As a pastor I am often asked to open in prayer at meetings and functions that I attend. Regardless of the setting, regardless of whether or not I am in charge of the meeting or serving as the host of the function, when it comes to prayer, I'm the go-to. Some people even joke that as a pastor I most likely have the greatest connection or probably have a direct line straight to Heaven. Crazy right.
Last night I found myself in just such a situation as I was attending a monthly meeting of a board of directors that I serve on. The head of the board looked in my direction and as he does every month said, "Pastor, can you open us in prayer?" I of course obliged and started into my prayer attempting to remember each of the requests that had been shared. About half way through my prayer I suddenly shifted away from my traditional "list format", you know the one, "God be with...and...and help...and encourage...and....".
Suddenly and without any intentionality on my part I jumped into "God give us the ability to see where you are already answering our prayers. God forgive us for constantly bringing requests to you without ever stopping to look for and see where you have perhaps already answered that prayer. Allow us to see how you are moving even if not in the way we've been praying for."
I said "Amen" and our meeting moved on but for the rest of the night this question stuck with me. "God, how have you already answered the prayers that I have been praying about for so long?" I began to wonder how much time I've spent asking God to show up in areas He's always been present in. I began to wonder how long I've prayed for a result that's already been delivered. Perhaps in my spiritual ignorance I've failed to see where God is already moving. Perhaps I've failed to see an answer that's been right in front of me the whole time. Perhaps I've unconsciously trained myself to only see "the answer" in terms of what I want and think I need.
Everyone loves Matthew 7:7 right. Check it out on Bible Gateway. “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you." But too often we fail to read Scripture in its full context and we miss Matthew 7:7-11 which says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him."
That last part is crucial. It's our Heavenly Father who knows how to give "good gifts". His definition of good gifts and ours is likely pretty different wouldn't you say? How often do we keep praying for our version of "good gifts" and all the while we've missed His version of "good gifts" that have been right there?
Allow me to encourage you to keep your eyes open and to stay alert to "all possible answers" not just the ones you were hoping for. Let's shift our prayers from "God give me this..." to "God allow me to see your good gifts." Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
"This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it. This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made."
As a child, this song (taken from Psalm 118:24) was commonly sung by my mother to me as I woke up each morning. I carried on the tradition for my children when they were younger and still occasionally when I'm in a super good mood in the morning and it's obvious that they're not wanting to get up. (It's borderline exasperation - see Ephesians 6:4 on Bible Gateway. Forgive me Lord.)
I've always loved this song. For me it's a reminder that each and every day is a new opportunity. Sometimes we can get really bogged down with all of the mess we create or perhaps inherit each day. At the end of the day life can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. It's safe to say that our "rejoicing" can be almost nil by the end of the day. We pillow our heads at night and our minds run rampant with all of the junk we've had to deal with throughout the day. We're tired, we're worn out, we have nothing left to give. Darkness sets in and our emotions get the best of us. We're headed towards hopelessness and despair. We manage to close our eyes long enough to get the minimal amount of sleep required to function.
Suddenly there is a crack of light. We're slowly ushered back into consciousness (and sometimes not so slowly if we have young children or an obnoxious alarm clock). As our eyes open we feel borderline refreshed, our perspective has changed, perhaps only slightly but still changed. As we lay in our bed for just a few moments longer we rehearse the day to come, the tough conversations, the long hours that will ensue, the tiny people we're responsible to feed and clothe. If we're not careful, we can quickly return to our feelings of being overwhelmed and outmatched.
Allow me to encourage you in those moments to remember that this is the day that Lord has made. You can rejoice and be glad in it. You can rejoice and be glad in it because you are alive. You can rejoice and be glad in it because you've been offered another chance to impact someone else's life. Maybe that's your kid, maybe that's a co-worker or a neighbor, but you've been given this opportunity for a reason. You can rejoice and be glad in it because you have a fresh start. Yesterday is gone, today is a new day. Yesterday's sins are forgiven. Yesterday's misses are gone. Yesterday's "Well I should have..." are today's "I'm going to..." Today is a new day. You've been granted this day for a reason. Go conquer it. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Within the world of social media there are those known as "Ghost followers". According to Wikipedia, "Ghost followers, also referred to as ghosts and ghost accounts or lurkers, are users on social media platforms who remain inactive or do not engage in activity. These users follow active members, but do not partake in liking, commenting, messaging, and posting." Ghost followers may be generated from actual humans or from bots designed to hack, lurk and or scam the user of the social media account.
This idea was brought on by the explosive growth of online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. People want to stay loosely connected without every truly identifying themselves as followers or supporters. They're curious but not yet willing to throw their hat in the ring. They're actively inactive.
As I thought about this trend I was reminded of the call on the lives of Christ followers to take up their cross and follow Jesus. Bible Gateway records Jesus words like this, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me." What did Jesus have in mind when he told his followers this? Follow at a distance? Follow when convenient? Follow when comfortable? I'm confident that His intention then and now is that we follow always. His intention is that we stay in lock step with His movements. His intention was that we hang on the very words that flow from His Spirit.
What would it look like for you and I to hang on the very words of Jesus? What would it look like for you and I to become so consumed with His work in our lives and in the lives of those around us that everything else just faded away? The prayer that I have for my life is that I would allow all else to slip quietly into the background, that my eyes would narrow and that my gaze would lock onto Jesus Himself. "Lord, if I am guilty of ghost following You, please forgive me. I pray that you would highlight those times in my life and give me the strength to stay focused and to not allow my relationship with you to slip into the background. Give me discernment, give me discipline. Amen." Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
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.