Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Puzzle

My daughter Renee and I love puzzles – the more pieces the better. We could spend hours turning, twisting, hunting, separating, sorting and strategizing so that in the end the picture comes together. The greater the challenge, the more we enjoy the puzzle and one another. Once we even turned a 1000 piece puzzle upside down and put it together!

Recently, Renee and I put together the Taj Mahal with 1500 pieces; only, when we came to the end, we realized we had 1,499 pieces. The piece dead center was missing.

“Check your clothes,” I instructed her while crawling under the table where we’d been sitting.

“Maybe it got stuck to our shoes,” Renee suggested. “Where all have you walked in the house?”

I retraced my steps. She retraced hers. Connie thought it could be in the sofa or possibly the vacuum sucked it up earlier. Could it be on the dog?

My neighbor stopped by. Once, he and his wife found a puzzle piece in the sugar. Renee jumped up. “I made tea earlier,” she remembered and ran to the closed sugar container on the counter.

After several hours, exhausted, irritated, and ready to quit, Renee and I fell back on the sofa. “All that work,” she whispered.

I felt a sermon brewing in my spirit. Isn’t that missing puzzle piece like life? Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat- for He grants sleep to those He loves.”

How many of us are putting together a master plan for our lives and find our center piece is missing? Without God, there is no direction. Without God, there is no completion. Without God, we work for nothing.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9.

I imagine God looking down on our plans, whispering, “Hey Mike! Hey Renee! Look up. I can complete your puzzle. I can direct your steps. Just look up at me.”

Today, turn your plans over to Him. Give God the reins of your life. Unless He is the purpose for which we do what we do, there is no point in doing it at all.


Slick

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25

I have a friend we call, “Slick.” He got the name because he is the type of person who always has the right thing to say. Teachers in school loved him. The coaches thought him to be respectful and hard-working. Parents often compared their children to him. Words were his friend, and he used them accordingly and genuinely.

I recently spent time with him and his wife. With five children grown, Slick has eleven grandchildren; just being around him made my heart smile. Always a positive word or gesture, Slick can make anyone in the room stand a mile high. Even his wife beams as he whispers across the table, “Hey gorgeous! Can you pass me those potatoes?” or “Whew, my love, you make that blue shirt look good!”

He and I walked outside, away from the chaos, to talk; “Slick, you are so positive and encouraging, how do you do it?”

Slick paused for a moment and smiled, “I grew up in a household with a father who constantly cut my mom down; criticized my siblings and me; yelled at the dog; made fun of my friends; hated the neighbors; you name it.”

He paused for a moment shaking his head, “Our house was a pit of gloom anytime he was around. My mom died believing herself a failure because of him. No sir. I made up my mind I would break that cycle of despair. As Solomon knew, it is the kind words that make the difference.”

On our way home I thought about what Slick had told me. I never knew the environment in which he lived. God wants us to encourage one another, to lift each other up, and to bring each other hope. I reached over and patted Connie’s knee, “Whew, my love, you sure make that outfit look good.”

She laughed briefly, “Ok, Slick. Keep it up. I can get use to that.”


The Faith Exam

Psalm 26:2 says, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind…”
Often in scriptures the disciples referred to Jesus as “teacher”. In John 13:13 it states, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” They knew Jesus instructed them on the way God intended for us to live, and they also knew, if He was the teacher, they were His students.

As students of God, you and I have lessons to learn, and some of those lessons require tests. God wants to teach us faith and His way of life.  Why? Because His way is the best way.  Simply put, it works.

In high school, I had a social studies teacher who was a young girl during Hitler’s regime. She often spoke of hearing him talk to the people of Germany; her father feared Hitler’s influence greatly. Her father believed the less educated a person was, the easier to persuade toward evil. She was one of the toughest teachers I ever experienced, mainly because she believed in learning the material not memorizing it. Her methods were tedious and often required more time than I wanted to spend on the subject. Her tests necessitated 100% understanding from every student, or we repeated the lesson until we got it. Our class not only learned it, but retained it for life.

God’s lessons are like that for us. He’s not interested in our cramming for His tests at the last-minute and regurgitating memorized garbage. If we don’t learn the lesson today, He’ll just teach it again and again and again until we get it.

I have a friend who often says, “When I face hard times, I get on my knees and ask God to teach me and teach me quick what I need to know so I can move on to something new.”

God is moving us from one level of faith to the next, prompting us to rely on Him, encouraging us to withstand the hardship and become more like Him. Passing those test with 100% correctness is crucial so we can move forward today. Study His word to ace your exam and move to the next level in faith.


Courage

Nehemiah 4:14, “…don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”

Sometimes, all we need is a little courage; a little courage to stand up for what we know to be right; a little courage to say no when we know what we are being asked to do is wrong; a little courage to step out in faith when all the odds seem against us. We’re in good company.

The Bible is filled with people, ordinary people like you and me, who faced extreme challenges but showed courage in the moment. In Daniel, Chapter 3, we learn of 3 young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were captured from Jerusalem and brought to Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. After some time, the three found favor with the king, and he put them among his most trusted administrators. During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar built a huge golden image and commanded that everyone bow before it.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever wanted to belong to a particular group of friends so much that you’d do almost anything to fit in? Or maybe your co-workers commune after hours socially and you have a family at home? Maybe the opportunity to be dishonest is just a little too tempting. We can relate to these boys more than we know. How much simpler for them if they just bowed down to the golden image, right?

Determined to worship the One true God only, the three young men refused to bow down to a golden image. Such a decision left them facing the fiery furnace heated seven times its normal temperature. Daniel 3:16-18 writes, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to him, ‘…If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.'”

Courage: some of us might need a little Shadrah/Meshach/Abednego courage right now in our lives. It isn’t about what others are doing; it isn’t about what’s going to make the path easier; it isn’t about what is politically correct or socially acceptable; it is about God and His plan for our lives.

Nebuchadnezzar bent down to look into the furnace and saw 4 figures dancing around. God showed up when courage defended His name.

Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome and fight…”


Red Crimson Blooms

James 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

For Mother’s Day a few years ago, I bought Connie 2 hydrangea: one that blooms a royal blue and white and the other a deep crimson red. Since it was her special day, I asked her where she’d like them planted. The royal blue and white one, I planted in front of our porch; perfect shade and sunlight, a slight amount of shelter from the porch roof to protect it from the elements, nice soil, and room to spread its roots. I could imagine how beautiful it would be in a few years as visitors sat on our porch. Connie could enjoy it and clip its blooms for center-pieces. I took great care in planting it.

Connie wasn’t sure about where to plant the deep crimson one. We were leaving for her family’s home. “I’ll plant it tomorrow,” I remarked.

Several days passed. I wasn’t sure where to plant it, and life forced Connie and me into a whirlwind of events. Finally, I chose a spot near the trash cans. It had been an eye-sore area for me: rocky, direct sunlight, no trees. I quickly put it in the ground nestled next to a concrete slab, shoveled some red clay around it, and headed back to work.

When I watered one, I watered the other. Fertilized one, I fertilized the other. Mulched one, I mulched the other.

A few years later, on Mother’s Day, as Connie and I took an afternoon walk, we noticed the big red crimson blooms from the plant. Now three times its original size, the hydrangea had made the once eye-sore area, an eye-catcher area because of the magnificent color of its flowers. We purposefully observed the royal blue and white one, planted in the sheltered, fertile soil in front of our home. It stood half the size of the crimson one, with less brilliance.

Exposed to the elements, in less than ideal soil, planted in front of trash cans, the red crimson hydrangea grew proud. I marveled at the hand of God. Isn’t that just like our own lives?

When we persevere and endure, God can use our struggles and trials to help us blossom and shine. Consider your trials joy. Perseverance will make the areas of your life once considered eye-sores eye-catchers in His hands.


Treasures

Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Have you ever been somewhere and felt really “out-of-place”? Recently, I had the opportunity to be in the presence of extremely accomplished individuals, world changers and shakers, people making a difference in big ways. We were listening to a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and as the man spoke, my mind drifted. How could someone like me make an impact when all of these more than capable people existed?

Have you ever felt like me? Wondered if what you do in life even matters?

I think we all experience feelings of inadequacy from time-to-time. We are struggling rock by rock to get up our mountain, and the person beside us seems to be running up his carrying a load twice the size of ours. Some days no matter our efforts, we go unnoticed, undefined, and unrecognized.

Do you know God is more interested in your heart than your resume? He treasures our hearts! It doesn’t matter if you are the hardest working person in your community, if you are not in line with God, your work is in vain. To God, it doesn’t matter how much money is in your account at the end of the month; it matters how you spent what you had for Him or for yourself? It doesn’t matter if your shelves are lined with ribbons and trophies. If you aren’t running the race for Him, those awards are only collecting dust.

God treasures our love for Him and each other. God treasures our attention to Him and to His people. God treasures even the smallest of acts if they are done to honor Him.

As I left the conference, a well-dressed gentleman called out to me. “Michael, Michael Franklin,” he said, extending his hand, “do you remember me?”

I have to admit, I did not; but I recognized him as one of the day’s speakers. He laughed slightly to himself, “I hoped you’d be here.”

My face must have looked puzzled because he continued, “You were the pastor of my church when I was young.  During your tenure, I received my call into ministry.”

After a lengthy, interesting conversation with a man eager to change the world, I walked slowly back to my car thinking of God and my earlier feelings of inadequacies. It really isn’t about us; how we look; how much education we have; how we talk; or even how we feel. God is looking for people with hearts He can use, no resume or references required. All it takes is a heart totally sold out to Him in sacrificial service.  When we provided sacrificial service with a pure heart, He will do the miraculous in spite of us.


Something new

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians:17

When I was in college, one of my friends had grown up an army brat. He had spent most of his life moving from one location to the next, one school after another, and one baseball team after the next. I remember him well because of his great personality. There wasn’t anyone in our dorm who did not like him. He was one of those guys who could adapt himself to just about any situation.

I loved to hear his stories: at one school he was on the debate team; another an athlete; another a chess player; and another a member of the band. He had lived throughout the world, spoke several languages, and had a grasp for geography like nothing I’d ever seen. The shortest period of time he ever lived somewhere was two weeks, the longest 9 months.

The secret to his success was simple; if he didn’t like who he was in one town, he’d change and be someone else in the next. A man of many personalities, he seemed to find his niche everywhere he went.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be someone new? Start over? Change directions? Maybe you are feeling it right now? Maybe there are aspects about your life you wish were different. Maybe it gets harder to be you with each passing day.

Jesus tells us when we come to Him, He makes us a new creation. We get a fresh start, a do-over.  Take time today to change what needs changing in your life. Start a new commitment with God to live according to His word. Let Him make all things new.