Posts by Tony

5 Ways to Adapt to a Harsh Environment

Posted by on Feb 10, 2017 in Blog | 5 comments

I recently hiked the Peralta trail, just east of Apache Jct., AZ (Phoenix). It’s a six-mile hike up a desert canyon with a 1,500 foot elevation change. Yeah, it was a good workout! I was hiking with my seminary buddy, Dr. Bob Hunter, who is 10 years younger and a good athlete. I was able to keep up with him, by utilizing the tourist trick—stopping and saying something about the scenery! “Oh, look over there! Isn’t that rock formation cool?” He would stop and look while I sucked air!

Both of us did stop often to marvel at the mighty sentinel of the Sonoran desert, the saguaro cactus. This is the only desert in the world where these beauties exist. They are amazing plants, growing up to 40 feet tall and living up to about 150 years. Saguaros were scattered all over the canyon that we were hiking, like desert billboards.

What amazes me about the saguaro is their ability to survive and even thrive in a harsh desert environment. I think that God gave us plants like the saguaro to teach us about life. Thus, I want to suggest 5 ways to adapt to a harsh environment.

  1. Utilize the good times when you can, because they don’t last forever. Saguaros survive because they store water in the season of abundance. These cacti have an amazing ability to pull in hundreds of gallons of water, when it is available, and store it for the future dry season. It is a reminder that in seasons of abundance, store for future down times. Whether it is finances, friendships or business opportunities, don’t squander your abundance today, because you will need it in the future.
  2. Believe that personal growth is possible, even in the desert seasons. Saguaros grow at a very slow rate, but they keep at it their entire lives. Growth is possible in a harsh environment. Truth be told, we often do our best growing in the hardest of times.
  3. Develop internal fortitude. Saguaros constantly grow a strong internal framework of woody ribs to support their burgeoning weight. Local Indian tribes used to utilize the ribs of dead saguaros for building material. It is important in life to develop your inner person. This is vital soul work that must be done day-by-day through spiritual disciplines (see book recommendation below).
  4. Choose to thrive in a harsh environment. The Sonoran desert averages just 7 inches of rain a year. It is brutally hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Yet, these tall beauties live twice as long as we do. Here’s the life lesson: attitude matters. You can whine and cry about the hard times, or decide to embrace the heat.
  5. Trust God for a season of blessing. I’ve seen the saguaro bloom in spring. They produce a cluster of beautiful white flowers that later turn into a sweet red pod. These pods are critical for many desert dwellers as a food source and for producing future generations of saguaro. And they bloom right before the harsh summer heat. God is good and knows where you are. He is diligently working on your behalf to not only bless you, but to help you be a blessing to others.

When you’re feeling the heat, remember the stately saguaro, and remember that you already have what you need to thrive in the desert seasons of life.

Remember, it is a crazy life, for everyone!

Dr. Tony

Book recommendation: Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster

 

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How to Survive a Personal Crisis

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Blog | 8 comments

The picture connected to this blog is personal–I’ve been in that house many times. It is a picture of Adam, my son-in-law’s childhood home going up in flames last week. Thankfully his father, Jeff Eich, who was home at the time, was able to escape out of a second story window before the fire reached him. Thankfully, no one was injured. The picture still startles me. This lovely country home, where my daughter was married, where friends and family gathered year-after-year to celebrate holidays, was a total loss.

Fortunately, Jeff had planned for the worst and carried Homeowner’s Insurance that covered fire loss. It is one of those bills that most of us pay every year, with little thought, until it’s needed. Within a few hours, an adjuster with his national brand of insurance rolled up while the house was still burning and started the process of covering the loss. Jeff’s wisdom to retain insurance paid off–literally. While this is a massive disruption, I will look forward to a day in the future where many of us will gather for a new-house warming party when Jeff rebuilds. That’s what insurance is for—the unexpected disruption. If you live long enough, you realize that houses can burn, cars can crash, and a health crisis is just a heart-beat away.

Yet, many of us go through life unprepared for the possible disruptions that lurk around every corner. When cancer hits, we blame God. When a relationship sours like milk, we blame God. When a business partner disappears with all the cash, yeah, you get it, we blame God.

Really?

Step-back a moment and think this through. If God wanted to get even with us for some offense, do you think He would limit himself to these kinds of things? After all, as Creator, He could resurrect a T-Rex to chase us down the street (like in Jurassic Park).

Yet I’ve seen many Christians over the years experience a crisis of faith because life got tough. Jesus predicted this in his Parable of the Sower; “But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes…. they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:21) I believe Jesus told that story to prepare us for trouble and persecution—so we won’t fall away.

I almost fell away too, as a pastor. In that role I had experienced so much heartache in my own life and that of my people that it began to negatively affect my outlook on life and my view of God—I began to think that He either didn’t care or wasn’t there at all. It was only when I investigated the role of disruption in scripture that I realize this truth: Life is hard—for everyone—But God is good.

How can we prepare for a personal crisis? Seven steps:

  1. Know that disruption is coming—so get ready.
  2. Read the Bible stories of great men and women of the past (Noah, Abraham & Sarah, Job, Mary the mother of Jesus, to name a few). Watch how they handled adversity and learn from them.
  3. Build a network of friendships today so you’ll have someone to lean on tomorrow.
  4. Give someone a hand-up. It feels good!
  5. Control what you can (buy house insurance) and leave the rest up to God.
  6. Stop blaming God today so you won’t blame Him in the future. Blaming God can turn you into a victim instead of a victor.
  7. Trust God to redeem your story for His glory, your ultimate good and to bless the world.

I hope these suggestions help. They worked for me. And remember, you’re not crazy, life is!

Dr. Tony

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Squeaky Snow

Posted by on Jan 18, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

Squeaky Snow

The other day as I walked out mid afternoon to retrieve the mail, I noticed that the snow was “squeaky”. Scrunch, scrunch went my shoes as I hustled across the city street. If you grew up in the north, you know what that means, as the old song says—“baby, it’s cold outside!”

When I got back inside my warm house, I checked my weather app on my phone and it said that it was 12 degrees… and, “feels like 0”. Isn’t it goofy to walk outside, know that its freezing cold and then check some electronic device to confirm what you already know! Sheesh!

I shared all that to say that winter has arrived where I live with an unusually frosty grip. I have ice on my driveway and piles of snow that probably won’t be gone until early March. We probably won’t see temps in the 60’s for quite sometime—unlike my Arizona friends who keep posting pictures of people in short sleeves and cargo shorts as they soak up temps in the 70’s. I could almost despise those people!

But I do like winter, and what’s even more strange is that my wife likes it more! We both like a good winter with lots of snow (yes, I alpine ski), and cold. I know, we’re nuts. As bad as winter gets, we know this fact: winter doesn’t last forever. The season of white will eventually give way to the color of spring–the season of hope.

Maybe you’re reading this blog in the middle of a winter storm in your life, that blasted in like a prairie blizzard. Maybe your spouse told you they wanted out, or the test results confirmed your doctor’s suspicion that that lump you felt is cancer. There are so many people hurting and struggling around us, fighting to find hope in their own personal winter.

I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know this, winter doesn’t last forever. Your winter won’t last forever. Spring is coming. If God is good, and He is, then He is working on our behalf, even in the deepest winters. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it is true. Nature tells us this.

In winter, trees are still alive, but are resting for the next season of growth. Speaking of trees, out here in the west, we’ve seen entire mountainsides of pine trees destroyed by the nasty mountain pine beetle. Millions of acres of forest have been destroyed by this beetle. I’m told that it has been thriving in the last decade because of the unusually hot and dry summers and mild winters we’ve had throughout the west. But this winter is going to put the hurt on these bugs. So I’ll go hug a tree!

Metaphorically, our personal winter seasons are probably removing unhealthy things from our lives as well; bad attitudes, harmful relationships, inadequate views of God and other issues of the soul. Harsh winter seasons seem to last forever, but remember, winter will end. Spring will come. Hold on. Keep believing. Keep growing.

After all, it is a crazy life for all!

Dr. Tony

PS A friend of mine in Fairbanks Alaska posted that it hit 50 below zero today… now that’s cold!

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Daddy’s and Daughters

Posted by on Jan 9, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

Daddy’s and Daughters

I’m an eavesdropper. It is amazing what you can learn from watching and listening to others—even when they don’t know you’re snooping! About a week ago I was sitting in the coffee shop at Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort waiting for some friends to show up to ski. The coffee shop is pretty cozy and had filled with people coming off the mountain to warm up.

I was just a few feet away from a Daddy and daughter duo. She was probably 10-12 years old and he in his early thirty’s. They were having hot chocolate and talking about their skiing plans. Propped up against the frosty windowsill was the terrain map of the ski resort. I heard the dad asking his daughter where she wanted to go. I didn’t quite hear her response but what the dad did next was priceless. He was actively listening, had good eye contact and was nodding his head while she spoke. He was clearly in her space and she loved it!

After she spoke a bit, he then did what dads are supposed to do. He challenged his daughter. He told her she was a good enough skier and should tackle steeper terrain. She balked. He listened and came right back and said, “I know you can ski steeper stuff. I’ll be right there with you. You’ll be fine.” She whined a little bit more. But he didn’t cave in, instead he repeated himself and sealed the deal with, “OK, its time to go take on the hill, get your stuff on.” The conversation was over. Dad had decided that they would tackle the hill together. She dutifully put on her sparkly hat and buckled her ski boots, joined her dad and they disappeared into the crowds to get their gear. I would have loved to ski behind them to see how she did. But I’m pretty sure she did well. Even if she fell, I knew the type of father she had. He’d be there to pull her up, wipe the tears and lead the way down the hill.

I loved being a daddy to my daughter. I still do! We had many great talks sipping hot chocolate in that very coffee shop. One of my favorite pictures is of Carli sitting in that same place with twin braids hanging out of her cute cap, rosy cheeks and a sweet smile!

We all need fathers to love us and to stretch us. If you didn’t have a father growing up, let me remind you that if you are a disciple of Jesus, you have an amazing father right now! We each have a Heavenly Father who loves us and stretches us for our good. Maybe this is what the anonymous writer of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

Please don’t interpret discipline as getting a spanking. That’s not the writer’s intent. Think of it more like a seasoned coach—or a loving Father—who knows the demands that lie ahead in your chosen sport—and in life—and is preparing you for the hardship of battle. God doesn’t want you to grow weary and quit, so he pushes us to develop those spiritual muscles. He takes us to ever steeper terrain, so we won’t fear. I have a friend who likes to say that, “God is always working up stream on our behalf.” I like that. What it means is that God knows what might be coming up, so He prepares us, He looks into our hearts and says, “You’ve got this. I know you can do this. So let’s go ski the steep and deep.”

It is a Crazy Life!

Dr. Tony

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Letting Go of the Past

Posted by on Dec 28, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

Letting Go of the Past

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past… St. Paul

With a New Year peaking over the horizon, I thought I’d write a few lines about how best to prepare for 2017. The first thing I would suggest is to let go of 2016. As you can tell this idea isn’t original with me. The Apostle Paul suggested it over 2,000 years ago (see the verse above), and it’s still good advice. He said to “forget” the past. The Greek word he uses here literally means: “neglecting, no longer caring for, given over to oblivion”. “Forget” really isn’t a very good translation. I’m convinced that Paul wasn’t suggesting that we actually “forget” the past—which is literally impossible. But instead, I think he was advising his readers to stop “feeding” the past in our present reality, to “neglect” it.

Paul had a jaded past. He was rather abusive to early Christians, to say the least. Combine that with the fact that he came from a rather privileged background as well—money, power and education. He could have been crippled with self-pity or unapproachable with his pedigree. Yet, he realized that letting these kinds of things “go” was important to move ahead in life.

Memory is powerful. The past can be like sourdough starter. You know that stuff that someone gives you to make bread? Sourdough starter requires that you feed it flour and water regularly. When you do that, it grows and expands, and then you have to do something with it or it will take over your kitchen (yes, there’s a little bit of personal experience here!).

The fact is, when we focus on some past experience, we’re feeding it and keeping it alive in the present. Even if what we’re focusing on was a positive experience, it can still keep us facing the wrong direction. If we’re focusing on a negative experience, then we’re often giving the memory more power than it deserves over our present, in the forms of anger and bitterness. Bitterness is anger turned inward, and the only person it hurts is you, so let go.

When we stop feeding the past, it doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten it. There are some life lessons from the past that we should never forget—like what decisions led to personal failures or successes. A dear friend recently felt led to share this quote with Disa that was very timely for both of us; “If you accept the healing that God is trying to do in you, you’re not saying that what happened (in the past) was OK!”

I would be remiss if I didn’t share the rest of the Apostle’s thoughts when he said,

“…but one thing I do: 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. (Phil. 3:13)

With the Apostle Paul’s brilliant advice in mind, Disa and I are going to schedule some time in the next few days to talk about something really important—the future. Yes, we will remember the past, for it can be a tremendous teacher. But we will do our best to neglect the negative and remember the positive and position ourselves to grow into 2017.

It’s such a crazy life, isn’t it?

Dr. Tony

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