My son's high school recently received some tough athletic news. Both the varsity football and boy's soccer teams were discovered to have ineligible players on the team, thus forfeiting both team's records to this point in the season. That's tough news to a group of student athletes who spent all summer prepping, training, getting up early, hitting the gym, putting in extra practices, staying late, eating right. That's a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of discipline. An argument could be made that all of that effort was for naught. What's the point when the win/loss record gets wiped out? What's the point when all of the hard work and effort seems to have landed them back at square one?
As I chatted with my son (the varsity soccer team's starting goalie) I was reminded of an important lesson that I myself too often forget. As crazy as it sounds, "I don't want to work for the recognition of others." That may seem foolish in a world where raises and promotions are granted to those who stand out the most but as I raise my sons I want their driving motivation for success to be a heart that pleases God and an internal drive to better themselves. We fail our children when we teach and model for them that hard work pays off only when titles are won and awards are presented. Coaches and parents who teach discipline, eating right, hard work and dedication are a dime a dozen but coaches and parents who teach those things regardless of the outcome are few and far between. The boys on the football and soccer teams who had their schedules wiped clean are stronger and better off not because of this adversity and unfair situation, they are stronger and better off because of the work and effort they have put in over these last several months.
If you never receive another pay raise or promotion, if you never receive another award, another pat on the back, another plaque or another "attaboy" you're effort will be well worth it in the end. Why? Because you've been true to yourself. You've been true to the work ethic that you know is right. You've given your all to something greater than yourself. What I pray for my life and for yours is that we would give our all. Not just to be noticed, to win or be appreciated but because it's the right thing to do. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Within the world of social media there is a term known as "Ghost follower". According to Wikipedia a ghost follower or a "lurker" is someone who, "is typically a member of an online community who observes, but does not participate." These are the people that scroll your account but never like, double tap or comment. For those passionate about social media lurkers or ghost followers are the worst. They want to know who is seeing their stuff. They long to draw these lurkers out of the shadows and to interact with them. Personally, this is a 1 to me. Like the photos, don't like them, comment or don't. I'm good either way.
As I've been thinking about this ghost follower idea I've been reminded of the words that Jesus told His disciples in the book of Luke. Bible Gateway records it like this, "Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me." What did Jesus have in mind when He said this to his followers? Follow at a distance? Follow when convenient? Follow when comfortable? I'm confident that His intention then and now is that we would follow closely and loudly.
Closely in the sense of hanging on every word that flows from His Spirit.
Closely in that we would without question hear Him when He speaks.
Closely in the sense that we would without hesitation respond when He calls.
Loudly in the sense that those closest to us would undoubtedly know who we claim as Lord of our lives.
Loudly in the sense that those in the greatest need would see Jesus in and through us.
Loudly in the sense that we would stick out as a light in the midst of a dark world.
That's my prayer for me life and I'll pray the same for you as well (regardless of whether or not you comment or like this post). "God I pray that you would allow me to follow you closely and loudly with everything I have inside of me. May there be no question who I stand for, who I love and who I have committed my life to. Amen." Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
My wife and I decided to navigate some of the wooded trails at Mt. Airy Forest this morning. We're not big hikers but we do enjoy being outside and thought it would be fun to check out some of the local trails. We parked our car just before 11 this morning and headed towards a 4.2 mile trail. After reading on the internet that the trails at Mt. Airy were poorly marked I decided to use my hiking app to ensure that we stayed on course and didn't end up lost somewhere in the middle of Mt. Airy's 1500 acres.
What I failed to consider before we left on our hike was the battery percentage on my phone. As the percentage of my battery life continued ticking down my anxiety began to tick up. I'm deep into a trail that I've never been on, my phone is about to die and I'm standing at a crossroad in the middle of 1500 acres.
I've never really talked about my anxiety before but from time to time I deal with situational anxiety. I'm not even sure that's a thing but that's all I know to call it. It doesn't happen all of the time, in fact it generally isn't an issue unless I find myself in situations where I feel trapped, lost, unable to reach help, etc. My mind starts to race, my legs get weak and I feel like I just want to lay down. I begin the process of overthinking the "what ifs" of the moment.
What if we can't find our way out?
What if we take the wrong trail?
What if my phone dies?
As I turned a corner today and realized that we weren't anywhere close to what I thought we'd be I suddenly felt my anxiety welling up inside of me. All of the signs were there; lump in my throat, weak legs, mind racing. In that moment, I feigned confidence and said to my wife, "You good? I think we're almost there." I whispered a prayer to God for strength and kept putting one foot in front of the other.
If I had stopped to think critically about my situation I would have recalled the sound of the highway in the distance, taken solace in the fact that my phone wasn't quite yet dead and remembered that if push came to shove, I could simply turn around and walk back the way I had come. But in that moment, none of that seemed to matter. I allowed fear and anxiety to overcome any rational thought.
When we eventually emerged from the longest 4.2 miles of my life I was able to chat through those tense internal moments with my wife. As I reflected on those moments of anxiety I was reminded of the importance of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps you are dealing with some sort of situational anxiety? Maybe your rears its ugly head more often than not. Allow me to encourage you to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Continue following the trail that God has mapped out for you and when you come to a crossroad, whisper a prayer to God for strength and keep moving. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Over this Labor Day Weekend I've had the privilege of spending some time in Hocking Hills with not all, but most of the people that I do life with. My family, along with six other families rented a house and spent the weekend eating, laughing, hiking, telling stories, playing games. Yesterday we spent some time hiking around the woods, up and down the trails of the area, some marked, some not marked, some easy, some more difficult....some slippery (I may or may not have taken a slight tumble down some deceptively slick rocks). In the end, fun was had by all and ibuprofen was had by some.
In the midst of our longest hike of the day I somehow found myself at the front of the line of our 30 hikers. I didn't really know the trail but I knew that if I just kept walking that eventually we would circle back to something familiar. As we walked I began to notice the almost imperceptible murmur of complaining.
Are we almost done?
It's so hot.
How much longer until we get back?
By the end of the trail the complaining had gone full scale. Most everyone was worn out and a few had turned the corner to grumpy. As we stood near the trail head we spent a few minutes laughing about our inability to hike a few miles without complaining. Someone joked that I resembled Moses with my beard and walking stick as he lead the people of Israel through the wilderness. You can read more about Moses on BibleGateway. We laughed and the conversation moved on. As we walked back to the car I wondered how difficult it must have been for Moses to lead all of those people through such a desolate stretch of wilderness for such a long period of time. The whined, the complained, they griped, they rebelled, they wanted to turn back, they hated Moses. Almost immediately I began to run my "2-mile front of the line" experience through the filter of leadership. I began to wonder how Moses must have felt as he dealt with all of those complaints. What tremendous leadership Moses must have displayed as he navigated those difficult waters.
And then my mind shifted. What about me? Not what about my leadership, but what about me? I began to wonder how difficult it's been for God to lead me through some of the difficult patches of my life. I whine. I complain. I gripe. I constantly ask, "How much longer?" At times I feel like rebelling. At times I feel like breaking off and doing my own thing.
How patient God must be with me. He puts up with me and all of my ridiculousness. He continues to patiently guide me, show me the way and point me in the right direction. I ended yesterday with a feeling of thankfulness. Thankfulness for ibuprofen and God's patience. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Yesterday we talked about the power of confession. "Confession is good for the soul". Confession beats fear, the fear of wondering with the jig is up. Confession brings simplicity, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." Confession allows us to speak freely without fear of "blowing it". Confession brings up positive results in our lives.
Let's take a minute today to examine the results of a lack of confession. What happens when we fail to confess? What happens when we try to keep our junk hidden as if it never happened?
Check out Proverbs 32:3-5 on BibleGateway, "When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat."
We wear down more quickly. Unconfessed sin in our lives is like an unknown virus that saps our strength. We continue to go about our day wondering why we feel so tired, so weak. We carry a heaviness around with us. We can't seem to pinpoint its source but we feel week and strangely burdened. You and I were not meant to live this way. Jesus says in
John 10:10, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." Following Jesus as He intends should bring life, energy and vitality. If you are weary, restless and weak check your heart for unconfessed sin.
Proverbs 32:6-9 says, "Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
We give up protection and guidance. Unconfessed sin in our lives clogs up the line. God is certainly all powerful and can do as He pleases but He chooses to work in our lives when we invite Him to do so. He desires to provide us with protection and guidance but unconfessed sin in our lives makes it difficult to understand and recognize his provision and direction. There is only one throne of your heart and He refuses to share it with anyone or anything. If you feel lost, if you feel exposed and unprotected, check your heart for unconfessed sin.
My prayer for you is that you would live with joy, that your sin would be put out of sight. I pray that you would have great strength, protection and guidance from the Lord. I pray that you would be surrounded with songs of victory and that you would shout with victory for the confession of your sins. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
People confess stuff to me. Often what people confess to me has nothing to do with me at all but for some reason people seem to feel comforted by confessing their transgressions to me. Perhaps people confuse my role as a Christian pastor with that of a Catholic Priest. When people confess their sins to me I am always quick to remind them that the business of forgiveness belongs to God alone. Confessing to me does not grant forgiveness. That work was completed on the cross by Jesus Christ. While I do think there have been a few over the years who have this concept confused, I think by and large the old Scottish proverb that says, "Confession is good for the soul" is in play.
People just feel better when they get things off their chest. The Bible certainly reinforces this idea. Check Psalm 32:1-2 on Bible Gateway.
"Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!"
Words cannot express the joy that can be experienced by those who choose to confess their sins.
Confession beats fear. Unconfessed sin forces our minds to wonder, "What's going to happen?", "How long can I hide this?" and "How will this affect...?" When we confess we banish those fears and questions. We are no longer fearful of the unknown. Confession allows us to take back control of our lives from the fear that controls us before we confess. We no longer have to wonder what's going to happen. We no longer have to fear how our relationships will be affected.
Confession brings simplicity. How often do we live our lives in the hectic pace of covering our tracks. Dishonesty and lack of confession brings panic as we wade through who knows what and what we told this person or that person. We live with the perpetual fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When we confess we free ourselves of those fears and that waiting. Sir Walter Scott said "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Confession clears away the web of deceit. When we confess we free ourselves from the constant turmoil of weighing our words for fear of spilling the beans. Confession allows you to speak freely to those you love. Confession allows you live freely.
Allow me to encourage you to practice confession.
Confess your sins to God. 1 John 1:9 says, "But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." Your sins are forgiven at the moment you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
Confess your sins to your loved ones. James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results."
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
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.