Looking Out For The ‘Little Ones’

See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 18:10, Jesus.

There is no question that children are important to God.  He is aware of what happens to them and those who oversee them always have an audience with God.  Always.  Jesus goes on to say that for the one who causes a child to sin, it would be better that they tie a rock around their necks and be thrown into the sea than to face the judgement of the one who sees all.

My heart aches for what may happen in Alabama tomorrow, as voters go to the polls to elect their next Senator.  Many pastors and evangelical leaders have chosen to endorse Roy Moore, despite multiple allegations of sexual abuse and assault from girls as young as 14.  The state and national arms of the Republican Party have both endorsed him as a candidate.  And our president, who has fully endorsed him, has gone so far as to in effect say that whatever he is, at least he is not a liberal.  Moore has denied all allegations.  For his part, he has spent most of his public life being held up as a defender of the faith and the rights of Christians.

For far too long, we Christians have been complicit in allowing the label of Christian to be used by those in power to further their own agendas.  We have allowed political parties and our culture to inform our faith.  This should not be so!  We must instead allow our faith to inform and direct our decisions about leaders and policies, regardless of political party.

The Republican party is not the Christian party.  Neither is the Democratic party the party of Believers.  We must show the powers of this world that we do not support their agendas and that we demand better from those who desire to lead us.

The hypocrisy of this age can not be overlooked.  At a point in time where many who would call themselves Christian conservatives are clamoring for the removal of Democratic Senators and Representatives because of alleged sexual abuses, some of those same Christian conservatives are preparing to elect a Senator who has been accused of many sexual abuses himself.

For the record, I would have labeled myself as a Christian conservative.  With only 2 exceptions, Clinton in 1992 and Perot in 1996, I have voted Republican in every election for the past 30 years.    I must confess that I bought into the belief that a conservative is better than a liberal ‘no matter what’ and helped elect our current president.  A decision that I now deeply regret.

I encourage my brothers and sisters across the state line to prayerfully consider what God would have them do tomorrow.  God is not for the Democrats or the Republicans.  God is for God.  God is for the little children.

And don’t be fooled into believing that you have to choose the lesser of two evils.  God sees into the heart of each voter and considers their motivations and actions.  We are all viewed and judged before God as individuals.

If you can’t bring yourself to vote for a Democrat, then may I suggest that you do as Alabama’s other Senator did, Republican Richard Shelby, and write-in the name of a different Republican, because as he said, ‘Alabama deserves better’ than Roy Moore.

As for myself, I will be fasting and praying today that God be glorified through the decision that you make.

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It’s Just the Right Thing To Do

Webster’s dictionary defines ‘obey’ as “to comply, to submit to the authority of.”

Anytime that we obey, there is a price to be paid.  At the very least, we have to submit to the authority of the one that we are obeying.  The price that we pay is our independence.  When we agree with the one that we are obeying, we may not recognize that we are actually submitting our independence in the process.

However, if we disagree with the command, the price is even higher.  We are still required to lay down our independence.  We are also required to lay down our preferences, choices (to do or not to do), and desires.  Especially when we are being stretched or pruned, we may be required to comply with something that seems wholly foreign to our natural self.

Every time that we obey, it should strengthen us and help us to be obedient in more difficult situations.  Unfortunately, there are many times that we miss these opportunities for growth because we forget the ‘why’ behind our obedience.

When we share out of our abundance with others…or when we allow someone else to go before us…or when we choose to forgive someone who has offended us, we often say,

“It was just the right thing to do.”

Our actions are exactly right.  We are obedient to the commands of Abba, but we have forgotten that our motivation for doing all of these things is obedience to Abba.

We run into difficulty when we are forced to choose between obedience to Abba and our own desires. When we simply don’t want to obey.  For those who have made a life-style out of choosing disobedience, through destructive addictions and habits, this can be particularly difficult.

In my own life, I chose self-satisfaction over obedience to Abba so consistently, that even when I wanted to change, it was just too difficult to ‘Just Say No’ to me.  My breakthrough came when I began to choose obedience, intentional obedience, in the little things.  Eventually, as my love for Abba and awareness of his goodness and grace in my life grew, I was strengthened to say no to behaviors that were destructive to me.

Proverbs 3:6 tells us “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV)  The power in this verse is in the word ‘ALL’.  When we make it a habit of acknowledging our obedience to Abba, especially in the things that we do that just seem ‘right’, we will have greater ability to say ‘no’ to the big things that come along to derail us.

A friend once told me that he prays before leaving work to get lunch each day.  He acknowledges Abba’s control of his life, and seeks His plan for that day.  My friend doesn’t want his personal hunger to get in the way of a divine encounter that Abba has planned for him somewhere else.

Acknowledge Abba in the everyday choices of life – the ones don’t seem to matter – and you will have greater strength to acknowledge Abba in the situations that repeatedly destroy your confidence and faith.

Field of Weeds or Dandelion Dreams

I decided at the end of last year to FINALLY try to do something about our lawn.  Over the last 14 years, my regular maintenance has been…

  1.  Cut the grass at least once a month, maybe twice, whether it needed it or not.
  2.  Cut it as short as possible so that it wouldn’t look too bad for the next 2-3 weeks.

The result was a lawn that was mostly green, except for several large patches of dirt that seem to be growing, and a sea of dandelions which would eventually go to seed and produce an ocean of beautiful yellow flowers the next time it rained.

Knowing not where to begin, I turned on my trusty companion and ‘Google’d it’ (you do know that Google is a verb, right?).  I looked at several websites and was truly amazed that all of them gave the same advice, and it wasn’t the advice that I expected.

I had assumed that there was some daily regimen or plan of attack to drive back the dandelion fiends to the borders of my neighbors yard and then with the wind at my back, strike the blow that would sever the heads off of those devilish blossoms of Beelzebub.  Alas, there was not.  The instructions were actually quite simple:

  1. Spread some weed and feed over the entire yard to bring the weeds under control.
  2. Cut the grass consistently, preferably once per week, to strengthen the grass.
  3. Let the grass grow tall, which helps the grass and drowns out the weeds.

That’s it?

In a nutshell they suggested that I treat the weeds once and then do everything that I can to ensure that I my lawn is healthy.

Huh.

So I did, and much to my surprise the dandelions, and many of the other weeds, began to die.  I also raised the blades on my mower a couple of notches and have been cutting the grass every week for the past 2 months.  Every week when I mow the lawn, it amazes me at how thick and soft the grass is becoming.  And I can now walk around the yard every few days and pinch the heads off of maybe 6 or 8 of those yellow beasts and that is it.  Lawn maintained.

So what it the point?

Much of my adult life has revolved around fighting weeds that have taken root in my heart.  Weeds of addiction, insecurity, doubts, fears, anxiety, and too many others to name.  I have spent A LOT of time waging war against those weeds.  I have been completely focused on killing weeds with no focus on my spiritual lawn.  I would fight, get tired, rest a few weeks, and then go full-tilt against the weeds again in an effort to beat them back.

But they just kept coming.  And with reinforcements.

I have known several men who, like me, had struggles against addictions that were never-ending and who were losing ground everyday.  But I think that a new battle plan is in order.  Instead of worrying about the weeds so much, focus on the lawn.

  1. Determine what your issues and triggers are, and put tools and protections in place to keep you safe.  And you need to BE ACCOUNTABLE to someone throughout the process.  This will begin to kill the weeds.
  2. CONSISTENTLY read the bible and pray.  I recommend that you use the New Living Translation One-Year Bible.  The NLT is easily read and understood and the One-Year Bible takes all of the thinking out of it.  Just open it up and read.  And look for passages that speak to you about YOUR life and struggle, and pray those over yourself.
  3. Let your spiritual life GROW.  It WILL drown out the weeds.  Worship is crucial.  Turn off talk and sports radio and instead listen to some instrumental or worship music on Pandora or Spotify and meditate on the goodness of God while you are commuting to work or exercising.  Find a place at your church or in your community to serve those who are less fortunate.  Worship will open your heart to who God is and service will reveal what He is doing in the world, and where he wants you to join in.

In short, treat the weeds in your life, but spend your energy growing a healthy spiritual lawn.

The other day I was out in my backyard playing with our 4 month old, 40 pound, Old English Bulldog named Rocky.  There is a spot in the yard where the grass has become particularly thick and soft.  I kicked off my shoes, which Rocky quickly stole and ran off with, and laid down in the soft grass, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Psalm 23:1-3 NLT.

It’s going to be alright.

Who’s In Control?

And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover, and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.  John 19:42 NLT

“They” were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Joseph secured the body from Pilate, and with the help of Nicodemus, they prepared his body for burial.  They had to hurry.  The Jewish leaders didn’t want the body hanging on the cross on the Sabbath, and sunset was nearing.

But they hadn’t prepared for this.  They weren’t expecting Jesus to die.  They thought that he would become king.  They thought that he would liberate the Jewish people from the rule of the Romans.  But here they were instead.  Preparing the body of their king for burial.

Joseph brought the body.  Nicodemus brought the burial ointment.  And together they prepared the body of Jesus to be eternally buried away.

But what to do with the body?

Once it was ready for burial, they simply found a tomb that was “close at hand”.  Because they were in such a rush, and because they hadn’t planned for this, they simply acted.  They put the body in a tomb that was close by and available.

Don’t forget that this ‘convenient’ tomb is the place where all of mankind first learns that Jesus hadn’t just liberated the Jews from Rome, but he has liberated man from death.  Perhaps nothing in Christian history is more significant than the empty tomb.  And it was chosen because it was convenient.

God’s timing had placed Jesus on the cross on the day before the Passover Sabbath.  And God’s provision had provided a “close at hand” stage to reveal to the world that death, hell, and the grave had lost all of their power.

How many times do we look at our circumstances, fully aware of what we should do, and say…

“This isn’t right.”

“The timing is bad.”

“I should wait until I have a better plan.”

God orchestrates a perfect situation, via circumstances, timing, and divine provision, to glorify himself through our actions, obedience, and faith. And what do we do?

Wait.  We wait until we can work out circumstances and timing and provision so that in our limited minds, it is perfect.  And when that never comes, and moment passes by, we remain idle, doing nothing, and wondering why God doesn’t move in our life like he does in others.

Rather than waiting on perfection, put your faith in the one who is perfect, and act, trusting that the timing, and resources, and abilities are already perfectly broken and ready to be made into something perfectly new.

Remember To Forget

I have a terrible memory.  Names. Dates. Appointments.  You name it.  If I don’t write it down and put a reminder on my phone, it will not happen. Or at least I won’t be there to see it.  But why am I so good at remembering disappointments? Failures?  Hurts?  Sometimes it seems like my mind is predisposed to remember every pain and forget every laugh.
Sadly, I think that many of us suffer this way.  We seem to be stuck, staring back at what has gone before, as if we are expecting it to somehow be different this time.  And we are truly stuck, you know.  You remember Lot’s wife?  When their city was destroyed due to its extreme sinfulness, God chose to spare Lot’s family, but he gave them one simple instruction:  When you leave, don’t stop or look back, so that you won’t be overtaken by the destruction.  Leave the past in the past and keep going.  Don’t even look at it!  But what happened?  Lot’s wife, somewhat lagging behind, turned back to see what they had left, and she was turned into a pillar of salt, forever seeing, but never leaving.
And this happens to all of us who choose to obsess about the past.  We get stuck. Period.  We can’t move past the thing that we won’t stop staring at.  It becomes a captor who cannot release us, because unlike us, it truly cannot change.  How can something that can never change somehow hope to release us?  It can’t and thus the stalemate begins.
But we can change.  We can turn from our precious, hope-destroying obsession with the past, and simply turn our view to our present.  We can look at where we are, and shake off the cobwebs and dirt.  We can begin to slowly exercise muscles that have atrophied due to lack of use.  We can find other weary travelers who are plodding along life’s roads and join them on the journey, giving and receiving encouragement as we go.  We can change.  We can let go of the past that we have allowed to define us and move on.
Of course, the choices that we have made, the life that has gone before, it does affect our present and our future.  It does mean that some things will never be experienced, or perhaps never be experienced in the way that was at one time possible, but it does not limit the future.  The road ahead is still ahead, and until we reach the end of the road, our path is open before us.  We get to choose where we place the next step.
Perhaps rather than believing that we have made too many bad choices and failed to walk the right path, we can choose to hear and believe the words of David, in Psalm 16:11:
“You make known to me the path of life; in you presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

The Never-Open Desert Diner: Book Review

In his debut novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner, author James Anderson presents readers with a suspenseful mystery, which takes place in a fantastic setting, and if filled with rich and interesting characters.  The novel tells the story of Ben, a truck driver who runs a desolate route through the Utah desert.  Alone and on the verge of bankruptcy, he encounters love, loss, accusation, violence, and even a chance at being on a reality tv show, all through interactions with his boss and his customers.

The story itself is very intriguing.  The characters are well developed and the setting creates a mood that works very well to contain the story.  My chief complaint with the book is that the main characters move in and out of relationships too fast and behave in unbelievable ways.  I really had to suspend my disbelief to allow the characters to move through the story in the manner in which it is written.  In addition, the dialogue was a little flat.  There were times where the author had to tell me how a character was responding (angry, hurt, etc…) because the words on the page didn’t describe what the response was supposed to be.  I believe that truly good writing doesn’t tell us, but rather shows us, what is happening.

Otherwise, I felt that this was a great first novel and would definitely consider reading additional releases in the future.

I Don’t Wait Anymore : Book Review

I recently received a review copy of I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure For You by Grace Thornton.  The book itself is beautiful, with a thick, full color printed cover, glossy pages, and a ribbon bookmark.  If you are familiar with the hardback version of Jesus Calling, then you know what I am talking about.  Obviously, I lot of time and money was spent on producing this book, which I assume means that Zondervan expected big things.

In my opinion, the book falls a little flat.  The language of the book is as gorgeous as the book itself, but it is too disconnected to follow consistently.  The story tells of the author’s journey of releasing expectations and following God, but she tells it through stories of her own life (good idea) and those stories don’t follow any specific timeline or pattern and it ends up being very difficult to follow.  In the end, there were several moments of brilliance that seemed to be pointing in lots of different directions and left me unsure of how she actually got there herself.

The conclusion of the book encourages the reader to delve more deeply into scripture and bible study (GREAT idea), but I can’t say that the story that the book told drove me to this conclusion.   Reading this book was reminded me of several sermons that I have heard:  Inspired, but Scattered, and in the end, me left wondering if I somehow missed the point.

 

Led Astray

As I was reading Proverbs 5 this morning, something in the footnotes caught my eye.  You are probably familiar with 5:19b and 20 which read “be intoxicated always in her love (the wife of your youth). Why should you be intoxicated my son, with a forbidden woman…”  The thing that caught my eye was that the ESV study bible says that the literal Hebrew that is translated “intoxicated” is “to be led astray”.

The image that comes to my mind when i think of someone being led astray is always negative. I certainly understand why Solomon would warn his son to avoid the forbidden woman, as many a young man has brought unnecessary pain into his life through the pursuit of momentary pleasures.

But to be led astray by and through the love of the wife of your youth.  It is such a beautiful picture.  To truly forsake all others and everything else because you know that this one love will fulfill your human hearts desire above all others.  To be led astray and love every minute of it.  And for God to be smiling over it as well.

Too often, men are led astray by work, sports, or pleasures that ultimately lead to stress, loss, and ruin.  My prayer today is that I will continue to be led astray and intoxicated with Jackie, and let all of the other stuff fade to black.

A parting thought…God desires for us to be led astray and intoxicated with Him above all.  To be so in love with the creator of the universe and the redeemer of our souls that we are led astray from thoughts and cares of the world and only pursue Him, with the love of our life by our side.

That my friends, is a life worth living.

The More of Less

If there is a single word that contrasts with the American culture of 2016 it is Minimalism.  In Joshua Becker’s new book, The More of Less, he contends that most of us can have the life that we really want, but it begins with getting rid of all of the stuff that is in the way.  And by stuff, he means all of the things around your house and in your life that not only steal resources, but which also take valuable time to maintain, clean, and present.

I must admit that the message of this book intrigued me.  It was the sole reason that I requested the review copy in the first place.  And I could definitely feel the author’s passion, which sometimes got a little preachy (he is a pastor, so I guess he has that right), and I can see the accuracy of his message, but he never really engaged me at the level that would drive me to make significant changes.  The biggest thing that I did while reading this book was to clean out the cluttered desk in my home office.

I hope that this message and reading this book has planted some seeds.  Mr. Becker truly convinced me that a minimalist lifestyle could certainly lead to less headaches and having more resources available to pursue the life that I desire.  He just failed to convince me to do anything about it, at least for now.

I was a little set off by the editing of this book.  There are multiple references back to other chapters and previously stated material that were simply unnecessary and eventually caused me to start skimming the book, looking for truly new material in each chapter.  The book could have been shorter….

I will close by saying that I truly respect the book the Joshua Becker has written.  He has a very successful blog and I was expecting to find the book filled with promotions pushing me to purchase additional items and resources via his website, as seems to be the norm these days.  Thankfully, this book was only filled with his message and vision for what is possible for those who choose to limit their needs, and focus on bigger goals.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

We’re All Awkward