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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

By Your Side

Samaritan’s Purse is an international Relief agency that strives to be there for the “least of these” when war, famine, natural disasters and whatever else befalls the world’s neediest people strikes and strikes hard.

Whether it be children who need heart transplants in countries that don’t have the technology, SP responds with the “Children's Heart Project”, or when disasters like Katrina, Tsunami, and Typhoons hit SP Relief and Development teams are often among the first to be there by the side of the victims with supplies and the love of Christ.

With the recent catastrophe that Hurricane Sandy has brought to the Northeast and beyond, it's so great to have the dedicated team from Samaritan's Purse on the scene to help bring relief in the name of Jesus.



The World Medical Mission is there by sending Physicians into some of the most impoverished and devastated areas of the world, and Operation Christmas Child is hard at work all year round mobilizing and inspiring people to give shoebox gifts, which are really power packed gospel opportunities that are launched into countries and into the hands of children who may only get one gift in their lifetime!

To say the least, I have been blown away by what Samaritan’s Purse is doing around the globe to strategically empower national leaders to “earn the right to be heard” in their culture and on their turf.

These leaders are then asked the question “why did you do this for me?” and the answer they are able to give is “because God’s love for you is free!” I love that!

I want to encourage you that whatever it is that you are going through these days. God hasn’t forgotten about you, He loves you and has an incredible plan for you.
It may not seem like it right now as the storms of life are rocking your world, but please know that God is right there with you…By your side!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Inspire!

Before I became a Pastor I was a school teacher and a coach, and in many ways I’ve always viewed my ministry career as kind of a continuation of my coaching mindset, and I guess it never really has gotten out of my system.

One of the half-time speeches that I will never forget took place half way through a basketball game that my team was playing in name only, their bodies and spirits had failed to show up, and my coaches and I were getting more and more irked at their lack of effort as the first half minutes ticked away.

The team we were playing was one that we had beaten twice earlier in the season, and was one that we were clearly better than. As the buzzer rang, I was not happy, my coaches were not happy and every fan in the building was mad as well.



As we walked into the locker room I was headed off by one of my players, who in essence said to me and the other coaches, “don’t worry coach, I’ll take care of this half time speech, you and the other coach’s just stay out here.”

I looked at the rest of my team and we all nodded our heads in agreement, and said “ok, do your thing.”

What happened next was truly an amazing feat, as for the next 15 minutes or so all we could hear was the passion filled voice of one the most passionate players I ever had the opportunity to coach. You see he wasn’t the best basketball player in the world, but his outlook on defense was one of a football player, to say the least he was intense!

The reason he approached basketball with a football players mentality was because that’s exactly who he was, a football player, and a very very good one at that. He was the school’s star running back, and I kept him on the basketball team for one reason (so I thought) and that was to play defense, but after that halftime speech, I automatically knew the other reason I kept him on…Inspiration!

The essence of his speech was “leave it all on the floor, don’t take anything for granted, one day you’ll look back on this moment and you will be filled with regrets. What if I had played harder? What if I didn’t just go through the motions?…Leave it all on the floor, NO REGRETS!”

Well, halftime was over, we went back out there to play the second half and wow what a difference I saw in my players. They played with a passion and a desire that I hadn’t seen in a long time, and leading the pack was none other than the player who had delivered the half time speech. He was leading by example.

That player went on to play division one football and eventually was drafted into the NFL, but I will always remember his half time passion, and 2nd half example of No Regrets.

Half Time has always been one of my favorite times as a coach, because I love to inspire and challenge others towards making changes and getting back out there to accomplish great things.

As I think about coaching and inspiration and challenging others a few thoughts come to my mind that make it not only easier to inspire but make it believable.


Some of the best speeches in history have come from people who have delivered them from a deep seated belief that the ones they are challenging actually have a chance to accomplish great things and win!

It's not enough to talk a good game, and go through the motions. We need to believe it internalize it and let the fact God is powering our lives take root and propel us forward.

Who are you going to inspire? Who are you going to come alongside and speak truth into their lives? I believe God wants us all the jump in the "locker room" and deliver a passion filled, life changing, inspiration filled challenge to anyone who will listen.

Be inspirational and watch God do some amazing things in you and everyone else.

In Control

God is in control of all things...Psalm 148 says it all!

"Hallelujah! Praise God from heaven, praise him from the mountaintops;
Praise him, all you his angels, praise him, all you his warriors,

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, you morning stars; Praise him, high heaven, praise him, heavenly rain clouds; Praise, oh let them praise the name of God— he spoke the word, and there they were! from all time to eternity; He gave his orders,

and that’s it! 
you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps; Fire and hail, snow and ice, hurricanes obeying his orders;


Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests; Wild beasts and herds of cattle, snakes, and birds in flight; Earth’s kings and all races, leaders and important people, Robust men and women in their prime, and yes, graybeards and little children.

It’s the only Name worth praising. His radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky;he’s built a monument—his very own people!


 Israel’s children, intimate friends of God. Hallelujah! He set them in place Praise God from earth, 


Let them praise the name of God—
Praise from all who love God!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Repertoire

Lately it seems I’ve been hearing the word “repertoire” everywhere I go.

When I was watching the Olympics I heard it used in the context of the various techniques that the ice dancers could utilize to get more points (by the way I heard it in passing as I was switching the channel from the Olympics back to College Basketball…I’m just saying).
I have also heard it used in the context of coaching, singing, painting, preaching and a bunch of other scenarios that got me thinking about what a repertoire is, and why it’s important.
I checked out what Webster had to say on the topic and this is what I found…
Repertoire – “the entire stock of skills, techniques, or devices used in a particular field or occupation.”



Hmm, that’s interesting to me especially as I think about the word from the point of view of a coach.

I remember when I used to coach basketball, we would spend hours and hours designing and running plays that we could pull out at any given time and in any given situation that would give us an edge based on a particular defensive scheme or potential weakness we would encounter.

That kind of planning took lots of strategic thinking and preparation to make sure we were ready to encounter whatever came our way, for the ultimate purpose of winning the game.

We had a repertoire to pull from that was fluid based on who we were playing, and even though our game plan didn’t always work out like we wanted it to, having some skills and techniques to implement was always good to have in my back pocket as a coach.

In essence what we were saying to the team we were playing was “we respect the fact that you are here to compete with us, and we know that you have strengths and weaknesses, so in order to compete and hopefully be victorious we have taken time to prepare and plan to implement a variety of creative plays to defeat you.”

Now, we didn’t recite that mantra every time or anything but the very fact that we invested so much time and energy into developing a repertoire sent the message that what we were doing was important, and how we went about it was important because we valued each other and valued the outcome whether win or lose.

It’s interesting to me as I reflect on the word repertoire, that that’s exactly how Jesus went about His ministry when He was here on earth.

He was creative, thoughtful, precise, and in many situations whether in his dealings or healings He utilized a repertoire.

When He healed a blind guy, he used spit and dirt to make a mud pie, when He could have just snapped His fingers, clapped His hands or just thought it.

When Jairus asked him to come to his house to heal his daughter, he stopped along the way to heal a woman with a blood disease first. That little detour was just enough of a delay (from Jairus’ perspective) that his daughter died, and Jesus was “too late” to heal her.

 It’s amazing to me though, that even though Jairus’ assumption was “in order for my daughter to be healed, Jesus must physically come to my house and heal her”, Jesus knew that in His repertoire a little stop on the way to heal someone else was no problem for Him.

Walking into a room filled with mourners to encounter a girl who was now dead, was no problem for Him either, because raising people from the dead (including Himself) was in His repertoire!

Or, how about how He dealt with some of the key people in the Bible in such a way that He not only got their attention, but He was able to reach them where they were based on how they were wired.

For instance, we know Paul was a very zealous and driven individual right?  I mean, I get the idea that when it came to something that Paul was passionate about his attitude was probably “it’s my way or the highway.”

Before He met Jesus He was passionate for sure, so passionate that his life was about bringing persecution to anyone and everyone “who belonged to the way.”

I don’t get the impression that Paul was a “still small voice” kind of guy, do you?

Well, interestingly enough God didn’t use a still small voice, a burning bush or even parting waters to get Paul’s attention, He used a blinding light and a booming question to stop him dead in his tracks as he was on his way to carry out orders of persecution against the Christ followers.

“Saul, Saul why are you persecuting ME?” was the question, and I can just picture the intensity of the situation, and as I think about how God utilized His repertoire in His dealings with Paul, I’m equally amazed at the uniquely customized approach that He uses with us.

He knew Paul, because He created Paul. He knew what would get His attention and what wouldn’t, and he dug into His repertoire bag and delivered a Damascus road experience that would forever change Paul’s life.

You know, as I stop and think about all the situations and experiences I’ve been through in my life whether easy or hard, good or bad, soul-shaking or simply wake up calls, all along I can see God’s customized approach in His dealings with me.

He knows me, because He made me. He knows what will speak to me, what will move me, what will convict me, what will inspire me and what will launch me into a whole hearted passionate pursuit of Him, bringing everyone I come in contact with along for the ride. He’s got a repertoire!

I love that about our God.

I love that He can’t be defined.

I love that He can’t be explained.

I love that He has a plan and I’m a part of it…I mean, who am I that I deserve anything from Him?

The more I think about the definition of the word repertoire the more I think Webster needs to rework it when it comes to the context of God.

Webster says…

Repertoire – “the entire stock of skills, techniques, or devices used in a particular field or occupation.”

The first part needs to be reworked in relation to God because the word “entire” has the idea of an ending, limited or finite, and the more I realize how incredibly amazing my God is, the more I realize that even though He’s got a repertoire, according to our definition it doesn’t even begin to describe His love and power because it’s ENDLESS!

I don’t know about you, but I am just blown away with the level of customized creativity that the Creator of the Universe has towards me. He’s got a plan and a purpose and wonder of wonders it involves me!

My prayer today is that in every situation that comes my way I would see God’s hand and realize that because He’s knows me, and loves me His repertoire with dealing with me is exactly what I need and I need to trust Him through it.

How about you? What are you dealing with today?

Are you like Jairus? Is your assumption of who God is and how He is “supposed to “work limiting your view?

Are you like the blind guy? After he was healed, he got grilled big time about who healed Him and why. His response was classic. “All I know is I once was blind, now I can see.”

Are you like the woman who Jesus healed on the way to Jairus’ daughter? She was at the end of her rope, options gone, nowhere to turn so she reaches out in faith and Jesus stops and meets her where she was.

Or, are you like “pre-Damascus road” Paul? Zealously living your life in your own strength, going down the wrong road?

Well friend, I’ve got good news…Praise God, because He has a repertoire, He is ready and willing to meet you exactly where you are today! How amazing is that?

The Creator of everything has a repertoire, and no matter who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done, or how far I’ve strayed…He’s ready to meet me where I am!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Every Scar Tells a Story

Since 2006 the month of March has become an interesting month for me. It was a month that tested my faith, challenged my beliefs, made me question some things and created what would become painful memories.

It was a month that reminded me of a statement that I’ve used for many years with students and adults that I’ve ministered to. It’s a statement that packs an incredible punch when you think about it, because if we really took it to heart and used the purpose of it to empathize with others, what a huge difference we could make in this world.
The statement is “every scar tells a story!

It’s true isn’t it? You and I have all kinds of scars that we carry with us, physical scars, emotional scars; spiritual scars…all kinds of scars. I’m learning more and more that pain happens; you can’t avoid it, and with painful things comes scars. It’s what we do with the pain as it’s healing, and once our scars have formed, that’s the key.



On March 6th, 2006 my kids and I were in a car accident. We were traveling North on a road near our house. We came up to a very busy intersection and that particular day the sun was very bright, and it impaired my view of the traffic light as I approached.

I couldn’t tell if it was red, green or yellow, but judging by the fact that the east and west bound cars were sitting still, I assumed it was green for me. I went through the intersection, and before I could make it to the other side, a car that was heading west didn’t stop or even slow down at the traffic light and hit my van broadside on the passenger’s side.

We got hit so hard that the van flipped onto the driver’s side, blew out every window, and continued to flip upside down and do 360 degree turns for about 50 yards until we stopped.

My kids were hanging upside down, I was upside down, all the windows on my side were gone, there was glass everywhere inside the van, and for a matter of seconds (that seemed like an eternity) there was a weird silence inside my van. My kids weren’t screaming, I wasn’t screaming we were in complete and utter shock at what just happened.

Then all of a sudden as if a switch had just been turned on, my kids started crying and I turned around to see them hanging upside down, arms & legs flailing wildly. As a parent who would do anything for his kids, what an incredibly helpless feeling that was for me to see them in that state.

Well, it didn’t take long in terms of actual time to get myself unhooked and get my kids down and out of the van, but let me tell you, it seemed like forever. All kinds of thoughts were racing through my mind, as I climbed in through the broken window to get my son and daughter to safety.

The series of events that happened after the crash are amazing to me. It was a miracle for sure, I have no doubt! See for yourself…
  1. All the windows were blown out of the driver’s side, and the car was full of glass, yet none of us had a glass cut.
  2. The car that hit us, made impact right where my son was sitting, and had enough force to flip us over and onto our top, yet he had no injuries at all.
  3. The force of the flip caused the windshield to completely collapse in it’s entirety except where I was sitting.
  4. The windshield where my wife would have been sitting (passenger seat) if she was with us on this day, was completely crushed, and would have caused some serious damage to her.
  5. The police said they found our van over 50 yards from the intersection, and couldn’t believe that we didn’t get hit by oncoming traffic heading south as we did multiple 360 degree turns for 50 yards.
  6. When the ambulance workers arrived at the scene they were trying to figure out who was in the accident, because a large crowd had gathered around us, and besides being emotionally shaken there were no visible physical injuries on the kids at all.
  7. The ambulance workers strapped the kids to a body board as a precaution and it was when they were getting me ready to do the same that they realized that my left arm was pretty messed up. I didn’t even realize it, the adrenaline was pumping so much that I couldn’t feel anything, and didn’t even know I had received a very bad “road rash” from when the drivers’ window blew out and the van flipped over. It was NOT a glass cut (which again is incredible to me). They found bits of metal and gravel in the arm (which resembled hamburger as they put it).
  8. On the way to the hospital one of the ambulance workers was trying to keep the kids talking, and occupied so I heard her say to Serena “what do you think about all of this?” Serena replied “I’m just so glad that Jesus saved us!” The worker then said to Ethan, “Ethan what do you like to do for fun?” He answered “sing”. So, she said “really, can you sing me your favorite song?” He then sang every word of “Jesus loves me!”
  9. We got to the hospital, they rushed us in to a room together, and other than my messed up arm the doctors were astounded at what they were seeing. They saw two beautiful kids, totally un-cut, un-broken, and un-scathed physically. 
  10. The doctor had to do some minor cutting of skin from my arm, clean it out real good and apply some stitches and we were on our way home.
  11. A few days later my wife and I went to the junk yard to get our stuff out of the van, and as she was reaching her hand into it to retrieve an object she got cut on a piece of glass. We both looked at each other in amazement! The three of us should’ve all been cut from the huge amount of glass that came pouring in on us and all around us as we flipped and did multiple 360’s!
  12. My arm healed pretty quickly and left me with a very visible, miracle proclaiming, story telling, God praising, painful for a little while, SCAR!
Now, I’ve wondered why God allowed this to happen, I mean why would a loving God let his children go through something like this. Have you ever wondered that about your painful experiences?

I don’t know for sure, but since that day over 6 years ago, I’ve had some time to think about it, and process some potential reasons. I’ve basically come up with the fact that every scar tells a story, and this story is all about How faithful, powerful, awesome, protecting, loving, gracious, merciful, purposeful, sovereign, and downright AMAZING God is!

As I think about all the junk I’ve gone through in my life, I am continually blown away with the fact that Jesus loves me, Jesus died for me, Jesus rose for me, Jesus intercedes for me, Jesus blesses me, and Jesus is preparing a place for me! I don’t deserve any of that!

As author, speaker and musician, Louie Giglio puts it “All I know is that God is I AM and I am not!” I would add to that statement, that because that is true He allows us to go through some pretty tough stuff, and the key is to realize that He is right there with us, and wants us to use our experiences (Scars) to proclaim to others that God is in control, and it’s going to be ok!

So, my prayer is that God would give me the insight and wisdom to see that every scar tells a story, and that I would have the courage to plug in the microphone, turn on the sound system, walk onto the stage and
TELL MY STORY especially shining the spotlight on the HERO – JESUS!

Priorities

Have you ever thought about what is most important to you? I mean what is the #1 top priority in your life? If you could sum up your life into a value statement that speaks volumes to others, what would it be?

I remember one time taking my youth group to the cemetery to get scratchings from the tomb stones of statements that were spelled out on the graves. Statements that summed up people’s lives.

It was a low budget event that’s for sure, but wow what a powerful time we had comparing the words that people used to put their years of existence into perspective for others that came along after them.

There were some great statements like, “she loved her family”, “he was a loving father”, “she followed God”, and many others that spoke directly about what kind of person he or she was, and what they valued in life.



However, there was one that really struck me as kind of hollow in terms of a spiritual legacy that was taken from the largest tomb in the cemetery. It was a gigantic statue that towered above all the rest, and in very ornate and extremely beautiful letters it said “HE WAS A MAN OF INDUSTRY!”


Hmm, what does that even mean? We debated about it for quite a while, and couldn’t really come up with a solid definition of what that would mean in terms we would understand. It was kind of confusing for us, which led us into an incredible discussion about whether we are living a life of purposeful clarity or purposeless ambiguity.

It caused our group to really grapple with what really matters in life. Now I’m sure that the people of that town benefitted in some way from the legacy of industry that this guy brought to them, but in God’s eyes, and in his “economy” what really matters most…Industry or Life Change?

God used that  trip to the cemetery to help me process what I hope and pray is always the most important thing to me…God’s Kingdom Expanding through life change that only comes through the forgiving power of Jesus!

He needs to be number one in our lives, not a team, rock band, car, house or relationship. Jesus and Jesus alone needs to be driving our lives.

If Jesus is truly driving my life, then I think the statement that I’d like to be known for would go something like this…”Jesus drove his life…He rode Shotgun!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Discernment

Several years ago I was sitting with my son as he recuperated from a stomach bug that had held on for many days, and I had the best time laughing and joking with him.

I know it’s a weird thing to think that sitting on the couch with my sick, six year old could be such a good time, but it was.

We were sitting there watching one of my least favorite children’s TV shows “Dora the Explorer” and the things Ethan was saying in response to her questions were just hilarious. If you have ever seen the show you know that about 2 minutes into it you’re not only ready to turn the channel, you’re ready to throw something at the TV (at least that’s been my experience over the years of my children’s existence on this earth), because of the complete and utter redundancy of Dora’s daily mission.

I remember when my daughter was about a year old, I was sitting on the couch watching it with her as well. That particular day Dora came across this furry creature known as a “wizzle” that was lost and needed to be “wished” home. I sat there with Serena who was glued to the TV and tracking with every mission that Dora had to complete in order to “wish the wizzle home.”



Cross the crocodile lake, scale the magic mountain, pass over the troll guarded bridge all while trying to avoid swiper the fox and his fiendish ways. During every mission Dora asks questions like “will you help us row our boat to get across Crocodile Lake?” Or “will you pull on this rope to help us scale magic mountain?” and many more annoying questions that just beg for a sarcastic answer like “no, row your own boat”, or “give me some gloves so my hands don’t get burned up holding this rope…I mean Benny the Bull is a load” and answers like that.

As I was sitting there that particular episode I found myself getting more and more tense as everything within me wanted to scream out in response to her absolutely redundant (I already used that word didn’t I?) questions, but I knew that my daughter was really into it, and I didn’t want to set a poor example for her.

Well, about 15 minutes into the show I had had enough, the lake, the mountain, the bridge, swiper, the questions and then finally the incredibly deep, lyrically challenging song that the map sings when he makes his appearance pushed me over the edge. Here is his theme song…”I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’M THE MAP!”

That was it, I had my own personal “Popeye” moment…”I can’t stands no more!” I stood up, Serena in my arms, and yelled out at the top of my lungs in the general direction of my TV and at little miss Dora in particular “WISH THE WIZZLE HOME!

Ahh, I felt much better, I let Dora and her cast of annoying creatures know that I desired something a little more challenging for my TV viewing pleasure. The only problem was, Serena started crying and my wife came running into the living room to see what all the ruckus was about.

I sat there relieved and yet pretty embarrassed that I had let Dora get the best of me…Fast forward now into the future, I’m now sitting with my son who has watched many an episode in his years on this earth, and has always chimed right in with answers to Dora’s questions. Always answering with a similar response “yes, Dora I’ll help you row your boat”, or “sure, Dora I’d be glad to help you scale magic mountain.”

Maybe it was the woozy state that he found himself in since being sick, or maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t been able to keep any food or liquid down for a few days, or maybe it was that my boy was getting older and becoming more discerning. Whatever the reason, my son had his own personal “Popeye” moment during this particular episode and was firing back some pretty sarcastic answers to Dora’s questions.

It was kind of like Ethan and I were the hosts of our own “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” episode (if you’ve never seen that, it’s basically these three characters sitting in a movie theater making hilarious observations about a lame movie that’s on the screen), as we fired back answers to the questions and pointed out obviously ridiculous things time after time. It was so much fun!

In this particular episode, Dora and her friends had to find a magic wand that was missing from a portrait of a wizard that not only talked, but bore the voice of Ricardo Montalban, that was hilarious to me as I wondered if his career had officially bottomed out.

Anyway, as I sat there with my ill son, standing our ground, thinking of quick responses and not giving in to what every kid gives in to when they are watching the show (Mindless responses to questions that we already know the answers to). I thought of one word that summed up what Ethan and I were doing…DISCERNMENT!

Even though it was a silly show, my son was starting to process what he was seeing and hearing and beginning to ask questions internally. Questions like “why, what, who, how and where” were becoming part of his thought process.

It made me stop and think about how important discernment really is in our culture. The more I work in ministry, the more I realize that too many times we just take what we’re being presented with by media, movies, magazines, and music as being the truth. Messages to young girls from the media are telling a complete and utter lie that “in order to be beautiful you must look like this”, or to guys that “unless you have a six-pack set of abs like Brent (ha ha) you’re a loser!”

Man how my heart breaks every time I see discernment-less responses to these messages that are being assailed on a daily basis at the non-discerning of the world.

Every time a teen cuts, purges, or gives into some sort of temptation it is usually in response to a message that they have internalized as truth from a TV show, movie, song lyric or magazine ad…How tragic!

I believe one of the things that parents need to continue to do with our kids is teach them how to discern what they are being fed. Questions like “why is that true or not true?” and “what standard is that message being based on?” should be a part of everyone’s thought process.

Now I don’t know if Ethan understood the whole concept of discernment that day, but it gave me an incredible open door to help my son begin to learn that just like the Bereans in Paul’s day, we need to ask questions, dig deeper and explore the truths of God’s Word so we can apply it to every area of our lives.

We all need a moral compass...God's Word!

Forgiveness

Blew it? Needed forgiveness? Thought you were too far gone? Check out this song by Toby Mac and realize that it's there when you need it!

Alarmed

One day when I was reading my Bible and spending time with the Lord I came across a passage that has become very familiar to me over the last few years.

It’s a passage that God used to help shape my outlook and perspective on how to handle overwhelming and sometimes alarming news when it breaks down my door and comes crashing in.

The passage I’m referring to is found in 2 Chronicles 20 and it’s a great example of how King Jehoshaphat handled the news that not one, not two but three enemy armies were on their way to make war on Him.

When was the last time you got earth shattering, soul rocking news that blindsided you in a way that you didn’t know what to do? Was it last month, last week or even this morning? Well, a careful look at the action steps that Jehoshaphat applied will give us some insights into how I believe God wants us to handle alarming news when it comes our way.

Notice what Jehoshaphat had to deal with and what he did first…



1 After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, "A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar" (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.

He got word that three evil armies were on their way to totally destroy him and his people, and his first response flies in the face of what many of us would do if we were in his position as commander and chief.

I mean think about it, wouldn’t the first order of business be something like, assemble the army?

I did a little research and found an interesting insight that makes this first action step even more amazing to me. When the news reached the ears of the King, the armies were already in En Gedi.

En Gedi was about 25 miles away from where Jehoshaphat was!

25 miles, now I know they didn’t have jeeps and hummers and tanks, but 25 miles when an army is bent on war is not very far away.

Knowing the distance, knowing the severity of three armies and knowing what kind of ramifications the phrase “make war” means, Jehoshaphat still applied the action step that we many times skip over in our haste to mount an attack in our own strength, an attack that is futile in our power.

Jehoshaphat took his fear to God first.

I think it’s interesting that the Bible doesn’t shy away from letting us know that Jehoshaphat was scared, in fact 2 Chronicles tells us he was ALARMED! Now that’s a pretty strong descriptor of fear if you ask me.

It reminds me of the first time I went rappelling, If a snap shot of my face was taken while I was hanging over the side of a cliff being held by a tiny rope that was attached to a young sapling tree as well as a five foot two 110 pound girl who was my safety guide, you’d see a pretty accurate definition of what I think the word alarmed is all about.

Questions, fears, doubts and concerns were rapidly going through my mind at that moment, and I’m sure if Jehoshaphat is alarmed, those kinds of things along with probably a myriad of others are flooding his mind as well.

Alarmed…and his first response is to take his fear to God.

How does that apply to what you’re currently going through? In your zeal to get to work and mount the attack or defend the fortress have you skipped the first step?

The next thing that Jehoshaphat does is pretty amazing as well, and I think it gives us another key insight into where His heart was and what he knew to be true about the people he was leading.

After taking his fear to the Lord, he assembles the people and prays a pretty lengthy prayer considering the fact that 3 armies are still bearing down on him and there is still no sign of “army assembling” going on.

Check out his prayer…

 "O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 'If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.'

A couple questions come to my mind as I read his prayer. One is “I wonder how close the armies are now?” and  “Why give a history lesson instead of asking God to destroy the enemies?”

It’s interesting to me that in that moment when he has the entire country together in one place he decides to remind the people who God is and how He has been there for them in the past.

I think that’s the next action step that we can apply to our lives as well when we are in the midst of dealing with alarming news…Remind yourself who God is and How He has been there for you in the past.

It’s also very interesting to me that the request for God to show up comes after the reminding of how faithful He’s always been, and how in spite of that faithfulness His people have made poor choices over the years, and yet God still remains steady and true. What a testimony!

So, finally Jehoshaphat comes out and asks God to do something to help His people. Notice though how open and vulnerable he is with his request…

12 O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Ok, can you picture the scene? The Commander and Chief, the Top Dog, The Big Honcho, The KING is standing in front of his people, three armies bearing down on them “bent on war”, and He delivers the statement, “we’ve got nothing!

Now, to me that’s either brilliant, idiotic or faith filled (or maybe even a combination of all three). I don’t know if I’d have that kind of honest faith, knowing my position as King to stand there and deliver that kind of message, but that’s exactly what He did, and exactly where we need to be as well.

The truth of the matter is that in our own strength we’ve got no power to face what’s coming at us either; we need to be totally dependent on God.

I love how he ends His prayer because even though he knows they have no power, He also knows His God does, and he proclaims to God and everyone listening that He trusts that His God will show up and save His people. Why? Maybe because that’s been His track record all along.

Jehoshaphat was honest and specific in his faith filled prayer request.

Are you taking your request to God in faith and specifically asking Him to answer?

What happens next in this amazing encounter is so cool to me, and it reminds me of how important it is to pray, trust God, share with others, listen to Godly counsel and in the face of your alarming situation trust that when God answers it may not be in the way we want or even expect…and that’s ok, He’s God!

After seeking God and honestly bringing his request to Him, the alarming fact was that Jehoshaphat still didn’t have his “marching orders” that is until he listened to Jahaziel…a Levite!

Notice who Jehoshaphat has surrounded himself with…Godly counsel (next action step by the way).

Jahaziel steps forward and delivers the plan from the Lord…

This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.' "

What a plan, again it’s either brilliant, idiotic or faith filled (or maybe even a combination of all three). In essence the battle plan against three armies is…march, stand and watch!

Another thing I love about Jehoshaphat is that he was so locked in to who his God was and how He had shown Himself powerful in the past that when the plan was given, even though it sounded crazy, I think his attitude was like “yeah, let’s do this because God’s fame is really going to spread after this!

Is that where you are in your current situation? Are you listening for what God wants you to do, and when He delivers the plan are you ready to step out in faith and Obey His Plan even when it seems crazy?

Well, the rest of the story is just as incredible as Jehoshaphat obeys the plan and on the way even adds a little siss boom bah to the action, as he sends the worship team on ahead of the army to praise God in advance, how cool is that!

Jehoshaphat obeyed, God showed up and the people watched the deliverance of the Lord as the armies turned on each other and they were completely destroyed.

God’s fame spread among the nations, and God’s people’s faith was deepened all over again (at least until the next alarming situation came along), but that’s another story for another time.

What alarming news are you facing today? What’s your action plan in dealing with it?

I know for me I want to continually be in a place where even when the situation looks bleak at best, my faith and action plan are like Jehoshaphat’s…

Here's a video clip of a song that I can't get out of my head lately...As you watch it, my prayer is that God's Faithfulness, love and power in the midst of your "Raging Sea" would come flooding into your life today..."Let the waters rise...I will follow you!" Let that be your prayer today as you face your "Alarming News"


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The "Specs"

Some time ago my son said to me, "daddy I want to read the Bible, where should I start?" Those are the kinds of words I long to hear from my children, and my wife and I looked at each other and smiled a look of “well, now maybe we are getting somewhere with this one after all.

So, I said to him, “you know buddy a good place to start is John, because it’s written in a way that is fairly easy to understand.” He said “Ok, daddy, I’ll find John.”

He then proceeded to open the Bible and say “Old Testament, here we go” and he started by sounding out and trying to pronounce every book of the Bible that he came across on his mission of flipping through each page to find John.”

It was very funny as he announced each book he encountered on his way.

Every book he came to had a unique pronunciation as he proudly proclaimed another new find on his quest.

I so badly wanted to say “You know Ethan, you can just go to the front of the Bible and look up the page number for John and go directly to it”, but there was something fun and fascinating about having him discover it on his own, so I kept quiet.

I was thinking about that whole discovery process, and how awesome it is when a person not only discovers what they believe but actually owns it.


That’s one of the things I love most about ministry. When a person takes what they’ve been taught and digs deeper to validate it against God’s standard, and wrestles and fights with it and comes out saying…Yes, this is true and it is my belief…I love that!

As Ethan kept flipping and proclaiming his findings he came to Jeremiah, and my mind went immediately to one of my favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11 which says… “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I started thinking about God and His plans, and how amazing it is to think that the creator of everything has a plan that includes me. I then started thinking about how things change in our lives when we know His plan, accept it and begin to obey it.

Life starts to make sense, and decisions that we make begin to have purpose and meaning, and aren’t just some random choice based on how we feel that particular day.

Then out of the blue I remembered one of the best youth retreats we ever did, and how important knowing the plans made in our adventure.

You see, I was a part of a Youth Pastors network in New Hampshire and Maine back in the 90’s and it was a challenging and encouraging group of guys that I was plugged in with.

These Youth Pastors loved God and had an incredible passion to reach young people for Christ. They were even willing to look beyond the fact that I was from the “Evil Empire” living in the heart of “Red Sox Nation.”

We did some purposefully fun activities together, and not only did my relationship with my fellow Youth Pastor buddies grow, so did the relationships with the teens we had in our groups. It was a win win all around.

One day one of the guys who lived in Portland, Maine suggested that our groups partner up and rent a boat from Portland Harbor and head out about 10 miles from the coast to a deserted Island for a weekend camping trip.

I thought that sounded like a great idea, so I ran it past my group, and they were totally in as well!

So we started planning for the trip with things like tents, coolers, food, bug spray, more food and anything else you could think of to make a camping trip on a deserted island an event to remember.

The whole time we were planning I never once mentioned the name of the island to my group, in fact I wasn’t even sure of the name of it myself, I didn’t think it really mattered.

It was a deserted island off the coast of Portland harbor, that was all I needed to know. Then one of my students asked the question “Pastor Brent, what’s the name of the island we’re going to?”
I said “I’m not sure, does it really matter?” he said “no not really, it’s just my grandfather was asking because back in World War 2 he was stationed on an island off the coast of Portland Harbor, and was wondering if it might be the same one.

I told him I would find out and get back to him. So I called my friend and asked him the name of the island, and he said it’s called “Jewell Island.” I said “thanks man”, and hung up. I then called the student back and said ‘it’s called Jewell Island.”

He was like, “no way…this is too cool!” I said “why, what’s going on?” He went on to tell me that Jewell Island was where his grandfather was stationed, and underneath the 2 mile long by 1 mile wide island were a series of bunkers, and tunnels and really cool World War 2 stuff, that needed to be explored.

He then said something that made my heart start to beat a little faster…He said “and my grandfather has the plans to the whole island…we’re going to rule in capture the flag!”

You see that was one of the selling points I used with my group of adventurous guys. Capture the flag on a deserted island 1 mile wide by 2 miles long was all I needed to say. Now that I knew we had the plans to a secret underground world, it made it even more alluring.

It was so funny how this little tid-bit of information changed the whole planning process for the trip. No longer were we concerned about tents and bug spray, we now had planning meetings to lay out our tactical maneuvers based on the plans or specs as we referred to them.

Now this was before the days of instant access on the internet, so what we possessed was like gold. It was our secret, and we couldn’t wait to employ the plans and unleash total domination!

Well, the day finally came; we loaded up the boat and along with the other youth groups headed to Jewell Island for a weekend adventure we would never forget.

As soon as we landed, we set up camp, and gave everyone about an hour to do a little exploring and meet back in the middle for a debrief and explanation of the first game…Capture the Flag.

The rules were simple, the middle of the island was the dividing line and each team had one end of the island to hide their flag and defend it from the other team. The only thing the other groups didn’t know anything about were the plans that we had in our possession.

The game began and needless to say we dominated that game like it has never been dominated before.

We hit the tunnels, and passage ways and bunkers that the rest of those rookies knew nothing about.

Then flawlessly time after time popped up, behind enemy lines, discovered the flag and hit the tunnels to return back to our side and declare victory, it was a thing of beauty!

We had the plans, and it made all the difference. Our team was unified, motivated and knew their role, it was a well oiled machine!

So as I was driving with my wife and son, and heard him say Jeremiah, I immediately thought about 29:11, and immediately praised God in my mind, that He has the plans. The plans to my life and your life, and the plans He has are for Good, and will bring a future and a hope.

That is awesome to me, and is one of the reasons that I do ministry, and have been doing it for a long time. I love it when a person “gets it”, that God has a plan for Him or Her and that plan is going to enable them to find purpose and meaning, and if followed directly will bring God’s kind of success.

How cool is that? God has a plan, and His schematic includes me and includes you!
The "Specs" for a future and a hope from the maker of it all…now that’s a plan!

Epic Showdown

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah is being called to an epic showdown between good and evil, with the true God answering the duel by sending fire from heaven…now that’s a pretty big deal!

As I’m reading the passage, my twisted brain keeps having flashbacks to epic showdowns I’ve seen in movies over the years, and I’m wondering if Elijah experienced the same feelings and thoughts as He stood there toe to toe with 850 real, living and breathing, passionate God haters who wanted to see His representative dead on the spot.

I’m having fun wondering what it may have looked like, and showdowns like Neo and Smith, Gandalf and the Dragon, Yoda & Dooku and even Rocky & Mr. T made a brief appearance in my mind, as I try to wrap myself around what it might have been like for Elijah to stand up for what He believed in the face of utter evil!

The showdown that I keep coming back to though is from one of my favorite showdowns in the movie Gladiator, and it is between Maximus and Commodus in the center of the coliseum after Commodus had Maximus’s family murdered and he believed that Maximus was killed as well.



If you haven't seen the movie, Maximus escapes his initial execution only to arrive too late to save his family, and then is captured and made a slave, and forced to fight as a Gladiator.

His fame starts to spread as a fierce fighter and he and his crew are invited to take part in Commodus’ revival of the Gladiator games in Rome at the Coliseum.

The following dialogue between Maximus & Commodus at the end of one of the fights is one that I keep thinking about as I try to process what it might have been like for Elijah as he faced down the enemy…

“Gladiator, the emperor has asked for you." “ I am at the emperor's service.”  “Your fame is well deserved, Spaniard. I don't think there's ever been a gladiator to match you.  As for this young man, he insists you are Hector reborn. Or was it Hercules?

Why doesn't the hero reveal himself and tell us all your real name? You do have a name?”

“My name is Gladiator.”

“How dare you show your back to me? Slave! You will remove your helmet and tell me your name.”

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius... commander of the armies of the north... general of the Felix Legions... loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius... father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife... and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

What happens next sets off a series of situations where Maximus begins to get more famous than the Emperor and it forces Commodus to figure out what to do because He is losing face and power with each day that Maximus is alive.

You see, as Elijah is standing in front of the evil prophets He is standing there because He has had it with the fact that they along with their King have made a mockery of all that the True God stands for and have been instrumental in turning the hearts of the people away from God.

Another flashback…I believe that Elijah has a “Popeye moment”. You know what I mean right? He is tired of seeing God’s people follow after false gods. He’s tired of seeing God’s people live their lives after a belief system that is empty. He’s tired of seeing the name of the True God get trashed in his society, and just like Popeye finally has enough, and Brutus does something that crosses the line. I can see Elijah saying “I can’t stands no more” and grabbing his can of spinach then going to town on the bad guys.

The only difference is that the whooping is going to come in the form of fire from heaven in response to a faith filled confrontation for the right reasons, with the ultimate purpose of God’s name and God’s fame being spread.

You know in Elijah’s life and ministry this was the Super Bowl. Good vs. Evil, everyone watching, God sending fire from heaven, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

The thing that I keep thinking about though is the preparation that it took to get Elijah to the point where He was ready to stand up, and just like Maximus in Gladiator, Neo in the Matrix, Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and even Rocky in all 10 of his movies (it seemed like that many at least), there was a long period of painful preparation prior to the showdown.

This painful preparation is what made each of these characters so powerful and it’s what made each of these characters really shine when it came time for them to triumph.

Elijah went through the same thing in his life, and it makes me wonder if one of the reasons why God allows us to go through some tough and trying times is because He’s getting us ready for some epic showdown in defense of His Name and in Honor of His fame…just curious.

What kinds of things are you going through these days that seem like if there was a soundtrack playing in the background in real time, it would be like the training montage from Rocky IV, or the incredibly moving battle scores from The Lord of the Rings or Gladiator?

I’m learning all the time that God wants me to stand up for what is right, but He wants me to do it in a way that is powered by His hand using a well prepared servant who is ready to shoot all praise and honor and glory back to its rightful owner when He shows up and does what He does best.

So, what are you going through? What is He teaching you? How do you think He’s going to use you? What are you prepared to do when He does? What showdown is He calling you to confront and is it about His fame, His name or something else?

After the Evil Prophets dramatically danced and put on a show trying to get their god’s attention all day, Elijah steps forward and prays a simple prayer that I believe holds the key to what our showdowns should be all about.

In 1 Kings 18:36, 37 He prayed…

"O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

Notice in his prayer that he acted in obedience to God, and his purpose was for God’s fame to spread and that His people would come back to Him again.

Now, I don’t see myself being called by God to stand in front of a multitude of God haters any time soon, but you never know.

I think the thing I’m pulling out of this passage that I need to recognize the things I’m going through every day as opportunities that God is using to prepare me for the showdowns that He does bring my way.

Elijah was ready, He stepped forward in faith, and God showed Himself to be The One True God!

God is Holy, Powerful, Just and He has an extensive repertoire when it comes to preparing me for the showdowns He has scheduled for me…I need to be ready, step forward in faith and give honor and praise to Him when He shows Himself to be the One True God in my life!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Excuses

One time when I was reading my Bible, I found myself in Exodus chapter 3 right as Moses was about to come face to face with a bush that was on fire, but was not being consumed.

He didn’t know what to do with that, he didn’t have a context to put that one in, this was new territory for the original man “formerly known as Prince.” I’m sure he was over-whelmed with questions about what he was seeing, and what he was about to hear…from the bush!

Have you ever been in a situation that is new ground for you? I know I have, and many times when I face situations that are brand new, I tend to find myself doing exactly what Moses did when the bush spoke to him, and gave him his marching orders.

Now we know that it was the voice of God that spoke to him and not tree beard’s cousin in a lost Lord of the Rings episode or something. It was God’s presence visibly and audibly presenting himself to His servant, with specific orders in the next steps of His plan, and Moses replies with the “E” word, EXCUSES.

I shouldn’t be too tough on Moses, I mean after all he was experiencing something no one had ever seen before. I wonder if I would have even ventured in for a closer look, or grabbed the velcro animals I was watching (he was a shepherd, watching sheep) and hightailed it out of there. At least he was curious to find out more.



It’s interesting when the voice speaks to him that his response is to make excuses like “who am I?” and “ok, suppose I do go, um who should I say sent me?” Valid questions, I guess considering the situation where he currently found himself.

As best as I can tell, he has at least 3 things that I’m sure he is concerned about that probably caused him to make excuses.


First of all he’s a fugitive that is wanted by the very people he is being asked to petition on behalf of God’s people.

Second, he used to be a very wealthy, very powerful prince, with tons of career upside, and now he finds himself in a dead end job taking care of sheep in a Desert!

Third, he’s working for and living with his in-laws!

I’m not making excuses for Moses, but I can surmise that he is probably wondering where his life is going, and all of a sudden he is faced with an “out of the box” situation that throws him for a loop. Ever been there? I can kind of understand where Moses is coming from.

You know, I’m so good at excuses, and have seen so many other people make good ones over the years, I actually started categorizing them several years ago. I basically came up with 3 categories of excuses that I mentally file when I make them or hear them from others.

Let me explain. The first category is called “Cool Excuses.” These are excuses that have a good story attached to them, a story that makes one pause and say, “you know, that was a cool reason to make that excuse.”

For example, several years ago at our weekly skater event called Hang Time, one of the skaters showed up with a full cast and sling on his arm. I asked him what had happened, and he said “Dude, I nailed this half pipe at a park in the Bronx last weekend, I overshot the landing and came down right across the trucks on my board and smash, broke my arm!”

Not only was he at Hang Time (I would’ve been at home laying on my couch making my family wait on me hand and foot), he took his helmet in his good arm, placed it on his head, somehow managed to snap the chin strap, and rode out into the skate park to go back at it! COOL EXCUSE!

Speaking of lounging on the couch, the second category I’ve come up with is called “Lame Excuses.” These are excuses that have a terribly lame story attached to them. For instance, my junior year in high school, I found my self extremely ill on a particular day, and convinced my mom to let me stay home and rest. She finally agreed, and after she left for work I took up my favorite spot on the couch, and snuggled my bowl of cheerios in the convenient little hole I had in my skinny little chest and settled in to watch re-runs of Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, and get better.

Well, as would usually happen when I was sick, I fell asleep rather quickly and spilled cheerios all over the place, before the mystery machine even revved up its engines, and before Scooby even begged for a Scooby snack. Then all of a sudden I was awakened by a shriek (Scrappy made a special appearance in this episode), and I got up too quickly from my cheerio induced state, and blacked out for a second, hyper-extending my knee! I was in excruciating pain.

I went to the doctor, he put an ace bandage on it and gave me some crutches and I was on my way. Everything was good until the next day at school. I was posed with questions like, “what did you do to your knee… Football injury? Basketball injury? Baseball injury?” I wish any and all of those would have fit my situation, but alas all I had was “Scooby-Doo & Cheerios!” Lame Excuse!

The third category of excuses is one I came up with a few years ago when I heard the most bizarre excuse for being late to our worship team practice. It was so bizarre I decided to name the category bizarre excuses and make this example the charter member of the group.

One of our guitar players was late, and as he came in I noticed that he had a broken nose and two black eyes. Of course my first question was “why are you late”, and then “what happened?”

Well, apparently he had been playing at a gig the previous night, and during the set the bass player was really getting into it, flailing his bass around and up and down and all over. On one of his riffs he threw his bass back hard and to the right in just the perfect location to catch his tuning forks on the nose of my guitar player.

Yes, you heard me right, his nose got caught in the tuning forks of this rocking bass player, and for the next 30 seconds or so he went for a ride much like I would envision a cowboy on a bucking bronco might look like. Needless to say his nose was broken, his eyes were black, and he was late for practice carrying an incredibly BIZARRE EXCUSE.

Now, back to Moses. Here he is, face to face with the Creator of all things, who knows, his past wrongs, his present situation and his future successes, and when given a clear directive from the voice of God Himself…he makes excuses.

What’s so amazing about God though is that He stays with Moses; He doesn’t blow him away or anything. He clearly reminds him who He is and what He wants for him to do. I love that about God!

In my years of Ministry I’ve seen and heard hundreds and hundreds of excuses, and have made even more than that. I’m good at excuses, and if you’re honest with yourself so are you, but the reality is that when God is powering the deal in our lives, we have no excuse.

I’m sure He doesn’t have a category list like I do. With Him every excuse we make, in response to His leading and guiding in our lives is weak at best.

He is I AM, he knows me, loves me, created me, gifted me, empowers me, and will never leave me, so I am without Excuse when it comes to responding to His power and plan in my life!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thank You

I've been doing some thinking lately about the kinds of things that inspired me to get involved in full-time ministry in the first place nearly 25 years ago.

I'll admit that it wasn't for the money, or the lifestyle that ministry could afford me. It wasn't for the power and fame that might some day come my way, and it certainly wasn't for country club perks.

So if it wasn't for all the things that many people strive toward a certain career path, then what was it?
Well, I don't know if I can point to one defining moment when I knew for sure that ministry was the path for me, but I do remember conversations, affirmations and encouraging statements from my Youth Pastor, teachers, coaches and other mentors that God had placed in my life.

I received all kinds of input from people that I respected, trusted and allowed to speak truth into my life, and God used it to help shape not only who I was but who He wanted me to become for His glory.

I remember being inspired by the words and actions of my Youth Pastor and challenged and driven by the goals of my coaches. There was a definite level of passion, and purpose in everything they did, and it was contagious.



I mean looking back on my teen years especially, God used the right mix of His Word, His leaders, my desire to serve Him and an opportunity to discover, use and hone my gifts and abilities in the context of some pretty turbulent times in my life to get my attention that He wanted me to be involved in ministry...for the long haul!

If I could sum up what I saw and what I knew I wanted to be a part of, it would be "passion to reach out to others for the cause of Christ, regardless of what you get in return."
That's what I saw modeled in front of me through the lives of people that God sent into my life during my childhood and teenage days, and is an attitude that I would love to have define my life as well, because that's exactly how Jesus lived His life on this earth.

He gave everything for me...endured the pain and shame when He didn't deserve it, and calls each of us to live our lives in a response that says "Thank You" for what He's done.

This "thank you" attitude is what was contagious to me as a young teenager, and is what is still the most influential quality I can recall from my mentors. They did what they did to reach others for the cause of Christ regardless of what they would get in return.

As I think back on it, the investment they made in my life and many others that I grew up with is just astounding. The impact of an investment in the life of a young person is one of the best investments you can make, because God's Kingdom is about life change, and life change happens through people.

I've heard it said that if you want to change the world, reach young people.

I love that statement, and am so glad that some passionate, God loving, Youth Leaders, Coaches, and teachers followed God's call on their lives to impact a generation of young people in my youth group, and school and sports teams.

Because they obeyed and followed God's lead with passion, I can name a whole bunch of names of classmates and teammates that are doing the same kinds of things all around the world right now!

Who knows how many more lives have been impacted through the lives that we have touched as well, and on and on it goes!

So, this post is a shout out to my heroes growing up...thank you for all that you did to model servant leadership to a rag tag bunch from the booming metropolis of Horesheads, NY and it's surrounding areas. Because of you and your investments...lives are being changed for the Lord...Globally!

What you did, and why you did it doesn't make sense to alot of people. I mean from their perspective "why in the world would you spend time teaching and training those kids?" and "why in the world would you do what you do and get paid peanuts in return?"

You can't blame them really, I mean if a person doesn't understand the passion that drives someone to do great things, they will never totally "get it," they'll think you're wasting your time, talents and energies, and for what?

Well, the way I look at it, it's a whole lot more important to see a life changed going back out and seeing more lives changed for the Kingdom. That's what's going to last!

So, Thank You to all of the people who helped shape this life, and thank you for all those who are shaping the lives of others! You're making a difference...and I would just like to say...

Thank You!

Gifts

Lately it seems like I’ve been giving out a bunch of gifts. Every time I turn around I’m handing someone a souvenir from a trip, a present for their birthday, a momento for an anniversary or a thank you note for their thoughtfulness.

All this giving has caused me to spend some time contemplating the whole concept of gift giving and gift receiving, especially as it relates to our relationship with God and His purposes for our lives.

Every time I travel to another country I look around for something to bring back for my wife and kids, you know something that represents the country I visited and will also be something they will appreciate and enjoy.

For my wife I like to bring back a nice piece of clothing, a necklace and some chocolates (she always shares!). For my daughter I look for a doll or a bracelet, or something dainty and precious, and for my son a soccer jersey, a ball cap and more chocolates.

I always look for specific things for them based on what I know they like and based on what I know represents the country I’m visiting. This has been my mode of operation as it relates to gift giving for quite some time now.

On some of the trips though, I’ve veered a little bit in my approach, and for some reason my wife has been less than enthused with my choices. Not so much with what I’ve given her or even what I’ve given my daughter. She has shown concern more about what I’ve brought back for my son.



Maybe it’s her parental instinct, or her elevated maturity level (especially over mine), I’m not totally sure, but whatever it is for some reason she didn’t approach a gift I gave Ethan from one of my trips to Ukraine with as much zeal as I would have hoped.

What was the gift? Well it was none other than a symbol of power that strikes a sense of pride for the Ukrainian and a sense of fear for their opponents all at the same time. It is the national symbol of Ukrainian power; it was none other than a MACE (as pictured in this very famous statue)... Ethan's was a tad smaller but just as pointy (according to my wife).

Now granted my son is young, very active and was one of the best hitters on his baseball team, which didn’t really cross my mind as I cheerfully announced “Perfect, I’ll take it!” to the vendor on that cobblestone street in old Kiev.

So, as I returned home and sat down with my family to reunite and hand out some gifts, her response to the mace was a look that has been forever etched in my cranium.

As I handed Ethan the mace, she gave me a look of “what in the wide wide world of sports were you thinking? He’s a kid, and this is pointy and hard and weapon like.” Ethan was like “sweet, thanks daddy!

I should have filed that one away in my mind for another trip I would be taking to Malaysia, but for some reason I didn’t.

The trip to Southeast Asia was awesome; it was everything I hoped it would be and so much more! I couldn’t wait to do some souvenir shopping to bring back some representation of the Malaysian culture in the form of gifts for my family.

I found some absolutely gorgeous items for my wife and daughter, some great chocolates, some amazing biscuits that are unique to Penang, white coffee that will blow your mind and some other really cool things.

My son sat there and watched all of the items pass by him bound for his female sibling and his mother, and nodded and said “oh that’s nice, wow, pretty”, he was polite and patient but I could tell he was waiting for what daddy brought him this time.

Now you need to understand something, the mace I brought home from Ukraine, had been put to good use by him…it was actually missing a spike at this point. How it went missing we’re still not quite sure.

Anyway, the time finally came for me to deliver the goods to my son. A symbol that would forever remind him of my trip to Malaysia and would serve as a solid representation of Southeast Asian culture of old. The gift was none other than an ancient Malaysian blow dart gun used by the warriors of long ago.

He was like “Sweet, thanks Daddy!” Words that I heard before which actually were accompanied by a look I had seen before, from my wife!

I looked at my son and then looked at my wife, and pretty much gave this lame response to “The Look”.

What, it’s not like they’re poisonous darts!

Yep, you guessed it that wasn’t the response she was looking for, I blew it again!

You know I’m so glad that God doesn’t blow it in His gift giving to His children. He has picked out; hand wrapped and specially delivered gifts for each of us that come with an expectation of use for His purposes.

Think about it, when was the last time you got a gift for your birthday or whatever and you didn’t open it? If you’re like me, that would be never! It’s unheard of, to be given a gift and not open it, but that’s what some people do with the gifts that God has given.

Another scenario would be opening them, nodding and smiling cheasily and then not using the gifts that He has given for His purposes. That too would be a tragedy because the gifts that God gives are all meant to reach out, build up and equip others to help His Kingdom expand.

The more I work in ministry, the more I realize that the gifts that God has given are incredibly diverse and incredibly powerful. There is something truly special about giving back to God with the very gift he gave you in the first place.

As I think about gifts and how they are to be used, I’m so glad that God has such an intricate plan for what He gives, who He gives it to, and why He gives it to them. He doesn’t ever get “The Look” for a boneheaded gift.

He’s the perfect gift giver; it’s up to us to use them wisely with the right motives, in the right ways and with the right power!

The Kid's Table

As Thanksgiving and Christmas are almost upon us I thought I'd share about something I'm sure we've all experienced at one time or another...Sitting at the Kid's Table while the rest of the family chowed down in the "lap of succulent luxury" (at least that may have been your perspective and view of the bountiful feast in the distance from your rickety card table and piano bench in the other room.)

Anyway, God doesn't have a Kid's Table, and now that I'm well into my fourth decade on this earth I hope this year my family doesn't either...we shall see... "Sitting at the Kid's Table"...Happy Thanksgiving everyone,

A few years ago I had a chance to spend some time with my extended family at a graduation. My sister in law received her Master’s Degree, and several members of the family were in attendance to witness this milestone in her life.

The graduation ceremony went very well, the singers, the readers, the testimony givers and everyone involved in the program did their jobs without a hitch. The message that was delivered by the College President was concise and straight to the point; it was shaping up to be an awesome day of celebration.

The Graduates were each called by name to walk across the stage to receive a piece of parchment that costs thousands of dollars, and I’m sure countless hours.

I remember sitting there taking it all in, listening to the cheers when the family members of the named graduate walked across the stage, and watching the scurry of the designated picture taker as she got in the perfect spot to snap the shot when her family member or friend’s name was called.



It was fun for me to watch all of this going on in the crowd, and it made me think of how much each graduate must be loved, and appreciated.

I mean if they weren’t why would they be there? Why would family and friends brave terrible weather, long distances, crowded roads, and less than comfortable chairs to sit and watch them walk across a stage?

Why? Because they’re known, loved, appreciated and on this particular day…Respected!

It made me think of another very special occasion in my household growing up, where everything on the outside said “we love you, appreciate you and respect you”, but based on the actual appearance of things and actually the configuration of the table and chairs; a very different message was being communicated.

I’m talking about Thanksgiving Dinner, at my Grandma & Grandpa’s house, sitting at the Kid’s Table!

You know the kid’s table don’t you? It’s the broken down, rickety old, cob web covered card table that your grandparent’s drag out each and every year for occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and Graduation celebrations.

In theory I understand the concept of the Kid’s Table; its purpose is to provide a place for the young ones because the big table doesn’t have enough room. Ok, I understand that it’s usually due to a space or seating issue that the kid’s table is needed, but let’s think a moment about what message it’s sending.

Here are a few potential messages that the kid’s table is sending to those sitting at it…

· You’re a second class citizen (only the adults matter around here)
· You’re not worthy of the succulent delicacies present at the big table (bologna, fruit salad and sippy cups compared to Turkey, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and all the trimmings)
· Your opinion isn’t important (I mean when is the last time a member of the kid’s table has ever interjected a discussion topic that enhances the spiritual, emotional, and mental capacities of those lounging at the big table?)
· You have to reach a certain age and or height to be deemed worthy of the big table (much like many young people are treated when they want to step up and step out in a leadership role)

Now, I’m just having a little fun with this whole kid’s table thing because after all, I was given food, drink, comfort and surrounded by family during each and every gathering. I surely didn’t miss many meals, so I’m not really complaining, just pointing out that fact that I think we need to be careful that what we say matches up with what we truly believe, because messages can easily be misinterpreted if we’re not careful.

Each and every kid’s table experience for me came with “sippy cups and bologna”, but also came with hugs, kisses, and words of encouragement from family members who loved me.

What if I didn’t have that? What if I was left to decipher what I was seeing, as a reality statement from those around me? Statements like “You don’t matter”, “Your opinion doesn’t count” and “You’re a second class citizen” would start to trickle down into my psyche, and as they say “perception becomes reality.” I would’ve been in a bad place mentally and spiritually that’s for sure.

So, as I process a very cool graduation ceremony for a very special member of my family, where I saw love, appreciation, community, and respect put on display, I’m thinking about the messages spoken or unspoken that I’ll send to my kids this holiday Season.

I’m just so thankful that God is there with camera in hand, ready to let out a cheer when our name is called and we walk across the stage, whether it’s kindergarten or for our Phd. He loves us, accepts us, and has prepared a place for us.

In fact there is plenty of room at His banqueting table. I don’t believe there is a Kid’s Table with Him, we’re all welcome and encouraged to bring friends, because there’s plenty to go around!