Not as We Planned

My grandmother used to say, “when things do not go as we planned, they do.”

Has your life ever taken a turn that left you stupefied – standing in the road in utter shock as to how things could possibly turned out this way? I can imagine it is how the disciples must have felt as they saw Jesus being arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was the miracle worker! He was their King! Had they misinterpreted His actions that much? Had others been right about Him? Was He not who they thought He was?

Sometimes we make a decision we believe is from God. We’ve gone to Him in prayer. We’ve studied His word. We feel assured He is with us. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it turns bad and we don’t understand. Were we that off-base? Is God really who we thought He is?

I am a big believer in “the BIGGER picture.” While we may feel we are the ones going through the fire, God knows different. Maybe He is sparing us from something far more tragic than the supposed failure before us. Maybe He is preparing for something much better than we imagined. Maybe what we see as failure is a stepping stone to a greater purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “‘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.'”

Those are not just words to make us feel better.

In the South, we often greet people, “How are ya?” Everyone knows it isn’t literal. No one would ever stop and say, “Well, my bursitis is flaring up and my septic tank overflowed and flooded the basement.” The response is, “I’m good, you?” And when we depart from one another we add, “Come see me!” No one would ever say, “OK. When? How ’bout Friday night?” The response is, “We’ll do!”

When God says He knows the plans He has for you, He means it! When He says He will prosper you and not harm you, He means it!

The next time your plans don’t fall into place as you expected, praise God for it! He is either preventing you from something painful down the road, setting you up for something much better, or using the process as a step-up to something you’ve never even thought. God is our hope for the future.

When you ask, “What happened?” Know this, God happened. And I’m so grateful He did.


Abound in Hope

It isn’t often that I am able to watch television. The other night, Connie and I were so exhausted from the events of the day, we decided to find a movie to enjoy together. After flipping through channels, we came across the Rocky movie starring Sylvester Stallone. It was at the moment when Rocky determines he is going to try and the infamous song begins to play. My heart started to beat rapidly inspired by the music and his desire to rise above the obstacles, no matter the odds, and try.

Henry Ford experienced financial brokenness five different times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company. Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper because he lacked imagination. Albert Einstein was considered mentally handicapped because he didn’t speak until between the ages of 3 and 4 years and he didn’t begin to read until after the age of seven. Isaac Newton did not do well in school and under his care, his family’s farm failed. An uncle took over and sent Isaac to Cambridge. Winston Churchill struggled in school and when he entered the political arena, he suffered repeated defeats before he finally was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Harrison Ford was told he lacked the ability to be a star by film directors.

Some of you find yourself in failed businesses, marriages, educational pursuits, friendships, and projects. Life seems to be using you as a punching bag and you are tired. Some of you don’t want to fight anymore. What needs to happen is our perception of failure needs to change. We need to see failure as an experiment that didn’t quite work; learn what went wrong; and try something different or try it again. We need to take the discouragement that is weighing us down and get encouraged again. We need to leave the bitterness and hurt behind and move forward in a new direction. We need to cue the Rocky theme song in our lives and get going!

Jeremiah 29:11, “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.'”

God is not done with you. His plans for you are good! It isn’t over. What it takes is believing in a Father who loves you and wants what is best for you. Whatever you are facing today, you can rise above it; you can get through it; you can make a way; trust in the power of God.

Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the  power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”


His Redemption and Grace

Psalm 103:11-12, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with a man who had made many wrong decisions in his life. His alcoholism had destroyed his marriage; he had no relationship with his children; his gambling addiction had cost him his business and home. And ten years after he had straightened his life out, he still uttered these words to me, “I can never forgive myself for the things I have done and the people I have hurt.”

My heart ached for him. Here was a man who devoted countless hours to helping men overcome addictions. He studied God’s word, prayed diligently, loved others and yet, he didn’t get it.

Do you know how high the heavens are above the earth? Neither do I. Do you know how far the east is from the west? Neither do I. But that is the depth of God’s love for us and that is the width for which He removes our transgressions.

God is not sitting on His throne with pen in hand reminiscing about my friend’s errors. He isn’t saying, “Oh yes. I remember those days. That man can’t do enough to make up for what he’s done.” Instead, the Bible tells us in Hebrews 10: 17-18, “Then He adds: Their sins and lawless acts, I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”  Not only is He not keeping a tally, He doesn’t even remember! Understand, God could remember, but He chooses NOT to remember.

Past failures can prevent us from having future successes if we do not realize the depth of God’s love for us. When God forgives our sins, He forgets it and removes the guilt. It is our own inability to control our emotions or accept His forgiveness that leaves us feeling as this man does.

Today, recognize the goodness and love of our Heavenly Father. Set aside your past failures. Get control of the emotional turmoil associated with guilt. Choose to accept His redemption and grace.


Do we have the right focus?

Over the past few weeks, I have heard many of my friends already sharing their plans for the New Year with me – their New Year’s resolutions. Their lists sound a lot like mine: eat healthier, exercise more, stop a particular habit, get organized, keep a better schedule. Do those plans sound familiar?

We all have them, those aspects of our lives we want to change. The New Year seems the perfect time to focus on ourselves to see what we can change about ourselves to make us better people.  The New Year is a time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we hope to journey. It is a time to daydream about what we can become.

The question is – Is our focus correct?

Unfortunately, the resolutions I do not hear frequently are “To have a closer relationship with God. To focus on God. To make God my daily habit.”

Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Psalm 50:15, “…and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Isaiah 55:6, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on Him while He is near.”

Most new year’s resolutions fail. We start out with tremendous enthusiasm and plans. We brag to our friends and, with the best of intentions, realize somewhere around January 20th that our proposal was a bit too tough. By mid-February we realize we are right back to our old ways. Is it that we lose focus?  Or is it that our focus is on the wrong thing? God tells us to call on Him! The closer we are to Him, the easier it is for us to have a victory in Him.

Put God at the top of your list this year. Commit to daily devotions and Bible study. Commit to prayer. Determine now that you will eliminate the junk in your life that is contrary to God and His laws. You know what needs to be removed from your heart – throw it out. Rededicate your life to God. I can guarantee you, if you stick to God, He will definitely stick to you.

May God bless you in this New Year.


Let the New Year Begin!

2018

My son commented the other day, “Hard to believe we are approaching the 2020’s!”

He is right. 2020 sounded like something from a futuristic space movie to me, but now it is rapidly approaching.

What does your 2018 New Year look like?

Are you excited to start a new fresh year  with the hope of pursuing your best self? Or, are you more of the persuasion that 2018 is just another year?

Lamentations 3:23, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.

It is a verse that I hold close to my heart because some years are easier to start than others, especially when there is conflict or loss in our lives. Sometimes it is hard to find something to look forward to or it is difficult to believe we can possibly make a change which will impact our lives.

But God promises us something different. Because of His great love – HIS GREAT LOVE – for you and for me – we are not consumed.

Today you may feel consumed. You may believe God has forgotten you, and there is no hope in your future. Whether you are 5 or 95, God has a new morning for you. He is faithful. You will not be consumed.

There are 4 truths I recommend to those who are struggling with a New Year.

  1. God is with us… “…because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence,’The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ ” – Hebrews 13: 5-6             
  2. He keeps His promises…  ” ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you. ” – Isaiah 54:10.
  3. He will provide for you…      “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19. 
  4.  He will protect you… “ The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14.     

I want to encourage you today to keep these scriptures close to your heart as you start this New Year! Incorporate them into your day. Speak them over your life. Believe that God holds your answer.


No Room

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.

 


The Wonder of It All

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.