Thankfulness Beyond Blessings

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving it should be easy to reflect on God’s goodness and give thanks. Though our country is in a difficult season, we’re still fortunate to live with countless freedoms and blessings. While it may not be your dream home, you woke up in a bed and looked up to see a roof over your head. As a chill begins to fill the air, we kick on furnaces, add blankets to beds and grab coats before we leave our homes. Today, we might ask, what do you want to eat or how can I lose weight, but probably not, I wonder if there will be food for me today. If you’re reading this devotion, it means you have your sight and you’re holding it in your hand, either physically or on an electronic device. Much of the third world walks to destinations, while we jump into vehicles and travel in luxury. Consider the blessings we have if we have health, family, and friends. Beyond the material and relational blessings, there is more. King David, who lived a blessed life, reflected on God’s goodness in Psalm 136. He doesn’t mention material or relational favor, but reflects on one blessing, “that God’s mercy endures forever.” In fact, so overwhelmed by God’s mercy, he repeats the phrase, “his mercy endures forever,” 26 times. I too say, thanks God, for your mercy. Beyond the physical blessings, wonderful family, and good friends, I’m grateful for God’s overextending mercy. Mercy to robe himself in flesh and give His life for me, grace that extends beyond my continual shortcomings, and love that is unfailing and infinite. As we gather this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks that you know a merciful, gracious, and loving God.

Imperfect Treasures

You walk into a store and begin to look around. After perusing the store for a few minutes, you realize everything is slightly used, marginally broken, missing something or has been returned. A button is absent on a shirt. A vase has a miniscule chip. An appliance is in an open box. Almost everything in the store is useable, though some things seem, slightly defective. Some would walk away, only wanting something that is new, while others might think, “I’ll take a chance, I think I can work with this, or I can fix this.” Much of our home is filled with items bought at consignment stores, garage sales and secondhand retailers. Mary and I find pleasure in the search and getting great deals. One day, as I was reflecting on our finds, God gave me a gentle nudge, basically saying, what you do with things is what I do with people. God loves taking broken, hurting, and damaged people and putting them back together. Understand, all humanity is broken, all of us. In fact, if you get to know most of the Life Community, you will find it is filled with people who are or have been broken. Some of us are still missing some pieces in our lives and others God is still working on. If you are looking for a perfect friendship, perfect pastor or perfect church community, Life is probably not the place for you. But, if you are slightly broken, are willing to take a chance on God and some other damaged people, you will find some amazing treasures at Life. Get around some of us and you will find a few knobs or buttons missing, and you might find a few chips in our personalities or attitudes, but we are all becoming God’s treasures. He’s taken a chance on us. We’ve been blood bought and we’re now a work in progress. Life, a place to find or become a gently used treasure.

Plant the Right Stuff

Spring! Go to Lowe’s or any home and garden shop, and if you’re lucky enough to find a parking place, you can count on a long line once you find your plants and flowers. Whether it’s tulips, trees or tomatoes, this is the time when people are getting them in the ground. Planting tulips? Expect beautiful hues of reds, purples and pink petals. Plant an apple, peach or cherry tree, and in time, you will enjoy some fresh fruit. Get the garden growing and soon tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash will be on your dinner table. When we plant, we plant with expectations. Flowers with no petals, fruit trees with no fruit and a garden with no red ripe Indiana tomato is just not acceptable. As we celebrate Spring, be reminded that the same laws of sowing and reaping that applies to plants and flowers apply when it comes to what we plant in our lives and families. If we plant unfaithfulness in bible reading, prayer and attending God’s house, expect our kids to do the same. Be faithful in devotion, a worshipper at church and serve others and watch your kids flourish spiritually.  Be a person who gossips, is sarcastic and negative and you will find those are the type of people you will attract. Be a person who encourages, shows grace and extends mercy and you will find when you need the same it will be in abundance. A word to the wise, plant well both in your garden and in your life. Plant your flowers and plants in good soil and plant your life in God’s Word. Keep your plants watered and your life saturated with prayer. Then, in time, you will see beautiful flowers and plants in your yard and a spirit of peace and joy in your heart.

Snow. Snow and More Snow

Monday was a glorious day. In fact, it’s been a pretty good month. Snow, snow and more snow. As I write, over a foot of snow is still on the ground. There are great spiritual lessons in snow. First, snow has no prejudice. It falls everywhere and on everyone. Doesn’t matter your economic, religious or social status. Snow falls. Second, snow covers everything. It covers average and beautiful landscaped yards. Snow covers sidewalks and streets, leaves that weren’t raked and branches that have fallen. Snow finds every knuck and covers every cranny. Finally, the obvious, snow makes everything white. Gray, green, brown, regardless the color, snow turns it white. Isaiah says, “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” What an amazing word picture when we put into context what a snow does. Jesus’ blood, like snow, has no prejudice. It covers everyone. No bias, no discrimination. Second, like snow, Jesus’ blood covers everything, no issue is beyond his blood. Whether a lie, a moral failure or something worse, Jesus’s blood covers it. Finally, Jesus’ red blood turns our sins white. We become justified and clean. He gives us a clean slate. His blood takes our sins and makes them as distant as the east is from the west. The old song says, thank God for the blood, thank God for the blood, it washes white as snow. I’m glad I can live in the power of His work and not in my futile efforts to save myself. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much, because it reminds me that His blood makes my life look like a fresh snow.

Just Keep Loving

John 4 is where we find Jesus setting his sights on helping a fragile and apprehensive Samaritan woman. The story opens as Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well, alone. He has sent His disciples to get bread. The setting is important, because if he isn’t alone, He likely doesn’t have a chance to have a conversation with the woman. It’s not that the woman isn’t broken, she is. It’s just that she is jaded and skeptical because of the bruises of life. She’s been hurt by five different husbands and the man that’s now a part of her life isn’t her husband. As the conversation begins, Jesus faces an emotional wall that is as high and thick as a prison wall. Trying to break through the icy stare, Jesus asks for water. He is met with a why? Why are you, a Jew, asking me, a Samaritan for a glass of water. Don’t you know your type doesn’t talk to people like me. When Jesus offers her water she skeptically asks, how are you going to give me water, you have nothing to draw with. When Jesus explains it’s spiritual water, she judgingly questions, are you greater than our father Jacob? Every attempt Jesus makes to help her is met with a jaded and calloused response. Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman reminds me of the difficulty we run into when we try to share the good news; the news that Jesus can bless and impact their life. It’s met with the same skepticism and jaded response. Why? They’ been hurt and they don’t trust. How do we overcome their pain? The same way Jesus did. Keep loving, showing compassion and offering mercy. Hopefully, at some moment, the walls crack, the heart softens, and the love of God comes pouring over their heart like a spring shower.

Blessed and Thankful

Thanksgiving. For some, it’s become, not a day about giving thanks, but the day that earmarks the beginning of Christmas shopping. Instead of taking the time to reflect on the incredible blessings and favor we have as Americans, it has become a frenzied day of greed and self-centeredness. While I recognize that our country nor our lives are perfect, we must admit that we are abundantly blessed. For most who are reading this article, we have a warm home, food in our cabinets and a car to drive. Even for those who have little or nothing, there are caring charities who attempt to provide for the basic needs; clothing, food and shelter. While we may not realize or appreciate it, even those who we would call poor are often better off than many in this world. That is why it grieves me when I see such a lack of thankfulness.  In one of the most blessed countries of all times, I have been amazed and saddened by the anger, rioting and general discontent in people we’ve seen this year. When will we stop to count our blessings? When will we be satisfied with the abundance that we have? At what point will there be a pause, a reflection and a genuine heart of appreciation and spirit of gratitude? How about this week? It doesn’t have to be an “around the table” moment or a long prayer, but there should be a true spirit of thankfulness in our Thanksgiving. God is good and God has been good to us. Give thanks!

The Power of Consistency

I recently read of a feud between to neighbors in California. One got upset with the other over a landscaping issue and has proceeded to continually play the Gilligan’s Island theme song over outdoor speakers just below the acceptable decibel level of the city ordinances. There is now a lawsuit. The power of persistence is amazing. In Joshua 6, God tells the people to walk around the city one time each day, with the priest continually blowing trumpets. The battle plan makes little sense, but Israel’s consistent obedience brought an indescribable victory. Jesus speaks of a widow in Luke 18 who consistently asked a judge to grant her protection, she was so persistent that the judge says, “I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.” Want to know something else, God is consistent in His love for us. In Luke 15 we read the story of the prodigal son. While the son walked away from the father, the father never gave up on his son. Day after day he was watching, hoping and believing his son would return. In Luke 15:20, it says, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” We have a God who consistently looks for ways to love us and show mercy and grace toward us. It’s important that we realize that when we are not consistent, when what we say and what we do at church does not match up in our daily life, the gospel and the power of the Spirit loses credibility. Live a consistent Godly life. Live it before your spouse, your children and the world you are called to reach.

He Doesn’t Throw Stones

Handful of stonesWe don’t know her name, background or what caused her to step into an affair. At the moment it really didn’t matter, she had been caught in adultery. She was now a pawn to men who would use her for their benefit. Men with long robes, hard hearts, personal agendas and a frenzy for murder over mercy now stood over her. Self-righteous men with no concern for her soul or eternity, only their agenda and protecting their religious convictions, now stand screaming, “stone her, the law condemns her.” Half dressed, overwhelmed and dazed by what has just happened, she lays weeping in front of Jesus. But her accusers had made one fatal mistake, they had asked Jesus, “What do you say?” Stooping between the weeping woman and angry mob Jesus begins to write. What he writes only eternity will tell, but whatever it was, one by one, accusers and self-righteous men begin to drop their stones and walk away. The silence is only broken by the whimper of a broken woman. Jesus lifts her head and ask one question. Not why did you do it? Not what were you thinking? Simply, where are your accusers? Consumed by her sin and pending punishment, she doesn’t realize they are gone. Glancing around and seeing no one she says, “there are none.” What self-righteous people will never say, Jesus says, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” The words still ring true today. No matter what you have done or where you have gone, know that no matter what anyone else says or thinks, Jesus says, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” He doesn’t throw stones. He gives second chances.

Lost

lostLost. It’s not an intentional destination. No one makes plans to get lost; it just happens. One wrong turn produces another and before we know it, we have no idea where we are. Often, especially if you are a male, the words, “I’m lost” are hard to say. We prefer a phrase like, “were just a little off course.” Whatever the choice of words, whether lost or a little off course, it is an admission that we have made a series of mistakes. The reality is that until we admit, “we’re lost” we will continue to meander aimlessly. The simple confession, “I am lost changes everything.” It’s only once we’ve admitted were lost, the journey to “found” begins. It’s then we’re willing to ask for help. It’s then we begin to retrace our steps to find our error. Its then we are willing to rely on others. It’s then that we carefully, step by step, try to get back to a safe and familiar place. No one intentionally gets “lost” in life. It just happens. How did the prodigal get to the pig pen? One bad moment, compounded by a poor decision, throw in a moral lapse, some bad company, and suddenly he finds himself in a place that is so unfamiliar, and a place he never intended to be. Fortunately, it takes just one good decision to change everything. Sitting in a pig pen was the moment the prodigal came to the realization, “I am lost.” It was the moment that changed everything. One moment stench, the next moment hope. A few more steps and his imagination began to see possibility. A few steps more and he sees home. Can I encourage you if you’re lost today? You’re not that far from home. Just one admission.

Live to Ripple

rippleA raindrop, pebble, rock or stone; no matter the object or size, it creates a ripple that the diameter, effect and end, no one knows. The impact of our lives, are much like a ripple. We serve God, share the Gospel, give money and tell our story, yet often leave this life not knowing the impact of our existence. Stephen is an example of such a life. The Bible simply says that Stephen was a man full of faith, full of grace and power and full of the Spirit. His life ends tragically with a stoning by wicked men. Those who witnessed his life likely talked about his potential and all that he could have done if God had spared his life. Yet, that day was just the splashing of a stone. The impact of his life had not ended, but just began. That day a young Saul watched his stoning and a ripple started in his heart. A ripple that would takes years to see its effect, but on a road to Damascus, everything changed. Saul becomes Paul, is converted, and the rest is history. Countless messages preached, missionary journeys, many churches established and twelve epistles written. All a ripple effect from a life that seemed to end so senselessly. When we get to Heaven I imagine Stephen will be shocked by the impact of his life. I have a feeling it will be the same for many today who read this story. Live a life that leaves a ripple.

Seasons of Change

SeasonYou can feel it in the air. A change is on the way. The nights are cooler. Trees are hinting of a change with peaks of color beginning to show on their leaves. Fall with all its splendor and glory is on its way. Soon we’ll be enjoying its colors, having bon-fires, taking hay rides, carving pumpkins and eating smores. If only it was that obvious when there was a change of season in our lives. Unfortunately, we frequently miss the signs of change when it comes to the seasonal changes in our lives. We often get caught off guard, sometimes overwhelmed or frustrated when there is a change of season. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” and then he goes on to describe fourteen different seasons he had experienced. His point? Life is not static, its fluid. Seasons are good, they bring wisdom, strength, faith and growth. It’s the cold of Winter that causes roots to grow deep. It’s the rains of Spring that brings growth. It’s the warmth of Summer that causes the branches to reach for the sky and it’s the splendor of Fall that shows us the value of seasons. Sensing change in your life? Embrace it. Its God love and grace that takes us from season to season or as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:18, from glory to glory.

The Ending Should be Better

IMG_0029In the prophet Haggai’s day, God had brought His people back from failure and difficult situations. Instead of focusing on what God had done and the possibility, many of the people could only focus on “what was” and on their failures. Haggai’s message was, “the end was going to be greater than the beginning.” To someone today you need to know your best days are in front of you! But it’s a choice. How you view your situation is so important. We have a choice. Do we talk about the past, the problems and the pain? Do we give more power to the failure or the Father? Do we keep grace from covering us, mercy from mending us and forgiveness from freeing us? Do we live in the old house or move to the new? If we move to a new house mindset we see the possibilities in Jesus. In the new house there’s a God view instead of a guilt view. In the new house faith starts speaking, the gifts start working and we start living in the Spirit. In the new house there’s a different countenance on our face, different attitude in our spirit and conversations that springs from our heart. Your end is supposed to be better than your beginning. It’s time for someone to move into a new house.

Grace Shows Up

Grace ChangesYour heart matters. In fact, God is more concerned about your heart than anything else. While I’m not here to diminish the importance of living Godly and Holy, it is the inside that God looks at and it is the inside that will produce a true Christ like lifestyle. In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah’s heart is to bring His people’s lives and families back to God. The problem is no one is qualified to bring them to repentance and they had missed the Passover. Hezekiah’s hunger is a month late and would have to be performed by an unclean person. God has a dilemma. He has people who have hungry hearts but don’t have it all together. Hezekiah confesses the errors of his people and asks God, “will you hear our prayers, will you heal us?” In one of the more amazing moments in the Bible the scripture said that “the LORD hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people (2 Chron. 30:20).” What a moment of grace! Grace that is still available today. Five husbands and living with a sixth man, not a problem. Caught in the very act of adultery, not a problem. Thief and murderer breathing your last breath, not a problem. Grace showed up at a lonely well, at the screams of judgmental accusers and at the cross of a guilty man. Need grace today? Give Him an honest heart and His grace will show up.

God in the Storm

imagesThe calendar says it’s still spring. The activities and heat say it’s summer. Heat and humidity are here and plants and grass are already gasping for water. What we need is a storm. A gully washer. A downpour. Though we enjoy the fun of the sun, we need the storms. Without storms we don’t get the necessary rain. Storms slow us down. Storms bring clouds to shade us from the sun, breezes that purge the dead limbs, and water to the areas that are in drought. What is true in nature is true in the spiritual. We enjoy the good times, when troubles are few and life is light. But then God sends a storm. Something that rocks our world, slows us down and brings us to our knees. Not always what we want, but often what we need. Without storms we can burn ourselves out. Without storms, areas in our lives that need a purge, would never be cleaned out. Without storms, the refreshing of God’s Spirit that brings our hearts back to life, wouldn’t come. Going through a storm? Be thankful. He see’s something in our lives that is dying. Something in our heart or soul that needs watered. He allows a spiritual rain, disguised as a storm, to come into our lives. He sees we need a pause. A rest.  A time of refreshing. He’s the God in the storm and when it’s time He’ll say, “peace be still.”

He Is… Risen

RisenTo Abraham He is the lamb provided. To Moses He is the I AM that I AM. To David He is a very present help in a time of need. To the three Hebrew children He is the fourth man in the fire. To Isaiah He is the Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. To Mary He is Emmanuel, God with us, He is her baby, her son. To the blind, lame mute and diseased ridden He is a healer. To those overwhelmed by their sin and failure He is grace and mercy. To Simon Peter He is the Messiah, the anointed one, God with us. To John He is the Word. To the Pharisees He is a stumbling stone. To the disciples He is Rabbi, the teacher. To Mary, Martha and Lazarus He is a resurrecter. To Thomas, after seeing His nails prints, He is my Lord and my God. To Paul He is the God of all grace. To everyone who believes and comes to Him He is the Savior. To each and every individual, He is what you have needed Him to be and what you need Him to be.  He is help, strength, courage, healer, deliverer, redeemer and most importantly Savior. But three days after His death He became something that had never been done before and hasn’t been done since. He conquered death, hell and the grave. To the world, He is Risen!

In a Moment

change

It was an amazing day. The weather was perfect. People had risen early to get the best place along the streets of Jerusalem. They had brought palm branches to wave and blankets to lay on the ground as the celebrities would walk past them. The disciples had borrowed a colt from a local farmer and there was a nervous excitement in the room while waiting on Jesus. Jesus appeared and said, its time, lets go. The Triumphal entry began. The disciples waved and smiled, crowds cheered and shouted “Hosanna,” as Jesus ambled down the streets of Jerusalem. It was as though Jesus was personally acknowledging every person as he smiled and looked into their eyes as they shouted His name. In this moment who could imagine the events that would take place in the coming days. That this crowd would turn on Jesus. That these smiling disciples would deny they ever knew Him. That His body would be beaten to a nearly unrecognizable state. That He would be hanging on a cross in five short days. That in seven days, He would conqueror death, hell and the grave and life would never be the same again. The Passion Week, a reminder that no matter the circumstances in your life, they can change in a moment, seven short days.

Let it Go!

let go

Have you ever mopped or painted yourself in a corner, got trapped in a car or been locked in a freezer? Odd questions, I know, but our family has experienced all of these scenarios. Painting a floor, I painted myself in, ended up taking my shoes and socks off to get out of the corner.  Our son Gentry had a car where the front passenger door would lock and you couldn’t get out, talk about an uncomfortable feeling. Mary called one day from work and her and a co-worker had got locked in a freezer. Fortunately, someone freed them. Why do I bring up these moments? Because there are those who have painted their life in a corner, locked themselves in a life of bitterness. How? By holding on to unforgiveness. When we choose to hold onto unforgiveness, we build our own jail cell with bars made of bitterness, anger and hurt. When we choose to let bitterness and hatred live in our life, it doesn’t impact those who have hurt us, it hurts us. We become bound to emotions and feelings that steel joy, peace and happiness. There is only one who can free you from this jail cell, you! The moment you let it go, forgive, the door to freedom opens. You get a new lease on life, fresh joy, peace and happiness. Free yourself today, forgive. Let it go!

The Eternal Questions

EternityThe eternal questions are the most important questions of life. Four questions that will determine everything about our destiny. Do I believe in God, not in a god, but the God, the one found in Genesis 1:1, the “in the beginning God?” Answering that question leads to the next. Do I believe in the Word of God; the Bible, that it is the infallible Word of God, that it is true and that it is the final authority? If I believe that there is God, that His Word is true then the next question is, do I believe there is a heaven and a hell and that each of us will arrive at one of those destinations? If I believe there is a heaven and a hell then the next question to ask is, what must I do to secure my eternity? If I truly believe there is an eternity then who do I want to answer the question about getting there? Do I want a religion, a religious institution, a church, a pastor, a friend or an internet source? I suggest you want only God to answer that question. The question answered by Jesus, God in flesh, in John 3 when He said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born of the water and Spirit he cannot enter in.” The real questions of life. Four eternal questions. Answer wisely.

Communion, It was Holy and Human

UnworthyThe Last Supper. It was Holy but at the same time it was human. Artist render it as Holy, we view it as Holy and it was, but there was so much humanity in the moment. As the disciples entered the room they had failed to follow the custom, to make sure guest feet had been washed. Setting in the room, the conversation was not about scripture or sinners, but about who would be on the right and left of Jesus, who would be important. Jesus enters, and without condemnaiton or judgement, takes a basin of water and towel and begins washing the feet of those that in less than 24 hours would turn on Him. One would betray Him, another would curse Him and nearly all would abandon Him. Though He knew their future, He washed their feet, broke bread and had communion with them. Twelve very imperfect men; men looking for power and position and men that had faith but would fail, and yet, Jesus by His actions was saying, take this communion, because you believe in me and undestand you need me. Communion is not about your perfection, but His. It’s about understanding, acknowleging and saying, I believe in and need the work of Jesus in my life.

God’s on Top of Everything!

God-of-the-Impossible3Just in case you forgot; God provided a lamb for Abraham and Isaac, a way of escape from Egypt for the Children of Israel, a road through the middle of a sea and river for an entire nation, caused walls to fall for Joshua, took 300 men and defeated a massive army, took a shepherd boy and made him king, protected three Hebrew men of faith in a fiery furnace, kept a man safe in a den of lions, turned water into wine, opened deaf ears and blinded eyes, cast out demons, raised dead people and took the keys to death, hell and the grave.

Now, what do you have going on in your life that your God cannot handle? We have a God that is on top of everything! Luke 1:37 says, “For with God nothing [is or ever] shall be impossible.” He never sleeps or slumbers and He is never surprised. He knows the end from the beginning and is the author of all things, including your life! And the great news is, He’s on your side!