Good Friends are a Good Thing

Posted by on Oct 13, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment


My wife has taught me that God brings people into our lives for a reason, a season or for a lifetime. The picture on this blog is of a life-long friend, Kenton Cleveland. Since college days, we’ve never lived near each other. We’ve rarely seen each other in over 30 years, save for a vacation where Kenton’s family visited us in Sandpoint.

I moved out west and he moved to Wichita, working in the aerospace industry as an engineer. What’s funny is he didn’t like me at first… but later warmed up to my endearing personality! Seriously, he’s one of those guys that I know I can always count on when needed. In the past couple of years he’s provided wise counsel as I went through an incredibly tough season in ministry. The picture was taken just a week ago when Kenton was passing through Coeur d’Alene and dropped by for a brief visit. That’s what good friends do—they invest in each other.


5 Reasons why we all need good friends:

  1. Because life is crazy and you’ll need someone to talk to, lean on or cry with. Right now you can probably make a list of people you know who are going through a very rich and rewarding time or a very rough and damaging time. Both seasons require good friends.
  2. Because we’re all hard wired for relationship. It’s unnatural to be alone, and unhealthy. The #1 thing that infants still react to is a human face. It’s also the reason why “Facebook friendships” will always have severe limitations. Tablets are not faces. FB friends often aren’t true friends. Watch a family at a restaurant this week and see how eroded normal face-to-face relationships have become. It might be time to set up a standard that when we meet with our family or friends, we put our smart phones and tablets in a basket on a table and leave them alone for an hour. Honestly, most of us aren’t that important that we need to immediately respond to a text.
  3. Because we’re not that smart. Need I say more? OK, I will. We all have limited experience, intelligence and reasoning ability. A friend can be someone who’s successfully navigated a season of life that you’re in right now and can offer sage advice. Over the course of 30+ years of pastoral ministry, I’ve counseled hundreds of people. I’d say that 90% just needed a good friend to talk to—instead of a pastor who barely knew them. The other 10% needed a good therapist. So find and nurture some good friends, because it’ll save you big bucks in the long run!
  4. Because we tend to stray and need someone who can bring us back to center. A close friend knows what you need when you need it. They can read you like a book. They can tell when you’re down, up or sideways. Find a person you respect and build a friendship where they are allowed to speak into your life.
  5. Because we need to pay it forward. We learn how to be a good friend by having a good friend. There is someone that God has placed in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, who needs you—to be a good friend.

Of course, the best friend we can ever have is Jesus. One of the most endearing comments he made to his disciples was this; “I no longer call you servants, …Instead, I have called you friends….” (John 15:5)

That’s something worth thinking about.

It is a crazy life… but we have a crazy God who is our friend!

Dr. Tony

Read More

Building a Life to Withstand the Storms

Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

I am not a handyman. The “Tool Man Taylor” I’m not (that’ll date me right there—a.k.a. Tim Allen’s character on one of my favorite sitcom’s of all time—Home Improvement!). When we purchased our home here in Coeur d’Alene, it was significantly short on storage. My lovely wife did the research and we ordered a 10X12 ft. Tuff Shed from Home Depot. We debated as to whether we should get a “kit” and build it out together, saving a few hundred bucks. I’m so glad we didn’t go that route. Why? Because it may have cost us our marriage…

Knowing my limitations, we ordered the shed to be built on site. After preparing a pad for the building, a two-man crew arrived at noon. A little over two hours later they were done. Two hours! They had a system in place to get the shed done in a short time. Materials were laid out in the right place, they had the right tools (air nail gun—how cool is that!) and you could tell that they had worked together long enough to assist each other in the build. It was truly poetic to see them build my shed.

It would have taken me at least two weekends of yelling, kicking and throwing tools, and eventually calling in favors from my builder friends! As I stated earlier, I don’t know how to build. I’ve never been taught how to put 2X4’s on 24-inch centers, or how to shingle. My new shed is built right and should survive all the inclement weather that North Idaho can throw at it!

That brings me to an important life lesson. Few of us have been taught how to utilize God’s tools to help us frame a life that can withstand life’s disruptive pressures. We hack and chop our way through many of life’s challenges, wondering, “There’s got to be a better way to do this!” There is a better way. Let me suggest a few life lessons I’ve learned that continue to help me weather life’s storms:

  1. Build relationships in advance, because you’ll need them in the future. Scripture constantly admonishes to “love one another, pray for one another, and encourage one another”. When it gets tough, don’t isolate or insulate, but reach out and ask for help. Let me add, social media is amazing, but you need real friends with real faces who can give you a hug when you need it, not just a “like” on your Facebook feed.
  2. Develop spiritual disciplines that work for you; fast, pray, read the bible, read Christian literature (I know a good book—Crazy Life), listen to positive life music, etc.
  3. Take care of your body. Lose 20 pounds. Start walking 30 minutes daily. Do yoga—seriously—I’ve been practicing for over 5 years and it makes a difference.
  4. Connect with a life-giving Bible based church. Beware of toxic churches and ministries that beat you down. Life already has plenty of that.
  5. Focus on God in the storm. He’s bigger. He’s more capable. He cares because He’s in the storm with you.

That’s a short list, but it works. If you prepare in advance for life’s disruptions, you’re less likely to throw tools and yell, making your neighbors hike back indoors!

Remember, life is crazy, but you aren’t!

Dr. Tony

Read More

How to Achieve Your God Given Dream

Posted by on May 7, 2017 in Blog | 3 comments

Spring is for dreamers. My Facebook account reminded me today that I graduated from George Fox Seminary in 2013. It showed the posted picture of me getting “hooded”. I remember that day well! My family and friends were with me in Tigard, OR at Beaverton Christian Church. The ceremony was held in their large auditorium. I was sitting with a handful of other successful students when my name was called. I walked the aisle to the stage and as you see from the picture, kneeled as they gave me the beautiful red hood and medallion, ancient academic signs of my accomplishment.

Earning a doctorate was the fulfillment of a dream that God had given me five years prior, in 2008. During those five years, I continued to work full-time, completed two years of course work, experienced a season of ministry burn-out, changed my dissertation topic twice and finally ended up writing a monster 250 page dissertation on “Redeeming Disruptions.” Did I say I did this while working full time yet?! I was awarded a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary). Less than 50% of my classmates every achieved the dream.

I don’t share this story to brag. Instead, I want my journey to be an inspiration to those of you who are chasing a dream. You know the old adage, “If I can do it, so can you!” I truly believe that. I didn’t come from an educated or wealthy family. But I came from a family of pioneers who forged their way west to start a better life for their families through sheer determination and hard work.

Every great dream faces tough challenges. The question is, how do you achieve a dream? Here are a 9 key steps that worked for me:

  1. Say yes! When given a dream, to many make excuses and starve their dream of oxygen before it ever gets life. Scripture says to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5), that includes God given dreams. Capture it and say yes!
  2. Verbalize your dream. Once I made the decision to pursue this degree, I began to tell people. That takes a dream from an idea to a goal. I got mixed reviews too. Some said “great”, while others simply asked, “why would you do that to yourself?” But the word was out. Tony was going back to school!
  3. Visualize the dream. My wife—who was my biggest cheerleader—made a big poster board for me and hung it on the wall directly in front of my desk at home (where I did most of the work). This board included a Photo-shopped picture of me receiving a diploma! I must have looked at that poster a thousand times in the next five years, visualizing the day I would graduate.
  4. Act on the dream. I did this by enrolling for the next cohort. I bought a laptop computer, backpack, ordered books and started logging assignments and meeting my classmates.
  5. Expect it to be hard work. I was working full-time when I started the program. Class work added another 15-20 hours to my 50-hour workweek. You can do the math. It made for some long weeks. Hunting and fishing were definitely curtailed for the next two years… that’s not to say I didn’t still do some, but not like before. Big dreams require sacrifice. You have to give up to get.
  6. Celebrate key milestones. I rewarded myself for accomplishing a lot of little and big goals during the journey. It could be as simple as getting another cup of coffee after finishing assigned reading, or going fishing after I finished writing a chapter (powerful motivation!).
  7. Don’t quit. I started the program in 2008 with a plan to graduate in 2011. I finished the class work on time. But the dissertation (i.e. monster research paper) took me another two years to finish. I had to take a year off to figure some personal things out. Part of me wanted to quit, but another part of me said, “You’re not a quitter. You’ve got this”. As a dear family friend used to say, “God’s delay is not God’s denial”. During that delay, God redirected my dissertation topic, which later received the title, “Redeeming Disruptions.” My editor later said that no one to her knowledge had ever written specifically about how God utilizes disruption to shape us spiritually.
  8. Give God the glory, but take a bow. Someone wisely wrote, “God is for you, but it’s not about you!” I like that. God gets all the glory for this project. He made it possible for me to earn the degree without acquiring any debt. The Lord opened the door even though I didn’t have the normal academic credentials. He guided me to see and understand things in scripture I had never seen before. God rescued me from a crisis of faith as a direct result of my writing. I worked like everything depended on him and like everything depended on me. Yoked together, we finished together.
  9. Grab the momentum and chase a new dream. I look at my desk today and see my first published book, Crazy Life, sitting on a shelf (with a dozen more). This new dream of getting published was achieved three years after receiving my doctorate. I believe it is what God wanted all along—a book to help people navigate through life’s disruptions without losing their faith.

I am grateful to God, to my lovely wife Disa and host of friends and family who believed in this work for Christ. I hope my journey can inspire you today to “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called… (you) heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)

May God’s goodness overwhelm any craziness in your life today!

Dr. Tony

Read More

Hazard Signs on the Road of Life

Posted by on Mar 23, 2017 in Blog | 2 comments

My lovely wife Disa and I were driving down an unpaved county road on Monday. Lined up along the left side were a series of hazard signs and cones (the blog picture is actual). The area where this road runs received a lot of snowfall this winter. Combine that with early spring rains and it created significant run off, severely rutting the road.

We had previously driven this road the night before. One stretch of road had not been marked as hazardous. Had we driven too far right, we could have experienced a fairly serious accident as the run-off ruts were several feet deep. I was grateful for the warning signs on my trip out. Had we not heeded them, we would have risked injury and damage to my old Chevy truck.

The hazard markers, reminded me about an important life lesson—it is important to pay attention to hazard signs or you might end up in the ditch.


TO MUCH DEBT-If you’re only paying the minimum amount on your credit cards, you’re already in the ditch! The Great Recession of 2008 seems to have already been forgotten by average Americans. Many still have more month than money, so they extend their reach via easy credit. Dave Ramsay likes to say, “Live like no one else today so you can live like nobody else tomorrow.” My wife and I went through a significant financial reversal in the last 18 months and never missed a meal! We entered this unexpected turbulence debt free and were able to adjust our lifestyle to 50% less without losing our shirts. If we had entered it with credit card debt, car and house payments, it could have been another story. If you’re finances are a mess, check out Crown Ministries at, where you can get practical help from a faith based organization.

MARRIAGE PROBLEMS-If you’re married you will have problems. Period. Learn to pay attention to early warning signs. Ask yourself, How good are we getting along with each other—really? What cues are we giving off? If you answered; “We’re great, no one is arguing.” That may also mean that no one is talking! Most marriage failures I’ve observed didn’t happen overnight. Instead, the relationship began to erode like a North Idaho dirt road—long before the marriage ended up in the ditch. If things aren’t going well, or even if you just need a tune-up, get some help. We’ve spent thousands on counseling and clinics. That’s probably why we’re still together after 37 years. A good marriage requires hard work and financial investment, where you learn to relate to each other in a healthy way.

LIVING LIKE AN ATHIEST-How you live your life matters. It matters to God. It matters to others. Your personal life and your public life are not separate entities. That’s why God gave us scripture like the 10 commandments. You’ve heard of those, right? They’ve never been called the 10 Suggestions! The first four are about your relationship with God—“Thou shall have no other gods before me…” and the last six are about your relationship with people—“Honor thy mother and father…” We can either see God’s Word as cosmic kill joy or as warning signs designed to protect us. I don’t know anyone who regretted living their life according to the 10 Commandments (and other clear teachings from scripture). But I have visited with many who’ve ended up in the proverbial ditch because they didn’t pay attention to the warning signs. Many today claim to be Christ followers, but they live their lives like they’ve never read the Book. That’s what I call a practical atheist… someone who lives like there really isn’t a God who has spoken. If you find your life is in conflict with God’s word—repent. Change your mind. Get settled in a Bible based church, enroll in a small group and start DOING the Bible (James 1:22).

After all, life is crazy enough without us ignoring God’s Word and landing in the ditch.

Dr. Tony

Read More

Navigating through Life’s Later Winter Season

Posted by on Mar 4, 2017 in Blog | 4 comments

Winter lasts a long time in North Idaho where I live–especially this year! We’ve had snow on the ground for a record number of days. That translates into two things: 1) We’ve had a lot of snow that came early and kept falling and falling. 2) Our weather has been cold enough to keep snow on the ground. The towns just north of us have massive piles of snow collected from city streets and parking lots from the record snow fall this winter. You could almost ski down them! There has been a lot of complaining on Facebook as of late, by those who keep waking up to snow on their cars. I get it. I really do. Even though most of us like the winter, we do get sick and tired of it. The cold. The ice. The grey. Blah!

The four seasons are a good metaphor for life. We have those amazing spring-like times when everything seems hopeful that then turns into summer-time life experiences where life continues down a path of blessing. Soon enough fall arrives. Fall is a season where we get to harvest the fruits of our labor and begin preparations for the arrival of winter. The days get shorter along with dropping temperatures and too soon we see bare trees bowing to winter’s first gales. Early winter is an adventure. We adjust to the cold. But late winter is where we are put to the test. I’m still speaking figuratively here. Late winter might be those days when you’re chemo doesn’t seem to be working, or your marriage is still permeated with coolness. God sometimes seems aloof. How do you get through these days?

7 Ways to Navigate Late Winter

  1. Choose to be thankful. List 50 things that you are thankful for in the next 30 days. I’m serious. It might be as simple as a new toothbrush, or seeing the first robin of spring.
  2. Change the way you pray. Kneel down beside the bed first thing every morning and give God your first thoughts. Take a walk and pray for every person you meet. Say the Lord’s Prayer every evening.
  3. Give up to get. OK, I’m going to meddle here. This is the Lenten season where millions of Christians around the world give up something for Christ until Easter. So maybe it is time to stop watching the “negative news shows”, or take a break from Facebook, where it seems like everyone is on the beach in Mexico! Put down the phone and look others in the eye and smile!
  4. Surround yourself with good people. The Apostle Paul, during a tough season of ministry wrote, “Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey…” (1 Cor. 16:6). If he needed people to help him through winter, so do we. My wife and I have found great encouragement in a new small group that we joined about a year ago. Jesus ministers to us “wherever two or three are gathered…” (Matt. 18:20).
  5. Listen to good music. Go to a church where there is life-giving worship. Download good music and listen to it throughout the day. Your brain responds to good music by releasing endorphins that improve your mood.
  6. Get outside—especially if you live in the northern parts of the US. Sunlight is good for the soul, and helps boost your mood. This could be as simple as parking far enough away that you allows you to walk for a few extra feet to get to the store.
  7. Remember, you’re never alone. Jesus promises to be with us in the Great Commission to the end of the world (Matt 28:18-20). Believe it.

If you begin to practice some of these steps, then I promise, you’ll get through the late winter season of your life. You’ll have a fresh encounter with Christ.

After all, Jesus is walking with us through our crazy lives!

Dr. Tony




Read More

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


Read More