A ripple of hope

Acts 6:7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Many of us operate under the assumption that in order to change the world we have to do great and mighty things. The truth of the matter is: a simple act of kindness in the name of Jesus; a loving gesture displaying Christianity; an understanding word to honor Him can start a rippling effect.

How we interact on a daily basis influences others. Have you ever had your day interrupted by someone’s rudeness? Maybe you were grabbing breakfast on your way to work and the person in the car in front of you bought your meal. Or you are dropping your children off at school and someone holds the door for you. Maybe you are running 10,000 errands in a small amount of time and someone offers to help you. The way it makes me feel in turn causes me to respond to others in similar fashion. And the rippling begins…

Words and actions cross our paths every second of every day. Did you ever stop and think how your words and actions are impacting others?

I once read a church billboard which said, “Always testify to the goodness of Jesus Christ and when necessary use your words.”

Sometimes I see someone acting out in a loving way to another person and I think, “I know that makes God smile!” Other times I see someone acting in an ungodly way and I think, “I bet God is wishing he or she would just sit down and hush.”

As Christians we have a higher calling – to spread the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ – with our words and our actions. When we do so, the ripples start and make such a difference in the lives of others. Try it! You never know how God may use it to benefit His Kingdom.

The expert in the room

We all would like to think we are the expert in the room. Human nature tells us we want to be right and ultimately, we have to be right in order to be “the top dog!” There is something about the voice in our heads that will not let anyone else speak; or, while someone is speaking, it is telling us just how much they are wrong and we are right! Hard to admit, but some of us think we are not only the sharpest tool in the work shed; but, we are the most righteous, as well.

The reality of this type of belief – the “I’m the smartest person in the room” or “I’m the most righteous person in the room” means several things:

  • I am the most valuable person here
  • I know what is best and I’m sticking to it
  • I am superior to all others

I’ve learned over the years, this kind of thinking is not only destructive to the one thinking it but to all those around him or her. We have to dispel this type of belief and put in its place truth. Humility comes from God as displayed in His Son, Jesus Christ. The attitude we must have is simple:

  • Every person is valuable and a contributor
  • Different perspectives are important; my opinion is not the only one
  • I must maintain the heart of a servant

God is calling us to be leaders in His Kingdom, not arrogant, abusive takers. He is calling us to serve others; to hear others; and to represent Him in the ways He taught us. Consider today how you lead others. Ask God to help you be an effective leader for His Kingdom.

His name is Jesus

While visiting a friend’s daughter at a children’s hospital in Atlanta, a nurse stopped me as I passed the front desk. A young girl in the oncology ward was dying and her pastor was stuck in traffic. Could I help? I followed her to the patient’s room, passing cartoon murals along the way: Linus, Lucy, Charlie Brown and Snoopy; elephants, giraffes, zebras, and monkeys. The halls seemed thick with dreams; good ones, I hoped.

The lightly dimmed room felt peaceful and warm. A young mother with old-looking eyes greeted me. Her daughter had battled a rare form of leukemia for two years. The doctor felt she would die within a few hours. At the age of six, her memories of life had revolved around poking and prodding; vomiting and immense pain.

I thought of my daughter with pigtails and red tennis shoes. I saw her running to greet me when I came home from work. My mind floated to her swim meets, graduations, and now a student in medical school, as a confident young woman. No parent should out live his or her child. It just didn’t seem natural; and yet, I knew it happened.

She held a tattered doll, bald, and worn. The doll had been through all that she had been through for he always went first. The many injections, the bone marrow tests, the radiation and chemo, her doll always went before she did. I smiled listening to her mother’s description; we laughed when she told of how many times the doll has been through the spin cycle on the washing machine. “But she loves that doll,” her mother said; her voice choking back the tears she wanted to release.

The little girl’s big brown eyes opened on a face sunken and pale. She had no hair and sores all over her body. Her mom immediately explained who I was and why I would be there until their pastor could come. Slowly, she handed me her doll, “Bless him, please?” Her voice was soft and difficult to understand.

“Of course, ” I answered, lifting the doll into my arms, “What is his name?”

“Jesus,” she replied assuredly.

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t force the lump in my throat down. Her mom began to cry as I prayed over her doll and then her. Sitting beside her bed, I told her as many stories of Jesus as I could, in simple, child-like language, until her eyes slowly shut again. Several nurses came in and out. It wouldn’t be long now. Her pastor arrived just as the gates of Heaven opened for the little girl who held baby Jesus next to her heart.

There are times when being a pastor is difficult; yet, always a privilege. This is one such time. For in the grief of her mother and the precious simplicity of a little girl and her doll, I renewed in my heart the “true” meaning of Christmas.

A bird’s eye view

Yesterday the mall was crowded with Christmas shoppers: moms with strollers; teenage girls dressed in the latest fashion; couples walking hand in hand; people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I tried to imagine what God must think of all the commotion for the Birthday of His Son. Blinking lights adorned the trees and images of elves and Santa lined the long corridors leading from store to store. Giant oversized wreaths hung on every pole and snowflakes hovered above my head, swaying gently as I took it all in.

What happened in Bethlehem the night of Christ’s birth was quite different. A young, ordinary girl from an ordinary family housed the Savior of the world in her body. A humble carpenter, her husband, would be the King of all king’s earthly father. It doesn’t seem to fit the purpose of His birth, does it? Bethlehem, unaware of the ordinary girl, her carpenter husband, and infant son, slept while the Lord of life; the Lord of all came into the world. Born in a stable, with animals on a bed of straw, He came to be with us; to relate to us; to save us from death’s grip.

Angels announced the glorious moment to shepherds, men who lived isolated from society with sheep in fields. Men who wreaked of animal smells witnessed the Heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Luke 2:14.

How differently we celebrate the birth today in comparison to the night that changed the world forever.

As I hitched a ride on an extremely tall escalator, my bird’s eye view scanned the wonder of all the decorations. How glorious it all looked from above. Reaching the top, I noticed an older man in a wheel chair, slumped over sleeping. His legs were covered with a worn but comfortable looking quilt. One of his slippers peaked out from under the bottom of the blanket, and a lady dressed in a snowman Christmas sweater sat beside him, chatting about all the splendor of the day. At first I thought she was on the cell phone, but as I observed further, I realized she was talking to him. Occasionally, she grabbed his hand as she described all that was around him. She wiped the droll from his mouth with a handkerchief she took from her bag. He shifted slightly and tilted his head back and she gently kissed his forehead.

As I approached her, her steel blue eyes caught mine. I took the chair next to her and learned her husband had a degenerative disease that left him incapable of moving, even speaking, but his cognitive brain was fully functioning. Talking with her almost seemed rude because I knew he could understand fully. She described how much he loved Christmas but the nerves in his eyes no longer aloud him to see. I gave her a break and started to detail all that was around us. Her lips curled up in a thankful smile. I told him of the decorations, the people walking by, children laughing, some protesting from too much stimulation, packages piled high in the arms of people, and the different faces that I saw. I described a father with a young boy on his shoulders eating a gooey cinnamon roll. When I glanced over to look at him, I realized tears flowed down his face. His wife quickly explained their only son died many years ago in Vietnam, at Christmas; and yet, it was the couple’s favorite time of year.

I spent a great deal of time with this couple. Their lives were not ideal; but, even in his agony or her daily sacrificial care, they found joy in the season. They found hope in the lights. They found faith in the meaning.

I challenge you to do the same. For some of you, this time of year brings wonderful memories; for others, it is a struggle to get through each day. God came in human form, not in the grandeur of what He deserved; but humbly, so that we might all find purpose and meaning in the day of His birth.

In the arms of God

Psalm 16:7-10, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”

The other day I sat down at my computer, determined to write a Psalm, like David, to my Lord and Savior. It didn’t turn-out well. David had such an ability to use just the right imagery and say just the right words to speak wonderful praises to God and to fill our hearts with love for Him. My Psalm seemed quite shabby in comparison. There is such solace in his words to our Father.

This morning I am searching for a way to praise God as never before because my body is secure; I am confident He will not abandon me. Maybe it is my age, but I am realizing more and more the depth with which God loves us. He is not this Being who created us and left us to be. He is intertwined in our daily existence; more so than we could ever imagine.

I have a friend who designs buildings all over the world. He actually is the architect for commercial structures. Some of them are so amazingly breathtaking that I just want to stand before them and take it in. I asked him once if when he drives by them does he stop and get out and stare. Does he look at them and say, “Wow! I can’t believe I did that.” His response surprised me. He said, “You know Mike, God gives me images, visual pockets of how the buildings will fit into the structure of the city. When I drive by them I actually say aloud, ‘Wow God! That is a really good one!'”

Even in our occupations; our education; our health; our children; our friendship; our day-to-day tasks; God is there. We cannot be shaken because He’s got us with His strong right hand. No matter what our earthly life dishes out to us, the Creator knows how to fit us into the structure of His plan and purpose. Let your tongue rejoice and your heart be glad today because you rest in the arms of God.

Put away the machete

John 10:1-4, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

This morning as I type this devotion to you, I’m thinking of the words, “he goes on ahead of them…” I know God is an intricate part of my day. I ask Him to control who I meet with each day. I ask Him to help me as I speak to others and put the words He wants to come from my mouth. I pray for His guidance in decision-making and His ability to love others unconditionally; but today I’m focused on that particular group of words. “He goes on ahead of them…”

Isn’t it a comfortable feeling to know someone is blazing the trail for you? The feeling that there is someone up ahead taking in the issues; covering the difficult parts; preparing the way? The reality of it all is most of us really don’t believe that. After our prayer time, some of us shower, get the kids to school, walk the dog, maybe jump on the treadmill or go to the gym. We start our work days with coffee and fruit. We open emails and answer texts and somewhere about mid-morning we have totally forgotten Who is making our path. We’ve forgotten because we are making our own. Does that describe you?

I remember hiking with my children, and we came up to a cave. My daughter grabbed my hand and whispered, “Daddy, you go first.” She wanted to know everything was OK inside that cave. If I went first, she would follow because I would never lead her into harms way. If something bad happened, she knew I’d get her out of there. My daughter knows, I’d kill a tiger with my bare hands for her. That’s how God is for us – only so much more. And when we take control of our day; when we pass Him on the trail; we open ourselves up for trouble.

Today, put the machete away. The trail you’re cutting is going nowhere. Stop trying to make your own way and let God lead. Use God’s GPS for a change.

When will the blade fall?

Micah 7:18-19, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression  of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot  and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Forgiveness is without a doubt one of the toughest aspects of Christianity; and yet, it is one of the most important aspects of it. We often hear the phrase, “Forgive and Forget;” but, the reality is, while we may “forgive” it is next to impossible to “forget.” Forgiveness gives us the freedom to no longer be controlled by the actions of others. The pain, bitterness, and anger no longer infiltrates our hearts and minds daily. We are given relief from it through forgiveness. Some of us have sin in our lives, and we need to discuss it with God. We walk around as if no one will catch us or God won’t see it.

When I was a boy, I wrote a letter against one of my teachers to a buddy of mine. I drew a picture of her with horns and a tail with a red cape and pitchfork in hand. The character of my drawing was standing at a chalk board and there were students in desks around her. Fire came from her mouth with the bubbled words, “I snack on little kids like you!” My buddy passed it around the room and of course, she confiscated it and tucked it away in her desk drawer. I didn’t like her because she gave a lot of homework and taught a subject I didn’t enjoy.

All through class, I thought about my parents. Any moment my mom and dad would walk through the doors, and I’d be in hot water. The end of the day came – nothing. I went home – nothing. I came to school – nothing. I went home – nothing. My mind couldn’t grasp it. What was going to happen? When would the blade of the guillotine fall? By the end of the week, I could not stand it any longer. I waited while all the other kids went to recess and approached her desk.

“Yes Michael, is everything ok?” she asked, her eyes glaring above the rim of her glasses.

“Yes, Ma’am. I mean no Ma’am; I mean, about that letter… I’m really sorry,” I managed to mutter.

She simply stared at me. My palms began to sweat. I felt my brow bead-up with perspiration.

There was a large jar behind her. I never knew what it was or why she kept it behind her desk. It was half-full of tiny pieces of paper. She turned in her chair and lifted the glass jar to her desk.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s my forgiveness jar. When I need to forgive, I write it on a piece of paper, talked to God about it, tear it into shreds and put it in here.”

She opened her desk drawer; tore the letter into a hundred pieces; opened the lid of the jar; and raked the paper in the jar.

My eyes swelled up with tears. I didn’t know what to say.

“I think your classmates are waiting for you on the playground and I have papers to grade.”

And that was the best lesson any teacher ever taught me.

God is waiting. He wants to hear from you about what you’ve done to someone or Him; He wants to hear about the sin you are committing. He wants to tear your transgression up, stomp all over it, and fling it into the ocean. He is waiting on you to talk with Him about it.  Stop wondering when the blade is going to fall on your head and start communicating with God. His forgiveness jar is somewhere at the bottom of a very deep ocean. Wouldn’t you rather your sin be there than in your heart? Make it right with Him today.

Hell shakers

One morning last week I jumped out of bed, literally shaking the floor boards under my feet. Connie joked with me exclaiming, “Mike, I think Hell shook when your feet hit the floor!”

While I know she was teasing me, it made me think. Hell should shake when my feet hit the floor. Satan should worry that I am awake and ready to start my day focused on the Lord; changing lives; benefiting God’s Kingdom. I want Satan to say, “Oh no! Mike Franklin is up again spoiling my plans!”

How many of us wake up to prayer? Of those who do, how many of us pray about ourselves? Humans are very self-centered beings. We focus on the here and now and most of our focus is upon our needs, desires, and wants. Satan knows if all we are worried about is ourselves, he is going to have a pretty good day.

But, what if we changed it around. What if we focused on God and His wants and desires? What if we started the day asking Him what He wants us to do? Hell would start shaking with fear.

God has called us to be movers and shakers for Him. There is 0 unemployment in Christian service – there is always a job for someone – always – and when we put our attention toward His Kingdom – can you imagine how different our lives can be?

Today, pray about God’s plans for your day. See how different the day can truly be.

Lifting the burden of death

Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Often we interpret this verse to mean “mourning” as in grieving the loss of a loved one. No doubt; when we lose someone we love, God comforts us; but mourning here also refers to the grief we feel for our sinful acts. It is a loss of fellowship with God – a separation of our relationship to Him. There are blessings in our conviction over the sin we committed. The blessing comes in the pardon of our wrong doing. Redemption comes because we seek God’s forgiveness; we mourn because we have wronged Him and by His blood we are made clean again.

Jesus was also referring to the sins of the world. Anytime we feel the depth and pain of sin, whether it be our own actions, someone else’s, or the malicious acts of a nation, the sorrow draws us closer to God. In our pain and grief, He extends His hand toward us.

2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

There have been times in my life when I asked God to forgive me for something that I did wrong. The attitude in my heart was almost nonchalant – I’d done something wrong, I’d asked for forgiveness, I’m done, right? What I was missing was the true meaning of this verse. God is very grieved when we lie, cheat, judge, steal, hurt others, have addictions, and any other mode of sin. He is hurt by it. When we casually make requests for forgiveness, it must grieve Him even more. The seriousness of sin is eternal damnation – it is no joking matter – and yet, at times we do not understand the seriousness of sin.

Jesus is saying to us, we are blessed when we understand our sin and we mourn over the separation that occurred between us and God when we sinned. This true repentance will bring to us the comfort of God’s forgiveness.

Today, search your heart; ask God to show you areas of wrongdoing to which you need to apply “Godly sorrow.” Sometimes we may need to ask God to give us a sense of sorrow over the sin we’ve committed and for which we are asking His forgiveness. We may need to feel the hurt we have put on others by our actions. We may need to understand how much we’ve hurt God by our sin. It is a privilege when we experience the true sadness for our sinful acts; the burden of death is lifted from us; we are redeem.

Remember when

When my family gets together, it isn’t long before the “remember whens” start. Sometimes I feel sorry for my two daughter in ‘laws, as we chuckle and laugh over times they know nothing about, calling out words which have no meaning to them, and naming off people they’ve never heard of. But in their defense, they are always good sports about it and join in even if it really isn’t as funny as we are making it out to be.

One evening I took a long walk. The sun was setting and the brilliance of the sky made me more aware than ever of God’s beautiful presence. I started talking to Him, “Remember when God You got me to go… remember when God I couldn’t see a way out… remember when God she was so sick… remember when…” For about an hour, I just walked and remembered with God. I laughed and cried and praised Him.

When I got home, I told Connie about my walk and how much fun I had remembering with God our times and all He had done for me. Connie and I agreed, as His children we tend to get caught up in the “what do you have for me next?” routine and we don’t stop and really thank Him for the past. Some of us find the trial we are in so difficult, when we are finally out of it, we’re more mad about having gone through it than thankful God got us out of it.

Remembering what God has done in the past in your life and the lives of others is a vital part of living by faith in the future. It helps us to see His mercy and grace; it explains certain aspects of life we didn’t understand before; it encourages us to know He is with us. This morning, take time to “remember when” with God. Laugh with Him; cry with Him; thank Him and praise Him for His constant hand over your life.