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?

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.

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!

I have a lot of friends and family facing challenging situations tonight.  These are situations I would not want to be having to go through personally.  These are difficult times for them, and my heart goes out to them.  Were I to be able to tell you their individual stories, you would understand.

But I bet you do understand.  Each of us faces the challenges and difficulties caused by living in this world wrecked by the damaging effects of sin.  Each of us has dealt with hurt… and loss… and fear… and stress.

One of the most comforting truths… in my opinion… when we go through difficult times is that God promises to be with us.  The reason He said people in Scripture could find strength and confidence to face their challenges was… get this… He would be WITH THEM.  Joshua leading the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land.  Gideon protecting his nation from invaders.  Jesus on the boat… in the storm… with the disciples.  The key was that He was WITH THEM.

When God sent His only Son to this earth, He was called Immanuel… God WITH US.  When Jesus was getting ready to ascend back into Heaven 33 years later, He told His followers that He would be WITH THEM even to the end of the age.

The way that you and I can have the courage… the confidence… the patience… the endurance… the compassion… the grace… the strength we need to make it through the challenges and difficulties we face in life, is to know deep down that He is indeed WITH US.

He is, you know… WITH US. With you.  Find strength and confidence in that tonight.  You’re not alone.  You are going to make it.  He is WITH YOU!

Like any decent parent who loves their kids and wants to see them happy, I have at times been the old softy who, after admittedly being a little frustrated, have bought a replacement balloon… or two… to replace one that has floated off into the great unknown.  The same is true when ice cream has been dropped, or a new toy broken.  Especially if the boys have saved up and spent their own money on something.

Maybe your parents never did that.  Maybe you’ve never done that as a parent.  Maybe the philosophy you have lived under… or lived by… was “Tough luck, Chuck. Maybe this will teach you, and next time you won’t…”.  If so, I’m sorry.  

I’m sorry because that possibly influences the way in which you view God.  You may think that because your blew it… or messed up something… or lost something… you are bad and need to learn to be good.

But God is a good, loving and gracious Father. Scripture says that He is slow to get angry and quick to forgive.  It says that He delights in bringing joy into our lives.

No matter what stage of life you’re in, we all evaluate our lives when we’ve lost something.  Maybe you’ve lost your health… or a person you love… or a job… or a dream.  Whatever the situation, God sees that you lost it.  He knows how much you enjoyed it.  And He wants to give you something else in its place which will bring you just as much… if not more… joy!

So you made a mistake.  Let Him wipe those tears away.  And don’t be afraid to ask Him to give you something else in its place.  It’s in His heart to do it already.

One of my favorite new TV shows kind of snuck up on me and made me like it.  It’s the story of a man who has a dream.  His dream is fleshed out in his 95-point plan to make his town of 456 residents… D’lo, Mississippi… the greatest town in America.

Small Town, Big Mayor features Mayor John Henry Berry’s pursuit of bringing his hometown back from near-extinction… and I don’t want to miss an episode.  My attraction to the show goes beyond the fact that it is pure… and clean… and humorous.  It’s the hero… the champion… the tip of the spear this guy has chosen to be for his town.

I love that he saw a need and decided something had to be done to fix what was wrong.  I love that he came up with a plan… probably more than what anyone else had done. I love that he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to set the example of what it’s going to take to make the dream become reality.  I love that he loves that town and those people enough to put up with some of their goofiness (and their ridiculous ideas of what they think a mayor ought to do for them) because he has the greater good in mind.  I love that he is willing to get out of his comfort zone to help others, and to ensure that his plan is working.

I guess I watch for a few laughs.  But more and more I watch for inspiration.  And I find myself wanting to live passionately like Mayor John Henry Berry.  It reminds me how Jesus loved and served people.

On tonight’s episode, he was teaching his daughter how to operate a track hoe to help him fix a busted water main.  She didn’t think she could do it.  In that moment of her insecurity in her own abilities, he told her that she COULD do it… that she had his blood flowing through her veins.

That’s when I was reminded of those times when I don’t think I can do something, and the Lord says gently to my heart and mind, “Sure you can, son, you’ve got my blood flowing through your veins.”

You may not find a humorous reality TV show inspiring… or motivational… or spiritual, but I do. At least this one.  And so I cheer for Mayor John Henry Berry.  I’m going to keep watching as he whittles away at those 95 points one at a time till his dream becomes reality.  Go get ’em, Mayor Berry!  You can do it!  And you’re inspiring us to believe that we can, too.