Plan On It

I had to run some errands today.  We were out of some household items, so I was off to Sam’s Club this afternoon. Normally it’s not a big deal, but when you’re trekking the four miles from my house in New Tampa to the discount club in Wesley Chapel, the after-work traffic makes it a thirty-five minute event.

Patience. I need to work on my patience. 

As I walked into the store and flashed my membership card, I remembered the conversation my wife and I had about how we didn’t need to be carrying two memberships for discount clubs; one for Sam’s and one for BJ’s. I made a mental note to follow-up on that at later time.

sams

I grabbed what I needed and headed toward the checkout lanes, all in under ten minutes. This is the benefit of going sans spouse to the warehouse. I swiped my card at the terminal of the self-checkout aisle.

“Your membership expired on March 10. Would you like to renew now and complete your transaction?”

It seems I no longer had to worry about the membership club decision seeing as how God had already made the decision for me. I giggled as I meandered back to the shelves to return my items, thinking of how I now needed to stop by BJ’s. Thankfully, the nightmare, afternoon traffic on this side of town is only in one direction, and I would be travelling the opposite way.

I pull into BJ’s, blissfully unaware of my immediate surroundings, completely consumed by the music on my radio. As I get out of my car, I notice a man reaching into the back of his trunk. This is completely normal given people are often loading their vehicle after shopping at the store. Then I saw it. His rear tire was flat. He wasn’t loading groceries or goods, but rather unloading items from his trunk to get to his spare.

My first impulse was to say in my head, “Good luck, dude” and be on my way. I actually got about seven steps away from my car before the feelings in my heart consumed me. The Holy Spirit had initially whispered to me to help that man. Now He was screaming at me.

Obedience. I need to work on my obedience. 

In my class at Bible College, we recently had a discussion on how some young people feel we don’t need the Old Testament because we have the New Testament. What that view overlooks is the fact the Bible, all sixty-six books, is how God reveals Himself to us. Additional, the OT is about promises made while the NT is about promises kept.

For me, what I love about the Old Testament are the stories of the nation of Israel after they left Egypt. It’s a series of cyclical stories showing how Israel would lose patience with God, choose disobedience to God, face the consequences of their behavior, and repent of their sins to once again find favor with the Lord. Through it all God is with them. Yes, He is angered, and yes, His wrath is displayed. But so is His love and mercy and infinite patience.

OT

In a nutshell, the story of Israel wandering in the desert is the story of my life. Praise God for all He’s done. Lose patience with where I’m at. Falter in obedience to what He’s calling me to do. Stumble, fall, and accept the consequences of my behavior. Ask Him for forgiveness. Become redeemed once again in His eyes.

Sometimes I experience that cycle with small things; sitting in traffic, standing in line, etc. In my past I’ve experienced that cycle with the big things. It’s the reason I have an ex-wife and a period in my life that is marred with regrets.

Yet through it all, God was, is, and always will be with me. With each experience I build up my patience. With each opportunity, I display my obedience.

The man with the flat tire, his name is Joe. He was in his late sixties. He was very appreciative of me getting on the ground and situating his jack so we could change the tire and put on the spare. It was a blessing to be able to help him. It was the highlight of an otherwise mundane day. And it makes me smile to think that had my Sam’s club membership not expired, Joe would be on his on with that flat tire.

flat-tire

Don’t resist when the Holy Spirit compels you to do something. His plans are always greater than ours, and it’s through patience and obedience that we serve the Lord.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.” Deuteronomy 28:1 NLT

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

I don’t particularly enjoy working out alone. My wife and I have shared the experience of going to the gym together, and although we may do different exercises or use different machines, knowing we’re both there together makes the experience more fulfilling for me.

The same goes for my spiritual workouts.

At the end of last year, our dear friend Lindsey invited Lee and me to undertake a new challenge.

“Will you join me in reading the entire Bible in one year?”

“Ummm…..what?”

“The Bible. I am going to read it all in one year, and I want you to join me.”

<uneasy silence> “Ummmmm …… yes?”

It was very much a daunting task at the time it was presented to us. Yet another thing I needed to make time for in my day to day. It’s not like I wasn’t already falling behind on everything else, so sure, why not add something else to the To Do list (which in my case usually ends up being a Good Intentions list)?

But undertake it I did, with the help of the YouVersion Bible app. Every morning in the car I would start the readings for the day of the reading plan. The great thing about YouVersion is, depending on the translation, you can have the app read it to you. This is especially helpful because I find it easier to follow along as I hear someone else read, and I don’t have to stumble over the pronunciation of names and places (especially in the Old Testament). Also, I can take advantage of my commute time to take in His word.

So here we are three months removed from that awkward conversation with my friend and I’m 25% done with reading the Bible. Think about that. I’ve read a quarter of the Good Book, and I’ve done it a few chapters at a time. Not only has this plan made it manageable by spreading out the reading between Old and New Testaments, it has also opened my eyes to the amazing stories in the Bible.

I’ve been introduced to the talking donkeys, how the sons of Jacob plotted to avenge the rape of their sister, and passages that have made me blush. More importantly, I’ve made the time in my day to nourish my spirit and grow in my relationship with God. And I am finding that as situations and challenges present themselves in my life, I am able to lean on what I’ve read and learned in order to better deal with them. I’m able to reference a particular story in the Bible that provides me with a better perspective as to how I should act or not act. Like going to the gym, I am stronger now than when I started.

And I am so blessed to be doing this with my wife and friends. We turn to each other to discuss His word and better understand what we’ve read. We push and encourage each other to stay on plan and not fall behind, which is what fellowship is all about.

So if you’re feeling you can use some new perspective, insight, and encouragement in your life, I invite you to turn to a resource that’s been there for you from the beginning. Download the YouVersion app and check out The Bible in a Year plan. Or if you’re old school, open up your Bible and read a chapter a day. As the plan overview says, “The Bible is God’s love letter to each one of us. Why should you miss out on any of the things God wants to say to you?”

Daily Bread

Beacon

I’ve been with my employer for over seventeen years now. I interviewed for my first job with them back in 1997 (I started out as a contractor in ’96), and have since moved on to different positions in different departments. What is interesting is that as I moved from group to group, I never interviewed for the positions in those groups. Rather, through varying circumstances and specifics, I was selected to move into new positions along the way.

The one position in which I learned and grew the most – managing production database administrators for almost ten years – came about because of a hallway conversation. I was with a peer of mine walking the hallways on our way back from lunch. Her friend (my eventual boss) was walking in the opposite direction and stopped to talk to her. I kept going to my desk, and my coworker joined me there about ten minutes later.

“Gary is going to be calling you to see if you’re interested in a position on his team.”

“Who?”

“Gary. The man I was speaking to in the hall.”

“Why is he going to call me? How does he even know who I am?”

“He says he’s been in a couple of proposal meetings with you, and he likes what he’s seen, and thinks you’d be a good fit for his team.”

Long story short, Gary ended up adding me to his team. After some time working for him, I asked him about that fateful afternoon. He summarized it this way. “Although you may not realize it, you’re always interviewing for your next job.”

***

Lee and I started a new small group this morning at our church. The group meets at 6:00 AM, but that’s not the crazy part. What is really eye-opening, to me at least, is the group is entitled, “30 Days to Understanding the Bible.” Lee and I have done many small groups before, but they’ve always focused around a book we’d all read and discuss together. It was more book club and very much less Bible study. The group we’re in this semester, however, is full-on Bible study.

As we dove into the the book (written by Max Anders), one phrase caught my attention. “We are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners.” That’s a powerful statement, and one that paints a picture, to me at least, of everyone in the water trying not to drown. Some are able to tread water better than others, their faith and obedience support them and help keep them better afloat. Others drown under the weight of their sinful nature. Still others struggle, often finding calm, often finding panic, always in need of life line.

Lifeline

And that is what Jesus is for us, the life line. He is the ultimate life saver. We need to remember that no one is in the boat. No matter how holy, spiritual, or religious a person may be, we’re all sinners in need of the Lord’s redemptive salvation. But the experience that is a faith journey does not end once we catch the ring that will keep us from drowning. Instead, that moment is one in which we’re called – better yet, compelled – to turn around and cast that life saver to someone else who needs it.

As Christ followers, we are all called to be ministers of His love and grace. I used to think ministry was about being extremely well versed in the Bible. I used to believe I needed higher education or time in a seminary in order to move in a direction of ministry. Instead I’ve learned that through our actions to and for others, as well as our witnessing to others about our faith, we are ministering. Oftentimes, we’re better suited to evangelize His word as individuals with titles like Analyst or Banker or Program Manager than we are if we had the title of Pastor or Deacon or Priest, simply because others may be more inclined to listen to what we have to say, as opposed to immediately putting up a defensive front to the “religious person.”

And you never know whose life you will impact with your words and actions. You never know who may have an “a ha” moment with regards to giving their life to Christ simply because you chose to share your story with them. We are called to be beacons of light to those who are living in darkness. We are called to take our drowning neighbor’s hand and help them grasp the life line. We are called to give to others what God has so graciously given to us.

And although you may not know it, you’re always ministering to the next follower.

Beacon of Light

“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” – 2 Timothy 4:5

The Principal and the Preacher

A week ago I attended the graduation of my wife’s nephew. Headland High School (Alabama) honored the graduating class of 2014, and it was an excellent ceremony.

HH

There were speeches by the salutatorian and both co-valedictorians. All were filled with hopeful, encouraging words as well as their fair share of Bible verses. It was very refreshing to see all three young men so well rooted in their faith, and not at all embarrassed to proclaim to their classmates their love for Christ. As a Christian, it was inspiring.

The assistant principal of the school also addressed the body of graduates. His address, by comparison, left me scratching my head for a couple of reasons. I’ll start with the secular one.

The AP mentioned to the graduates, “Some of you are leaders and some of you are followers.” He proceeded to spell out the qualities of leaders and followers, and their respective roles in our society. What bothered me about his message is that, in my opinion, it further promoted a problem that is rampant in our nation as a whole. Class-ism.

We live and operate in an environment in which the gap between the haves and the have-nots is ever increasing. The phrase ‘class warfare’ is thrown around flippantly and over used, but there is truth to the concept. You against him. Us versus them. It’s a zero-sum game and you better get yours. That is the sad environment so many of us experience on a daily basis, and it’s not the message we should be communicating to our graduates given they’re the ones best positioned to fix the problem. The reality is we all possess leadership qualities. We all possess the ability – and need – to be followers as well. Times and circumstances dictate when we flex our active muscles versus those when we’re better suited being a bit passive.

What needed to be communicated to the hundred plus young adults receiving their diploma last week is they all have the ability to succeed and excel. They are all capable of reaching their proverbial mountain top. Sometimes it will require them to lead the way. Other times it will mean following someone else’s example. Most importantly, if they approached it from a perspective of collaboration – working together as peers, as a community, as brothers and sisters – instead of a point of view based on competition, the end result could indeed be world changing.

But that’s not what left me wincing in discomfort.

I mentioned earlier how proud I was to hear the young graduates fold a message of faith into their respective speeches. By comparison, I recoiled when I heard the assistant principal reference God in his. He mentioned how the graduates were called to live good Christian lives (I’m paraphrasing), and he threw in a couple of Bible verses himself.

I graduated from a Catholic high school, so seeing faculty reference scripture in an address to students was my norm. But to see a staff member of a public high school, an employee of the county, intertwine his personal religious beliefs into a school function – in a venue called The Civic Center, no less – was appalling.

Now, I understand the address was made in the heart of the Bible belt. I understand why the parents and other relatives in the audience applauded the speech. Personally, I thought the message itself was inspiring. Nevertheless, it was still grossly inappropriate, and here’s why. At the risk of being overly-hyperbolic, I would say torches and pitchforks would have been wielded had the assistant principal of Headland High School began his speech with the words, “As it says in the Qur’an…” Imagine if halfway through his address, he would have exclaimed, “Praise Allah!”

….or Buddha

….or Para-Brahman

….or Jobu

Jobu

My point is, there’s no room for an individual’s religious beliefs when he or she is acting as an agent or representative of the government. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment not only provides us all freedom of religion, but it also guarantees us as individuals freedom from religion in the context of government representatives. This point has been argued ad nauseam, most recently in relation to Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney.

I am not sure many Christians, myself included, would be very comfortable if the assistant principle of our kids’ school referenced a deity other than our own. We owe the same courtesy and respect to all audiences of public events.

We all have vastly differing faiths and beliefs, but in the end, we are one society.

Leave It At The Door

Tonight was the first day of the NFL draft, the annual gala that puts a lot of pomp and circumstance around what is essentially an exercise in hope trafficking. So many fans sit glued to their televisions willing their respective teams to make the pick that will finally put them over the top and make them championship contenders. Thirty two fan bases will set their expectations high over the next couple of months that lead to the start of the NFL season. Thirty one fan bases will be disappointed in some shape, way, or form come next February.

Much of the chatter leading to tonight’s big event centered around former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel. Where would he go in the draft? Which team would pick him? When the Heisman Trophy winner was asked if teams would be sorry for not selecting him, he replied, “I believe they will, personally.” So not only was Manziel playing into the hope trafficking, he was also inflating his ego along the way. 

 

Image via blog.chron.com
Image via blog.chron.com

 

I admire the talent Manziel possesses, and there’s no questioning his competitive spirit. It’s also unarguable that he is a polarizing figure. Fans either love him or hate him. As the draft commenced, there was an avalanche of coverage about Manziel, and as pick after pick passed by, the spotlight on the young superstar seemed to shine brighter (and not in a good way).

When it was all said and done, Manziel slid all the way down to #22 in the first round, and was selected by the Cleveland Browns, the franchise where talented arms go to die (see Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn, Tim Couch, and Eric Zeier). Is it possible Manziel will be a difference maker on a team that has had only two winning seasons in the last fifteen years? It’s possible. Is it likely Manziel will struggle and end up taking his lumps before he makes a splash in the NFL? History says yes.

Either way, the story of tonight’s draft can be summarized with scripture. Johnny Manziel, better known as Johnny Football, the “look at me” kid from a privileged background who lives his life at 100 miles per hour; the kid had no problem propping himself up as the next NFL great. As the night progressed, however, there seemed to be more general managers who didn’t want him as part of their organization than those who did.

We’re reminded: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:11

 

amyjalapeno.com
Image via amyjalapeno.com

The Seed of Beauty

In our church growth group tonight we learned about and discussed how we grow as a result of the various trials in our lives. God uses our experiences to shape us as individuals and to move us closer to Him.

My life is a testament of how good things can arise from bad choices. It’s never easy and the journey is usually an endurance of hurt, pain, guilt, and shame. But surviving it makes us stronger, and trusting in Him is what allows us to get through it all.

One of the greatest figures in the Bible, Peter, had perhaps the most epic failure of all time: he denied three times knowing Jesus. Peter went on to found the Christian church.

Tough times happen. Tough times will continue to happen. Mistakes will be made. But when they are, remember that failure is simply a platform to growth.

Padre Pio

 

 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 

-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

 

Serenity Saturday

Sunflower Sunset

 

“Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon, as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon. There the Lord will display his glory, the splendor of our God.”

-Isaiah 35:2