I’m on vacation with my family, and so this post will probably be a little shorter than most. But the fact that I’m on this vacation is really what I’m thankful for this Thursday…

FREEDOM!

Can you believe it… yesterday we drove in our own vehicle across two state lines and never had to cross through a security checkpoint like we would have to in some other parts of the world. That’s freedom.

Before we came, we surfed the web and connected with someone who rented us a place to stay very inexpensively. No one from the government oversaw that transaction. That’s freedom.

We decided what we would eat and when. We decided which activities we would engage in and when. That’s freedom.

We visited a place that openly promotes Christian values and caters to families who like that style. No one told them they couldn’t. That’s freedom.

Okay, So It’s Not Perfect

I know that everything is not perfect in our country. I realize that there are huge differences of opinions about politics and what’s right or wrong.

But the truth is… we have freedom… lots of it. We worship feeely, travel freely, spend freely, enjoy freely.

#grateful #blessed #appreciative #thankful

Tonight, I will lay down and rest in a freedom for which I have not had to fight to win nor protect. And I am so grateful to all those who made this vacation possible by their heroism.

And I thank God this Thursday for the privilege of living in this country… for the privilege of living in this freedom.

Better Than I Found It

My prayer is that I not only appreciate it, but make the most of it and leave it to my kids better than it was given to me (which wasn’t half-bad).

So, which freedoms are you particularly grateful for this Thankful Thursday?

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Dawn of a New Day

He woke up, rolled over and realized that his bed was comfortable.  In fact, he realized he was actually in a bed and not on the cold, hard ground.  And he didn’t smell bad either.  On top of that, he wasn’t hungry.

Where was he?

Oh, that’s right… he was back home… in his old room… on his old bed.  And it was the morning after the party.

The Flood

Enter all the emotions.  A smile spreads across his face as he rejoices in the reality of his father’s forgiveness and the celebration which ensued.  But the smile fades suddenly as he recalls his brother’s frustration over the celebration and the reason behind both the celebration and the frustration.

It was all his fault.  He had told his dad that he had had enough and wanted everything he had coming to him in the way of an inheritance so that he could strike out on his own.  His dad sadly obliged, gave him his half of the estate and watched him practically skip down the road as he left.

That was months ago.  Or was it years?  It felt like a lifetime ago.  He wished it had never happened.  As a tear slipped out of the corner of his eye and trickled its path over his cheek and down his chin, the look on his face faded further from blankness to cringing.

Flashback

He recalled the wild parties… the money wasted… the time he could never get back.  He remembered running out of money so quickly and wondering how it had happened.  No one he had given to would give back to him.  No one was like his father.

But he had to prove that he could make.  He could not go back in shame.  He got a job.  A job no kid like him would ever take in their right mind.  But he was hungry.  Hungry enough to eat the slop he was feeding the pigs on the farm where he was working.

He felt like a slave instead of a son.  He could not survive this loneliness, this lack.  But what could he do?

Wait… he felt like a slave.  His father’s slaves were treated better than this.  He could go be a slave for his father.  At least he would be near his family again.  At least he could eat well again.  At least there would be some kindness shown to him.

He had no bags to pack.  He simply told his employer he was leaving and hit the road.  The trip seemed like it took forever.

More Than Imagined

And then there was that moment… when through fearful eyes, he looked up the road toward the home where he grew up and saw someone standing at the fence.  No, wait… the man was running… running toward him… weeping and whooping… practically skipping down that same road.  The voice was familiar, but how could it be?

Suddenly he was wrapped in safe arms, arms that held him close and tight.  Arms that drained away the sadness and the weariness.  The arms of his father.

He tried to sob out his request to be a slave, but his father ignored the request and simply hollered for the servants to come and make him know that he was the son he was before his indiscretion.  “Bathe him, clothe him, adorn him.  And get everything ready for a party like we have never thrown before!  He’s back!!!”

That was last night.  Oh, the joy of the party.  How the servants and neighbors celebrated raucously with he and his dad.

But that was last night.  What now?  What would today hold?  And tomorrow?

—————

The Rest of the Story

I wondered this morning… How would that young man live now?  Jesus told the story in Luke 15 to show what the Heavenly Father’s love is like for lost people.  But He had proven His point and left the rest of the story untold… He didn’t need to tell it because it was understood…

  • Do you think that son would take for granted ever again any blessing bestowed upon him by his father?
  • Do you think there was ever a day that went by that he wasn’t grateful for his father’s grace and mercy?
  • Do you think he ever forgot that nothing he had or used was not his but belonged to his father?
  • Do you think that he ever failed to realize that he must live humbly with his brother who had done no wrong?
  • Do you think he ever regretted what he did and decided that he would never do anything ever again to hurt his father or his family?

I Am That Son

And what of us?  Aren’t I that lost son returning to my Father?  Aren’t you?  Hasn’t He shown us grace and mercy?  Should we ever take for granted the blessings we have been given?

Today is the morning after the party for each of us.  Every day is.  The question for us is… How will we live in light of the party our Father has thrown for us?

I don’t know about you, but I intend to live to honor Him and His kindness toward me.

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That’s A Lot!

Did you know… on average, a person has 60,000 conscious thoughts per day?  So if someone actually paid you what the old adage of “a penny for your thoughts” says, they would owe you $600 per day!  (Don’t get mad at me if that’s not what your boss or company or parents are paying you each day.)

High-Value Thinking

I’m just trying to point out that our thoughts have value.  And since they have value, we should probably value them ourselves.  It probably wouldn’t hurt us to guard our minds and keep a tight watch on those 60,000 conscious thoughts each day.  We have a veritable Fort Knox of thoughts within us each day.

Protect The Environment

So, how do we secure our thoughts?  I mean, we can’t really control some of the thoughts that come into our minds.  We are bombarded by so much input every moment that some of it is difficult to block out.

While this is true, we can control some of the environments in which we put ourselves that generate those thoughts coming at us.  We can control what we read, listen to, and watch.  Doing that will go a long way toward guarding those precious little thoughts.

Johnny Mercer Was Right

Another way we can guard our thoughts is to do exactly what Johnny Mercer said in the lyrics of his 1944 hit song…

You’ve got to accentuate the positive

Eliminate the negative

Latch on to the affirmative

Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between

One of the best things we can do to guard our thoughts is to spend a lot more of our thinking on positive, uplifting, encouraging thoughts, and get rid of those discouraging, downer, negative thoughts.  This might mean doing something like skipping social media a little more or turning off the news more often, and instead putting on some worship music or reading some encouraging biography of an inspiring person.

Renew Your Mind

In the end, we can’t do this on our own.  We need help.  And we need help from the most Creative Being in the universe… God!  Hebrews 12:2 says we should let God transform us into new people by changing the way we think.  If we truly want to guard and utilize those 60,000 conscious thoughts we have each day, then we need to invite God into the process.

60,000 conscious thoughts per day.  If someone offered to give you $60,000 per day, you would definitely invest it wisely, protect it seriously and use it diligently.  And the truth is that those thoughts you think all throughout your waking day are just as valuable… probably even more valuable.  What a gift!  Thoughts.

300 Seconds

Why don’t you take 300 seconds right now (that’s 5 minutes… so you can put your phone’s calculator app away) and give 300 thoughts to something positive?  Why don’t you listen to something uplifting?  Why don’t you read something else encouraging?  (See what I did  there?)  And then why don’t you use some of those 300 thoughts— or dare I suggest more— to begin a conversation with the Lord about Him transforming you into all you can be as He helps direct your thoughts?

The clock is ticking…

Dead Phone

I walked into my mobile phone carrier’s local store a couple years back to find out why my phone had died and would neither come back on nor charge back up. Just a blank, black screen. It wouldn’t even try to come on.

I signed in, waited my turn and finally was able to speak with one of their trained professionals.  He did all the things I had done to check it out.

Then he asked what seemed to me to be an absurd question… “When was the last time you turned it off & restarted it?” My reply was, “Never. Why would I turn it off? It’s my home phone as well as mobile phone. It has my email, internet & social media on it. I never turn it off.”

Problem Solved

He said, “I know what the problem is.” To which I replied, “Great! What is it?”  He said, “You need to turn it off and restart it at least once a week. That helps it recalibrate its software, find new transmitting antennas, etc.”

He hooked it up to power, held buttons down for what seemed like forever, and it finally started back up. I was amazed.

Duh!

But I don’t know why I was amazed. Isn’t turning everything off once a week to recalibrate what God instituted from creation? Isn’t it what He instructed His people to do when He was giving them ten incredibly important rules to live by? And isn’t it what doctors say that our bodies and minds absolutely need in order to function at top performance?

Rest. Take a break and the workaholics in this world think you’re lazy. Take a day off or a vacation, and some will think you are frivolous. Take a nap in the middle of the day, and some will think you’ve lost your mind.

Made To Rest

But like my phone, God designed us to shut down and recalibrate. Maybe you have to work on Sunday… like preachers. Make Saturday your day of rest. Maybe you have to work two weeks on-two weeks off like folks in the oilfield industry. Maybe your work is seasonal like teachers. Take the summers off.

You don’t and won’t accomplish more by running yourself till your Maker shuts you off against your will. Just give it a rest. You’ll be glad you did.

Now, I’d love to hear how and when you relax. Please comment on this post and share it with others… you know, those people “who really need to hear this.” 😉

A Texas Morning

I stepped onto the elliptical machine in the fitness center at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Waxahachie, Texas to get in my morning workout before grabbing breakfast and hitting the road.  As I worked through the settings in preparation for my workout, I came to the part where I would set the level at which I would exercise.  I chose middle-of-the-road that day… hey, at least I got up and exercised… and hit the “select” button.

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A New Level

Just then, a statement I did not remember reading before came across the display.  It read, “A new level may be selected at any time.”  At the time, I thought to myself that this was a good thing.  If I had selected a level that was not challenging enough, I could ramp it up and get a better result from my exercise.

I began pushing and pulling the arms on the machine.  I began stepping with my legs to turn the foot portion.  And soon I was zipping right along through my exercise.  As I pushed, I remembered that little statement when I was setting up the machine which said I could select a new level.

I realized that it was a little easier than I had thought it would be and decided to take my workout up a notch.  Sure enough, I achieved a new level of challenge.  But it was a good challenge.

More Than A Machine

And I thought to myself, “Hm… I suppose I could select a new level at any time in the rest of my life also.”  It’s true.  I can select a new level in my commitment to my wife at any time.  I can select a new level of quality and quantity in my parenting at any time.  I can select a new level in my relationship with the Lord at any time.  I can select a new level in my attitude, in my work ethic, in my talents, in my education, etc. at any time.

So can you!  No matter where you started, a new level may be selected at any time.  No matter how bad you’ve been, you can choose a new level at any time.  No matter how much you have lost, you can choose a new level at any time.  No matter how far behind you are, you can choose a new level at any time.

This is true of relationships, of work, of education, of finances, and even of our personal relationship with God.  God makes room in our lives for us to make progress… to grow… to expand… to flourish.  We don’t have to stay at our current level.

Going Up?

Let me ask you… What area of your life is it today in which you wish you could go to a whole new level?  Well, the only thing stopping you is you.  You may select a new level at any time.  So go ahead… Select that “up” button and go to a new level!

A Cold Day of Sightseeing

As we made our way from the tour bus up to the top of the hill just outside Jerusalem, the wind blew and sleet began falling.  It was a bitterly cold day to be out sightseeing in Israel, but when you’ve traveled 6,000 miles and paid as much money as we did, we were not planning to miss out on any moment.

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Bold Prayers

And what a moment that turned out to be.  Our illustrious guide, Ilan, told of how Joshua had stood right in that very area and asked the Lord to make the sun and moon stand still so that he could have time to attack and defeat the enemy with whom the Israelites were engaged in battle.  It was a bold prayer that Joshua prayed.

Ilan then told us about one of his favorite moments on that spot when pastor Mark Batterson challenged the group he had brought to Israel to pray a bold prayer in that very same place that Joshua had prayed his bold prayer.  Mark suggested they pray a bold prayer like Honi the Circle Maker prayed.  And Ilan told us of a miracle that had taken place as a result of the bold prayers they had prayed that day.

Who, Me?

It was at that moment, he turned to me… with sleet pelting us as we stood there shivering… and said, “Pastor Allen, lead us in a bold prayer.”  A bold prayer?  Me?  Sometimes I’d like to think that I have pretty decent faith.  But faith for bold prayers?  Prayers like Joshua, Honi or Batterson?

But something rose up inside me that cold morning… a measure of faith… faith a little bigger than a grain of mustard seed… and I asked people to begin sharing what bold request they wanted us to bring before the Lord.  Jokingly, one of the guys asked, “Could we pray that it would stop sleeting on us?”  We all laughed.

And then we prayed.

We prayed bold prayers for healing and open doors of ministry.  We prayed for restored relationships and the ability to overcome temptation.  It was a powerful moment… maybe my favorite moment of that trip to Israel.

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me!

Then, just before I concluded the prayer I said, “And Lord, it sure would be great if You could make it stop sleeting so that we can see the wonderful sites here that we came to see in order that we could grow closer to You.  Amen!”

You would have had to have been there to experience it fully, but when we opened our eyes from that bold prayer, the sleet stopped, the clouds parted over the city of Jerusalem where we were headed next, and the sun shone through.  Our jaws dropped.  We looked at each other & just laughed.

The God who had stopped the sun & moon for Joshua at that same area had just answered our simple, bold prayer.  And suddenly we understood that He could answer those other bold prayers we had just prayed.

Bold Prayer, Anyone?

For the rest of the trip, anytime we encountered a challenge, someone would say, “Pray a bold prayer.”  We would ask, and God would answer.  Some were seemingly small requests like asking for the internet wi-fi to work on the bus so that we could communicate with our loved ones back home… and before we said “amen” we were connected.

Our Own Bold Prayers

It so inspired Angela and me, that she created us a piece of wall art with clips on it where we could write bold prayers on slips of paper and hang them up where we could see them everyday.  It says “Pray Bold Prayers” at the top and “Ephesians 3:20” at the bottom.  In between are our current bold prayers.

Some are for us.  Some are for others.  All will take God working miraculously to see them accomplished.  But the God who stopped the sun in its tracks… and stopped the sleet for sightseers… and made the wi-fi work for loved ones… is exceedingly abundantly able to do more than we could ever ask, think or imagine!

Who, You?

So, what bold prayer do you need to pray today?  Is it something others might consider to be seemingly small?  Or does it require a massive miracle?  Don’t worry about how small your faith seems.  Consider how big God is.  And pray a bold prayer!

In The Dark

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We were married for about twelve years before we had our first son.  We had wanted kids for seven years, and had even begun to pursue international adoption.  But nothing was producing the effect of bringing children into our family.

As I stated in an earlier post, the cup is always half-full in my mind… probably more like 3/4-full.  But I hit a point in 2007 when that cup seemed to drain down to empty.  I didn’t see the Lord answering our prayers to give us kids.  I found it difficult to minister to others as I wrestled with my own issue.

It was a dark time for me.  I didn’t want anyone to quote me another Scripture or say some cute little saying to me.  Things seemed hopeless.

I remember finally giving up out of emotional exhaustion and saying to the Lord, “Give us kids biologically… Give us kids through adoption… or just tell me that it’s not Your plan to give us kids.  I just can’t go on hoping and being disappointed.”

Still Dark

About that time, I read a verse in Scripture that caught my attention.  John 20:1 reads, “Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.” (emphasis mine)

While it was still dark.  That was where I was in life.  In the dark.  Feeling like hope had evaporated.  Stumbling through the dark, trying to do what I was supposed to be doing.

The thing that struck me though was that I knew what Mary was about to find.  I knew because I have heard the account my entire life and believe it for myself that she was going to find the stone rolled away and Jesus resurrected.  Hope was going to spring to life for her again in just moments.  She was going to encounter what she thought was impossible.

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Son-rise

But she didn’t know it yet.  For her, it was dark in terms of what time of the day it was and also for her emotionally.  She had no clue that within moments, everything would be okay.  It would be “game on” all over again for her.  Excitement would ensue.  Joy would overflow.  Dreams would become reality.

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And that’s when the Lord calmly assured me that if I would just keep walking toward Him, doing what I was supposed to be doing, the sun would rise in my situation just as the Son rose in Mary’s.  He let me know that the miracle was already in process and I just didn’t know it yet.

Miracle

For the record, within a couple months we discovered that Angela was pregnant with our first son.  True to His word, God came through.

And whatever you’re going through today, He will come through for you.  It may seem dark in your world right now.  Keep walking toward Him.  The miracle is already in progress.  You just can’t see it yet.  But you will!  You will come around a curve and find an answer to prayer, a dream becoming reality, a miracle in the making!