In 1991 a guy by the name of David Strasser wrote a now well known chorus entitled, "Step by Step". It was co-written and popularized by Strasser's good friend, popular Christian artist of the time, Rich Mullins. The song quickly made its rounds through churches and church camps and remained there for decades. Even now, close to 30 years later it still pops up at summer camps and church services occasionally.
I have fond memories of singing this very song as a teenager at my church camp. It was a simple song, played on an acoustic guitar and at least for me always served as an intimate moment of worship. I think what appealed to me was the simplicity of the lyrics. It wasn't super theological. It wasn't difficult to understand. It didn't feel unattainable. It didn't feel overwhelming. It spoke of a progression. One step at a time, one day at a time, learning with each new day how to become more of the man God was calling me to be. Knowing that if I did my part to seek Him each day, He would do His part to guide me along right paths.
I heard this song a few nights ago and was again reminded of the journey that God desires each of us to take along with Him. Allow me to encourage you and perhaps more so remind myself of this truth. Seek God regularly each day and allow Him to guide you step by step. Your life won't magically be easier but you will have greater peace as you learn to navigate through difficulties. Start your day by focusing on His Word and speaking/listening to Him through prayer. Following Jesus isn't easy but it is simple. As simple as the lyrics of this song. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I've done quite a bit of traveling this summer and in all of my travels I have come to one inescapable conclusion. Hotel breakfasts are weird. It's not the people, it's the concept. If you've ever stayed at a hotel that offers breakfast then you've experienced the weirdness of this moment. For starters, it's the first time in your life that you've ever glanced in the mirror before walking to breakfast. Usually you stumble into breakfast half awake with a streak of crazy in your eye but today, because you are staying in a hotel, you actually ran a comb through your hair and attempted to wash the crazy off your face so as not to scare any children you might run into. You shuffle into this room and nervously glance from table to table looking for a spot to claim as your own, because while you've been invited for breakfast your seat isn't guaranteed. Weird right?
You stake your claim at a table in the corner and your eyes begin to scan the options hoping to spot something that resembles what you normally eat for breakfast. You wait your turn in line, politely nodding a good morning to those who are brave enough to make eye contact with you. Questions and thoughts swirl through your mind: How does this waffle maker work? What's the appropriate way to eat a bowl of cereal in public? Why are the juice cups so small? Is it even possible to make a waffle without making a mess? I wish I had the patience to make hard boiled eggs at home. Why are these plates so thin? I should get one of these juice machines at my house. Why are these little packs of butter always so hard?
As you work through your questions and the awkwardness of these moments you make your way back to your corner table and you begin to notice the faces of those you are sharing this moment with. From the outside looking in, it's an eclectic group from a wide variety of backgrounds. The skin tones run the gamut. Their purposes in being here are equally as wide. A mom and dad with kids in tow on their way to a much needed vacation. An older couple, perhaps traveling to see their grown children. A family in town for a kid's sports tournament. A few friends out for a weekend adventure.
Their stories vary as well. Some are well off financially and some struggle. Some feel accomplished and some live with a constant feeling of inadequacy. Some woke up this morning with a fresh perspective and others woke up dreading the thought of another hopeless day.
It's a strange mix of people at these breakfasts. Different stories, different backgrounds, different struggles. What's interesting is that regardless of the differences, when you walk into that breakfast room you are just like everyone else. You are a traveler in search of a meal. The hotel breakfast table is the great equalizer. When you enter the hotel breakfast room the size of your paycheck no longer matters. Your background no longer matters. Your skin tone no longer matters. You are like everyone else in the room. You're hungry and you want breakfast.
As I sat around the hotel breakfast table for the last time this summer and studied the faces of those around me I was struck by the outward differences that were obvious. I, like most other people have learned to categorize people into groups:
However, I've recently been challenged to redefine my categories. I heard someone say, "There are only two groups of people in the world, those who know Jesus and those who do not." As a Christ follower I am called to become an ambassador for the cause of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:20 on Bible Gateway says, "So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
In much the same way that the hotel breakfast is the great equalizer, there is another great equalizer coming down the road for each of us. A time when the size of our paychecks, our backgrounds, our upbringing, our status or anything else won't matter. The only thing that will matter at that moment is whether or not we have claimed the name of Jesus as our forgiveness. My prayer for me and for you is that we would be able to drop the worldly categories and see people as God sees them. My hope is that you and I as Christ followers would be able to stand boldly for the name of Jesus and become agents of change in a strange land. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Proverbs 7:21-23 says, “So she seduced him with her pretty speech and enticed him with her flattery. He followed her at once, like an ox going to the slaughter. He was like a stag caught in a trap, awaiting the arrow that would pierce its heart. He was like a bird flying into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life.”
As a parent of two teenage sons I can fully attest to the reality that sometimes teenagers don’t fully think through what they are doing in their lives. They’re good at mapping out point A and maybe point B but they usually fail to see point C, point D, point E and beyond. Having been around the block a few times we as parents try to teach out kids to think critically about which path they are on and where their current, seemingly harmless choices could possibly lead.
To teenagers and sometimes even to “seasoned adults” certain options can seem really appealing at first glance. We can sometimes be guilty of shadowing the heels of those in front of us without ever raising our heads to see where it is that we’re headed. We shuffle along following what’s in front of us without fully thinking through where this road will lead us.
Figuratively speaking we keep our heads down, only raising our eyes high enough to what’s right in front of us. With that being our only directional point of reference we simply keep moving.
Proverbs 7 paints a powerful picture of someone witnessing first hand the ramifications of an ill-advised youth failing to critically think through his choices. The writer uses powerful words such as “seduced” and “enticed”. We’ve all been their right? We’ve all felt the powerful lure of instant notoriety, instant money in our pocket, instant pleasure. We each have our own stories of “one being led like an ox to the slaughter”. It’s often these scenarios that we find easy to spot, especially in the lives of others. We use phrases like, “Any idiot could have seen that coming.” or “I could have told you that was going to happen.” or “I’d never be so stupid.”
What’s interesting is that the writer also uses another analogy that we perhaps overlook as one and the same. He uses the words “a stag caught in a trap, awaiting the arrow that would pierce its heart”. This feels intentional to me, I think the writer was painting two pictures: one of instant death and the other of eventual death.
We often pride ourselves as mature adults who can easily spot obvious pitfalls and would never make a decision without critically thinking it through. However the writer also points out that not all “pitfalls” are so easy to spot. The stag isn’t killed immediately, it’s first trapped. What perhaps looked like an appealing or delicious opportunity to the stag, in the end only served to ensnare it. The stag wasn’t killed right away, the arrow to its heart came later.
What arrows are headed in your direction? Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
As an adult I often have to deal with things that could easily be qualified as "No fun". I have job responsibilities. I have to pay a mortgage. I have to cut my grass. I have to clean my house. I have to pay for stuff that I don't really want to pay for (whoever said public education was free didn't have kids). I have to do the dishes. I have to get oil changes on my car. I have to pay for gas. From time to time I have stress in certain relationships. Sometimes, as I wake up in the mornings I want nothing more than to stay in bed and not have to deal with any of the stuff that isn't fun. We've all had days or maybe even weeks like this right? Sometimes being an adult with obligations and responsibilities isn't fun. If we're not careful we can pretty quickly lose any and all joy that we once had for living life. Even the things that we once enjoyed and found happiness in doing can start to lose their luster. Last night I was reminded of the simplicity and joy of life that can be ours if we choose to take it.
One of the aspects of my job that I most look forward to each year is welcoming in new 6th graders to our student ministry. Each May we invite, for the very first time a handful of upcoming 6th graders into our student center to experience all of the wonder and glory of student ministry. Their faces are priceless. Their eyes light up at the dancing lights on the stage and they almost involuntarily "have to" run through the fog as it rolls out of the machine and into the room. It seems as though with each passing year they grow smaller in stature and watching them wonder among the "giants" that surround them is fascinating. It's as if they struggle to take it all in. Often they just run around the room as if swimming through a pool of jelly beans or their favorite treat. As I watched all of this unfold last night I was struck by the sheer joy that they seem to experience in these moments.
I was sitting at the check-in table greeting students when one new 6th grader approached the table with a friend in tow and a huge smile on her face. She said, "Pastor Andy, I'm here and I brought a friend, her name is Eva."
I probably freaked her out a little because I just stared back at her with my own beaming smile. I was mesmerized. It was as if at that moment, nothing else on the planet mattered to her. She was so happy. She had a friend. She was now considered a youth. She was excited. This was awesome. She had arrived and nothing could change that. In her mind and in her world, that moment seemed to top any previous joyful moment she had yet experienced.
I quickly snapped out of my "weirdness", greeted them and sent them on their way to the cafe for their free drink, but that moment stuck with me for the rest of the evening and even into today.
In my life I know how easy it can be to lose my joy. I get tired. I get cranky. I get impatient with those around me. Things I used to love and enjoy doing, things I used to find joy in can slowly start to become not so joyful. It's as if the older we get, the harder we are to impress. We require more stimulation. We require things that cost more money. We require bigger and better. When we don't receive that our joy begins to fade. I was reminded last night that I need to return to a place and time in my life when I found my joy in the simple things.
I have been forgiven and loved by God even though I'm a screw up.
I have a beautiful wife.
I have two great kids.
The grass in my yard is mostly green.
I have four bottles of really good Ginger Ale at my house waiting for me.
I get to go home tonight, sit on my couch, eat spicy cheese and watch a basketball game.
When did I stop finding joy in these things? When did these things become, "not enough"?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, "Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."
God has blessed you with more than you could ever imagine. Even on your worst day when you are hard pressed to come up with anything to be joyful about, remember that you are still blessed. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I love when things are prepared in advance. I'm a big believer in to-do lists, I use them everyday. Generally at the beginning of the week, I carve out some time on Sunday night or first thing Monday morning to look through my calendar and any late in the previous week or weekend emails and develop my to-do list for the week. Even on the busiest weeks, months or seasons, I take solace in knowing that my to-do list has prepared me for what's to come.
There's an often skipped over passage in the book of Matthew that's right up my alley when it comes to being prepared (it's lengthy and full of difficult to pronounce names, but be sure to read it in its entirety).
Matthew 1:2-16 says, "Abraham was the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar). Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab. Amminadab was the father of Nahshon. Nahshon was the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). Solomon was the father of Rehoboam. Rehoboam was the father of Abijah. Abijah was the father of Asa. Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah. Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh. Manasseh was the father of Amon. Amon was the father of Josiah. Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon). After the Babylonian exile: Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel. Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud. Abiud was the father of Eliakim. Eliakim was the father of Azor. Azor was the father of Zadok. Zadok was the father of Akim. Akim was the father of Eliud. Eliud was the father of Eleazar. Eleazar was the father of Matthan. Matthan was the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah."
42 generations beforehand God placed saving humanity on His to do list in the form of Jesus Christ. He made a plan to restore humanity into right relationship with Himself. Things were set into motion long before you and I were even a twinkle in our mama's eye. Knowing that God had a plan for me long before I came into being is extraordinary to think about.
Allow me to encourage you to consider thinking through the concept that God has been passionately pursuing you since the beginning of your life. Think about the ways that God has revealed Himself to you over the years, think about the ways in which He has protected you, sustained you, saved you for Himself.
God is more than aware of who you are and what your needs are. Take heart and know He has planned not only for your existence but for your salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good celebration. It doesn't take much for me to have a slice of pie or a piece of cake. Honestly, most days I'm just looking for a reason to fist a couple of pieces of candy or some treats. That being said, I think we're getting a little out of hand with the national celebration days. After hearing an ad on the radio this morning for "National Lost Sock Day" I not only began to question our sanity as a nation, I also began to wonder what other "National Days" there were. After a quick search I discovered more than I bargained for. Check out a much abbreviated list of what I consider to be the
"Top 10 Craziest" just during the months of May & June:
May 1 - Law Day (Not even sure what this means)
May 15 - National Mole Day
May 15 - National Hug Your Cat Day
June 2 - Yell "Fudge" at Cobras Day
June 3 - Repeat Day (a.k.a. Annoy your co-workers day)
June 13 - Kitchen Klutzes of America Day
June 21 - Cuckoo Warning Day
June 27 - Happy Birthday to the Happy Birthday Song Day
June 30 - Sky Day
June 30 - Log Cabin Day
Here's what's interesting to me, largely these days go unsupported by the masses. Of course you may know a person or two that celebrates one or more of these crazy days but generally speaking, no one even knows about them. Someone, somewhere along the line decided that kitchen klutzes needed to be celebrated so they decided to garner a few signatures (or however you rally support for such a cause) and submit their day and name for consideration. Chances are, after a year or two, the significance of this day was forgotten about and yet it remains on an obscure list buried on the internet for someone like me to discover. There are literally hundreds of such days spread throughout the calendar year. Someone has attempted to give value and significance to almost everyday of the year while at the same time most people are completely unaware that such days even exist.
As I drove this morning and listened to the radio host laugh about the ridiculousness of "National Lost Sock Day" I was reminded that we so often attempt to assign significance to our own lives that never seems to really catch. We strive to give ourselves value and meaning and purpose and before long that value, meaning and purpose begin to fade away and are forgotten about.
There is only one source of value, purpose and meaning for your life that will last and that comes from God. Colossians 1:16 says, "for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see--such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him."
You were created through Him and for Him. You will never find greater and more lasting purpose than when you look to Him for that purpose. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
As the sun broken through the blinds in my bedroom this morning I was reminded of the faithfulness of God. Each day you and I are permitted the freedom to live our lives, make our own choices and unfortunately from time to time, reap the gross harvest of other's poor choices. Far too often we pillow our heads at night in despair. As day turns into evening our emotions ramp up and our hearts become heavy with grief for the choices we've made, the suffering we must endure because of the choices of others or the seemingly unfair hand that we've been dealt in this life. Far too often we fall asleep feeling as though we are bobbing in a sea of hopelessness and despair.
Allow me to remind you of the words found in Psalm 118:24, "This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it." God is the source of the sun poking through your bedroom blinds this morning. He is the one who has brought breath to your lungs and given you the capacity to open your eyes this morning for at least one more go around. He has sustained your life for this day for a reason. You are not here by chance. You are here for a reason. For those reasons alone you can rejoice today. Make the most of this day. You are not alone. He is with you. You can do this. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Lately I've been thinking about how I treat people. Now in my defense I'm never intentionally rude or mean it's just that some times I'm busy. Sometimes I've got a lot to do. Sometimes I'm trying to accomplish as much as I can for the Lord. Wait. What? Did I really think that thought? Unfortunately the answer is yes.
In my spiritual immaturity I sometimes get aggravated by and impatient with people who I feel don't fit into my current agenda. Crazy right?
If you're anything like me then you'll admit that you've been there too. You're in the midst of your daily flow, blowing through your to-do list and suddenly someone wants to stop you and chat about anything and everything that has nothing to do with anything on your list. Frustrating right?
To further solidify in your mind the depth of my spiritual immaturity I'll let you in on a few of my coping mechanisms. If you ever witness me doing one of these, feel free to slap me. As the "interruption" talks, I allow my eyes to wander back towards my computer screen in an effort to continue my previous task. I stand up as they speak to communicate my desire to end this conversation. In my most ridiculous moments, I simply end the phone call or the face to face conversation by clearly communicating through my body language or lack of verbal response that "I'm done with you". Classy right?
Not only is my response to these "interruptions" a poor example of how it looks like to treat another human, it's an even poorer example of what it means to be a Christ follower. How can I ignore the words of John 15:12 where Jesus says, "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you." That seems pretty clear.
What about 1 John 4:20-21, "If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers." Again, pretty clear.
Here's the question I ask myself from time to time when it comes to following Jesus. Am I following everything He said? Sometimes it feels like I allow myself the liberty of exempting myself from certain Biblical commandments when I'm busy or when I'm tired or when I'm just not feeling it. I don't see anywhere in Scripture where that type of attitude towards the things of God is acceptable.
Here's my prayer: "God I pray that you would forgive me for this type of attitude and allow me to see every opportunity or as I call them, "interruptions" that come across my path in the same way that you see them. Give me your eyes, give me your ears, give me your patience. Grant me the ability to see people the way that you see people. Amen."
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
I've been thinking a lot about meaning and purpose lately. These ideas play a huge role in the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly rhythm of our lives. When we feel like we have a purpose, we carry ourselves differently. Think of a trip to your local mall, if you're there to waste some time or just window shop your stride is more casual and relaxed. You look like you are in no particular hurry to get anywhere. On the other hand if your time is limited and you're on a mission, your pace quickens, you keep your head down and your focused on getting in and getting out as quickly as possible.
The same is true our purpose or lack of purpose in our everyday lives. When we lack purpose, our pace slows, we care less about things, we tend to wander aimlessly. Interestingly, there has been some research to suggest that purposefulness and meaning in our lives could be connected to diseases such as Alzheimer's. Ron Brafman in his book, "Succeeding When You're Supposed to Fail" says,
"Although we think of Alzheimer's as chiefly a biological disease that's governed by genetic facts, the level of meaningfulness in our lives plays an important role in determining whether we succomb to this illness."
He goes on to say,
"Regardless of gender and cultural background, the researchers found, meaning in life influences one's risk of developing Alzheimer's across the board."
Having seen first hand the devastation that Alzheimer's can cause I was struck by the suggestion that purpose and meaning in life could greatly reduce one's chances of developing this awful disease. While I'm not qualified to speak on a cognitive level I can say with confidence that God has planted a purpose in the heart of every man. Perhaps we have fallen prey to a spiritual Alzheimer's. We have forgotten why we were created. The memories of why we exist have slipped into the unattainable recesses of our minds. If that describes you, allow me to remind you of a few things.
You were created by God, for His purposes.
Implanted deep within you is a innate longing to accomplish.
You were wired to achieve.
I'm not speaking of accomplishment and achievement in the way that much our world describes it. I'm speaking of something greater. I'm speaking of something far more significant.
Paul reminds the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
He says in Ephesians 3:20, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..."
Don't buy into the lie that your life is pointless. Don't buy into the lie that your achievements or accomplishments are about money or status or rungs on the corporate ladder. You were made for an eternal purpose.
It's Sunday night and I love Sunday nights because they represent the launch of a new work week. It's a fresh start. It's a new beginning of sorts. I invite you to join me in making this next week a week of purposefulness and meaning. Not for your glory but for God's glory. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Okay, what I am about to tell you isn't specific to Friday but since today is Friday, my statement still applies. Let me tell you how you can have not only a better Friday, but a better everyday. We'll call this my secret sauce, my 11 herbs and spices. Here's what I believe can make today and every other day of your life amazing:
Find what excites you and DO IT.
God has given you passions and abilities and gifts and talents. He has created you to accomplish something for His glory with the very thing that you love doing. Maybe for you that's being an engineer or a writer or a mom or a dad or a teacher or an HR rep. I've always been fascinated by how God has wired each of us with such specificity.
I might think that what excites you is ridiculous. You might think that what excites me is outrageous. God has wired each of us with something specific that we get to be excited about each and every day.
For example, every time I think about writing, speaking, sharing, or encouraging someone with the truth of God's Word, I get excited. I don't say that to pat myself on the back, I say that because to some of you reading this, the thought of standing up in front of a group of people and having to talk is mortifying. To some of you the thought of writing out your thoughts and posting them on the internet for anyone to read, judge and possibly criticize is terrifying...but those are the things that get me up in the morning.
In Jeremiah 18 we are given this "potter and clay" analogy. God's the potter, we're the clay and obviously the potter gets to decide what happens with the clay right? Think about this: It would be ridiculous for you to be frustrated that your dinner of steak and eggs doesn't fit inside one of your tea cups. Likewise it would be crazy for you to be angry because you spilled your beverage all over your lap because it rolled right off of your plate. Dinner would lose its excitement if that's how things worked because that's not what those items were created for. In the same way you were created for something specific and when you figure out what that is, go after it with everything you have inside.
Engineer your heart out.
Teach your socks off.
Mother the snot out of your kids.
HR the heck out of your company.
Serve coffee like a maniac.
Do what excites you for the glory of God. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.