A Gift in Every Moment

dreamstime_xs_22245053Several years ago, I had the privilege of working at a retirement community as a chaplain. I learned so much from those that lived there- they had such a strong faith, wisdom gleaned through the years and a perspective that challenged my thinking every day. One day I was facilitating a Bible study and asked the question, “How do you experience God?” One man, without hesitation answered, “With every breath I take. With every breath I take, I experience the presence of God.” Awesome. What a reminder of God’s faithfulness, His unconditional love, His desire to be near to us, His heart for us. Immanel—God with us. As I reflect on this man’s statement, I also see that with every breath we take, we can experience God’s “presents.” Our lives – every breath – is another gift from Him. He gives us the gift of people and relationships. He gives us countless opportunities to enjoy, from new and exciting experiences to favorite moments to making a difference in the lives of people. He gifts the “little things” that aren’t really little at all, like laughter, sunsets, the smell of fresh brewed coffee, a beautiful snowfall or the prayer of a little one.  Even in the hardships and trials He brings forth the gifts of life lessons, wisdom and redemption. There is a gift in every moment if we just look for it. As we take notice, receive and unwrap His gifts every day, may we become so full that we give to others from a grateful, joy-filled and overflowing heart. Whether it’s encouragement, our time and availability, grace and forgiveness, love and respect, sharing life lessons or whatever He asks of us – from all that He has given, we have the joy of giving as well!

Time for Change

There’s a saying a good friend of mine told me once that I’ll never forget: “The most successful people aren’t necessarily the most intelligent, but those who are willing to adapt their thinking to change.” So much of my life this past year has changed that there’s simply not enough room to tell you, and I’d have no idea where to begin. I will say, though, the very beginning of this new journey in life started with a single step of faith.

A few years ago, I saw a friend of mine do the exact same thing… no idea what he was going to do next, no idea how he’d provide for his family and no idea how to stop the nagging desire to ask “why.” But he did it. He took that step of faith. He sold out his life, committed himself to be truly utilized by God and is a better father, husband and friend because if it. What did I gain from it? He gave me a roadmap of how to get my “why” question answered, too.

Proverbs 16:3 says “Commit unto The Lord all things and your plans will surely succeed.”  There are other translations, but I like this one the best because it expresses to me that there’s absolutely no way… if I commit myself to His glory (not mine)… that I can mess this up! My investment in “God Things” is guaranteed.

Friends, people are watching you, and you don’t even know it. Take a chance for God. Take a step through that open door today that might not be there tomorrow. Be today. Do today. Go today… and you may even take some people along with you that you had no idea who they were! These are the things Toward the Goal Ministries desires for you. You’ve enabled us to do great things in some people that the rest of the world has discounted or written off. You’re helping us to help others. You, too, have the ability to be intentional in someone’s life that this world says they have no value. Scary? Yes, terrifying. Costly? Everything. Worth it? Every cent of your time! But remember… “successful people are those who will adapt their thinking to change.” That’s what growth really is, right?!

God bless you and your household,
Art Yoder, TTG President

Perspective Changes Everything

084In order to go forward in life, in situations, in emotions, in relationships, in forgiveness, in health, many times we need to change our current perspective. Our mind is one of the greatest weapons we possess. Our thoughts can fuel victory or defeat in every situation. Victory doesn’t always look like obtaining the results we want. Victory is being able to shift perspective, lean into Christ and trust Him in the results.

Changing perspective comes when we slow down emotionally and step back to take in the entire picture. It means to reframe our situation, come at it from a different angle, and think outside the box. It means asking myself, “What can I learn from this situation?” It means stepping back, identifying lies, detecting our typical patterns of thinking (negativity, doubt, skepticism, rejection, etc) and changing our thinking. It means making new pathways in our brain with new thoughts, replacing lies with truth, the negative with the positive, mistrust with trust, assuming the best rather than expecting the worst. It means building our strengths rather than focusing on our weaknesses, wearing names that fit rather than destroy. It means pointing out what others do right rather than what they do wrong. It means looking through somebody else’s lens in order to understand rather than judge. It means focusing on our blessings rather than our lack. It means looking at each ordinary thing or moment and seeing the extraordinary. It means enjoying the scenery along the path of life — each season of life, each day we have, each scene right in front of us. Problems become opportunities and failure isn’t seen as the arch enemy but a teacher in life. The chains of perfectionism fall to the ground when we realize there can be more than one right answer. As we shift perspective, a whole other picture emerges. If frees us to move forward, teaches us lessons about life, gives us direction and grows our faith and character. It frees us up to move forward in becoming the person God has called us to be.

Changing perspective keeps us moving forward, enabling us to move out of the “ruts” in which we have become “stuck.” It doesn’t deny the present or our weaknesses. It doesn’t negate our necessary grieving or processing, but enables us to manage our emotions, walk with steadiness and exude peace and stability. It takes our focus off of ourselves and onto others- serving and encouraging them, all the while keeping our hearts fixed on Christ.

What I look for, I will see. If I look for the same old things I always have and resort to my old patterns of thinking, I will continue to get the same results. If I look for the positive and plant new seeds of thinking I will find something very different and rewarding. Changing perspective is being intentional. It’s a choice. I’m choosing to move forward or backward. I’m choosing freedom or captivity. Perspective changes everything.

Philippians 4:6-9, Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:22-24

 

Increasing Measure

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

We don’t need to worry about if God will “fill our cup” or not. We will be refreshed! As we’re generous, we “will” prosper, thrive, stretch and grow. This means we’ll then have a “larger capacity” to share of our time, talents and treasures with an increasing measure.

In referencing several Godly traits, 2 Peter 1:5-8 says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Living out these qualities in “increasing measure” is the key in avoiding complacency and stunted growth.

It’s been said that…We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving. This truth lines up with what Jesus says in Luke 6:35, “Love your enemies (enemies of the cross), do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High…”

In life, we’ve seen that as we freely give, God freely gives back in very innovative, creative and increasing measures.

Let’s all keep sharing our time, talents and treasures in increasing measure as we have opportunities to do so.

Bruce

 

 

Mission Accomplished

Near the end....

Near the end….

One of our goals this summer was to complete the 88 mile trek from Cleveland to Dover via the Towpath Trail and various other roads. This has been a goal of mine since 2008 and now the mission is accomplished!  It feels really good to finally have completed the walk with Jocelyn and thanks to generous sponsors, be able to help the Special Olympics of Ohio in the process. Many lessons were learned as we pressed on toward the finish line of this goal. Our experiences on the four sections of the trail could be summed up by the following four words: Joy, Heat, Flood and Mosquitos. If you want to hear more, just ask. :-) But even more than these circumstances, the overriding theme had to be “Surprised by Worship.” It was an incredible time of quieting and tiring ourselves all the while becoming renewed and refreshed by having the margin and space to worship for hours on end. Awesome! Thanks for partnering, praying and celebrating with us.

 

 

Different Paths, Same Direction

Our third leg of the walk from Clinton to Navarre was quite different than what we anticipated when we left home that morning. One week prior, the surrounding area had experienced intense rain and storms leading to some serious flooding. However, we had no idea that the trail would be under water. Looking at the “lake” before us, we sat in our car and considered our options. Do we postpone our walk and head for home or do we walk the twenty-one mile trek via roads for the next seven hours? How many miles will we walk off course if we follow the roads? How wide is the berm and how dangerous is this going to be with traffic? And most importantly, how often will we see an available rest room? After several minutes and a silent prayer, we decided to try it and crawled out of our car… right in front of a small white church. I smiled when I saw their sign, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Ok. Let’s do it.

And we did. We walked past Northwest High School, through quaint Canal Fulton to bustling downtown Massillon. We went from strolling on the heights of a peaceful grassy knoll through a flock of geese to hunkering down and hiking on highway 21. Now that was an experience. God kept us on course, kept us safe and even provided restrooms when there was a need.

Just like our hike, we often attempt to chart the course of our lives. But it turns out God may have a different plan. We may set out pursuing a dream and working hard but then an unexpected “flooding” occurs and we’re left asking questions. We may begin our “hike” and end up where we’d hoped, but God took us on a different route and through experiences we never planned. We may end up at a completely different destination altogether. Whatever the case, as we fix our eyes and hearts on Him we know we can trust Him. Because whatever the trail He has us hiking, it’s not in vain. He has lessons to teach us, sights to show us, and a faith to grow us. He’s leading us toward Himself.

 

 

Don’t Look Back

IMG950118Our family was hiking the Chimney Tops Trail in the Smokey Mountain National Park. This trail requires a two mile arduous ascent to reach the mountaintop. Because of the intensity of the climb, hikers stop and rest along the way. As we passed one couple who had stopped, I overheard one of them instructing the other raising his hands above his head to demonstrate some type of exercise recovery technique. My interest peaked, and thinking I too could learn something, I wanted to turn around and see what they were doing. But there was no way I could. To take my eyes off of the trail ahead of me would have been dangerous and only inviting injury. The trail was steep with IMG950115sharp rocks jutting up and outward. Exposed tree roots, uneven terrain, and overgrown vegetation all required focus and energy with each step. As it dawned on me that I couldn’t turn around, Philippians 3:13-14 flew through my mind, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

At that moment, I realized how many times we “turn around” in life and endanger ourselves. I wondered how many times we lose focus and waste precious energy on things that are meaningless, things that may distract and destroy. Whether it be in our thinking — rehashing failures, second guessing decisions, closed-mindedness to new ways of doing things – our inability to let go, or we let pride, control, or temptation distract us from staying focused and moving forward on the trail. It is wisdom to learn from our mistakes and take those lessons with us as we continue moving toward growth and deeper relationship with Christ. ”But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Corinthians 2:14). With Christ living in us, He’s leading us forward in triumphal procession- it’s the only way He’s going.

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Mile by Mile, Step by Step

From the city....

From the city….

....to the country...

….to the country…

Walking the twenty-four miles from Akron to Clinton was a great experience. We walked through the city, past Canal Park (the Akron Aero’s baseball stadium) and crossed beautiful Summit Lake on the floating bridge. The weather was much hotter than our first twenty-six miles making the walk more intense physically, so we were thankful for the shade of the canal’s tree-canopied trail.  After the first sixteen miles, to think about finishing the last eight was a little discouraging. Instead we chose to focus on the next trailhead which was two miles ahead. Once reaching that point, we then focused on the next trailhead, only one mile ahead, and then the next and the next until we completed that last mile. In order to persevere to the finish, we had to break down the bigger vision into very small goals.

Once again I have to ask myself what I can learn about life from this walk. We may have things we want to do in life and goals we want to accomplish. In order to achieve them, we may simply need to break them down into smaller actions we can implement. More importantly, we may have a vision for our lives, not necessarily what we can do but who we want to become. With God leading and working in us, we can be intentional about applying what He’s teaching us, one lesson at a time.

...enjoying God's creation along the way.

…enjoying God’s creation along the way.

 

 

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From One Generation to Another

As apostles of Christ…we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us….For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 11-12

“YOU CAN DO IT! KEEP GOING, GIRLS. WE’LL BE UP THIS HILL IN NO TIME. THIS IS WHY WE RUN- IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS!” Sweat dripping down my face and short of breath, I focused on putting one foot in front of the other as I ran up the steep hill in my first official race. The shouts of encouragement came from a woman running behind me, directed at several young ladies running ahead. Unbeknownst to this woman, her optimism was helping all those in earshot including myself. As she passed me, I expressed to her my gratitude for her help. She smiled, spoke more words of support and with strength and perseverance conquered the hill and ran on ahead.

After running several miles, I knew the finish line lay just ahead. A young lady I had never met was running in front of me. Like me, she appeared tired and ready to cross the finish line. As we climbed our last hill, I passed her and out of my mouth came the words, “You can do it. We’re almost there- just over the hill.” At that moment, I saw her torso perk up a bit and her head lift. She responded, “Ok, keep going. I’m right behind you.” We crested the hill and as she fell in step beside me, I tried to encourage us both, “Great job. We’re almost there! We’re gonna do this together.” As we crossed the finish line my eyes rested on the older woman who had encouraged me earlier in the race. She had run the race and true to character, was waiting for her younger friends at the finish line. She provided vital support when I needed it and little did she know her example had been caught and passed on. While I was processing what had happened, the young lady I ran with approached me and said, “Thanks for your encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without you.” We exchanged a hug and a smile and she was gone. Reaching my goal of finishing the race was a highlight, but encouraging another one to finish made the run far sweeter.

In the same way, we are running the race of life growing in our love relationship with Jesus. We’re all scattered between the starting point and the finish line. There are those who are running ahead – perhaps older, wiser, a rock-hard faith shaped by the perils of trial, in love with Jesus and knowing what’s truly important in life. Some are just starting the race, experiencing new sights and trying to find their pace. Some are climbing hills of hardship trying to keep their focus and stamina, while others are slowing to rest, drink in refreshment, and refuel. Wherever we are in the race, there are some in front of us and some behind. As men and women who follow Jesus, we have a high calling to reach out to the next generation and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our words, our actions, our love, our very lives. Sometimes we’re in someone’s life for years, perhaps a season, maybe just a moment. But in that moment, God’s Spirit can speak through us and give another exactly what is needed to finish the race. After all, “this is why we run – it’s all about Jesus.”

Look around and pray – who are those younger in your life? Who needs love, support, truth, hope and encouragement? Whom can you begin to invest in? Look around at those older in your life who love the Lord and whom you respect. Will you take a step of faith asking them for wisdom so you can continue to learn and grow?

 

Walking for a Goal

88 mile trek on the Towpath Trail for Special Olympics of Ohio and Toward the Goal Ministries.

TTG Fundraiser Walk (2) 88 mile trek on the Towpath Trail for Special Olympics of Ohio and Toward the Goal Ministries.

Leaving the cityscape behind, the trail led us into a shaded grove of beautiful pink-flowering trees and lush green bushes. All was quiet. A family of ducks swam in the river next to the trail and the birds sang in the trees above. As I enjoyed the new stretch of scenery, I commented to Bruce that this trail was a lot like the path of life. We will never see this exact scene again on this 88 mile walk, so what a privilege to be able to soak it in and enjoy what’s right in front of us.

The “scenery” of our lives changes as well and life’s seasons come and go. One chapter begins and another ends. There will never be another scene like the one we are in right now- offering joys, challenges, relationships, opportunities for personal growth, and life lessons. Are we living in today, thanking God for the beauty of this mile of life, and being intentional with what’s right in front of us?