Happy Birthday America!

In a few weeks I will be traveling outside the United States on a mission trip to Nicaragua. As is often the case, as I am preparing to leave, my thoughts wander. Have I taken care of everything here? Do I have everything I need to take there? Very typical thoughts when we are traveling; but lately, I have been asking myself about America. I love to travel, mainly because I love people; yet, what I love the most about traveling is coming home.

The question I have been considering is: Why do I love America?

Times have changed. It isn’t the same America I once knew – the America of my childhood. Americans themselves are different. The way we think and act do not line-up with what my father and mother taught me. People in America are disillusioned and tired and frustrated. So, I ask myself, “Why do I love this country?”

My wife Connie is not the same person I married. The Connie I married was young and beautiful. She was fun and vivacious. She was carefree and ready for anything. And everyday that we’ve been married, she has changed.

The Connie I am married to today is older and even more beautiful. She’s intelligent and witty. She’s lived through many experiences, and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life loving her.

The one constant in life other than Jesus Christ is CHANGE. It happens to everyone and everything. Leave a room, reenter it, and something about it has changed.

America has changed – but I still love my country deeply. To answer my own question, I wanted to remind myself and all of you why we should love America.

1. I am free. I can go to church, work, have a home, educate myself and children, go to ballgames, read what I want, and live in peace.

2. Our country is divinely appointed. We were founded on religious principles; people came to America longing to worship God freely without governmental restrictions.

3. I love how we exchange governmental power. Even when my presidential candidate doesn’t win, I love the inauguration. I love the swearing-in of the new president. I love that our country isn’t “overthrown” every time someone new becomes president.

4. I love the Grand Canyon, the fields of grain, the sandy beaches, and the city lights.

5. I love hotdogs, fireworks, and warm apple pie with vanilla ice-cream on top.

6. I love the Preamble of the Constitution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

7. I love that someone who opposes my opinion can stand beside me and shout as loud a he wants to shout; and I can stand beside him and voice my opinion as loud as I want to voice it; and neither one of us is breaking the law. We respect one another and our differences.

8. I love the people of the United States. We are volunteers. We are helpers. We are hard workers. We are motivated. We care what happens in the world.

9. I love that we sing the National Anthem before ballgames and men still remove their hats.

10. I love that we are “ONE NATION UNDER GOD” and it is “IN GOD WE TRUST”

Today is the Fourth of July – the birthday of this great nation. Take some time to remember what makes America great and celebrate the love you have for our country.

Happy Birthday, America!

 

 

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.

Look UP!

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”.

If you are feeling discouraged today, know that God is the answer.

Psalm 54:4, “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me“.

 

The Season of Giving?

I’ve always been fascinated by the television crews who go out on the street and ask every day people, living every day lives, questions. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always wanted to do it too. So, I decided to go into areas where people do not know me and propose this question, What does the Season of Giving actually mean?

My first stop, Race Track in Gainesville, Georgia; perfect spot to find an answer to my question. I pulled up next to a guy in an F250 and started filling up my tank. “Sir, could I ask you a question?” I began. (It didn’t seem as smooth as the television guys, but it was my first shot.)

“Sure,” he responded, spitting tobacco juice to the side of his truck.

“What does the Season of Giving actually mean?”

“Christmas,” he said, quickly and a matter-of-factly.

I realized I needed to rephrase my question. “Can you give me an example of what the season of giving means?”

“Santa Claus,” he answered.

I decided to drive further up the road to a McDonalds off I-85. There were two older ladies having lunch, and they seemed please to answer anything I asked. “Can you ladies give me an example of what the season of giving means?”

“Gifts. Every year I bake cookies for families in my neighborhood and church,” one answered.

“For me,” the taller, more serious looking woman responded, “It’s time with my grandchildren.”

At The Home Depot, a man answered, “Jewelry for my wife. She expects it every Christmas and I work for it all year-long.”

In the Mall parking lot I heard:

“I don’t really think about needy people being necessarily poor. Like, needy people could be people who need attention. So, I try to spend time with lonely people.”

“Time when you focus on others and not yourself.”

“The season of giving is about finding the joy of the holiday.”

“Getting toys and lots of them…”

“I’m not really into Christmas, but if I were Christian, it would be about giving to other people and not about getting from other people. That’s why I’m not really into Christmas.”

“I’ve been hoping all month my parents get me PlayStation 4! Yeah! That will definitely be the true season of giving.”

“Christmas parties, family gatherings, greeting cards, and packages.”

“It’s the season FOR GIVING. Get it? Forgiving others.”

There were some workers – a construction crew – taking a lunch break just outside of downtown Atlanta. “In Mexico, in our village, we used to go from house to house. We would bring food and our neighbors would offer food. It was a time of celebration for Mother Mary and the Christ child.”

“It’s about remembering why Christ came to earth and thanking Him for coming.”

And my favorite answer, which came from a little girl at Chic-fil-A, “‘For God so loved the world, that He GAVE His only Son…’ That’s it! That’s Christmas in a package, tied up with a bow.”

So, what does “the Season of Giving” mean to you? Maybe we all need to stop and think about it and start implementing what it means to us.

 

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.

The Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

I don’t think a Thanksgiving has passed in our home that Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving dinner print doesn’t cross my mind:  the perfect turkey, moist and seasoned; the table filled with friendly faces, laughing and agreeable; no stress; no dysfunction; everyone under one roof; just pure unadulterated joy. It is what we all hope for, but it never quite turns out that way. The reality of the Norman Rockwell picture is although we strive for the perfection of the day, it really isn’t what Thanksgiving is all about.

A few years ago a pastor/friend of mine called to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. He started to tell me of his day. Because his wife had passed away that year and he had no other family, he invited a group of “misfits” to dinner. These were people who had no where else to go for Thanksgiving. (Some were divorced, some estranged from family, and some never had anyone in their lives to begin with). As he described the gathering, the day for him sounded the most like the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving picture that I’d ever heard.

When I told him what I thought, he laughed and explained to me why I might feel that way, “You know, Mike, the one statement I heard the most throughout the day was ‘I’m so grateful not to be alone today.'”

His words brought tears to my eyes. So many of us spend our time concerned with who is at our table; or how we appear to others; or who has treated whom a certain way; or why this person has done this; we forget to be thankful we aren’t alone. What would our table look like if no one was there but us?

I want to encourage you today, as you gather with family and friends, to be thankful that you are not alone today. Be thankful for the diversity of personalities and appearances of those around you. Set aside your conflicts. Celebrate the lives of those who sit at your table.

When we choose to be grateful for one another, animosity leaves; disappointment vanishes; anger exits; and love surfaces.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

The hole in the fence

When I was a little boy, my mom and dad took my sister and me to the Christmas parade. It was crowded with people and being as we were late in arriving, it was difficult to find a parking spot. The parade had already started, and I just knew we were going to miss seeing Santa, the marching band, the floats, and the girls twirling fire. Finally, we found a spot on the parade route behind a fence. “It is the best we can do, Michael,” my mom reminded me. There was a hole in the fence, just the perfect height and width for me. I pressed my forehead against the wooden edge and like a pair of binoculars, I could see the action in front of me. But only in front of me through the hole in the fence.

I often think about that parade day when I feel uncertain about my future. We see life like I saw that parade. We have a limited view of what’s out there for us. God, on the other hand, sees the whole parade route. He isn’t limited by the hole in the fence. He knows just what is needed to get where He is taking us. He knows the next step.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Today, put your trust in Him. He knows where you are going – He’s already been there! Rely on Him to teach you what you need to know to get there. Don’t fret. Just do what you know to do today and give the rest to Him.

The Anxiety Counterattack

Psalm 20: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May He send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May He remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May He give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:     The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of His right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king!  Answer us when we call!

Anxiety hits all of us at some point in our lives. Some of us have learned to handle it better than others. God does not want us to be anxious about anything. When we find ourselves in distress, Psalm 20 can bring us the comfort we need. I used to have a friend who carried this Psalm around in his wallet. I often saw him pull it out before football games. The greatest part of this scripture is found in verse 7.

Some of us trust our cars more than God. Some of us trust our jobs more than God. Some of us trust our homes, our education, our friends, our looks or our money. We are putting our faith in the wrong things. None of those things can save you!

God tells us the way to attack anxiety is to trust in the name of the Lord our God. It is that simple.

Today, reflect on Psalm 20. Outwardly speak the words of affirmations – “I do not trust in chariots or horses…NO! I trust in the name of the Lord my God.” Try it the next time you feel worried. See what a difference it can make.

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.

Intelligence or Foolishness?

1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The other day I spoke with a young man who is a student at Harvard University. He laughed with me, “You think being a southerner isn’t tough enough at Harvard, try being a Christian on top of that.” He went on to describe the bantering he receives because of his belief. “At times, I don’t feel qualified to answer their questions, but somehow God seems to find a way for me to say what I need to say.”

It can be intimidating to be around people whose IQ measures the same numbers as my mortgage payment. The Bible tells us, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” To put it simply, God in His dumbest moment (which doesn’t happen, but for the sake of argument) is smarter than the world’s wisest man and God in His weakest moment (again, which doesn’t happen) is stronger than the world’s strongest man.

Some of the smartest people I know, do not “get” the Cross; and therefore, they are the dumbest people I know. If you are one of those people, I apologize for the insult but you are perishing.

There comes a time when we have to realize, people who aren’t with Christ; people who criticize the word of God; people who do not understand the power of the Cross; those people are perishing.

Paul adds that “God has made foolish the wisdom of the world.” Some of you today think you have all the answers. Some of you may even ridicule those who live by the Cross; those who are directed and guided by Christ. One day, I pray your eyes will be opened and the intelligence you profess today; the so-called ‘smartness’ you think you’ve gained from the world will become what it is in the eyes of God – foolishness.

The foolishness of the world masquerades itself as peer pressure, political correctness, book smarts, cultural norms, scientific knowledge, whatever you want to call it. It is, however, an inability to acknowledge and accept the truths of God.

Today, pray for God to open your eyes to any spiritual blindness you may have. Spiritual wisdom enlightens and redeems us; uplifts us; brings light into our lives. Ask God to help you know the areas you need to strengthen through the Word. Ask God to make you wise in Him.