2012 in review

Thanks for making 2012 a great year for this blog. I really mean that. If I didn’t have readers, there would be no point to writing one! Here is a little annual review that I thought you might be interested in seeing. I’ll be posting a regular blog tomorrow! Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 13,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE!

OK, everyone. Here is the scoop. Two separate events have propelled a big change my blog site:

  1. Back in June, I had a group of dear friends convince me to start a new ministry based on my work with men. It now has become an official non-profit, Landmark Journey Ministries, and we are building the website for it now. I wanted to put the blog here because this new site will now be my home base.
  2. The release of my book, Landmarks, is fast approaching, due out on March 1. The website is printed on the back cover and inside the book, as well as an invitation to read my blog. So it was necessary to go ahead and move it over.

That being said, here is the link to the new site:

www.landmarkjourneyministries.com/blog

Please take a moment and go here to update your bookmarks.

If you were an email follower, you don’t need to do anything. Your email address has already been moved to the new site.

If you were a WordPress follower, please use the link to go to the new site and sign up via email as noted on the right side. Because this site is now outside of the WordPress domain, you can’t follow it as a WordPress follower anymore.

Thanks to so many who have made this blog such a success just by reading it. Let’s keep it moving forward with the new site. I’ll see you there!!

Bill

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What do you do when stuck in an old rut?

imagesStuck. In an old rut. I hate it when I find myself back in places of darkness or bondage, old patterns and reactions that used to run my life. And I found myself there again last week. Except this time, something surprising happened.

Many of you know that I have started a new ministry called Landmark Journey Ministries. It’s fledgling, like a newborn infant. We are right now trying to get a website up for it by the start of the new year. So I decided to go online to look at other ministries that are somewhat parallel. I wanted to get some ideas on what they have done with their websites. After looking at the third site, it hit. The old thoughts and feelings. Here is a little replay:images-2

Why would anyone come to my ministry? These are much better, more advanced. They can offer things that I could never do. And with that came all the comparing, the jealousy, the old self-hatred. It’s a rut I started tumbling in as a young man and sometimes lived there for months. It was the equivalent of being punched in the gut. I stared at the computer screen with the wind knocked out of me. What was I to do?

I did the only thing I knew how. I simply stopped, stood what little ground was left in my heart and cried out, “Father what do I do here? Give me something.” And what popped out was so surprising:

Why don’t you give thanks for them?

images-4I was momentarily stunned. And then I realized it was from Him. It was what I needed to do to get out of the rut. And I did just that. I gave thanks for each of the ministries I had looked at, for their work, for how they are honoring Jesus, and for all that can happen through them. I felt like I was being hoisted up out of a pit. I was free.

This is what it feels like to be personally coached by God. He wants to father us in very specific ways, through our temptations, our doubts, through our old patterns and ruts. What father wouldn’t want to help his son or daughter with their struggles!

Where do you need God to coach you today?

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What do you want to do before you die?

It’s an intriguing question.

But even more intriguing is where the question came from. Read the following lines of poetry and then follow the story below:

 

But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,

But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire

After the knowledge of our buried life;

A thirst to spend our fire and restless force

In tracking out our true, original course;

A longing to inquire

Into the mystery of this heart which beats

So wild, so deep in us–to know

Whence our lives come and where they go.

This is part of a poem by the 19th century poet, Matthew Arnold, entitled “The Unspeakable Desire.” I ran across this gem in my research on the MTV show The Buried Life, a title taken from this same poem. In the show four young men become sick of the life they are living and decide to do something radically different. They come up with 100 things they want to do before they die. And then they hit the road. Every time the guys succeed in doing one, they try to help others do something on their list.

So I did something like that in my class on Sunday. I asked the entire class, “What do you want to do before you die?” What came out were adventure longings to go and see certain places and relational longings to be close to certain people. And with that came the awkwardness of sharing something so personal and the fear of being criticized. We then talked about those feelings as a class.

For when we speak about these things, we are getting close to the unspeakable desire residing in all of us. As the poet said, so much of our life seems buried. Yet inside of every heart, something wild, something deep courses through us. To inquire of this may yield an understanding about where we have come from and who we are. And perhaps what we are to do before we die.

And that’s exactly what my Sunday School class is going to do over the months ahead. We are going to examine our wild and deep longings, the fire and the restless force inside each of us. We are going to pull up the unspeakable desire, and we are going to speak about it. The hope is that many will begin to live a resurrected life, not a buried life. That’s what coming alive in Christ means.

Join us every Sunday at 9:15 in the Event Center at Christ Presbyterian Church!

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Who is helping you push through fear?

All smiles at the trailhead

It was supposed to be a safe and easy overnight backpacking trip near Pickett State Park. I had gotten a map and trail guide, and my hiking partner Randy was going with me. It all seemed pretty straight forward, until we hit the trailhead.

Following the power lines

There we saw a notice informing us that a part of the trail had been destroyed by a mudslide. Randy went back and got some verbal instructions on how to navigate around it from the park ranger. These included directions on following power lines, jeep roads, and finally getting back on the trail.

Again, it was all easy sailing until we got to the jeep road. Other roads kept forking off, and trees were down all over the one we were on. As we got further out into the wilderness, I began to feel the anxiety creep in. Where were we? And where was the trail? I had to lean on Randy then who was confident that we could figure this out.

Relief at finding the trail again

We finally did hit a trail. But momentary relief gave way to danger as we found ourselves on a trail that dropped off a cliff side. Randy and I both fell on it, tripping at the same spot. And at the bottom, the trail signage only confused us further. After looking at maps and even talking with another hiker, we still had no idea where we were.

I had real anxiety about continuing with only a little sunlight left. So we decided to camp by the stream there for the evening. Randy was sure we could find our way out the next day.

After a hearty dinner and a good night’s sleep, we broke camp and backtracked up the cliff

Finding the right trail…at last

side again to find a trail we had missed. This time Randy got anxious about where we were headed because it didn’t make much sense with the map we were given. But now I was the one who felt confident about where we were going. And this time, he just relied on me. And sure enough, we finally hit the right trail to get us back.

On the last part of the hike that day, we conversed about how we had helped each other face anxiety and fear during the trip, and how we leaned on each other at various points. And then I realized something. This is a mark of true brotherhood.

So, who are the real brothers in your life? Who is helping you push through fear?

One of many amazing views we enjoyed

Crystal Falls along the trail

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Why letting go is so hard…and so wonderful

I am in the process of making final edits on the Landmarks book to be released in March. It’s been amazing to see what I have written in book form for the first time and to edit it for the last time. You would think that I would have learned the lessons in the book by now after working on it for over three years. Well…think again.

Yesterday I really, really struggled with where I am in life right now. There are so many unknowns, so many puzzle pieces missing, so many obstacles. The adventure that started with such flourish when I left full-time high school teaching has descended into some of the dark points in the plot. I wrestled with worry and anxiety over money, I fought off demonic assault while teaching my class at church. But more than anything else, I struggled with the gnawing sense that I wasn’t going anywhere, that I was stuck in oblivion, that others seemed to have large audiences or powerful ministries or deep impact, but I was just a small voice being drowned out.

I am embarrassed to admit how strong my longing is for impact, how deeply I crave after fame, and how jealous I am at times of those who seemed to have “gotten it.” And of course, desire like this turned away from the living God poisons and corrupts us. And so on the drive home from church, I found my heart poisoned and corrupted, stuck in a very bad place.

In those moments, I have learned to cry out for coaching, for the Father to lead me out of the dark places. That’s what happened yesterday. I just expressed my longing for his counsel. And this is what came to me in the truck…

Let me write the story.

Immediately the fog cleared, the darkness lifted, the path ahead appeared. I had been trying to script my own story again, which included fame, fortune, and a dash of the truth thrown in. It’s what I wrote about in the first chapter of the book! But apparently I needed to relearn the lesson:

Let go. Submit. Let God write the story of my life.

And once we do let go, we see it is the path that actually meets our deepest longings. But only after we let go. Only after we jump. That’s why it’s so hard.

And so wonderful.

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Why you may not be getting answers to your questions in life

I learned this lesson in the classroom. I saw how students could take in information and spit out the right answers. But I knew that wasn’t really education, and I wasn’t really teaching.

One day during an in-service for teachers, a guest lecturer made a startling statement. Students learn the most when they are asking questions, not when they are giving answers. The brain is engaged in a completely different way. It just clicked.

I began to test it out in my classroom and found it to be true. It was actually harder for them to compose good questions, harder because they had to think deeper about the material. In one of my classes, I scrapped the traditional quiz at times and made them write their own quizzes with their own questions. Even with books open, the students always told me these quizzes were harder to do.

And then I made the parallel leap one day. Perhaps it’s not just in the education of the mind. Perhaps it’s also true in the education of the heart and the soul. Maybe true progress comes by asking better questions. Maybe we get stuck in our walk with God, not because we don’t have the right answers but because we are not asking the right questions.

The book of Job shows that Job was asking the wrong question. He demanded to know why terrible things had happened to him and to make his defense before God.  It took until the end of the story to realize that he was going about it the wrong way. Jesus refused to answer some of the questions forced on him. Instead, he would ask better questions back, often disturbing questions.

It’s not that having answers is bad. It’s just that until we ask better questions, we are not in a place to receive the better answers. Here are a few examples:

  • “What’s going to happen to me next year?” gets replaced with this: “Father, how will you provide for me today?”
  • “Why is this happening to me?” becomes this: “Lord, what are you trying to teach me about my heart in this?”
  • “What is heaven really going to be like?” gets changed into this: “How can I enter more of heaven right now?”

That’s just a starter kit for your own thinking. If you feel stuck, flat, or confused, why not look at the questions you are asking.  Are they good questions? Are there better questions to ask?

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Leaving the safe for the unknown

“I will take the Ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.”

This may be the most pivotal line in The Lord of the Rings, uttered by Frodo. Here he makes a decision that will forever change his life and many others. It is the hinge on which the plot unfolds in the rest of this epic tale.

It is also one of my favorite moments in the story. Here a small and insignificant hobbit finds himself landed in an adventure way beyond the ordinary, scripted life for a hobbit. He is free to reject the idea of bearing the ring and longs to stay with his uncle Bilbo. But something inside tells him that this is his destiny, this is his adventure. And no one else can do it except him.

I think there are moments in everyone’s life when we sense that something is offered to us, something we need to take on, something we need to give ourselves to. And yet it comes without a sense of obligation or pressure. It is an unknown path filled with potential danger and risk, and yet we know that if we reject it, something inside of us will die. Conversely, if we take it, something inside will come alive. But we often do not understand how much hangs in the balance on these decisions, how many lives are at stake.

I know that a moment came like that to me several years ago, an offer from God to leave the safe and take up the unknown.  The insistent nature of the offer stayed with me for awhile before I decided to go, leaving a job and starting a non-profit ministry. Lives are now at stake, first Heidi and my two daughters, then the board of this ministry, and finally those that are and will be a part of the ministry.

Last week, I had the sense that it was time to get up on this horse and ride it. I had made the decision to start, but now it was time to embrace the work ahead, to own it, to charge out. Just like Frodo, I need to go even though I don’t know the way.

And then it hits me as I write. This is living faith, this is walking with God, this is where we all need to go.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Hebrews 11:6).

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Coming out of a vicious battle

I just walked out of a vicious battle, bruised a bit, but I’m OK. I’ve been here before. I should have known better, but I just forgot. Here’s what happened.

Saturday night was the first official event of the ministry that I and others have started, Landmark Journey Ministries. We gathered some 40+ men at a friend’s house for a Men’s Night Out, with men of all ages, including high school age sons. The program included dinner, a movie clip, some teaching, and a man telling his story. The theme of the evening was “our fallen stories as men.”

Everyone was so attentive and focused during the night. It seemed like a really good start. I should have been elated, but that’s not what I felt the next morning.

I woke up in a fog, confused, groping for truth. Sharp and darkened thoughts began to fly in at me, machine-gun style: You are a failure. This ministry will never succeed. Look at all the men who didn’t come. There are many others who can do this better than you. And they were aimed right at the lie I had believed for so long: Never fail in front of others. I knew what this was now, a demonic assault on my heart. It was time to stand. But as soon as I resisted one thought, another would come flying at me. I became disoriented, but kept hanging on to truth of Scripture. The Lord also reminded me that this was not about me, but about his glory.

Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, I just had to keep resisting. It was exhausting. I fell asleep for over an hour to recover. Finally, the darkness began to lift. Standing in the truth had won the day.

I went back and spoke to the friend I had interviewed. He had felt same type of attack. We encouraged each other to stand and not give in.

Whenever the kingdom of God advances, there is a counter-assault from the kingdom of darkness. I call this the Dark Backwash Effect. And when we experience this, it’s not a sign of defeat, but a sign of the enemy’s defeat.

So…what are the dark thoughts darting in your mind? What are the accusations, the condemnations? You don’t need to listen to them. You can learn to stand in the truth…the truth of Jesus. And you can walk out victorious.

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Learning to say the most precious word in the universe

What I am going to say is so simple. A small child understands this. But for me with all of my supposed sophistication, it took me many years to get here.

It happened suddenly on the back porch early this morning where I spend time alone with God. I was asking him about how to pray. Frustrated with prayer lists, I gave them up a long time ago. They felt deadening, mechanical. At times, I even gave up praying for others because I sensed it was out of obligation, not out of passion. I was stuck, needing some personal coaching, a revelation. And then it happened this morning.

Daddy. It just arose someplace from a dark cellar in my heart. A place I have honestly never, ever prayed from my entire life. The word came with such tender emotion, a feeling of being 6 or 7 years old coming to my Father. It is a sense I have never really experienced, even though I have taught on it many years. I feel almost embarrassed to admit this, but it’s just the truth. It’s like a blind man knowing about color all his life and then one day having his eyes restored. I just saw. I just felt.

Daddy. I began to say it again. I began to feel the connection, the life as a son. I just sat in it, drank from it, bathed in it. I asked as a son for things in my life and then for the needs of those I love. It felt so different from the mechanical lists. I then tried to return to that same feeling throughout the rest the day.

Daddy. It may be the most precious word in the universe, the one word that can change the way we feel about everything. It is the one word that Jesus gave his life so that we could know. It is the one word that the Holy Spirit wants to teach us to say from our deepest depths. “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba (Daddy), Father.’” (Gal. 4:6)

Daddy. I hope you are learning to say it also.

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