How I Almost Gave Up On The Idea That Somebody Important Loved Me

Don't Let A Little Potato Salad in Your Hair Ruin Your Party!

I never felt loved by my Great Grandfather. It seemed like I was just a nuisance as a child. I really wanted his love but never sensed I was on the receiving end. I felt like the boy named ‘Sue’ in the Johnny Cash song.

Surely I must be a loser. My mom was ‘poor’. We bought our sneakers in the Supermarket. Then they buried him in the ground and thirty something years went by. Up until a couple of months ago I still couldn’t imagine him caring about me, let alone loving me. I still remember feeling like a total loser because he never had kind words to share that I remember.  I half-hoped he would put out one of his cigarettes on my arm just to acknowledge my presence.

Today I’m reflecting. It’s a random day in my past. It was Summer or early Spring on The Farm. Not just any farm. My mom’s parents owned it and my grandfather’s parents owned it before that.

This particular day I was sitting on the well with my Great Grandfather. It must’ve been near noon. I don’t remember what we talked about, but we sat on edge of the warm tin covering a square section of boards.

Looking back now it was a congregational place. There was a cut off phone pole about six feet high that we used to shimmy up and sit on top of. It was a real good way to get splinters in your forearms. Maybe I went there that particular day because my Great Grandfather did. We called him Je-Je. Like the words jet jet with no t’s.

When I was younger I thought perhaps there was something wrong with him. He never said much. Maybe he’d fallen down and hit his head. Or been in a farming accident, quite possibly kicked in the head by a mule. I don’t know. But in hindsight he taught me something valuable.

I didn’t realize it until this afternoon. It’s Friday and I’m sitting on my back porch looking at the rain drenched yard and listening to the birds sing. Cars are whizzing down the highway out across the river.

Sometimes it’s pleasant to just be.

Satchel page said it this way, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.” We’re really good at sitting and thinking, but not many of us are good at just sitting.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”. We can sit the Psalmist David writes, because we can trust our Heavenly Father to take care of us.

I’ve never been good at just sitting. Sure, I can sit and think but many people are good at that. So here are some thoughts I’ve developed after waking up at 5:30 a.m every day during the month of March 2017.

Life is good. The steeple of the church where I pastor is falling down. Last week I got the call and we spent 24 hours putting a plan into action. We had to arrange for our old building to be inspected and set up a new place to meet. Finally, we had our initial plan in place. When it was all said and done, I never lost a moments peace about the whole situation. In fact, it allowed me to re-focus. Yes, there were 1,000 different things to do. But I learned to focus on the priorities. Family. Common wisdom said it was time to get into a frenzy.  The Holy Spirit taught me otherwise.  It’s brought my family closer together as well as the church I pastor. They are an amazing team, working together as God does great things in our midst. How could I? Because of the things I’m  while using the nearly 157 extra hours of work- time by getting up 4 or 5 hours earlier each day! That adds up to almost 4 extra 40 hour work weeks each month!  Now, despite doing more than ever, I am experiencing and enjoying a life that is rich and fulfilling. Life is good!

I became a morning person! Actually an all day person! My energy is much higher, sustainable, and ever-ready, due to the new routine. I can rest now at the drop of a hat, but rather enjoy this new boon in the form of greater presence and influence. In the words of Bob Weir, “Even a blind man knows when the Sun is shining”. Say it how you like, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’ or ‘the early bird gets the worm’. Carve out times of sufficient rest and every day is like Christmas morning.  People will notice and congregate around you.

You can have a poor start and still have a great ending! Don’t believe it for a minute when people tell you you’ll never amount to anything. This weekend I’m preaching about how God is still in the human raising business. He healed a cripple near the temple and Peter compared the cripple to Christ who went to a bloody cross, was stuffed in a hole in the wall, yet rose again triumphantly. You can be risen with Him! It’s the season of resurrection and renewal. The Tulips have pressed through the soil after a long winter, the grass is flourescent green again and the birds are warbling. Get in on what God wants to do in your life. Don’t wait to do something amazing for your mind, body and spirit. Rest in God. Perhaps He’s looking to gain some glory by using your life to show the world how powerful He really is. He can transform you from the inside out! Trust Him. Lean on Him. Rejoice in Him.

I learned to enjoy ever part of every day. The good and the bad. That’s not being super-spiritual, trust me. It’s the truth. Our lives aren’t just a vapor in the sense that they are short. Sometimes they are really long and the only thing you can do is breath in and breath out. The quality of your life right now is determined by your ability to inhale. No inhalation and you’re done. Ever choked on a Chicken bone? My buddy did out on a river in the early morning hours beneath a starlit sky….all alone, no one to help. Then he dislodged the bone from his throat and was able to inhale again. It’s so easy to wish your life away. It’s so easy to look forward to the day you won’t work anymore. It’s so easy to look forward to the vacation at Disney Land. Then the date comes and goes and you look for something else to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be that way. Wherever you are, you can be all there. Paul said he had learned to be content where ever he is. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Kind of like Heaven on earth if you get my gist.  I can’t be killed, spiritually, because I died 25 years ago on a Spring day in Quaker Springs, N.Y when I gave my life to Jesus.  Everything since then has been a bonus!  Since then I’ve been alive in a whole new way and when I lay down this earthly body, I’ll be more alive than ever!

Of course we could go on and on and riff off this set of chords we’ve laid down. But we won’t.

All I know is that it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. Sure it’s very painful at times. Sure we all have bad days, weeks and years. But we don’t have to. Life really is too short to eat our ice cream cones in the pouring rain and cry about it. Why not laugh?

Getting back to the story. Someone I really loved had died. It was Summertime and we were all gathered around the well on the farm (didn’t I tell you it was a place where people congregated?). Anyway we had just come out of the house and we were eating our plates of Cold-cuts and salads (It’s true, 45 minutes after your funeral service, everyone will be eating Potato Salad). Anyway, one of the attendee’s was eating her plate standing-up and she slipped on a Banana peel someone had carelessly tossed on the ground by the well (wasn’t me….o.k, maybe, but it was an accident) we had sat by some many years before. The ‘Slipper’ let out a screech and fell on the ground. Her plate landed all over her, gobs of food were in her hair and I can’t record her words for the sake of privacy and other issues.  Then she laughed out loud.

And then something happened. For one moment all of our eyes were fixed on her and while just an hour before they were fixed on the lifeless body of a loved one, they were now all locked on something electric and comical. There was a pause. Like a flashbulb popping and for just a moment we were all froze in time, together, in the very same place my Great Grandfather had taught me that sometimes the perfect solution is to just rest and enjoy each other’s company!

Pay It Forward

Start Fresh Today!

Sometime before the onset of puberty, I had an imaginary friend.  I asked for extra cookies so that he could have one.  I’m crying as I imagine why any kid would feel like he needs to put others before himself at such a young age.

Hello.  Most of us don’t mind rules, until they affect us personally. It’s so easy to take a stance when it doesn’t involve flesh and blood. Things change when it’s time to think about how topics like divorce flesh out. There are always people with scars and fresh wounds; people who are still searching; people whose future exposure to Christ might be hanging in the balance; people with fragile faith; people who will never embrace the idea of resurrection because something crumby happened to them as a kid.

When you go through the bible, verse by verse, you’re bound to deal with some touchy subjects sooner than later. For example, divorce. This is a major issue today. I’m sure many people you know have  been effected by it’s ramifications somehow. If you’re not careful, you can read what God has to say about this subject and totally misunderstand it, especially based on today’s culture.

Take for instance the phrase, “And no man may separate what God has joined together.” (Mark 10:5-9, TLB). Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because men’s hearts were hard. If he hadn’t allowed it, there would have been mutiny. How can God be so insensitive? Good question. Here’s the deal.

We live in a time when people can divorce and go on living quite comfortably. It’s not uncommon for women to work today or to remarry.  Then again, there are people in asylums and prisons because their father went out and never came back or their mother felt a sudden need to find somewhere where there wasn’t any pain.  Not always a good recipe, especially for young, developing hearts and minds.

Now rewind the tapes. What if God is against divorce, because He’s for people? Especially women. In New Testament times, women had fewer options. Men fended for their families and women cultivated the home. They trained the children.  Wrapped them in their arms when they fell down and scraped their knee and put a Band-Aid on it. Said kind words.  Listened.  Prayed to God.  Provided nourishing meals and opportunities to reconnect after a long day.   Again, not because they were inferior but because they were important. People have the idea that God hates women and that’s just not true. In fact, He tells husbands to love their wives, like Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus provided for his wife (the Church) while he was still alive, to the point of dying for her on a bloody cross and turned over the sheets of soil to get out of the grave.  He was and is the greatest husband who ever lived.  He dealt Death a death blow and hung an “Out of Order” sign on the gates of Hell.  As a Husband, he put the needs and comfort of his wife above his own.

Despite the example of Christ, the idea crept into society that women are dispensible. Not true! For instance, some Rabbi’s allowed that if your wife burned your toast, you could file for divorce. Talk about cowardly Rabbis. Man likes a binding contract until it becomes too hot in the kitchen. Then they usually look for the nearest exit!  Meanwhile, women who were ‘put away’ found themselves tossed out in the streets like trash. They had no rights, position, and worse yet, no income in society. God knew the fate of these women since before the world began and instituted the law against divorce so that it wouldn’t happen. When it did, there was always a wake of wreckage and hurting people. You couldn’t just go out and get a job or marry anyone you wanted to.  In some cases women starved  to death or were forced to make a living however they could, even if it meant stepping outside of ethical boundaries.

Jesus’ teaching on this subject highlights God’s love. It’s not meant to be a curse. The picture it paints is of an All Wise Creator who loves his creation and wants the best for it. The unity between a wife and man was meant to remain intact even if there was a physical separation. If a man left his wife, he was  still supposed to support her and provide for the needs of her and any children. The Pharisees were looking for an escape clause when they brought this topic up, and unlike the lenient Rabbi’s, Jesus wasn’t about to grant one. I don’t know about you, but I can love that kind of God.

That was a huge step forward in that day in age. Other cultures devalued women and made no provisions for their well-being. It was a big deal when Jesus came onto the scene and reaffirmed his Father’s original intentions. And the ramifications of his actions are still in effect today.

The next time you come across something in life that seems like it’s against you, take a few moments to think about how it might be designed to work in your favor. It’s so easy to  be cynical. To get hardened.  To believe everyone is out to get you. To embrace the idea that the world is a cold, horrible, meaningless place. That’s not to say that all rules and regulations are good ones. Or even half good. Man has always done an excellent job of taking God’s loving guidelines and twisting them. But in God’s ways you’ll always discover unimaginable love and comfort.

Do yourself a favor today and  open the prison doors of the people who have hurt you and set them free.  You can let yourself off the hook, but God can and He’s more than glad to when you love and forgive those who need your love and forgiveness.  Before the Dr. hung you upside down and smacked your tush, there stood a bloody cross and a glorious resurrection!  Who are we to exact a penalty that has already been paid in full?  Friday’s gone and Sunday’s coming.  Don’t miss out on Saturday!

“And why did he say that?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you why- it was a concession to your hardhearted wickedness. But it certainly isn’t God’s way. For from the very first he made man and woman to be joined together permanently in marriage; therefore a man is to leave his father and mother, and he and his wife are united so that they are no longer two, but one. And no man may separate what God has joined together.” (Mark 10:5-9, TLB).

How To Love The Person Who Stole Your Candy

Now that I’m older I wonder what it must have been like when he went to prison.

I used to play with his brother but I haven’t seen him in years. One year they ganged up on us and stole our Halloween candy….at the end of the night. What kind of kids (I wondered at the time) would lounge about all night while we were out working door to door for FREE candy? Not only the candy, but our pillow cases too! What can I say, we were poor.

Then I heard he was in prison for attempted murder! Can’t imagine what that would be like. New faces and people sizing you up. Talk about a rough first day at school. Can you say MOMMA!?

Here are five things I learned while reflecting on my childhood.

1.The dog was always in the pup. Just waiting to grow up. My Dad brought a puppy home one day and although he was only eight weeks old, he was twice the size of our mongrel Beagle puppies. He also turned out to be twice the dog. But all of the traits were there to begin with, they only blossomed as he got older. He was always a cool puppy, confident, at ease, royal and he was all of those things as a dog.
2. If you want to know your future, just look what’s in your hand. As I grew older, I often wondered why people did the things they did. My grandmother said that even after her death, she still wondered why my grandfather did some of the things he did. You may not know why now, but if you live to be as old as Solomon, you will. Not all at once, but gradually. Like the dawning of the sun, many mysteries will be revealed. They don’t call them the golden years for nothing!
3. The things you don’t like when you’re younger often turn out to be the things you love. Why else would an Olympian train for four years just for a few moments in the limelight? Hard work, patience, perseverance….they all have their rewards. The most expensive thing you can pay is attention! Ditch the distractions and focus on the details. They’re a rare commodity and so is the ability attend to them. Label the key. Read the memo. Rather than asking what it says, determine what it means. You’ll be rewarded nicely.
4. You’ll love the things you love even more so! The old vet used to pull up to the milk house at the farm and it was fun just watching him lather up and get all of his instruments ready. I can still smell his mysterious potions and envision the small bottles of Oxytocin. Even all these years later, nothing takes me back down memory lane like a good dose of country perfume. They were wonderful days, magical days. It was good to be alive and even more so now!
5. Never forget your friends. Billy. Mike. Mark. Johns, Bryan, Jamie (died in a fire!). Marshall. Many are long gone now, but never forgotten and yet only some of my comrades. You’ll never see their names in light, but they will withstand the annals of time. They scraped their knees with me and cried with me and laughed and I am all the richer for them. Some of my greatest treasures will always be the people I love.

I still don’t know where P is, but I wonder. Despite his faults, I really believe he was just a young, mad kid whose Dad went away and never came back. And though he did something he shouldn’t have, I still miss him even thought he beat me up and stole all my candy. Even as I lay here now in bed typing these words I wonder where he is tonight. i wonder if where ever he is he has someone to call friend. And so I’ve decided this post is for P. Wherever you are tonight….if you’re still alive. I love you and I wish I had some more candy so that you could steal it. Because if you really needed it that bad, I’m glad you took it from me.

10,000 Ways to Beat Cabin Fever!

Vocation vs. Vacation

We all have seasons when we just want to go back to bed. Here’s why you shouldn’t do that.

Years ago my Dad took us ice fishing. That’s the kind of thing you do in the Northeast when all of the lakes and ponds freeze up. I especially enjoyed it because I would don a pair of ice skates and sneak out to the farthest tip up and trip the flag. Of course I only did it when things got slow. I wouldn’t say a word, but inevitably someone would see the red flag waving in the distance and everyone would make a mad dash for the “big one”. Often someone would slip and crash on the way after their coveted prize. The game never got old. Still makes me laugh!

When I wasn’t pulling pranks, I would often sit around and begin to shiver. Eventually I’d complain. My Dad would always say the same thing, “Take a lap!”. That meant that if I got up and started moving I would soon warm up.

When you’re a kid, you often don’t understand the depth of the lessons you’re learning. It’s only years later that you realize how powerful the principles are that you learned.

However, it often takes a set back to realize the importance of lessons you learned in the past.

For example, it’s easy to reach the point where inactivity seems like the best option. There’s actually a law about this. Things that are at rest have a tendency to stay at rest. And guess what? When you rest, you rust!

Remember the Tin man in the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy found him all seized up. If I remember correctly, he only had enough movement in his mouth to ask for a good oiling. We’re no different. Rest is a good thing. But too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The same goes for sex, drink, food, you name it. One of the surest ways to lose your race is to take a permanent pitstop.

You see it all of the time in the working world. People retire and not long after they check out. I’m all for retirement if people are able to. However, a permanent vacation is no substitute for a vocation.

Go all the way back to the garden. Work came before the curse. Moses writes, “And the LORD took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Genesis 2:15. After the Fall, God said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” Genesis 3:19.

We weren’t designed for a life of inactivity. We were designed to dress and keep. When we forfeit our dominion, we forfeit our freedom.

If you want to know what that feels like, simply imagine being handcuffed and shackled. God has a better way.

If you’ve ever wondered why you’re here, you can rest assured you are here for a purpose. Part of that purpose is so that you can love God and others as well as yourself. That begins when you take God at his word and act on it. Once you do, that’s just the beginning, there is more. God wants to train you and use you to reach others.

The rub is it’s so easy to get focused on our own needs. When we do, we have a tendency to look inward and take our eyes off God and others. Before long, just like a pail full of water in January, we begin to freeze.

Here are some practical solutions I’ve found helpful.

Stay active. Yes, activity can numb the pain. We’re not talking about being excessively active to the point where we are numb to needs. But rather than looking at getting the mail in January as a curse, keep doing it. While you’re at it, write to others.

Use the phone for more than just texting. Reach out to people. Call them or stop by. People long for company these days. You just may find out that your problems pale in comparison to those of others. Ask people what they’re reading and share some of the titles that are helping you. I’m currently finding great help in “Leadership Pain”, “Concentric Circles of Care”, and “Where is God When it Hurts”. I’m also finding great comfort reading and praying through the Psalms.

Take a walk. Bake some cookies. Spend half a day cleaning the house. Just start in one corner and before long, you’ll be off to the races. There are very few things that compare to a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Shop around for less expensive car and home owners insurance. Take the kids iceskating. Dance in the kitchen. Be goofy and introduce them to the cartoons you watched as a kid. Dial up a family movie on Netflix…my son and I were recently intrigued by ‘My Side of the Mountain’. Share some of the music you listened to growing up as a kid….American Dream by CSNY recently took me back to the good old days when the future was still a mystery and I was searching for answers. Tell them stories about when you were a kid and how you passed the time before there were computers, cell phones, laptops and Ipads.

Teach. Don’t just pull up to the A.T.M and leave your kid in the car. Give him the debit card and walk him through using it. Let him experience the power of trial and error. Show him how to wash the car and vacuum it. Show him junk mail and how to spot it a mile away. Teach her the importance of quality rather than quantity when completing school work. Let them reap the rewards of bad seed they’ve sowed. Let them go to the bus stop without a coat, without worrying what every one will say. They’ll learn!

Eventually, we all discover that we’re “it”. It’s our turn to pass on generational wisdom and history.

Tomorrow will soon be here. Our lives are but vapors….here one minute and gone the next. The bible says to redeem the time. Cash it in, rather than saving it. These are the golden days, not some time far off in the future, so plant the corn rather than keeping it in the bin to rot and get eaten by the rats. Take a lap!

WHAT’S THE WONDER OF THE WORLD?

What's the big deal about Easter?

Have you ever wondered about anything?  There’s something I’ve always wondered about Jesus.  In fact, as long as I live, I’ll probably still always wonder.

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Before I tell you all about one of the major things that makes me wonder, lets talk about some of my minor wonders.  For instance, I’m amazed by technology.  I know it’s all evolved and improved, but still I’m left to wonder.  Last week, for example, I replaced a gasket on our front-loader washer and I thought to myself “the aliens must’ve designed this thing.”  You get the idea.  Not really amazing, right?

Jesus, on the other hand is truly amazing!  I know some of you have a hard time with him.  Well, not really him, but people who claimed to know him.  Ex-bosses, fellow workers, family members the guys who knocked on your door.  In a lot of cases these people had good intentions, yet they turned you off in some way through their business approaches, attitudes, actions and behaviors.  Some of you said, “If that guy’s a Christian, count me out!”  I get that.  I’ve been both of those guys at times.  Maybe you have too.  So, lets forget about ‘that guy’ for awhile and talk.  Lets talk about what the big deal is about Jesus.

We’ve all been wronged at one time or another.  In some cases we’ve been wronged by Christians.  There’s no denying that.  The question is how do we respond when we’re wronged.  That’s where Jesus turned the tables.  He said if you treat people the way they treat you, you’re average.  Jesus said, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matt. 5:43-44).  He follows up by saying God waters the crops of the evil and the good.  He makes the sun shine on both of them.

But that’s not the way most people respond, right?  The Old Testament Law prescribed ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.  That was a leap ahead of other cultures at the time!  What usually happens today, however,  is you do me wrong and I own you.  You kill my brother and I kill your whole village.  You don’t respond to my text, I erase you from my contacts.  You dis my post, I unfriend you.  You yell at me over dinner and I don’t talk to you for a week.  Lets face it, forgiveness isn’t one of our strongest traits.

The idea that God loves you regardless of what you’ve done is pretty amazing!  In many pulpits around the world this week, there will be strong cases made to support the fact that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again after three days.  Is that amazing?  Yes.  But doesn’t it make perfect sense that God is able to do that if he’s truly God?  What truly sets Jesus apart is the fact that after all he went through for us- ultimately the loss of his own life- he is willing to forgive!  That’s a big deal.  The bible says, “According to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood.  For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

Because you’re forgiven, you are able to forgive others.  That’s not natural.  Remember how we talked about Matt. 5:43-44?  Because you’ve been forgiven, you are able to forgive others, including your co-workers, friends, your boss, even your spouse.  Not just once in a while, but daily!  Why?  Because Jesus lives in you.

Imagine if you decided today, I’m going to start keeping short accounts.  Everyday’s a new day.  Starting today, I’m going to forget about everything people owe me from the past.  That has the potential to be life changing, right?

Chances are you know someone right now who needs to know that regardless of what they’ve done, God can forgive them.  It’s simple.  We’ve all sinned.  God sent his son Jesus to die for our sins.  He was buried and rose from the dead on the third day.  If we repent and believe, he will forgive us and give us eternal life.  It really is that simple.

Chances are you know someone right now who needs your forgiveness.  It might be the parent who abandoned you at a young age.  The person who molested you as a child.  Someone who hurt your family.  A boss.  Your spouse.  It’s your choice, but if God forgives you for all that you’ve done, doesn’t it make sense to forgive that person.  After all, they may have done a cruel, wicked thing to you, but they didn’t kill you, right?  Jesus, on the other hand, died because of what you and I did, yet he still forgives us.  Maybe you need to forgive yourself.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but the real wonder of the world is not that Jesus rose from the dead.  That had been predicted for centuries.  He was the Son of God.  God could do that as easily as you or I get out of bed.  He’s all powerful.  The real wonder of the world is that….he forgives sins!  We killed his son, we put him through hell, yet…. he’s willing to forgive us….heal us….love us like sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  That’s Good News!

So congratulations!  If you’re a Christian, you’ve been forgiven.  And if you’re not, Congratulations! Jesus forgives sins!  There’s still time.  That’s the wonder of the world.  Someone who never sinned himself, was willing to pay for ours.  For yours.  For mine.  In fact, someone who was injured and killed because of you and I, is willing to forgive us and spare our souls for all of eternity.  We can get off Scott-free, because of this unspeakable gift, you can have a life that matters.  Your love is not in vain.  You will be reunited someday with your friends and loved ones forever.  What are you waiting for?  Who do you need to forgive?

This week is a great opportunity to share with someone the fact that God is willing to forgive their sins.  Think about that.  God forgives my sins.  God forgives my sins.  Wow!

THAT CONFIDENCE THANG

Lets TalK About the Source

One of life’s ironies is that you need to exercise confidence when you least possess it most.  I don’t know if that’s good English, but it’s true.  If you look back in your own life, you’ll see it’s true.  Maybe it was the loss of a loved one.  You had no idea how you were going to keep going, but you did and now look how far you’ve come.  So lets talk about that!

don-knotts-400679_1280Barney Fife was a walking contradiction because though he clearly lacked confidence, he was courageous in that he still saddled up despite all of his fear and weaknesses.  And we loved him for it, right?  Then there was Andy.  He was always calm, cool and collected.  The opposite of Barney, he had every reason to be confident, but his confidence clearly flowed from a deep hidden recess invisible to the naked eye.

Last week we said confident people don’t depend on their own strengths, they depend on the strengths of others.  The Leper knows he cannot heal himself, but knows one who can.

FIRST, THE ONE WHO CAN  Picking up from last week.  The one who can is Jesus!  And this is what Jesus has to say about the man you’re going to meet this week, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel (Matthew 8:10)”.  Quite a compliment coming from Jesus, wouldn’t you say?  You can read the whole story in Matthew 8:5-13.  Long story short, the guy Jesus was talking about was a powerful leader in the Roman military who had a sick servant and he knew Jesus could help him.  Chances are you want to learn more about the one who can if you’re reading this post.  So, what are you needing right now?  Not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now.  Why not trust and ask the one who can?

BUT HOW?  Ironically, like the Leper, the Centurion simply stated his case, “Lord, my servant leith at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.  And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.  The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed (Matt. 8:6-8)”.  The centurion goes on to explain that as a leader he understands the power structure.  A leader gives an order and the servant or soldier carries it out.  Again, his confidence is not in himself, but a GREATER leader!

BRAGGING RIGHTS  Imagine if Jesus bragged on you because your confidence in him was so great!  Look what he said about the centurion, “When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.  And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:10-11).  Wow!  Imagine if the same could be said of you or me?  Chances are this story isn’t included just to highlight the centurion’s faith.  Most likely, his story is an example of what happens when you trust God for great things!

A GLOWING FUTURE Carey Nieuwhof recently said “The past is your future with the lights on”, or something along those lines.  Apparently it’s a quote from a song.  Anyway, think about that!  You designed the life you’re living right now, in the past.   In other words, the choices and habits you exercise today determine the quality of the life you’ll live tomorrow!  Powerful thought, isn’t it.  But before you start beating yourself up, why not decide to start changing the future today.  Pray.  This is what Jesus had to say about those who choose not to exercise faith like the centurion did, “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12).  I don’t really know what all of that looks like and I don’t want to know!  But….if you look around, it’s quite obvious many people are suffering today as a result of the poor choices they or someone close to them made in the past.  It’s called the principle of sowing and reaping.

FRESH FRUIT “And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (Matt. 8:13).  Instant results!  But before you get too excited, you need to understand this isn’t the way it always works.  Still, who can tell?  God may just answer your prayer as quickly as he did for the centurion.

SO.  What’s stopping you from trusting the one who can?  Is it because your case is impossible?  What’s more impossible looking than an incurable disease and looming death?  Only one thing.  Jesus.  Imagine.  The actions you take today have the potential to change your life for all of eternity.  Why not go to him and state your confidence in his abilities and watch what happens?

 

HOW TO BE MORE CONFIDENT

You Can Move Beyond the Limiting Power of Unbelief

If you’ll take a moment to reflect, you’ll see that some of the greatest moments in your life happened when you were confident.  It took confidence to make a new friend when you were younger.  It took confidence to ask your spouse out on a date.  It took confidence to turn right at the crossroads when everyone and everything else in you and around you was telling you to turn left.  So if confidence has paid off so well, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to become more confident?

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Confidence isn’t something you master, it’s something that masters you.  When I look back in my own life, it’s amazing to see how little confidence I had at times but how far a little confidence went.  Time and time again, I was faced with large looming decisions I couldn’t internalize and figure out, yet things worked out better than I could have ever imagined once I took just one small confident step.  It takes confidence to put one foot in front of the other, but if you will, the returns are amazing!

Sadly, if you think about some of the most unhappy people you know, there is no evidence of confidence in their lives.  They’re always so busy playing it safe and making calculations.  In their pursuit of safety, they’re lives are no longer exhilarating.  Instead of life being an adventure, it becomes a series of reruns and regrets.  Same stuff, different day.  Some of them will even tell you they are exercising faith!

Here’s a guy whose life was radically transformed because he stepped out in confidence.  ‘When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them’.  Matthew 8:1-4 KJV

In the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look and talking about confidence.

Here are four thoughts on how to be more confident!

FIRST, IN ORDER TO GROW, CONFIDENCE MUST BE EXERCISED.

Imagine how much your confidence would grow if you were a leper and you were healed in an instant! That’s what happens in this story found in the first story found in Matthew Chapter 8.  A Leper is healed by Jesus.  The ironic part is multitudes had just heard Jesus preach and teach and yet only one person mustered up their confidence in Jesus.  Notice how confident he is.  He doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him, he tells Jesus the facts.  Notice, what he says, ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’.  Here was a guy with a seemingly hopeless condition, but one small display of confidence transformed his future!  His confidence opened the door to a whole new world.  So….when was the last time you openly displayed your confidence in Jesus?  When was the last time you said to him, ‘Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean’.  Until you take that next small step, your confidence in him will not grow.

SECOND, YOU CAN BE CONFIDENT WHEN YOUR ‘WHO’ ISN’T YOU.  

Notice what confidence is.  The leper was not confident in his own abilities, he was confident in the abilities of Christ.  Author Bob Beaudine has written an excellent book about this called ‘The Power of Who’.  Confident people place their confidence in the people around them.  You may not be able to solve the problem you’re facing on your own, but chances are you already know someone who can.  Who is it that possesses the abilities to solve the problem you’re currently facing?  What if you got in touch with them and explained your situation and said, ‘Look, I’m calling you because I believe you can help me’.  Trust me, you’ll be amazed when you do!  Right now, you’re cringing at the thought of me.  You don’t want anyone to know there are chinks in your armor.  Never underestimate the powers of those who love you and their willingness to help.

THIRD, CONFIDENCE DOESN’T TOTALLY DEPEND ON REASON.

Imagine if the Leper had told himself there was just no way.  Imagine if he’d waited and tried to figure out how it all looked on paper.  One man touching another man and healing him in an instant makes no sense on paper!  YES, reason is a God-given ability and you should exercise it.  The problem occurs when you you are unwilling to believe beyond your own reasoning.  So why is it that you are only willing to take the next step after you can reason it all out perfectly?  For example, it takes no confidence whatsoever to pursue personal dreams if you can accomplish them without God.  If your dream is something you can accomplish on your own, chances are you won’t need any confidence to achieve it.  The Leper, on the other hand, had a HUGE life-long dream of being whole and he knew it made no sense on paper to trust Christ, yet he did!  So what’s holding you back?  Is it the fact, that you’ve figured out you won’t be able afford to take this next step?  Did it take confidence to reach that conclusion?  No one said being confident was easy or that it makes sense.  It’s the very foolishness of confidence in the face of the impossible that makes it so attractive.

FOURTH, CONFIDENCE HAS NO VALUE UNTIL YOU CASH IT IN.

I know a guy who jokes that a benefit is not a benefit until you cash it in.  Behind this joke lies a wonderful truth.  Imagine what might happen if you start cashing in some of the confidence checks you’ve been entrusted with.  Maybe, the only thing holding you back is your signature!  How awesome is that thought?  Have you ever wondered why Jesus told the Leper in verse 4 to not tell anyone, but to go and show the priests and to offer a gift?  Me too.  Often, when Jesus told people not to tell other people, they did just the opposite.  Perhaps Jesus wanted the Leper to show the Priests his wholeness and offer a gift because both of these are tangible expressions of the fruits of confidence.  When your in the business of dealing with the supernatural, it’s so easy for everything to become mundane.  New life is life-giving, especially when everything seems dead.  Either way, gifts are for others, they’re free and we share them.  So when you exercise confidence or faith and there are rewards, remember the example of the Leper.  Everybody loves free gifts, so if you’ve been gifted, look for opportunities to share them with others.

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Despite your track record, you can start being confident today!  In the meantime, have an awesome week!  While you’re at it, what’s the next step of confidence you’re going to take?

 

LEADERSHIP MATTERS

What’s going to happen if you don’t lead?  Nothing.  Why?  Because leadership matters.  However, while leadership is important, there is something even more important!

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Before we boil this down, lets think about it.  Maybe you had a younger brother or sister who followed you everywhere you went.  Now remember, at that point you hadn’t accomplished much of anything.  Right?  O.K, maybe you were taller or you could run faster.  Maybe you were a better basketball player.  But other than that, there were people out their with far greater accomplishments than you.  So what made your little sister or brother look up to you they way they did.  Chances are it was because you had a good relationship with them.  Moreover, they’d known you their entire life and you were one of the first people they had a relationship with.  They did not idolize you because you were taller, smarter or faster- though that may have been part of it- they followed you because you had a relationship.  And chances are they followed you less when your relationship was strained.

Fast forward now.  If you’re not careful, you can make the mistake of focusing on only one person as you pursue leadership- yourself.  You can fall for the lie that it’s all about you.  That you have to put yourself first if you want to get ahead.  You see it in the headlines.  On the news.  Lets face it, you’re living in an iGeneration.  It’s all about you, you, you.  If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?

We’re all wired to look out for #1.  As a leader, the danger arises when you become self-absorbed and neglect others.  Life becomes a sprint toward the top.  If you walk on others in the process, so be it.  The key is your accomplishments.  Your advanced degree.  Your reputation.  Your resume.  Nobody said it has to be that way.

Up until the time of Christ, it was common to boast about your own credentials.  People bragged about the wars they’d won.  The homes they owned.  Their wealth.  You name it.  People considered humility to be shameful.  Why go to the bottom of the heap when you could be on top.  Jesus on the other hand, humbled himself and pitched his tent among us.

So what is more important than accomplishments?  Relationships.  Everything moves at the speed of them and flows out of them.  No relationship, no leadership.

The reverse is true.  Leaders don’t focus on their own accomplishments, they focus on the accomplishments of others.  They bring out the best game in others.  In the process, those they lead make sure they get all the recognition and promotion they could ever want.

The world’s best leaders have figured out that their torch loses nothing by kindling the torch of another. They understand it is more blessed to give than to receive.  They don’t look for others to light a fire in them, they ignite others

The great news is there are potential leaders every where you look.  You can find them in the marketplace, on the street corner, at work, in the church and in your own home.

Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” Matt. 6:19-20.

If you look back in your own life, you’ll find the people you influenced the most, were not impressed with your accomplishments, they were impressed with you.  They knew you had their best interests in mind….that you cared for them.

Chances are if you’re leadership is suffering right now with a particular person it’s because your relationship with them is limping.  Don’t stop there.  Take the first step.  As a leader, it’s your job to reignite the relationship.  Call them.  Arrange a get together over coffee.  Send them a note of encouragement.  But whatever you do, don’t expect them to follow if you’re not leading.

Those who follow you could care less about your trophies.  What they really want is to know that you care!

Feeling Ordinary?

Mastering The Mundane

God loves the foreigner, the outcast, and the forgotten. He collects the worn-out vagabonds that nobody else wants. They can be part of the club. Though they’re down and out, they can be up and in. Aren’t you glad?

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How can we be sure?  Check this out —–>“That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, but the angel reassured them.” (Luke 2:8-9, TLB).

Shepherds were often the outcasts of society. They were sometimes young.  It wasn’t a glamorous position.  Remember what David’s Dad said about him? “Oh yeah, there’s one other brother that just watches the sheep”, Jesse told the prophet Samuel when he came hunting for the next King of Israel.

Shepherds were sometimes criminals, sex offenders, thieves- the cast-offs of society- people pushed to the outskirts of the villages to watch the flocks. They stank like the animals they cared for, an easy way to identify them, should they mingle with civilians.  Some of them were girls.  In this account there is more than one shepherd. They may have been all together in the same place or separated by distance and they came together at the birth scene of Christ. Look at them now as they come out of the darkness into the light.

The shepherds were poor.  They just brought themselves. They were not like the  wisemen later on the story who brought Jesus Gold, Frankincense and Myhr.  This was a night they would talk about for the rest of their lives. Imagine their grandchildren saying, “Tell us again about the night the angels appeared and you saw Jesus!”

Maybe you’re not a shepherd. But chances are your job isn’t always exciting. Perhaps sometimes everyday feels like Monday. Or perhaps you have great responsibility and feel like you’re the only one who can get the job done.

Wherever you are today, if you’ll just look up, there are stars. God put them everywhere so that wherever we go, we’ll still be able to look up and be reminded of His wisdom and beauty.

Not only is there beauty in the world, there is beauty in the Word. The scriptures that is. If only this story alone were recorded, you’d be rich. The fact that God appeared once to such a group of unlikely recipients should encourage all of us. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Savior- yes, the Messiah, the Lord- has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!” WoW! How awesome is that. Some two thousand years later, God is still packaging great things in small bundles, but never one as great as that one. That small bundle of greatness rocked the entire world when he was unwrapped on the cross.  “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”  Matthew 27:54

Then look what happened. I like the phrase, “….And there was the baby, lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:16, TLB) Simple words pregnant with wonder! Can you imagine? Not just any old baby, but baby Jesus!

But the next part is one of the best. “Then the shepherds went back again to their fields and flocks, praising God for the visit of the angels, and because they had seen the child, just as the angel had told them.” (Luke 2:20, TLB). The point? There are some people, even shepherds, who believe unless you can quote the bible inside and out or go to the mission field or start a homeless mission or give $10,000 a year to the church, you aren’t doing much. You may be a Christian, but you’re not on fire. Then again, according to some, chances are you’re probably not a Christian. If you were, you’d be going to Seminary or Calcutta or signing up to volunteer at church. Does that mean we shouldn’t do any of these things?  Absolutely not! The point is, our salvation doesn’t come from what we do, it comes from what Jesus has done.  There’s really no evidence that the shepherds did anything but go back and watch their sheep….back to the mundane….back to sitting under the stars….back to living outside the village. Are you there yet?

Don’t underestimate your value because you don’t live in the limelight. You may not have a platform, but that doesn’t mean you’re not playing a significant role. Our bodies can live without noses and eyes, but it dies without a heart or a liver.  Wherever you are, the value you add is greater than you could ever imagine. You make a difference whether you’re a missionary or a mechanic. And when strangers or your grandchildren come along and ask you to tell them a story, tell them about Luke 2 and how it changed your life.  Remember, there’s nothing ordinary about ordinary.

Better yet, why not share your experience right now on Facebook or Twitter?

FOUR THOUGHTS TO KEEP YOU IN THE RACE

Start With The Cross And End With A Crown

Thank God for leaders who are a lot further along in the race than we are!  As we run our race, their footprints in the sand inspire us to keep on going no matter what.  Not only do they inspire us, they set the pace.  Sometimes, by God’s grace, we achieve a measure of their success.  Shifting gears for a minute, who is following in your footsteps?

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Here are four key thoughts I’ve captured after hearing one of my mentors preach today.  I hope they’ll be an encouragement as you set the pace for others behind you.  All four are found in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.  

1 Corinthians 1  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

  1. Paul kept his message pointed and simple In 2 Corinthians 2:2, the apostle Paul wrote of not speaking of anything but Christ crucified among those he was trying to reach.  That was the heart of his message in a nutshell.  It’s good news!  Jesus Christ died for our sins and we can repent and be forgiven.  That may not sound very fancy to you, but it’s a very powerful truth.
  2. You can be weak and fearful and still win your race!  When we think of Paul, we think of someone who was bold and courageous.  And he was! But here he openly admits he was weak and fearful most of the time.  Huh?  You see, courage is not the absence of fear; courage is saddling up despite your worse fears.  If you’re going to set the pace for those behind you, you’ll never eliminate feelings of fear and weakness.  They’re par for the course.  Yes, there’ll be seasons when you are light in spirit and bouyant, but most of the time you’ll just have to show up and rise up.
  3. You don’t need a fancy vocabulary or eloquence to make a difference in people’s lives.  School is not a bad thing, neither are books or advanced degrees.  These are all good things and in most cases, needful.  It’s also o.k to be a good speaker.  But what about the rest of us?  For instance, what does it look like to live a life where there is a demonstration of the Spirit and power?  It’s not a very difficult question.  It just means you live a life filled with love and compassion.  If you’re filled with the love of God, it’s going to leak!  Not just toward those worthy of your love, but all men, women and children.  You see, when you’re gone, people will mostly remember you for your large, loving heart, not the grey matter between your ears.  They may not remember one sentence you said, but they will remember how you comforted and consoled them.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use words.  It just means your words and actions should be filled with love.
  4. A faith that stands in the power of God, not the wisdom of men– As a leader, you want your people to trust you but most importantly a large living faith is one that encourages others to put their faith in God.  As you run your race, you want to make sure credit is given where credit is due.  Your job is not to put the spotlight on yourself or your own power, but on God and his power!

To recap, in sharing your story, keep it simple.  While you’re at it, you can’t avoid fear and trembling, but you can face it and be successful.  As your success grows, people are more likely to remember how you made them feel than what you said or did.  Finally, as you live out your life in love, others will be drawn to the source of your power.  At that point, be sure you point them to Christ and be sure he gets the credit.  Be like Paul….start with the cross and end with a crown!