A Fresh Start

I like to reflect on who I was in 2018, and how I can make myself better for the Kingdom of God in 2019. As a pastor of a church, I realize the cycle of life in the lives of those around me and in my own life. I can be rejoicing with one person one minute over a victory in his or her life and grieving with another person the next minute over a tragedy. It is simply how life is. Today take a moment to think about 2018 and then look ahead to 2019. What will your fresh start look like?

The new year brings enthusiasm, hope, and the potential for change. The potential is there for this to be THE BEST YEAR YET!

This morning I was thinking about how we start over. How we undo what has been done, regroup, and start again. The temperature is a bit cold, and the weather is predicted to turn bad over the next few days. Snow? Ice? Or just cold and rainy. I’m not sure. As I look out my bedroom window, I think of spring.

But you and I both know, in order for spring to come, winter has to end. I can’t have both seasons. The fresh green grass and spring flowers could not thrive and grow in this kind of weather. No, in order to start new, something has to end.

Really, it is more about ending than beginning. We have to let go of what we are holding on to so that we can start fresh. One cannot exist when the other is around. How do we let go so that we can start new?

The words “Love Me” enter my heart. When we commit our hearts and lives to God fully, the love we have for Him overshadows the grip of sin and death. When we sell out to God, like the thawing of the ice upon the ground, new life pushes through, fresh and green.

When God spoke to Moses and instructed him to go to Pharoah, Moses asked Him, “Who do I say sent me?”

God responded, “Tell him, I am.”

I am ______________ (fill in anything you wish). He is more than enough. He is the answer to every problem. He is exactly what we need. He is our portion.

Make this year the year you commit daily to a loving relationship with God. Make this the year you study His word every day. Communicate with Him throughout the day. And make Him front and center in your home. Make this the year you end your former self and begin fresh and new in the love of God.

May you love God deeper and experience the wonder of a fresh new start in Him.

The Birthday Party

It was the Innkeeper that day in Bethlehem who uttered the words. I used to see him as some sort of villain. You know the type, dark eyes, disshoveled hair, angry faced, and rotten teeth. Who doesn’t make room for Jesus, right?

In my mind he stood with his hands on his hips; he pointed his finger; and in the deepest of voices he shook his head, “We have NOOOOO ROOOOOM for YOUUUUUU!”

In actuality, we are that villain, that innkeeper who wouldn’t provide even a small space in the Inn for Mary, Joseph, and their soon to be born son, Jesus. In our busyness, our schedule, our cell phone, our social media outlets, our ballgames, our careers, our school, our socializing, our ______________ (you fill in the blank), we utter those words every day.

When I was a little boy, my Sunday school teacher gave me the best illustration of Christmas which sticks with me today. She asked us to imagine that it was our birthday. My eyes closed. I could see the decorations, the food my mom prepared, the delicious, decorated chocolate cake with the words “Happy Birthday Mike!” and the candles.

She then told us to imagine the presents. I could certainly do that! Boxes decorated with bows and wrapping paper, colorfully designed, and all with MY NAME on the tags. I could see them stacked on the table my mom designated for guests to put their gifts to me.

My Sunday school teacher continued with the pretending by saying, “Imagine that I come to your party. I bring three gifts! Not one – but three! The gifts are beautifully decorated with oversized bows. They are the best looking gifts of all.”

I am involved. I can see it all! My Sunday School teacher is at my house. She is bringing three gifts. The excitement built as I envisioned it all.

She continued, “It is time for you to open my gifts to you. The first one…you tear open the perfectly decorated package…there must be something really special in this box to be decorated so beautifully! You peel back the glitter tissue paper, and lift out the….what?”

She described the gift inside as a pink lady’s robe with a fur sash sized Medium! She gasped, “Oh! It’s a perfect fit for me!”

In my imagination and not in my imagination, I can see myself staring at the robe.

The second gift? An Estee Lauder Makeup set. “Just the right colors for me!” my Sunday School teacher smiled. This is the best party EVER!

The third gift? Perfume – Eternity by Calvin Klein. What a treat!

Wait a minute…it’s MY birthday!

She stopped talking and we all stared at her. She had our attention.

“That is what we do every Christmas to Jesus. It is HIS Birthday – not ours!”

This Christmas – make it about Him – not you. Take time to read His story. Talk about the reasons for His coming. Rejoice that He is a part of your life.

As you go into the New Year – make room for Him in your heart. Don’t be that mean old innkeeper! Intentionally carve time for Him every day.

A Sword and a Bat

Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

In Samuel 23 we read about King David’s Mighty Men. Although the story is brief, it is one of my favorites. Eleazar was considered one of three of David’s mightiest men. A warrior for David and servant of the Lord, Eleazar fought even when the Israelite army retreated. Samuel 23:10 says, “…but he stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.”

One Sunday morning my Sunday school teacher told us the story of Eleazar. As an example for us, he recalled an incident when he was in high school. There was a boy named Zane who was mentally disabled. He functioned at a very low-level mentally but was able to attend school. Zane loved baseball, and for Christmas that particular year, he had received a bat autographed by none other than Babe Ruth.

Any time my teacher told stories about Zane, he totally held my attention. Zane was a big guy, and the coach of the high school allowed him to be a part of the baseball team as the equipment manager. Each afternoon after practice, Zane, escorted by a few members of the baseball team, walked the few blocks it took to get to his home. The coach preferred for some of the guys to go with him just to make sure he made it to his house. That particular day, Zane had taken his autographed bat to show the team. Some bullies from his school started taunting him on the walk home and telling him they were going to cut him if he did not give them his bat. When the gang produced the knives, Zane’s teammates ran, leaving him to face five of them, alone.

No one knew that Zane was not only a big guy and loved baseball, but Zane had a heart for the Lord. His dad read him the Bible every night before bed and every morning at breakfast. Zane couldn’t read but he could memorize and he shouted, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty,” from 1 Samuel 17:45.  He pulled up his bat, started swinging, three went down, and the other two ran.

When the coach arrived on the scene, the players having run to get his help, Zane was still swinging at the air, quoting scripture and praising God. It took about an hour to pry Zane’s fingers from the autographed bat, a modern-day Eleazar.

The Lord brought about a great victory that day,” not only for Eleazar, son of Dodai the Ahohite and mighty man of David, but also for Zane, a devoted son of God and equipment manager for the baseball team.

Was it the sword and the bat that made the difference? If I were a betting man, I would wager against it. The sword that brought victory for the Lord both days was His word – the Sword of the Spirit.

What battles do you face today? When we arm ourselves with the Word of God, adding an “S” to the beginning is easy to form our weapon and ultimate victory in Him. Set the Lord before you. Know that with Him at your right hand, ‘you will NOT be shaken’.

How Long have You Prayed?

Luke 1:5-7 reads, “5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.”

While the story of Jesus’ birth actually begins at the creation of the world, fast forward with me to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was 1 of 7000 priests in Israel. The job of the priest was to serve the temple twice a year, and by casting of lots, on this particular day, Zechariah was chosen to do the job. Only the priests were allowed in the inner chamber of the temple, the Holy Place, to burn incense on behalf of the people in Jerusalem.

For years, Zechariah had prayed for a child; however, his wife Elizabeth remained barren. After Elizabeth reach an age beyond childbearing years, Zechariah must have been desperately discouraged.

How long have you prayed for something you desire? Something that is terribly important for you? Maybe it is a child, yet month-after-month, there isn’t one. Maybe it is a spouse, yet you can’t seem to meet the right one. Maybe it is for healing, yet visit-after-visit to the doctor reveals your miracle hasn’t come. Maybe it is for the salvation of a loved one, yet day-after-day you watch and nothing. Have your prayers seemingly fallen on deaf ears?

As Zechariah entered the Holy Place to light the incense, the angel of the Lord appeared before him standing at the right side of the altar of incense. “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.’

Can you imagine his delight? His surprise? And yet, when Zechariah hears the news, he actually argues with the angel. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Some of you might read his words and think, “What a nut! This angel is standing right in front of him! How could he doubt?” But some of us understand. There are times in our lives when we desperately long for something. We hope for it; pray for it; believe for it; and the disappointment, the heartache, the anguish overpowers our heart to the point that we just can’t allow ourselves to hurt again. We can’t allow ourselves to believe.

Zechariah is no different from you and me. It really didn’t matter if the angel was standing right in front of him. His human nature forced him to protect his heart from the pain of possible rejection and disappointment yet again. I’ve been there. Some of you have as well.

Doubt, fear, anxiety, and disappointment can be crippling. God wants us to know, His plan is better. He wants us to believe our answer is on the way!

Today, take your desires to Him. Believe in His ability to deliver you in His way, His time, and with His plan.

And Christmas is Here!

I remember as a boy receiving the Sears Roebuck catalog in the mail.  The thicker it was, the more excited we all became. The arrival of the catalog for me marked the starting of the Christmas season. I loved sitting on the sofa with pencil in hand and flipping through the pages. “I want this…oh! I want that… Wow! Look at this… look at that…” My sister and I used to fight over whose turn it was to gaze upon the many items and wish and dream of the possibilities.

Sometimes, our prayer life can be the same. It’s like we are giving God a check list of catalog items to make our lives better. “God, I need this. Its found on page 920 of the Sears Roebuck catalog.” Some of you may not even know what the Sears Roebuck catalog is! It was the “booster chair” of the 60’s when you visited grandma’s and couldn’t reach the table.

Prayer is not intended for a litany of desires. Prayer is intended to communicate with God; to get to know God better and learn His ways; and to change us inside to out. Most answers to prayer actually start with a change in us. Either God changes the way we see our situation or He changes our direction or He changes our circumstance.

Prayer is a means to praise and thank God for all that He is allowing us to use of His. The house you live in – His; the car you drive – His; the clothes you wear – His; the money in your pocket – His. It is all on loan to us. Shouldn’t we thank Him repeatedly for the use of it? Think about it, if you didn’t have a car to drive, and your neighbor said, “Drive my car,” not only would you be grateful, you’d probably take extremely good care of it, and thank your neighbor regularly for its use.

Prayer gives us redemption. We go to God to renew ourselves. We seek forgiveness for the mistakes we make. We ask for guidance and direction to prevent us from committing the same error again. Prayer keeps us “right” with God.

As you pray today, consider what you are asking of God. Is He like Santa Claus to you? Or are your prayers an instrument to allow God to change YOU so that God can change the circumstances around you. He is looking for willingness, faithfulness, and obedience. Will His eyes fall upon you?

This Good News is for YOU!

Christmas gives the world a softer glow – the lights, the music, the giving, the sense of family and the atmosphere of kindness. It is as if the weight of the world is lifted, even if for just a moment.

As a boy, I remember decorating the tree with my sister, arguing over who gets to hang what ornament, untangling lights, climbing the ladder, and watching as the tree stood in its finished product. There is nothing more beautiful than the first look at the newly decorated tree. The smell of cookies seemed to linger in our kitchen even after my mom had finished cooking them. Even now, my mouth waters just thinking of it. Christmas cards were a huge deal when I was growing up. My mom labored over addressing the envelopes and finding the perfect Christmas stamp. My dad made sure we were aware the day was all about Jesus’ Birthday – a child born to be the Savior of the world. For a little boy, I did not fully grasp the significance of the day. To me, He was the figurine in the manger between Mary and Joseph. And while there is nothing like the magic of Christmas for a child, as an adult, I realize there is nothing more important to our lives than Christmas.

What should Christmas mean to you and to me?

It’s a celebration of really good news. The angels, in their opening words to the shepherds in Bethlehem, told us of the excitement in Luke 2:10, “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” I love the words “all people.” Not just some – all. But even more important are the words, “I bring to YOU” – ahhhh – its personal. It is news for you and for me. I love that because it tells me how God thought of me and He thought of you when He sent His Son to us.

And then, it’s GOOD news. It does not matter who you are; where you live; what you’ve done; who you know; or even where you are going – this GOOD news is for you.

God so loved us, that He came, so that we could be with Him forever. So, what should Christmas mean to you and to me?

God loves us! God is with us! And God is ours!

Celebrate the Season for the good news it brings.

We are Warriors

When I was in elementary school, I had a standing engagement during recess at the bottom of the playground, around the old oak tree. We called it “WAR.”

It was a battle between warriors – warriors in tennis shoes with untied laces and muddy stains; warriors in frayed jeans with worn out knees; and warriors missing teeth the tooth fairy had taken the night before. My best friend and I dug a trench for a strategic advantage over the fourth grade warriors. It was an ingenious plan until the principal made us cover it up. Our weapons were magnolia buds (you know the ones, that look like hand grenades?), rubber-band balls detonated by the flip of a sling shot, and acorns. I wore a camouflage helmet my mom bought me at The Five & Dime, rain boots, a plastic breast plate from a costume, and a catcher’s mask, which was a bit larger than my face. We would play as hard as we could, for as long as we could, until the bell rang to return to our classroom – plus five minutes. Those extra five minutes, although annoying to my teacher, were some of the most exhilarating. So much could happen in that short space of time. Even now, while typing this devotion to you, my heart is racing, adrenaline flowing, palms sweating, just remembering the thrill of “WAR.”

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11-12, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

WAR is all around us as we walk through our day unaware of an enemy who knows our weaknesses, our vulnerable places, our flaws. An enemy who came to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

Strategies. That’s right! The devil has a strategy against you. He is prowling around like a lion in the grasslands of Africa, scheming, devising a plan to catch you at just the right moment – off guard, unaware, enjoying life… BAM! GOTCHA! Before you know it, you are in the middle of an adulterous affair; addicted to alcohol, drugs, or porn; distant from your children or spouse or parents; believing there is no God; cheating, stealing, gossiping, judging, and hurting those you love. Like a lion, it is Satan’s desire to rip you to shreds. See, he works overtime, long hours so that what you want to preserve and foster, he wants to destroy. When you try to fix it yourself, it empowers him even more. Because without Jesus Christ, we are powerless against him.

Everyday, know that Satan devises strategies against you and me; however, we have weapons to defeat him.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:14-19

Making a Way

Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

There are times in our lives when we feel stuck, unable to move, heavy, and burdened. I don’t know about you, but those are the times I want to crawl in my bed, pull the covers over my head, and sleep through the storms.

Years ago, (and I mean years ago before cell phones) my rental car broke down on a back road outside the city of Chicago. It was one of the coldest nights of the year. I had on dress shoes and a suit, not appropriate attire to walk a few miles through the snow to get help. I don’t know if any of you have ever faced a winter in Chicago, but not only is it painfully cold, it is dangerously cold. With today’s technology,  I would’ve used my cell and called for help. During that time, it was not a possibility. The snow banks made walking extremely difficult forcing me to lift my legs as if I were marching. My hands were cold. The wind stung my face. The snow was falling in sheets of thick flakes, and I could barely see the road ahead. For a moment I wanted to quit moving, but I knew that was the worst thing I could do. I remembered a gas station not far away which I had passed earlier, and I just had to keep telling myself, “Just a little further. You will be there soon.” You can imagine how happy I felt when I saw the building just up ahead. Praise God, I was able to press on to get the help I needed.

Some of you are facing tough times right now. Whatever the mess is in your life, ask God what to do and get moving. Do what you know to do. Do what makes sense. Studies have shown the most creative and inventive times in history come during economic hardships. When the economy is bad and people start losing jobs, they start thinking; they start inventing; they start creating. If your marriage is suffering, do what you need to do to make it better. Don’t wait for your spouse to change…change yourself. If you need to get healthy, don’t wait another day. Study nutrition and start eating right. Exercise. Change your unhealthy habits. If you are suffering from an addiction, get help. Determine you are no longer going to let it have a hold on you.

My grandmother used to tell me, “Do what you know to do. Do what you can do. When you put forth the effort, God will show up and do what you cannot do.”

God is making a way in the wilderness for you. Trust Him and follow His lead.


I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

I have voted. Have you?

Sometimes we can get caught up in the politics of the moment – the he did this and she said this – I don’t like this Party because…that Party stands for… that we spend a great deal of time arguing, debating, turning red in the face, posting, deleting, unfriending…you get the picture. 

The reality is I am given the amazing privilege to vote – to cast one vote – for the person I believe I am most closely aligned in character, values, and views. You get one vote as well for all the same reasons. We are equal – one vote to one vote. All the stomping and chanting and whatever else doesn’t change the fact my opinion = your opinion, whether they are the same or different. 

The important steps to voting begin with prayer. Pray for those in authority; for those who are running; and for those who are voting. We are called to pray for “peaceful and quiet” lives. That is what God wants for us. 

There are times I have no clue what to pray about for those in authority; but, I pray for them anyway. Under the Hand of God, we are good. Don’t ever forget that. No matter who wins tomorrow – we are better than good – because we have the blessings of God on, in, through, and working for us. 

Please exercise the privilege you have received to vote. Then, let God do the rest. Whatever the outcome, you have done your part. 

Discouragement is for everybody

Discouragement is inevitable. It isn’t about IF you will experience discouragement, it is about WHEN you will experience discouragement. Discouragement comes when what we EXPECT is different from what we EXPERIENCE.

Discouragement comes in all shapes and sizes. It does not distinguish between people who are intelligent and those that are not so intelligent; or people who are wealthy and those whose pockets are empty. It doesn’t bypass the most athletic or musically talented or most beautiful.

Discouragement is for everybody.

All of us have EXPECTED something that didn’t turn out the way we thought it should.

What do you do when discouragement creeps up on you? What do you do when you just don’t feel you are going to get “through” the day? What do you do when staying in bed seems to be the better answer?

Look UP!

God is not surprised by the struggles in our lives – He knew about them before they ever surfaced and He has already worked out an answer for you. Ask Him!

Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”

We all have been discouraged by people – maybe your spouse has let you down; or your son or daughter; maybe your parents or a friend or a co-worker. When we place our trust in people, we will get discouraged because they will let us down. It is human nature.

Events in our lives can discourage us too. A job offer you thought you had; the closing of your business; a rejection letter from the college of your choice; a foreclosure notice; or health issues. When we place our trust in occurrences, we will get discouraged because things do not always work-out as we planned.

Sometimes discouragements are so big, people don’t even know how we are standing; sometimes discouragements are so small, no one even notices; but, you do.

Tim Irwin in his book IMPACT writes about the false beliefs we put in our minds – those voices that we hear in our heads. He tells us “Having an early-warning system can keep false beliefs from lodging in our core.”

Discouragement is the voice inside our heads that tells us WE ARE HOPELESS.

God is the voice inside our hearts that tells us HE IS HOPE and because of HIM we are not “less” but “MORE”.