write the prayer guide for next week.  After some time with God, we settle in on a topic based on Colossians 3:2 which says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  Monday mornings I typically set aside to write the prayer guide that I will publish and send out the following week.  Some weeks the topic comes easily and other weeks it is a struggle to hear God clearly in regard to where the focus should be.  Some weeks I’m not sure who the primary audience is that God will use it to reach and other weeks I’m pretty sure it is meant to speak directly to me before it goes out to anyone else.

The reminders I worked on this morning were priceless.  Reminders to not worry, to be open to the instruction of Scripture, to allow the Spirit to fill my all of me including my mind, to be transformed by having a renewed mind, to engage my mind in prayer, and to surround myself with like-minded people who seek to honor God.  Yes, it’s the best Monday I’ve had all week — not because it is the only Monday I’ll have all week, but because it came with an attitude adjustment that calls me to reset my mind on the things of Christ.  Now that doesn’t mean the struggles are gone or resolved, they remain and some of them continue to grow.  What changes, and what must change, is how I set my mind in the midst of things beyond my responsibility and control.

The morning made me think of the photo I put at the top of this post.  It is one I took last Saturday and I would guess most people looking at it are drawn to the blue sky and bright white clouds.  Yet within the same photo is a base of drab browns and grays of a sparse winter landscape.  Your view of that photo is really dependent on where you set you mind, whether consciously or subconsciously.  On this best Monday you’ll have all week, it is time to set your mind on things above!

In prayer,
Tom Lemler  

Just Looking

Just Looking

What are you looking at? I mean, when you’re not reading this wonderful blog, what catches your eye on a regular basis? Is there any harm, or benefit, in “just looking”? Do you even give much thought to the things you not only see but to that which you allow your thoughts to rest upon for more than a moment?

Most of the major purchases I’ve made in life began as “just looking”. Sometimes the “just looking” phase is a research time in order to find the best possible solution to something that I actually need. Many times, though, the “just looking” is more of a dreaming or longing for something that I know I don’t need but somehow it has caught my attention.

I’m not sure there is a problem with just looking . . . other than it is not possible to do over some length of time. No, the problem typically lies in what we are just looking at rather than in the fact we are looking. It seems our thoughts, and then our actions, typically follow our line of sight. So, “just looking” becomes “just thinking” which, in time, becomes “just doing”.

From Eve “just looking” and seeing the fruit forbidden by God was “good for food” to the heroes of the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 who were “just looking” for a kingdom whose architect was God, the Bible is filled with stories of people whose actions were determined by the direction of their gaze. Some show the pitfalls of “just looking” in the wrong direction. Eve “just looking” at what God said was off limits. Lot “just looking” at the cities of the plains which were filled with wickedness. The people of Israel “just looking” at the nations surrounding them. Each followed their “just looking” with actions which led them into sin they probably thought they would never be involved in.

Others chose to fix their gaze on things of a more noble nature. Abraham was “just looking” for a land promised by God of which he did not know. Moses found himself “just looking” at God rather than the treasures of Egypt. The Bereans were “just looking” at scripture to see if what they were being taught was from God. Each of these, and many more, turned their “just looking” into a faithful pursuit of God even when the visible wasn’t always complete.

And then there’s David. David portrays the range that most of us deal with throughout our life. There are times, such as when facing Goliath, that he is “just looking” at God and not being distracted by the enemy. And then there are other times, such as His relationship with Bathsheba, when he is “just looking” at the things of this world in a way that he shouldn’t and it leads him deeper and deeper into sin. That is why God tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” When we live a life “just looking” at Jesus and the truth found in His Word, we will find our thoughts and actions will follow our gaze and be pleasing to Him.

So, what are you “just looking” at today? Where is it leading your thoughts? How will your actions be influenced by the things you allow your eyes to settle on today? Are there things you are doing now as a result of “just looking” in the past that you wish you had never gotten involved in? How about good things that your past “just looking” has led you to? What do those experiences tell you about what you ought to fix your eyes on today?

I pray that you and I would pay close attention to the things we rest our gaze upon so that the influences of what we say and do would lead us to a life pleasing to God.

In prayer,
Tom Lemler

We Are Family!

We Are Family!

As an interlude to the daily “travelogue” posts I am working on to cover a recent family vacation, I am writing this post to share some observations from the trip.  Our family travels include my wife and I and our beautiful daughter who mostly lives at a six to eight year-old level even through chronologically she is very much an adult.  Our daughter’s disabilities include mobility issues along with other things, so the nature of our trips can often be challenging.

For the longest times, we could carry her in a front carrier and then a backpack carrier for our long family hikes.  Eventually she outgrew the backpack carrier and we had to get more creative in the hikes that were somewhat rugged.  A few years ago we came across a wheelchair designed to handle terrain that a normal chair could not.  With mountain bike tires on the rear wheels and six inch wide casters on the front, it has been down many trails that led to some incredible beauty of God’s creation.

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On one particular adventure on this last trip, we were going down a particularly rugged path that included crossing a (currently) dry riverbed.  The riverbed was various levels of shale and sandstone which made for a beautiful and rugged path.  As we worked our way across, we could see an observation platform filled with people on the other side of the river where they could get a partial view of the falls . . . and a good view of this crazy family heading across the riverbed with a wheelchair.  It caused my wife to wonder out loud, “how many photos will we be in with some sort of caption regarding ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way'”.

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Pushing a wheelchair in some desolate areas, or pulling it up or down lengthy wooden staircases, or running it up the soft sands of towering dunes can create some great memories . . . and some great conversations.  Usually the conversations lead to some form of amazement that we are out wherever we are . . . as well as an amazement at how old our daughter actually is.  Our response varies to some degree as we’ve not really given thought to it.  In fact, the response usually includes some way of conveying that we’ve not really thought of doing life any other way!  You see, we are family!  We don’t do it perfectly, but we continue to learn how to care for one another and accommodate the needs of each other to their benefit.  Some of our daughter’s special needs are rather obvious, but the truth is we all have needs that are special and need to be treated as such because we are all unique creations of God.  I hear the Marines have a saying, “No man left behind!”.  That is the way of life we try to do family as . . . we do it together with God’s help to the best of our ability.  We help those who are weak and pay attention to the weaknesses of those who appear strong.  And so the memories I am able to share through photographs are memories we have been able to share in as a family.

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If you’ve gotten this far in the story, I hope you can see lessons to apply throughout life.  While it obviously applies to the family, I believe this way of life is the way God wants the church to operate as His family.  If the family doesn’t travel together, some people may get to where they are going but many, including those who have rushed ahead, will miss out on the full beauty God has prepared for His family to enjoy.

You see, we are indeed family.  And while we are each unique and have our own interests, desires, ways of doing things, and paths that we travel; we are also a family that grows best when we find ways to include everyone within the family in this journey of life.  While I do enjoy times of solitude and silence with God alone, being able to enjoy life as a family, no matter what, is a great blessing that both comes from God and honors God.

So, yes, we are family!  Now let’s keep living as family. 🙂

In prayer,
Tom

 

 

A Restful Day

A Restful Day

For one reason or another, or more likely a combination of many different reasons, my mind and body have been yelling at me lately about the need for rest.  So, while the day held the potential for many different things that would have been good and enjoyable, I listened to the warnings and enjoyed a restful day.  As I sat on the porch and enjoyed the refreshing breeze and the beauty of my surroundings; I was reminded that rest is not just a good idea, it is God’s idea!  The concept of a day of rest each week, a sabbath, was designed by the one who designed me.  I believe it wasn’t by accident that God commanded a day of rest, it was because He knew we needed it even while He knew we wouldn’t always listen to that need.

As I sat on the porch watching the hummingbirds show up to the feeders, an aching toe from an old injury brought a short poem into my mind.

There was a day,
Some time ago.
I played a game
And broke my toe!
Now when the weather
Changes so.
That broken toe
Does let me know!

The ache in my toe stuck with me most of the day but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the restful time with God that I needed.  The view from the porch was great and with a long-reach lens I was able to capture some of the beauty with my camera.

After grilling bacon cheeseburgers for lunch, it was back to the porch for a while to enjoy more of the sights and sounds of nature.  As I continued my time with God, another short poem came into my mind.  Considering most of my poems have been rather lengthy, these short snippets were an unusual thing to find in my mind but I’m confident God can use what He gives regardless of length.

There’s often much
I’d like to say.
Until I take
The time to pray.
And when I talk
To God each day.
I find there’s less
I “have to” say!

Eventually I took the idea of rest to the next level and headed inside for an afternoon nap.  The nap eventually led to more porch time as the day of rest continued.  As the day winds down, I am thankful for a day of rest and look forward to the day of worship I will give God tomorrow.

Noticing God’s Presence

Noticing God’s Presence

“Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can hear the brush of angels wings.
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
(Words by Lanny Wolfe)

It seems that the more I pause, even for just a moment, the more acutely I’m aware of being surrounded by the presence of God.  I suppose I could pause and not notice, and in reality that has been the case more often than I care to admit, but once I started to really seek God I began to realize He delights in making Himself known.  

My enjoyment of wildlife and scenic nature photography has served to amplify an awareness of God’s presence as I capture some of the details of His handiwork.  Today it was some time spent sitting on the front porch watching, and photographing, the hummingbirds that frequent the feeder we have out.  Capturing the “brush” of their wings really makes it seem like I can feel “the brush of angels wings.”  And the glory exhibited in each photo I take shouts of the glory of God revealed throughout creation.

For me, photography not only allows me to capture the presence of God, it also causes me to notice that presence in everyday life no matter where I am.  While it is rare for me not to have a camera with me these days, even when I don’t, I find that I always have an eye out for the wonders that are most often simply passed by.  Yes, the world is messed up by sin.  And, yes, there is a lot of ugliness that exists as a result of human interactions with one another that don’t reflect the image of God.  And while there are many distractions to draw us away from noticing God’s presence, there is nothing that can keep it hidden if we make the effort to seek Him.  His promises are sure and He says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

I pray that you and I would always seek God with all our heart and that in doing so we would know that “surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!”

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Good Grief!

Good Grief!

“Good Grief” seems like such an odd phrase when you stop and consider it in the midst of real grief.  So odd in fact, that I took the time to look up its origin in an attempt to understand just what was so good about grief.  What I discovered is that it is most likely the result of people substituting the word grief in the phrase they wanted to say in order to not take the “Lord’s name in vain” by saying, “Good God!”.  Since God observes the heart and motives, I’m not sure how effective such a strategy is — but that’s a matter for a different post. 🙂  While the research helped me understand the origin, it did nothing to answer my internal question of what good could be found in grief.

Anyhow, this is an article I have been working on for two years now and while I’m still short on answers, I do realize that the grieving process is natural and necessary . . . and often very different for each person.  And while the phrase was never meant to have anything to do with grief or goodness, I’ve begun to think that good grief is only possible when we allow God to change and transform us even through our losses.  But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s turn the clock back a couple years and pick up on this journey to discover good grief where it began . . . or at least where it came to the surface in the most unavoidable way.

Two years have passed but I remember the day as if it was just yesterday.  They say my phone lit up with the initial incoming call while I was leading the closing prayer time at church, but it wasn’t until we were at Subway for lunch that I noticed I had a missed call and voicemail from my brother.  The message was pretty basic — call me as soon as you can.  The urgency in his voice took me outside the restaurant to return his call with great concern in my heart for my mom and dad.  The concern increased as he wanted to make sure I was sitting down, and then the news broke . . . it wasn’t mom or dad, it was one of his kids — Bre was gone.

I don’t know that I grieve in the way most people do, and I’m not sure that I’m even capable of expressing grief in the ways most people would recognize, but that day began a journey that changed not only me, but in some way it changed everyone who knew my niece.  While I can’t speak accurately of the changes it brought to the lives of others, I can write about how it has changed me so far.  While the day of the accident and the news of it is etched in my mind, the rest of the week is mostly a blur.  I readily and humbly agreed to “officiate” the funeral service and the week was filled with long days and nights as I prepared a funeral message while taking care of a major floor refinishing project at work.  The volunteers who were going to be doing the floors had been “reassigned” to a different project and I was left alone with my work and with God to begin examining what I would share with the family and friends who would gather at the end of the week, and to begin considering what good God could do in my life out of all of this.

The first thing to change was a renewed awareness of the brevity of life.  We’ve generally come to expect that “old” people will die and while we grieve their passing, it usually doesn’t hit us as abruptly as the loss of a young person.  While Bre packed more into her twenty-one years of life than most people do with many more years, it seemed there was so much more that should have and could have been done.  Yet this moment is all any of us have and what we do with it is what builds our legacy we leave behind.  If God puts it in your heart and mind to do something and you don’t take the first step toward that today, it is always possible that the step will never take place.  Loss brings us face to face with grief and grief is designed to bring us face to face with God.  What people do when they face God in their times of grief varies greatly, but God’s desire is that they would find comfort in Him.

The second thing to change, related closely to the first, was a renewed focus on spending time more wisely when it comes to making family time a priority.  The process of grieving caused me to reevaluate many things about how I used my time.  The “good” out of this grief, so far, has led me to be much more deliberate in spending time with my wife and daughter in special ways whenever we get the chance.  Things that consumed my time with no apparent benefit to me or others went by the wayside as I would head out to nearby parks with my family, and camera, to just spend time together in God’s presence.  Vacations and even spur of the moment overnight getaways have become more meaningful as we build memories together.  While this change began gradually after the funeral, it really solidified a year ago as I concluded that memories are what we hold onto when we are no longer able to hold onto the ones we love — so make good ones!

While I suppose there are many other lessons that I have been learning which are making good come from the grief, these two seem to be primary at this time.  While loss brings much pain, when our time of grieving is spent with God, He can bring good changes to us even through the grief.  Good grief?  Well, yes . . . and no.  The cause of the grief is rarely good, but God can make the result of the grief into something good in our life and through our life into the lives of others.

And so, for now, I close this writing with a photo that includes the poem God gave me to write two years ago as this process of “good grief” began.

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Not As Planned

Not As Planned

Have you ever worked hard to get the details of something mapped out just right only to have whatever it is not go according to plan?  My guess is that we’ve all been there.  In fact, I just finished up representing Impact Prayer Ministry at a major Christian convention and it felt like the entire experience was one adjustment after another with nothing going quite as I had planned.  I suspect I’m not the only one who experiences such change-ups on a regular basis, so what should you and I do when life turns out to be not as planned?  Here are some ideas based on my recent trip:

  • Look for the silver lining.  I had planned to be on the road early Monday morning in order to get to the convention center for the start of the exhibit set-up time.  A delayed start meant I would not get there when I wanted, but as I arrived in Indianapolis later than anticipated, I realized I was just in time for an early lunch at Skyline Chili!  This was a treat for me that I don’t get often and one that I would have missed out on had things gone according to my plan.  Not everything that doesn’t go as planned will turn out better than what you had hoped, but often there will be something in the midst of the changes that might even be better than what you had planned.
  • Trust God with the changes you have no control over.  I had chosen my location in the exhibit hall very carefully as I would be directly across the aisle from a “Pastor’s Lounge” that was very popular at last year’s convention.  I’m one who diligently studies exhibit hall floor plans trying to figure out the natural flow of people so I can choose a location most likely to get the most visibility.  When I arrived, there was no “Pastor’s Lounge” set up across from my space as the sponsor had decided not to have a presence at the convention.  This left me at the end of an aisle that went nowhere and my plans for a high traffic flow vanished in a way I could do nothing about.  Because there was nothing I could do about this change in the hall layout, all I could do was trust God to bring the people by the display that He would want me to connect with.  Even the best made plans are often subject to changes by others that you simply cannot control and cannot even anticipate.  In those times, trusting God really is the only option.
  • Watch for God’s plan to unfold in the midst of yours falling apart.  This comes after you learn to trust God that He knows what He is doing even when your plans disintegrate before your very eyes.  As I found myself in a less visited part of the exhibit hall than I had anticipated, I discovered that God amplified the depths of the conversations I was able to have with the people He brought to me.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of having so many people moved to tears by the work God was doing in their life.  Yet as I shared the printed resources and some of the stories behind them, God used the experience to speak deeply to many people — and through their reactions, to speak deeply to me as well.  I believe God wants us to do our best for Him, but in the midst of our best we must watch for something even better.  Often God uses my plans to get me to a certain point, and then disrupts my plans to get me to a place even further than I ever would have dreamed.

In the midst of all the disrupted plans, God continued to work and I was able to put about 500 prayer-based devotional books into the hands of people who were looking to grow in their connection to God through prayer.  I praise God that He continues to provide the resources to make the books available and the inspiration to keep writing them.  I came away from the convention encouraged by the work God is doing in and through me even when things don’t go as planned — at least not as I planned. 🙂

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