Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What’s that I hear?

Sounds. We all have our favorite.
- Planes
- Trains whistles
- Horns honking (if you’re a little crazy) J
- Some even enjoy the sound of crickets (which I’m listening to 
       as I type)
- There are even those who just want a few moments of no sound 
       at all.

(Dashboard of the VDub - Lots of loud music in here)
It is truly amazing what can happen to an individual’s mindset once you pay attention to the sounds of life. (Sounds affect us.)

I have heard so many say, “If God would only speak to me.” Yet day after day goes by while they miss the details. The details of a conversation, a song, the wind blowing, rain falling. We often think that if God is going to speak to us, it will be through a loud booming voice that shakes the foundation we stand on. And He does speak to some that way. But what about the still small voice that whispers in our everyday life.

Ask yourself, ‘What am I listening for? Do I hear a bunch of noise, or am I listening to the details?’

Songs catch our attention for many reasons: the beat, the lyrics (those we actually know), a memory attached to the song. How about those other parts that we hum, mumble, and nod our head through? We simply do not take the time to learn the rest of the song, or I guess you could call it, lazy listening.

(Captured music video)
When we wonder why God never speaks to us, could it be we are using this same (lazy) approach when it comes to listening to Him? We find ourselves comfortable, busy, content, secure, and sometimes apathetic - and we miss it…the sound of His voice.

If we tune in though, we don’t miss a detail. 
Psalm 89:15 says, “Happy are those who HEAR the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” (NLT)  
Every sound of your day should be a call to worship. And worship is what gains us entrance into the presence of the Creator.
   …learn the words to the song.
   …listen to what those closest to you are saying.
   …try listening to nature. 
   …focus on the details.

You might be surprised by what you hear.

Monday, August 30, 2010

If you're scared...say you're scared

“Daddy, I’m scared of school.” Those were the first words I heard this morning after getting in the car. If that doesn’t start your day off the wrong way I don’t know what could.

If you have children, you know what it’s like to take them somewhere they don’t want to go, drop them off and simply leave.

One of the toughest things is…it separates them from mom, dad, and all that’s familiar. And this scares us.

As parents, my wife and I have prayed that God would take that fear away from our kids - that they would enjoy the experience of learning, meeting new friends, and gaining their independence, which will benefit them down the road. So why ask God to remove this kind of fear?

I understand in scripture that God has not given us a spirit of fear – but power, love, and a sound mind. But a certain kind of fear can bring some good things.

I refer to ‘things’ that create within us the honor that we should have for the creator of the process. In II Samuel 6, David set out to bring the ark of God’s presence out of the house of Abinadab. The two sons of Abinadab, Uzzah and Ahio guided the cart, which carried the ark. There was a process and instructions for doing this. As the ark was jostled about on the cart, Uzzah (with all good intentions) reached out to steady the ark and was immediately struck down by God. Uzzah didn’t understand the reverence he should have had for following God’s instructions for that process.

I wonder today, would the world be a different place if every individual revered the Creator’s process like they should? Why should we ask God to take away the fear from our kids, when the process of dealing with it is what can benefit them? Why should we ask God to take away the fiery circumstances when those moments are the ones that refine us?

“Heavenly Father, I’m scared of school. It’s uncertain, it’s humbling, it messes up my plan to live by my own schedule, and I’m not in control. But I honor your process. I honor your instructions. Never let me hope for an easier way or one without fear…for how else would I ever know I needed You in the first place?”

I know it must pain God to take me places I don’t want to go which allows me to learn, but I thank Him for creating me exactly as 
He did – a one-of-a-kind person. I realize that just as a parent will pick their children up from school at the end of the day, God will be there to get me when the time is right. I pray that God will always let my fear of school cause a deep respect for the process He created that reminds me of my need for Him.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"I'm in"

What kind of world would we live in if everyone took the ‘one-less’ approach?

The Wired student ministry (under the leadership of Mark & Sherilyn Grissom) led our church service today. It took us to an uncomfortable place, for if we could hear the statistics and information we heard  and not be moved out of our comfort zone, something has gone terribly wrong.

Mark told about the sacrifice the student ministry here has made so that orphans at the Rescue Children Orphanage in Haiti can get medicine and food. It is the call of Christ to sacrifice so that others who are less fortunate can know the love of God…by having their needs met.

(Wired Student Worship - Way of Life Community)
What spoke into my life was a question posed at the end of service – ‘Could I find it within me to choose ‘one-less’ of something this week so that someone could simply have ‘one’…one less Starbucks for me, one meal for an orphan in Haiti…one less ice cream purchase for me, one bowl of rice for another.

Pastor Mark used Luke 3. The crowd asked John the question, “What must we do?”
He replied in verse 11 - “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”


Not only should this be done for the orphans, widows, and less fortunate, but also for those closest to us. What would happen if we used this one-less approach with our family, our friends, our neighbors…even our enemies? What if we consistently put others before our own will and desires? What if we were mindful of others’ wishes before we insisted on our own?

As Mark said today, “I can’t settle for things being this way. It’s just not right.” Marriages, families, relationships - all of them could be healed, renewed and restored with this approach.

Sel-FISH ways…make you stink! Self-LESS ways are honored by God.

(Wired's Rice Bowl Campaign)
(Be watching for the RICE BOWL TOUR in a city near you)
Every year at the start of football season, I am reminded of a coach who once made it the motto of his team and fans to simply say, “I’m in.” You can count on me to do my part. If I’m a player – I’m going to bring 110% of my effort. If I’m a fan – I’m giving 110% vocally. Two simple words…but they stuck.  We are all in this together because, “I’m in.”

How about letting those around hear you say, “I’m in”…God, your family, an orphan you may never meet. Make the commitment and let them know - you can count on me to be full of care, love, and compassion.

Let’s stop 'waiting on the world to change'…start with ‘the man in the mirror’. (Thanks for the lyrics John M. & Michael J.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010


This just in: Funnel cakes are good!

Last evening, I was privileged to have one…well, half of one.  To give proper honor to my wife – she ate the other half. As I was ordering it, a friend asked if they were good. The owner replied, “The best you’ve ever had. We use a secret recipe.” While it was delicious, I can’t say it was the best I’ve ever had.

Isn’t that a letdown sometimes? People will tell us, ‘You must do this, or you must eat there’, and we get all hyped up. . .only to be let down by a sub-par experience.

This kind of occurrence is so like our walk with God. We come to Christ, expecting things to always be wonderful. He promised to give us the desires of our heart. He promised life more abundantly. But here we are in the middle of this trial, and all we can think of are those people who say, “living for God is the best life in the world!” In those moments, many begin to question whether or not this is ‘really’ the greatest way to live.

(Grateful those who fought for my freedom thought it was worth it!)
(WWII Memorial - Washington, D.C.)
In the middle of his trial, Job couldn’t get a grip on things.  He had served God with all his heart – the Bible even says ‘there was no one like Job in all the earth’ - yet God allowed him to be chosen to prove a point to the devil. The Lord told Satan he could do anything he wanted to Job but kill him. Don’t you think Job wondered if this ‘living wholeheartedly’ thing for God was really worth it?

Understand, sometimes God will allow testing and trying times to come into your life, not only as teachable moments for us, but also to fulfill a divine purpose we may never understand. What we must never do is give up. We must hold on till the purpose is complete.

(Hwy 24 Intersection - Bel Air, MD)
If you follow Christ, you will have plenty ‘not-so-sunny’ moments. Scripture says it rains on the just and the unjust. But keep in mind, the end is already settled. You are not living for this world and what it brings. You are His hands, feet, and mouth. If you are willing to accept that responsibility, He has an incredible plan for you.  (It may even gain you access to the greatest funnel cake you’ve ever had.) 

(Sunset in Philadelphia, PA)

C’mon – you know there’ll be funnel cakes in Heaven. J

Friday, August 27, 2010

'You' take the wheel

All my life I‘ve heard well meaning individuals say to me, ”just let go of the wheel and let God have control.” For Christ promised that if we would seek Him first, all these things would be added to us.  If we would simply ‘let go’, then He will direct our paths.

(I-95 North - Baltimore City)
Problem is, some individuals have taken that thought to the extreme – they have let go…and they are still waiting on God to work out every detail of their lives. So many sit around saying, “someday God is going to do this for me. Someday, God is going to work out my problems. Someday, God is going to direct me here.” And all the while, God is speaking into your life, “Get up, grab hold of the wheel, follow Me as I guide you.”

This may seem a bit blunt, but too many feel safer surrounded by their security and comfort. Basking in the blessings of God, driving on cruise control, unconcerned about the direction in which they are heading…or whether they are heading in any direction at all. Others can’t seem to figure out why their ship has yet to come in. Always asking the question, “how is it that God keeps blessing everyone but me?” And then there are those, controlling the wheel (and attempting to control their direction), with their spiritual GPS’s battery so low, it’s no wonder they’re lost.

Faith alone in God is not what walking and following Him is all about. Scripture ties another word to faith.

James 2:14, 17 says, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

(I-95 Towson / Essex Exit)
You can have all the faith in God you want. . .but if you don’t put some wheels on it, you won’t go anywhere. God is the GPS, while we do our part…and drive. 
We must remain plugged in and connected through His word and communication with Him, and then we will be attuned to His voice.

Sometimes His voice takes you the long way around. Other times, it directs you through areas you want to slump down in your seat and hide. No one knows the entire journey beforehand, but while following His guidance, He might take you through places you may never have chosen to go. They are usually the places you look back on and see as the pivotal points to what got you to this moment.

Be encouraged today. Grab hold of the wheel. Stop sitting back, pretending to be ‘waiting on God’.  It could just be that God is waiting on you. Recharge the GPS – grab the wheel - and put it in drive.

(Yes - my fellow drivers were safe)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I can see. . .

Have you ever wished you had superpowers? 

(SCARY trick-or-treaters back in the day)
Which one would you want it to be?
…x-ray vision
…the ability to fly
…maybe you ladies want to be elastic-girl
…how about climbing up the side of a building like Spider-Man
…or maybe the Hulk - turn green and very large when you get mad

(If I had a super-hero vehicle....this is what you'd see as I was coming)
(Boston Street - Baltimore City)
Yesterday, I experienced the blessing of going for a physical exam. Maybe it’s just me, but I always leave feeling a wee bit vulnerable. During the eye test, the doctor shared with me I had ‘hawk-eyes.’
He said, “You can not only see….but you can see beyond the norm.”

I immediately thought, ‘wow’. Maybe I could go stand on a telephone pole and see rabbits running through fields. Of course, I only have ‘hawk-eyes’. I don’t have ‘hawk-wings’, or ‘hawk-talons’ to swoop in and catch them.

But isn’t that an amazing statement? ‘Sir, you can see beyond the norm.’ If only that was the case all of the time. If only I could see what was coming next. If only I could have peace knowing that the storm on the horizon, the hurtful situation, or that impossibility…was really going to work out. Maybe even see that financial blessing on it’s way, or the healing I’ve been praying for. 

If only. . .

But that’s what a personal relationship with Christ offers us…the ability to look past our storm and see beyond our crisis. That’s what faith is all about. Scripture lets us know that “without faith, it is impossible to please Him.”

II Corinthians 5:7, “For we walk by faith and not by sight”’
Galatians 3:11, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (NLT)

There’s no way for an individual to truly know life without faith in Christ. If we only live by what we see through our physical eyes, then the will to fight on will eventually wither away. There’s no one who can hold up against the buffeting of life on their own. In the world we live in, what we see and are faced with every day is constantly warring against our hope to believe for more.

So why not use the gift of faith to see beyond the norm?

- When the storm comes, remember…you know the One who can bring peace instantly.
- When you are uncertain about decisions. . .have confidence that the hand of the creator is guiding your every step.
- When loss, pain, and crisis show up on your doorstep. . .know that all things work together for good to them that love the Lord and are called to fulfill His purpose.

(On the farm - Forest Hill, MD)
Maybe you just need some corrective lenses to help you focus beyond your present reality…things are not always as they appear. The saying goes, “What you see is what you get”. However, through God’s eyes, what you see is not always what you get.

Exercise some spiritual ‘super-hero’ faith, and you too will be able to see beyond the norm.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wyatt Earp's Gun

James 3:18 says, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”

(Farm at sunset - Forest Hill, MD)
When I read this scripture this past week, the first thing that came to mind was Wyatt Earp’s gun. I love Westerns. If you have watched them, you’d remember Wyatt Earp’s gun was named the ‘Peacemaker.’ According to legend, that gun brought a ton of peace to the frontier – and for the bad guys…peace in the afterlife. J

Peacemakers are few and far between in this day and time. Some people think they are peacemakers, yet at the first sign of a problem, human instincts kick in and they react. Road rage, arguing with cashiers, impatience while waiting in line, disputes among family members over trivial issues…..just a cycle of constant turmoil.

(Skyline of Baltimore City from Federal Hill)
As Americans, we are known for our building capabilities. Living on the east coast, I’ve been privileged to see some amazing cityscapes. I love to watch a city or businessmen build a new facility for their team to play in, because not far down the road will come another one behind that which is even larger. From buildings to stadiums to ice cream sundaes, we like to build them bigger and larger. 

(Skyline - Philadelphia, PA)
We also have another favorite pastime…Americans love blowing things up. The crumbling of discarded buildings and stadiums causes ooh’s and ahh’s as we watch the massive buildings tumble. Such destructive power.

I simply wonder today: Where are the peacemakers?

Everywhere I turn it seems that there are individuals (even in the safety of the church) who are carrying around their dynamite sticks, ready at a moments notice to tear down anything in their path. James refers to it as the work of our bodies’ deadliest weapon….the tongue. But many are capable of doing it with a look, an attitude, or with judgment.

From where does this originate? 
Scripture speaks of hearts full of bitterness, jealousy, and selfishness. Over the last few days, I have observed people I am around, watching their reactions to life. There are some common factors I have noticed in peacemaking people.
1. You can ‘reason’ with them. What they speak has already been thought through.
2. Mercy pours out of them. They understand that they are not perfect either.
3. They are genuine. Everything they say is to unite and not to cause separation.

Could we observe ourselves today?
- Are the words coming from my heart honest, yet full of humility?
     As a friend of mine says, “Is the grey area gone when you speak?”
- Do I intentionally mean to hurt them when I say this?
     Simply remember, you are either building up or tearing down.

As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.” (Proverbs 27:19, NLT)

(Peaceful day in the Inner Harbor - Baltimore City)
What do your words reveal about your heart? It will be plain to see what really controls you as others listen to you speak.

My prayer is that God would search my heart and know my innermost thoughts. If there is anything that would cause me to plant seeds of destruction and not peace…change me today.

For I will reap what I sow. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Looks like new again...

I did something yesterday I never thought I’d do. Walked into my bedroom with my laptop computer in my hand and lightly tossed it onto my bed. I immediately stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t believe I did that.
Did it hurt my computer? No. Did it break any laws? No. But it caused me to realize something had gone terribly wrong within me.

I had allowed something else in my life to get ‘old.’ How does it happen? I know that some things get old because of age…but how do we let them lose significance or value to us?

(Discarded Tractor - Forest Hill, MD)
The clothes tossed on the floor…used to be given such care.
Our treasured items…now discarded and hardly spared a second look.
The relationships we cultivated…we now view as distractions.
When we first found new life in God…the excitement, the love for His word, our prayer life…

…but now?

When does it all become old and useless and many times tossed aside?
It comes down to one thing: familiarity. You become so accustomed to it being there, you fail to maintain your once-held high regard…until the deterioration your negligence has caused becomes apparent.

(Leaf at the bottom of stream - Rocks State Park)
Can the old be made new again? Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”

We can bring back the new….but it all boils down to a few choices:
1. We must COMMIT.
Commit to what matters most and never waver. Whenever things get in your way, causing what is sacred to become common…you stand firm with your commitment.

2. We must LISTEN.
Talking to yourself is never a bad idea (except maybe in public J). Communication keeps things fresh and clear. Even more imperative, however, is closing our own mouths to listen. We always have such great arguments for our viewpoint. We’d rather talk instead of listen. But by silencing our tongue and opening our ears (and hearts), there’s a greater chance for resolution…keeping us mindful of what is important. 
(Great place to listen - Rocks State Park)
3. We must CONSECRATE.
Christ MUST be first. If He is not…nothing will be sacred. Without Christ, everything in life seems so ordinary, because if you are only living for this life alone and not for what is to come, what is there to look forward to? “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these ‘things’ will be added unto you.”

So, for…that old shirt
          …the Bible that you can’t find
          …the relationship that has lost its sweetness
          …the computer that faithfully turns on
          …that job that is now routine, simply paying the bills
          …the conversation you were planning to have with Him that                  keeps getting put off

(Max's handprint - Rocks State Park)
…instead of out with the old and in with the new - discarding what you already have - how about we make a choice today to submit ourselves to Christ afresh and new. Then when we wake up the next day, do it again. And again. And again….until we allow nothing else in our world to become common.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Best Man

It is hard to explain the excitement that builds in me around this time of the year…unless you are a football fan! Football brings with it a change in the weather, pageantry, the passion of the game, chips and dip, get-togethers.....I could go on and on. But to those of us who love this game, you can just smell it in the air!

While flipping through my recent Sports Illustrated magazine, an article caught my attention. I’m usually not interested in articles on ‘fullbacks’ (especially ones from Auburn University), but the caption near his picture caught my eye. It said, “For 16 bone-crunching years, fullback Tony Richardson has been plowing paths for rushing leaders and record breakers. He knows one day he’ll lose his job. . .to someone he’s trained to take it from him.” 

(Football is coming - SI)
Tony Richardson has been given a nickname around NFL circles: ‘Football’s Best Man.’ (explanation for non-sports people: the superstar running back is the groom while Tony plows the road to stardom – as ‘best man’ - for each of them.)

On one particular occasion while he was with the Kansas City Chiefs, Priest Holmes shared a story that described this unselfish fullback. Richardson had just been given the running back position, but he went to Holmes and said he was stepping out of the way.
“Richardson said, ‘You need to be getting the ball. And I’m going to do everything I can to help you’,” recalled Holmes. Now ask yourself, how many people would do that?” 
Richardson says, “I can’t explain it, but it just means more to me to help someone else achieve glory.”

Dick Vermeil, a legendary coach, praised Richardson saying,  “I don’t think I’ve ever been around a player who worked harder to be a better man.”

(Tony Richardson - SI Article)
In life, the names you see and remember are usually the ones in ‘the lights’. They get more finances, more endorsements, more opportunities…but somewhere standing in the shadows is usually someone who has ‘lead’ the way.

We all have a desire to be the best at whatever we do (we should anyway). There should always be a drive within us to reach for the highest of goals because ‘…we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.’
However, there is a calling that I want to throw a spotlight on today.

It may seem easy to run around the very circumstances that might have prohibited you from reaching your goal…..but somewhere there’s a fullback that’s paved the way for you. They ran right up the middle of the fray to take out the obstacles you would have encountered.

For people in a church community…it’s your pastor.
For children…it’s your parents.
For friends…it’s your best (and true) friend.
For America…it’s our soldiers.
For all of us…it’s Christ.

I’ve never been able to understand people who think they’ve got to where they are by their own ability and nothing else. If you don’t think you owe a debt of gratitude to someone who’s paved the way before you…ask Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, and Marcus Allen. Each of these superstar running backs had their most productive years when Tony Richardson was leading the way.

Hit the pause button and reflect today…are you willing to turn the spotlight off yourself for just a moment and give recognition to those who have jumped into the fray to make your way easier?

Isaiah 53:5 said, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (NIV)

Give thanks today for all ‘the Best Men.’

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Had enough?

Ever reached a point where you felt you’d simply had enough?
(Dumb question, huh?) Some days are just like that. You want to climb in a hole…or crawl into bed and pull the covers up as high as you can just to hide.

Hide from what though?

Some want to hide from other people so they don’t have to talk. Others may be wondering what’s going to come their way next.
So we hide.

However, the older I get, the more I realize what we’re really hiding from is our own self.

Standing in line at Starbucks earlier today, I noticed a coffee cup that had the word Reincarnate on it.  On our bad days, does that ever seem like a great idea? If only we could reinvent ourselves then maybe our troubles would vanish away.

Re-inventing ourselves is not the answer to life’s difficulties. You can’t go back in time and redo choices you have made. Besides, you are in the place you are right now because of the decisions you have made…good or bad. That’s how we learn.

What we need is a cleaning out of our mind and soul. 
We all have trashcans in our homes, but wouldn’t it also be great if we had a trash bin for our minds? Our mind is just like anything else…you get too much junk in there and you will not be able to function. Your mind can only handle so much...so it is imperative every now and then that we clean it out?  

(Sometimes you just need to be remodeled - Bel Air, MD) 
When you sense it coming, don’t hide out – clean out. Chances are, you don’t need a re-invention….you simply need to get the bad stuff out. You can then be all you were truly meant to be. 

Romans 12:2 says, ‘And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’

P.S. Thanks, Andrew, for the amazing sermon today! We all need to be reminded.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Imagine Compassion

I truly love it when Christ shows His love for us in the most peculiar of ways. I was at work the other day going about my routine when a lady came up to me and asked if I liked baseball. (If only she knew with whom she was speaking)

My answer to her was simply, “Ma’am, I love baseball!”

She reached into her purse and said, “I would like to bless you with two tickets (great seats) to the Rangers vs. Orioles game along with a parking pass.”

(Tunnel entering Camden Yards)
Earlier in the week I had hoped to go to this game because of one player – Josh Hamilton. Josh is simply one of those players who makes playing baseball look easy. You may remember Josh from the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium in 2008, where he put on quite a show. But there’s another story concerning him I have kept up with also. Simply Google his name and you can read all about it.

Josh was drafted number one overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 MLB draft. Josh had a two-year plan to rise quickly through the minor leagues and reach the majors. Without question, he had the ability to do so. But injuries showed up, and with them came a downward spiral that nearly cost Josh everything.

(Josh Hamilton...aka 'the Natural')
Getting to watch his amazing talent last night was incredible.  As he laughed and joked with teammates as well as some people in the crowd, I could not help but see a product of compassion. Family, friends, Major League Baseball, teammates, the public…each of them played a part in his comeback, giving support and care. 
When you hear Josh speak, he is grateful to all of them…..but there is one that extended an arm of love further than any human being ever could.

So many people are quick to write others off when they fall into sin.
So how come God doesn’t?
What is it about Christ that looks down on a guy such as Josh Hamilton and continues to give him chance after chance to get it together?

The woman at the well might have the answer in John 4. Jesus felt the need to go through Samaria and meet this lady who had struggled through five unsuccessful marriages and was now living with a man who was not her husband. As she headed to the well that day, she carried more than the weight of her water pot on her shoulders. She’s probably the last person I would have thought that Jesus would select to bring salvation to her town. But Christ usually does the opposite of what we humans think He will do. He takes the most improbable candidate usually to accomplish His purpose and plan.

Moses…barely escaping death at three months of age. Improbable that this guy would deliver his people.
David…his own father doesn’t think he is fit to be a King. But God saw a man after His own heart.
Saul of Tarsus…I doubt very seriously the church set out to convert Saul because of his great ‘potential’ for Christ.

I Samuel 16:7 sums it up: “…Man looketh on the outward but God looketh upon the heart.”

This scripture best explains God’s compassion for us. The woman at the well – Jesus saw beyond her scars, her problems, her life’s mess…..and found a heart that wanted a fresh beginning not only for her but for others.

You don’t have to be Josh Hamilton. 
Josh went from an extra-ordinary athlete with everything he desired, to the lowest levels of sin…then back to the top. God didn’t pick Josh because of his popularity or fame…He’s been doing this compassion thing for over 2,000 years.

John 3:16 – “For God SO LOVED the world that He gave…..”

John 7:37 – “….if ANY MAN thirst, let him come unto me….”

Whoever you are – whatever you’ve done…compassionate eyes are shining on you, but not down on you.
And to those who have been shown compassion…..freely given – freely give.
Imagine a world filled with Compassion. We just might have a few more Josh Hamilton’s. 

(Josh Hamilton - Left Field)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Reality Check

How do I respond when my faith and reality go head-to-head?
That is the question I have been asking myself for the last several days. 

We each have moments when it seems that nothing can go wrong. The birds are singing, the car doesn’t break down, and no bills show up in the mail. Then, in a split second of time, we plummet from the mountaintop to stare human reality square in the face.

(Homeless area in Downtown Baltimore)
What exactly causes us to worry? Where does the doubt come from…when just a few short hours ago there was nothing that God couldn’t do?

My mind immediately went to Matthew 8 where the disciples followed Jesus as He got into a boat. Sounds simple enough, right? 
Jesus is getting in the boat….so I’m with Him. It made perfect sense to follow Him. He just finished telling one of His disciples to let the dead bury their own dead….you come and follow me.
Miracle after miracle had just occurred and the disciples had witnessed them all. So faith had to be at an all-time high.

Here they were, discussing the amazing things they had just witnessed. One of them might have thought, ‘how incredible to be one of the few on the boat with Christ.’ Someone might have even said, “Boys, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Isn’t it amazing though how reality can brew up from the most unexpected places?

(Stormy night in Forest Hill)
The Bible doesn’t just describe a storm. Scripture said, “A great storm arose. . .” The boat was being tossed about by the wind and waves. How could He (Jesus) sleep at such a time as this? In their terror, they woke up the Master shouting, “Lord, save us! Don’t you know that we are about to drown?” The Lord looks at them and asks, “Why are you so afraid, O ye of little faith?”
In other words, He asked, “What happened to that joyous faith you had awhile ago?”

Oh, but, God, you don’t understand. You were asleep. 
And this storm – it’s so violent and unrelenting.

Does that sound like where you’re at?

Even though it is no game, it could be compared to the college football game of the week…
   …fresh passion and purpose vs financial uncertainty
   …ready to take the plunge and follow God’s call vs self-insecurity
   …God’s way vs my way
   …beginning again vs comfort and security
   …faith vs reality.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things HOPED for and the EVIDENCE of things not yet seen.”

You can’t lose 100 lbs in a day. There is a process you have to go through in order to obtain that goal. Anyone can start the journey with passion and excitement.
But how do individuals truly get in shape?
They consistently look in the mirror and focus on who they are going to be and not what they currently see.

(Sunset in the mirror)
When that reality check shows up on your doorstep, what happens? Does your faith in God run and hide, or does it surge to the forefront knowing that nothing is impossible to them that believe. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

'Back at One'

There are some songs you just can’t get out of your head. You know, the ones you hear while shopping, or those playing in a restaurant that you sing along with (quietly J) as you go about your day.

Yesterday, I was in a business and a song came over the speakers I hadn’t heard in some time. It was a song from Brian McKnight that was released in the 90’s entitled ‘Back at One.’

The last two lines of the chorus were what caught my attention. He sings through five reasons of why he is grateful for finding the girl of his dreams…..but he closes the chorus by saying, “If ever I believe my work is done, I’ll just start back at one.”  In other words, if our relationship ever gets complacent and I start taking you for granted – I will go back to the beginning and remember how I felt when it all started.

I just wonder, how many people in this world are going through the motions when it comes to their relationships…
…with Christ.
…with their spouse.
…with their children.

Maybe even with their God-given purpose.

I had a friend say to me not long ago, when the questions arise in your life, go back to the initial reason you chose this path. When you begin to doubt decisions and quit believing in yourself so much that you ‘settle’ for the comfortable…go back to where it all started. Go back to that initial feeling of true love when your passion burned brightest.

So many people simply don’t want to start all over again. They’ve worked so hard to get to where they are – so hard in fact that they’ve sacrificed the child-like excitement they once felt. Apathy, tunnel vision, selfishness…..it all sets in. And the relationships closest to them suffer while they are left to ponder what could have been.

(13 years and counting....)
Check in on your relationship with God today. Are you as close as you want to be? Do you miss spending time with Him like you use to? Does His Word excite you to the point that you want to pick it up daily and let it speak to you? What about the journey He has called you to take…..does it still stir you?

What about your closest relationships - the people you spend the majority of your time with? Have those connections become complacent? Do you look for ways to avoid communicating or spending time together?

If so, go back to where it all began. Find that passion again that used to wake you up, ready to pursue your calling and purpose. 

(the chair my shirts ended up on)
Too many relationships have become like old clothes…we used to take such care to hang them up neatly, keeping them cleaned and pressed. Now they’re tossed across a chair (if they’re lucky), while many end up on the floor. 

We can take our used clothes to consignment stores or put them in a garage sale, but that is not possible when it comes to our relationships.

We need to….
     …guard them
       …protect them
         …treasure them.

If you have lost your way, go to the beginning and start 
‘Back at One’. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You look Marvelous....Just Marvelous

All my life I’ve heard individuals say, “My day is coming. Just wait, good things will come to me.” I awakened to a rainy day here in Maryland, and to a lot of people, rainy days end up feeling gloomy. If you forgot your umbrella, you’ll get wet. If you don’t watch where you’re stepping, then you’ll get squishy shoes while walking. It just messes up your entire plan for that day – and we humans don’t like it when our plans get shuffled.

(Rainy in MD)
I opened up my email this morning and a friend of mine had sent to me a ‘youtube’ video from Coca-Cola (free advertisement). It was a Coke vending machine they put in a college cafeteria that gave out more than just your regular 16oz Cokes. One student kept getting one 16oz bottle after another till the student, laughing, just turned and started handing them out to others. One student looked into the dispenser and a party sub came rolling out…along with a 2 liter Coke to wash it down with. The moral of the video was about spreading happiness and making people smile. Let’s just say….they accomplished their purpose!

(Borrowed the kids Coke)
It made me think this morning of Psalms 118 where David is encouraging himself and others to give thanks to God for His goodness. In verses 23-24, he said, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

There are very few individuals who live out their days with this mindset. Some live out the first five words, ”This is the Lord’s doing…”,  but when things get rough, we often say, “Well, God brought me here. He is in control of everything, and look what I get for trusting Him.” And it’s there we stop.
We should continue on and say, “No matter the rain, the storm or trial - ‘It is marvelous in my eyes.’ I know it’s messed up my schedule. I know it’s affected my comfortable setting…but, God, you do all things marvelously.”

Our mentality must change from ‘this might be my day’, orthis could be my day’, tothis IS my day’.  None of us know when our answer will come from God. Today just might be our day. But regardless of rain or shine, this day is one that God has made….it’s simply your decision as to whether or not you rejoice in it.

Although God is not a Coke machine - just taking your money and sending you away with your selection, He is there to provide you with air to breathe, provision for your need, and hope for an abundant life…..it’s just up to you to smile. 

(Smiley in Downtown Baltimore)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Compete and Finish

Most Tuesday mornings I find myself in a very warm high school gymnasium running up and down the floor with other 
‘30/40/50-something’s’ who still believe ‘we have it!’ While it’s good fellowship and exercise, I truly believe there’s just one thing that drives each of us to wake up before sunrise for basketball - Competition. It pushes us to rise above whatever is in front of us and finish. We all need that competitive edge to survive, right?

(Where we spend our Tuesday & Friday mornings - Bel Air, MD)
This morning I showed up at the usual time and the floors of the gymnasium were being refinished. Some were coming to play on the outdoor court, but instead I went over to get my morning jog on at the Ma & Pa Trail as well as downtown Bel Air. I must admit (because of my guilty conscience) that I haven’t been able to run in over a week.

(I believe they call it this to make fun of us - Bel Air, MD)
After about the second mile I felt it and immediately began thinking about this competition thing. Scripture tells us that it’s not wise to compare ourselves to others. For that reason, I truly believe that the greatest competitor we have is not the guy trying to score on me on Tuesday or Friday mornings in basketball……it’s the one that stares back at me in the mirror each morning…the one that tells me my innermost thoughts. 

We have enough voices telling us we can’t. If you listen to some around you, they will tell you:
I’m faster.
I can do this better than you.
There’s no way you’re going to be able to accomplish that.

If anyone is going to accomplish the great things God has for you to do, someone has to gather the courage to COMPETE with your own mind, rise above it all, and finish.

Runners train and prepare more than their legs for that 26.2 mile marathon…they prepare their mind for the ‘invisible wall’ they will hit at some point that makes them want to stop. Some have told me they hit their wall 30 seconds in…J, others hit it at 10 miles; but every runner says they will come to that moment where their bodies tell them they simply cannot go another step. Many times another runner who has been right there will come up beside them, encouraging them to FINISH.

A runner recently shared with me that while competing in her last marathon, she hit the wall a few miles before the end. A friend saw her struggling and slowed back to run along with her. He simply said, “Look, you’ve been here before. Just like the last time…dig down deep. You’ve got this.” Needless to say, she finished.

It doesn’t matter where you are in this journey of life, what ‘wall’ you’ve hit that’s trying to get you to give up, I want to encourage you today to get out and compete. As I struggled today on the trail, I had to encourage myself to compete against my own weariness. Don’t settle for the easy way out and simply quit. If there’s no friend around to slow back and encourage you, do what David did in I Samuel 30. He hit the proverbial wall and was afraid for his own life, but scripture said he ‘…encouraged himself in the Lord his God.’

May God help us to be like Paul when he wrote the words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me…” (II Timothy 4:7-8 NLT) Notice Paul didn’t say ‘we’….he said, “I”. I….have fought the fight. I….have finished the race. I….have remained faithful.

(The beginning of the struggle - Ma & Pa Trail, Bel Air, MD)
When you hit the wall, don’t feel sorry for yourself and back down…..COMPETE and FINISH!

Monday, August 16, 2010

There goes my hero

Life can become so loud that it plays with your ears.” 

I heard this statement recently and haven’t been able to get it out of my head. We grow up with dreams of being the next superhero. Possibly you desired to become the next brain surgeon, the President of the United States, or even the next Nolan Ryan or Willie Mays? Dreams. Hopes. Desires. We’ve all had them.

(I know you know - Washington, D.C.)
But somehow through the NOISE of life, those ‘things’ that we had hoped to become get rearranged. The yard needs mowing, the kids need feeding, and the time card has to be filled out……while these things are important in their own right, we are left with a deep longing for more.

Jesus said in John 10:10 (MSG) "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." Yet, so many Christ followers are settling for the mundane ritual of a life ‘survived’ and not a life ‘lived.’

Where are the adventurous childlike dreams that once caused us to run through life with the belief of better things to come? You know - that something that caused us to jump out of bed with excitement at the beginning of each new day.

(Lincoln Memorial Sleeping Ducks - Washington, D.C.)
I can remember as a kid when our church would have Saturday softball tournaments. Because of my age I couldn’t play yet, but I was up before dawn, dressed in my uniform, waking up my dad, ready to go. The excitement of spending a day at the ballpark - pretending I was the next great one, was more than I could stand.

I’ve had to ask myself lately, where did that childlike excitement go? Sure, we’re to put away childish things – but I don’t believe God ever meant for us to put away our child-inspired dreams.

Matthew 18:3 (NLT) says, “And he said: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. I believe the same is true for life on this earth. You will never experience life MORE abundantly until you reach deep within and find your hope(s) again.

The old saying goes: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” The first step you should take is kneeling before Him. If your dreams – your desires – your hopes of adventure have been derailed by the noise of life…..the silence to hear through it all can be covered by prayer. He will then guide you to that place of overflowing excitement.

(THE Philly Phanatic)
In the meantime, I’m going outside to be Superman for a while. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Climate Change

What do you ‘value’ most in your life?

What would you be willing to sacrifice everything for?

Or is there anything worth that to you?

What you value is at the control center of your life. Pastor Wade mentioned the ‘Value of Finding the ONE’ in today’s service. In other words, Jesus Christ has to be first in everything we do, or what we treasure in this life will never make it. It was followed by a beautiful wedding ceremony where two people made a public declaration of their love to one another.

On this rainy Sunday in Maryland, I wonder for me personally, what could change my climate? When difficulty comes….when the newness wears off….when things sometimes cannot be seen clearly and the rain shows up, what could I do to change the climate I’m in?

(Baltimore Sky)
I’ve found 4 simple things that have helped me greatly:

1. Choose your source.
Where our values come from determine the quality of them.
Oprah? (well, not anymore) ESPN? Your favorite magazine? CNN or Fox News?
Are any of these sources a good place to set our values by?

Statistics show that by the time you are sixty years old the average person will have watched television for 9½ solid years of life.
On the flip side – if you attend a place of worship just once a week for your entire life, that would equal only 4 months of spiritual teaching. What is contributing to our value system?

Romans 2:12 tells us to not become so well-adjusted to our culture that we fit into it without even thinking.

While scripture was written over 2,000 years ago – it is more relevant today than it has ever been. Your Value….is it coming from the WORD or the WORLD?

2. Clarify what is important.
The interesting thing about our values is we are not born with them. We pick these things up along the journey. Have you ever just sat down with a piece of paper and written down what is important to you? We don’t do this often because it is usually a crisis that makes us think twice about what we really value. . . . .
Major illness….bankruptcy….loss of a loved one….a life altering decision….
These bring on the questions: “What am I here for? What is really important to me?”
The thing is - if we don’t define what is vital to our success, then someone or something else will! Success is a journey – a journey of how we live out our values. Focus and define what is valued most.

(Horse Corral - Jarrettsville, MD)
3. Change your lifestyle.
(I feel that I might have just lost half of you J)
Changing – Adjusting – handling time, money, and relationships differently.

Psalm 119:37 says, ‘Turn my eyes away from worthless things…..’

The beginning place is to stop doing what is not important so that you have time to put your energy into what is. Where it gets rough though is when you put forth a genuine effort to do what is right. You’ll be in for the fight of your life. You will begin telling yourself ‘I can’t do this!’ And you will be right. You can’t. That’s why you need Christ to be #1.

4. Check into what you value daily.
Spare just five minutes daily and examine them. Is my life in harmony with what I SAY is important?

I Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save yourself and your hearers.”

If you were stranded on a deserted island trying to find your way out of the jungle, a map of Maryland would do you no good. What you would need is a compass to give you direction. No one person knows what the future holds – but Christ has given us a compass and that compass is our values. In order for it to work though, we have to be willing first to change.

(Rainbow over Farm....Forest Hill, MD)
L. Tolstoy said once, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Let the work of changing you begin today.