- Christian, husband, dad, friend, leader, communicator - Life Purpose = Love & Encourage, Offering Grace & Hope - Life Motto = Living for the applause of nail-scarred hands - Life Verse = Matthew 25:21

This is not my usual post.  It’s just that I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head and heart recently, and I haven’t been able to get away from it.  It’s a little deeper thought… and almost purely spiritual.  It may seem like semantics, but it is a subtle nuance which has the potential to revolutionize our perception of God and His intentions toward us.

Have you ever noticed that we can somewhat accept that God would condescend to walk with us, but we struggle to accept that He would invite us to ascend to walk with Him?

I think it is because the first could be viewed as pity, while the second invites intimacy.  We can envision that a loving God would stoop to help us in our hopeless condition.  Yet when it comes to Him being so interested in us that He would invite us to come spend time with Him as a friend, we can barely wrap our minds around it.  Isn’t relationship why He created us in the first place, though?  He had angels.  He didn’t need more servants.  He had created beings who worship Him non-stop.  He didn’t need more worshipers.  He wanted family.  He wanted friends.  He wanted… and still wants… people who want to be with Him.
He does not simply stoop to meet our needs out of His abundance and superiority.  He reaches out a hand of companionship and invites us to walk with Him… talk with Him… enjoy time with Him… and allow Him to enjoy being with us.

Just like Jesus invited His disciples to get away with Him so they could have some time to just relax and be together, He invites you today to just be with Him.  And that momentary invitation extends to on-going relationship.

If you have read my book, I Got A “D” In Leadership: Anyone Can Lead… or if you’ve read this blog much… then you know that I love watching NFL football.  My closest word picture for describing to PR31 how much I enjoy it is asking her if she knows how she feels when the Countdown To Christmas starts on Hallmark Channel, and they start showing the Christmas romantic comedy movies every day.  When she lights up at those words, I tell her, “And that’s exactly how I feel about watching NFL games during football season.”

Additionally, when I’m traveling by myself, I enjoy listening to the NFL Network on satellite radio.  One of those shows allows fans to call in late in the week and make bold predictions about how they think their team will fare in the upcoming week’s games.  The only guidelines are that you have to predict that your team will win, and give a legitimate reason as to why in the form of a bold prediction.  So, some callers will say their team will win by a resounding score because their defense will score three times… or because their quarterback will throw for 500 yards and four touchdowns.  It’s both entertaining and inspiring.

I think Christians ought to live that way.  We ought to make bold predictions about our life.. our spouse’s life… our kids’ lives… our friends’ lives.  We actually have a solid foundation on which to base these bold predictions… the Word of God.  God always keeps His promises, and never fails.  So, we can make bold predictions when we line our lives up with Him.

We can declare:

– By His stripes we are healed.

– No good thing will He withhold from those who live uprightly.

– My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

– God knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us.

– We will lie down in peace and sleep.

– He will never leave us nor forsake us.

– He will restore double to us for the trouble the enemy inflicts on us.

And there are a ton more bold predictions in His Word which we can hold onto.  The power of life and death is in the tongue, according to Solomon’s proverb.  So today, begin to speak those bold predictions out loud over yourself, your family and your friends.  Because if people can call in and make random guesses about the outcome of a football game, shouldn’t believers in and followers of the eternal God be able to make bold predictions rooted in proven truth?

When I was in college, my dad was selected by our denomination to help lead the nearly 300 churches in the area of Texas where we lived.  He succeeded Rev. J. B. Linney, a gentleman who had served in that role with excellence for a number of years.

Bro. Linney had a statement he used to always say, regardless of the situation.  When he retired, he used it in his closing address to the ministers gathered at that meeting.  His statement was this…

“There are better days ahead!”

Now that makes sense if we’re facing tough times.  We want hope.  We need a ray of sunshine.  We want to see a light at the end of the tunnel which is not an oncoming locomotive.

But it doesn’t instantly make sense if times are great.  When we feel well-compensated, healthy and loved, who thinks it could get any better?  J. B. Linney, that’s who.  Bro. Linney understood that God is limited to the good things we enjoy right now, but He has even greater things in store for us.  He has greater joy… greater love… greater peace… greater provision… greater blessings of all kinds waiting on us.

I hear people say that high school was the best time of their life.  Or they say their best years were their college years.  Or they say the day they got married was the greatest day of their life.  And that’s a little sad to me.  It’s as if they have given up hope for the future to be better than the past.

Don’t get me wrong… I loved my time in college.  And I am so glad for the day when PR31 said “I do,” to me.  I’m thankful for the privileges we have had to serve in the incredible churches and ministries during life so far.  And I am grateful beyond words for the generosity of the Lord in providing for us to this point in life.

But my best days are not behind me!  I’m with J. B. Linney… “There are better days ahead!”  No matter how tough life is, or how terrific life is… There are better days ahead!  I haven’t written my best blog post or book yet.  My marriage is getting better every day.  I’m even more proud of our boys every day.  We haven’t seen our families largest income, and thus our largest ability to give, yet.  We still have great friends to make.  And when I breathe my last breath on this planet, guess what… there will still be better days ahead for me, as I get to spend the rest of eternity in closer proximity to Jesus!  As awesome as our life has been, there are better days ahead for us!

And the good news is that your best days are still ahead of you if you commit them to the Lord.  Choose today to enjoy good memories of the past, but to also realize there is so much more to look forward to.  Today is going to be better than yesterday.  And tomorrow will top today.

Thanks for the life lesson, Bro. Linney!  I’m with you!!!

Hope everyone has a terrific weekend!

As I walked across the parking lot and started to get into my vehicle after having preached in the Sunday morning service at a church in Texas recently, I noticed these little flowers growing in the midst of nothing but rocks.  No grass.  No other plants.  They looked so out of place.  But there they were… just growing and beaming brightly.  They brightened my day because they reminded me that God can cause us to flourish regardless of our situation.

I’m reminded of Isaiah 35 as I think of them today.  It is a chapter of hope.  It speaks of how God can bless when and where He chooses, regardless of how bleak the situation appears.

Today, you may be going through a difficult time.  Perhaps your health is under attack, like a couple friends of ours are right now.  Or maybe you’re facing some financial challenges that have your back against a wall like another person I know.  Or maybe you’re going through a drought in the area of friendships.

Know this… God doesn’t need your situation to be perfect… or optimal… or favorable… or even okay… to cause your life to blossom right now!  He can cause life to spring out of death.  He can cause health to spring out of sickness.  He can cause abundance to spring out of lack.  He can cause companionship to spring out of loneliness.

What looks impossible to you is possible with Him.  You may think you’re in the wrong place, but don’t worry because at the right time God can cause your life to push up through those desert rocks and bud… and bloom… and blossom into fullness!

Why not take some time to look up the 35th chapter of Isaiah today, and find encouragement there?  Even if you are not a believer in Christ yet, that chapter is full of the kind of hope I’ve found in knowing Christ personally and following Him.  I believe that if you’ll open your heart to Him, you’ll find that same hope.

Yeah… I know.  I crawled out of bed at 3:17am after having laid there awake for about 25 minutes.  Sometime around 4:30am it hit me.  I completely forgot to post yesterday.  Quite honestly, I panicked for just a moment.  My mind raced as to how to solve the dilemma.  Maybe I could write it right then, and no one would realize it.  No, too late for that.  Next option… write two posts right away to make up for missing that one.  Or how about trying to write the absolute best post I’ve ever written to make people forget that I messed up?

Ok, I realize that’s a little dramatic.  And most of those thoughts just shot through my brain in a nanosecond before I came to my senses and thought… it’s just a blog post.  No one’s life is going to fall apart because I failed to post one day.

I seriously just totally forgot to do it yesterday.  The truth is, I was working on my next book, hanging out with my family, and just enjoying this season of life to its fullest.  I thought one time yesterday that I needed to remember to blog. I just made a mistake. Fortunately, I’m not going to get scolded by readers like you.

So, it’s totally not a big deal.  But as I began to think about what I might write today, it occurred to me that this is the story of all of our lives.  We all mean to do well.  We want to do right.  But we make bad choices… make bad decisions… make mistakes… have lapses of judgment.  The Apostle Paul turned the phrase this way in his letter to the believers in Rome, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

Everyone.  All.  Well, at least I’m not alone in my mistakes.  No one is perfect.  Nobody matches God’s record of getting it right every time.

Great!  Thanks for the encouragement and motivation today, Allen.  This is really an “Up” post.

But wait… it is.  You see, when we make a mistakes… when we blow it… when we make poor decisions… when we flat out choose to do wrong… we often later feel badly about it.  Like I did about missing that blog post yesterday.  I made a commitment, but didn’t keep it yesterday.  So we try to cover it up.  Or we try to fix it.  Or we try to compare ourselves to others.  When what we really need to do is simply admit it, and ask for forgiveness.

You see, Paul didn’t stop at slamming us all with the verdict of “losers who can’t get it right 100% of the time.”  Check out what he went on to write in the next two verses…

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood.”

What?!  Just say, “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me,”? That’s it?  Just accept that the punishment has already been delivered on my behalf?  Just move on, and try to not do it again?

That’s it.

I mean, I assume we all get that, if we are being forgiven so generously, we will do our best to not make that mistake again.  I know I don’t plan to miss another blog post in light of your graciousness toward me.  And I sure don’t plan to sin again in light of God’s kindness toward me.

By the way, that same Paul who wrote those words kind of had an idea of what it felt like to “fall short.”  He claimed to be the best of the best among religious leaders, but he ended up chasing down, imprisoning, having beaten, and having killed Christians.  He was guilty of multiple hate crimes.  Then he found out that God would forgive him.

And if God will forgive him, I have a hunch that He will forgive you for cheating on that test… taking another sip when things got stressful… going to that website again… lying to your boss… or whatever else you did that I can’t think to list. Or maybe you are lying in a bed, close to the end of your time on this planet, and thinking about all the wrong things you’ve done.  Wow, they can really add up, can’t they?  Don’t worry… He’ll forgive them all in one fell swoop.

We all fall short.  And God raises us up to His level when we ask Him to.

So, I’m sorry I failed yesterday.  No excuse.  No defense.  I fell short.  And I’m sorry it happened. Will you please forgive me?  I promise I will do my best not to let it happen again.

Hey… that might be a pretty good prayer for you to use if you fell short yesterday, too.  Go ahead, you can borrow it. I don’t mind.

In doing some research recently, I came across some info on Wikipedia about “lamp trimmers.”  These were people who served on board ships before electrical lighting was used.  They were specialists who would go around the ship every few hours to make sure the oil lamps were all burning brightly, since the only light under the deck of a ship was what these lamps provided.

These folks were skilled at knowing just how to trim the wick to make it burn the brightest and the longest.  They knew just how much oil to keep in the lamps so that they would not run out, but would not burst into flames if they got knocked off and broke.  In other words, they made it their life’s work to provide light for others.  And they did it consistently, faithfully.

We live in a world much like those levels under the deck of the old-time ships.  And we should be those who commit themselves to making sure we provide light in the midst of darkness.

Light gives hope.  Light shows the way.  Light reveals.  People in our lives need light.  Let’s be lamp trimmers.

The 58th chapter of the book of Isaiah in Scripture challenges us to help those in need, saying that not only will we turn the darkness into light by doing so, but that the Lord will also bless us bountifully for our efforts.

It doesn’t take much to bring light to someone’s darkness… a kind word… a thank you note… buying them a coffee or a meal… sending them an encouraging text… congratulating them when they have done well what they do… helping them when they are busy and feeling overwhelmed.  It doesn’t have to be overdone, just like the lamp trimmers didn’t overfill the lamps.

We can trim lamps at home… at work… at church… at the gym… at the restaurant… at school… online… anywhere.  And you know, as we provide light for others, we also help light our own path.

So, from the early outset of this week, let’s determine to be those who bring light to the darkness of anyone we possibly can.  Trim on!

Just this morning, our 9-year old, Alex, reminded me of a deep truth in some very simple terms.  He asked me if I’d like to play the new level he created on the Wii U game, Mario Maker.  He said, “I think you’ll like it… I call it ‘God’s Path’.”

Here’s a pic…

Alex then began to describe to me how it is laid out.  At the beginning, you get to choose one of two paths to take in the game.  Each has an initial challenge, with a slight difference… the challenge on the upper path (aka, “God’s Path”) has a green shell… the challenge on the lower path (aka, “the Devil’s Path”) has a red shell.  He informed me that green means go, and red means stop.  Then he told me that I would definitely want to take the upper path and face the challenge with the green shell.  By choosing “God’s Path,” there would be a few challenges along the way, but there would be plenty of “power-ups” provided also to help overcome those challenges.  But on “the Devil’s path,” there would be a ton of challenges which could not be overcome… no way to win.

He had my full attention at this point, and I couldn’t wait to play.  As directed, I took “God’s Path” first.  It was a breeze!  I zipped through it with no problems, and when I got to the end, it dropped me out of the tunnel at the top of the flag pole where I could get the highest score and an extra life.

Then Alex says I should try playing “the Devil’s path.”  I told him I didn’t want to because I liked “God’s Path” and would never want to take “the Devil’s path.”  He replied, “I just want you to see how hard it is, Daddy.”  How could I refuse?

So, I took the lower path.  What a train wreck! I’m already no gamer.  But this path was so full of enemies and challenges, without any power-ups to help me get past them, that I had to re-start over and over… and over and over… and over and over again.  And when I finally forced the game to the end, it dumped me out so close to the bottom of the flagpole that I could only get the lowest score possible.

Now, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I still cut… and I’m at least smart enough to see what he was showing me.  Talk about your armchair theologian!  This 9-year old kid just laid out for me the truth of the value of choosing to follow God’s plan for my life instead of the enemy’s way.

And on this Friday, I invite you to take a tip from Alex… choose “God’s Path” in real life.  Though you may face challenges there, too, they will be far fewer, and you will always have the power you need to overcome them.  Conversely, if you choose to take “the Devil’s path,” good luck with that.  It’s impossible to complete successfully, and it will cost you what could’ve been.

To quote the famous poem by Robert Frost…

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Truer words may never have been spoken… unless you count a 9-year old armed with a video game!

Ever noticed how when a child… or maybe even a teenager… has one little thing go wrong, it feels like nothing will ever go right again?  Yet mature adults can look at the situation and say with confidence that everything is going to be okay in the long run.  We burst off-key into song with, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there will be sunshine.”  But the child doesn’t see it that way.

We don’t change much between childhood and adulthood when it comes to this, do we?  Oh, it takes a lot more than a skinned knee or our crush dumping us to make us feel like the world is caving in on us, but we have our moments…

Maybe it’s one health issue after another.  Or maybe you don’t get treated fairly at work, and then you lose your job.  Or perhaps your spouse leaves you, and then your kids get mad at you for the split.  It could even be as simple as every major appliance in your home seeming to break down within the same month. Whatever the case, we all hit some rough patches in life when we don’t see a ray of sunlight ahead… only dark times.

Job, of ancient Scripture, knew these kinds of times better than any of us.  He literally had the devil working against him.  He lost his wealth and all his kids within days. Then he got painfully ill.  His friends told him he must have sinned and made God mad… that he needed to repent for being such a spiritual loser.  His wife told him he ought to cuss God out, give up and die.

The crazy thing is, God knew Job wouldn’t cave.  He was actually showing Job off to the devil and everyone watching.  And He intended to bless Job doubly for all the trouble he went through.   But that ray of sunshine was hard for Job to see in the midst of the dark times.

Just like us.  When you get another downer of a report from the doctor… or when finances aren’t rolling in like they had been… or when it seems like everyone is against you… it’s kind of tough to see yourself as a trophy example God is showing off to the watching world.  It just all looks hopeless… and dark… and senseless.

This is why I am so glad for the 16th verse in Job chapter 42.  It reads, “After this, Job lived 140 years.”  After this.  I love that!  It’s like a parent telling their child the skinned knee will stop hurting and will heal up sooner than they think. It’s a reminder to me that… in those times when there seem to be no reasons, and no answers, and no improvement in the situation… there are better days ahead.  I have an “after this” ahead of me.  So do you!

I know it looks bad right now.  I know things are piling up on top of you.  I know there doesn’t seem to be an end to this rough patch.  I know it seems like your friends and family have turned on you.  I know you don’t think you can take any more.

But when God’s involved, you have an “after this” coming.  It may not look like it right now, but you do.  Job lived another 140 years after what he faced, and God blessed him even more than He had before.  And God will be there for you through your time of difficulty.  One day soon, you’ll come out of this rough patch, and your story will record that “after this, you lived and God blessed you!”