When I was a teenager, my parents were not only the lead pastors of a church, but my Dad helped oversee a group of about 25 churches in our fellowship’s network.  It was part of his role to help churches and ministers through challenges they might face.  He had a tough job one year in particular when five ministers in our group made poor choices which caused them to lose their credentials and ministries temporarily.  One story from that year sticks out vividly in my mind because of the lesson I learned from one minister’s journey. In fact, I would say it has partly shaped who I am as a person and minister today.

I had gone to bed after the 10pm news had gone off, but I was awakened not long after going to sleep by a sickening feeling in my stomach.  Whatever I had eaten had not agreed with me, and it wanted out.  I jumped out of bed and crossed the hall to the bathroom.  How can I say this delicately…  I had barely knelt at the altar of the porcelain god when my offering came forth.

Mom was out of town for some reason, and so I hollered for Dad… because I don’t do sick alone.  He quickly came to my rescue with a wet rag, but almost as soon as he had come to help me, our doorbell rang.  I wondered out loud who it might be, and he informed me that a minister in our area was coming over to talk about something serious.  Dad asked if I was going to be okay by myself, and let me know that he would come back to check on me.  By that time, I had gotten rid of whatever was ailing me, and so I told him to go on because I’d be fine.  With that, he left to answer the door, and I cleaned up and went back to bed.

True to his word, Dad came and checked on me after the man and his wife left.  When I asked what it was all about, he told me to go on to sleep and we could talk about it the next morning.

I slept, the sun rose, and the next morning I asked again.  This time Dad shared the sad news that the man had made a series of bad choices which could have cost him his family and his opportunity to minister.  But the man was contrite, and his family was gracious.  For things to be restored, the man would have to step away from the pulpit for a year, go through counseling to help heal his marriage, have regular accountability meetings to chart his progress of being restored to ministry, and attend a different church… our church.  In fact, Dad said the couple would begin attending our church that very next Sunday.

I said, “Dad, what do I say when I see them Sunday?  How am I supposed to treat them?”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my Dad’s words to me that day.  They have shaped my heart for people from that moment forward.  He said, “Well, Allen, they’re going to be a part of our church.  They’re our friends.  What do you say to other people at our church who are our friends? How do you treat everyone else at our church?  What do you do when you see them?”

I replied something like, “I smile, shake their hand or hug them, and let them know I’m glad to see them.”

To which Dad gently said, “Then that’s how you treat these people.  They don’t have a lot of friends right now who will just love them and welcome them.  That’s what they need.  They’re already ashamed about what happened.  They need someone to love them.”

In that moment… and in the moments that followed beginning with that first Sunday when I smiled at this couple, hugged them, and welcomed them as a part of our church family… I learned that real love renders people shameless. That’s what God does with each of us… He loves away our shame.  He knows that we already feel badly enough about blowing it in life.  He knows that we don’t need to be reminded of how imperfect we are.

1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love expels all fear.”  Isn’t that what shame is… fear that others will see our junk and realize we don’t have it all together? Fear that people wouldn’t accept us if they knew what we are really like, or if they knew what we have done?  But love overpowers fear, kicks it out & renders us shameless.

That couple walked the year-long journey back into ministry while attending our church.  It was a thing of beauty to see love conquer shame, and I’ve never forgotten it.

So, let me encourage you today to love people who don’t deserve it.  Let your love prove to them that they don’t have to fear what you will think about them or say to them.  Let your love render them shameless, and watch in amazement as they transform before your very eyes into all they can become.

My first memory in life is my fourth birthday.  I don’t know why it was the first.  But I suspect it might have been the impetus for my love of celebrating.  I LOVE to celebrate!  Birthdays, anniversaries, victories… I’ll celebrate pretty much anything. In fact, I recently discovered a fun website with unique and bizarre holidays.  For example, July is… (Cue Kool and The Gang…)

National Blueberry Month

National Anti-Boredom Month

National Cell Phone Courtesy Month

National Hot Dog Month

National Ice Cream Month


National Picnic Month

That’s a lot to celebrate in just 31 days.  I personally choose to just primarily focus on National Ice Cream Month.  The rest will take care of themselves, I’m sure.

By the way, today specifically is National Culinarians Day, as well as National Thread The Needle Day.  These are like celebrations within celebrations.  Maybe you can figure out how to walk the thin line of perfecting blueberry and hot dog ice cream to take on a picnic with your phone on silent today so that you won’t be bored.

The thing is, there is some odd holiday on every day of the year.  In other words, someone somewhere chose to celebrate something, and made a big enough issue out of their celebrating that others took notice.

Every day presents us with the opportunity to celebrate or be sour.  For example, July 3rd-August 11th are known as “The Dog Days of Summer.”  For those of us who live in the Deep South, we can either bellyache about our clothes becoming instantly damp from humidity and sweat the moment we walk outside… orrrrrrrrr…. We can remember that it’s National Ice Cream Month, and let the heat motivate us to celebrate.

The Apostle Paul encouraged people in his day to give thanks in everything… not because every situation is totally enjoyable, but because Jesus took our punishment so we could be free and be in God’s family forever.

I want to be a person who celebrates.  I want to celebrate people.  I want to celebrate accomplishments… big or small.  I want to celebrate blessings when I am surrounded by challenges.  I choose to be a person who celebrates.

There is always something for which to be thankful… something to celebrate.  You and I get to choose which emoji we will select for every situation.  My encouragement to you today is to choose to celebrate regardless of “the Dog Days of Summer” or any other challenge.  I mean, after all, it’s National Ice Cream Month!

An amazing friend texted me out of the blue today just to ask how I’m doing. No agenda other than to express love and concern for me. No words other than encouragement and commitment to walk the journey of life together with me. I have nothing to offer this friend… other than friendship. This was a bona fide act of love.

We all need this kind of friend in our lives. We need those people who will make the journey with us… through the great times, as well as those times that are less than worthy of being posted on social media.

We need people who will speak life into us… people who will cheer us on… people who care enough about us that they will stick with us even when they are the ones doing all the giving with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

That friend made my day, but they also inspired me. I want to be that kind of friend. Not just back to them. I want to pay it forward as well. I want to speak life into people who have nothing to offer me in return. That’s what Jesus did… and He IS my role model.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times...”. What about you? Is there someone you can think of right now to whom you could be that kind of friend? If so, go ahead and plant that seed of kindness. Down the road, when you need that kind of friend, the Lord will make sure you harvest what you planted.

I’m no cook, but I like food.  Therefore, I enjoy watching the Food Network.  And one of my favorite shows recently is “The Pioneer Woman” starring Ree Drummond.  Her cooking is good ol’ Southern home cooking… just my style.

We were watching today when something she said caught my attention.  She was pouring red velvet cake batter into a pan to bake.  Ree said, “This doesn’t look like much in the pan, but it will rise quite a bit in the oven.”

Ever felt like that cake batter? Maybe you feel like that right now… like you don’t look like much.  Don’t worry.  Those kinds of thoughts come to us all at various times throughout our lives.  The key is to remember the second part of what she said. Though you may not look like much now, after you’ve gone through whatever process you’re having to go through right now, you’re going to rise.

I suppose Timothy, the young pastor at the great church in Ephesus was having to deal with some folks who thought he didn’t “look like much in the pan” because his mentor, Paul, wrote him a letter in which he instructed him not to let people look down on him simply because of his age.  Instead, he encouraged Timothy to show those folks that he could “rise quite a bit in the oven” and live a life that was far beyond their expectations.

I want to encourage you today similarly.  Ignore those folks who don’t think you “look like much in the pan” because of your age… or your gender… or your physical challenge… or your race… or your level of education… or… or… or.  Stand up straight. Pull your shoulders back. Lift that chin.  Look them in the eyes with confidence, and offer a firm handshake.  Let them know that you “will rise quite a bit in the oven” by the way you talk to them… the way you behave around. Them… the way you treat others… the way you pursue God… and the way you are genuine.

You’re no ugly cake batter… you’re a beautiful cake in the baking!

Our two boys crack me up!  Last week, we were in town running several errands as a family.  We had made a few stops already and we were working our way toward checking off our final to-do item when we passed a store that Alex really wanted to go into to look at some toys.  (Back story… He recently had a birthday and had some cash he had received for the very purpose of being spent on something he would enjoy.)

Normally, we probably would have stopped, but we had already been out long enough that we were all getting ready to be home.  We had already told Alex we would not be stopping at that store, and he had graciously accepted it… even though we could tell he still really wanted to stop there.

As we turned the corner and passed the store, I heard from behind us Austin say to Alex, “Don’t even look at it. Look away from it brother, just look away.”  We all burst into laughter at the unexpected advice from one sibling to the other. It will probably become one of those sayings which sticks with a family for the rest of their lives.

Then I began to think about what Austin said.  That was great advice.  I don’t know if “out of sight, out of mind” is true, but it sure helps when you’re being tempted by something.

I’ve been asked over the years what my favorite Scripture is.  Truth is, there are so many I love that it really is difficult to select one.  But I usually tell people who ask that one of the most useful verses in all of Scripture for me has been I Corinthians 10:13.  I was challenged to memorize  it in special course for students trying to grow closer in their relationship with God.  It has certainly come in handy on more than one occasion when I didn’t even have a Bible with me.

This is what Paul wrote to help people overcome temptation…

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.

The part that has always stuck with me is that God would show me a way out of the temptation so that I would not have to give into it… so that I could stand up to it… so that I could endure it and come out of that moment victorious.  As soon as I learned that truth… that there is always a way to escape the temptation, always a way to say “no” to it… I began to look for that way of escape in every temptation that came my way.  Often, it is as simple as Austin’s advice to Alex… “Don’t even look at it.  Look away from it, brother, just look away.”

So, if you find yourself tempted today… whether by something small and simple like an extra piece of cake… or by the cashier giving you too much change… or maybe even by something more serious like taking a drink or taking someone else’s spouse, let Paul’s words echo through your heart and mind.  You don’t have to give in.  There is a way out.  Look for the escape. And then put Austin’s words into practice… Look away, brother, just look away.