What People Look At

Yesterday afternoon, we went and picked up some fireworks to do with the boys last night as part of our family’s celebration of our nation’s independence.  We don’t ever spend a lot on fireworks… just some sparklers and Roman candles, maybe several fountains and one or two things that shoot in in the sky and go “BOOM!”

So, last night, we waited till it was as close to dark as we could stand, and then we went out in the driveway to celebrate.  The moon peeked out over the treetops.  Others in our heavily wooded subdivision were already lighting up the night sky with flashes of light and color.  Even the fireflies were getting in on the celebration.

We had a blast… yes, that pun was intended… lighting up our little area of the world.  It was so much fun watching the boys, sparklers beaming, running around like Mario with a superstar power-up.  We all ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the one firework that crackled and popped little blasts of light and sound far longer than any of us expected.

And part-way through our celebration, I noticed something.  None of us were watching the darkness around us.  Not one of us.  No one said, “Wow, there sure is a lot of darkness out here tonight.”  Everyone was focused completely and entirely on the lights being displayed in front of us.

And my guess is that it was the same everywhere fireworks were shot last night.  I’ve already seen videos on social media with people lighting a fuse and stepping back quickly.  Guess what? No one capturing that video focused on the darkness. Instead they kept the camera directed at where the small sparkle of a fuse suddenly turned into a shower of sparks lighting up the entire area.

In darkness, people look to light.  They focus on it.  And as soon as they see light, they forget about how much darkness there is around them.

We were designed to be light in the darkness of the lives of those around us.  For Christians, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world- like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.”  We have the opportunity to calm fears and warm hearts by bringing light into people’s dark life situations.

Darkness can’t stop light.  So wherever you go today, shine.  Just because the sun is shining in the physical doesn’t mean that people aren’t living in darkness. Show up and shine.  They will immediately focus on the light you bring and want more of what you have.


A Real Head Slammer

It was a Saturday morning, and our youth pastor… who happened to be my brother-in-law, David, was taking a handful of us out to go door-to-door in the neighborhoods surrounding our church in order to ask people if we could pray with them.  It was getting close to noon and we were about to make our last push through the neighborhood closest to the church.  Plus, it was beginning to sprinkle and rain was imminent.
We dropped off the other guy to go with two girls down one street while David and I tackled an apartment complex.   We pulled in and David parked the white 15-passenger van that it seems every church in America owns.  When he had turned it off, I slid across the first bench seat, slid open the large side sliding door, and in one majestic leap hopped out of the van, keeping my right hand on the outside handle of the sliding door.  As my left foot landed on the ground and my right foot began to press off the floor of the van, I slammed the sliding door shut with all my early twenties might without even looking behind me.

But the van door didn’t make the normal sound it made when latching shut.  In fact, it seemed to not even go all the way closed.  I couldn’t understand why it didn’t close.  I mean, I had slammed that door hard.  “Oh, well,” I thought, “I’ll just slam it again.”  And I did.  And again it didn’t make the right noise or shut as it was supposed to.

So, I turned around to see what was keeping the door from shutting properly just in time to see David grabbing both sides of his head and falling backward onto the front bench seat. Only then did I realize what had happened.  Instead of climbing out the driver’s door as I thought he would, because of the rain he had decided he could exit more quickly by following me out the sliding door.  He thought I heard him coming behind me, but I had not.  And so his head was just coming through the path of the sliding door, as I gave it my first slam.  SLAM!  Stunned, both physically and mentally, by that first blow, David couldn’t move.  That’s when the second slam came.  SLAM!

I felt horrible… for a moment.  Then I laughed.  Then I felt horrible again.  You could actually see the indentions on the sides of David’s temples where the door had sandwiched his head.  And to think that I did it to him not only once, but twice.  Then I felt really horrible.  His head hurt so badly that he had to ask me to drive the one block to pick up the other students and get back to the church.  His head hurt for weeks.  Even months later certain things triggered pain where his head had been creased by the slam of my door.

Lo, these many years later, David actually talks to me.  In fact, we often tell that story with a lot of laughs attached.  Occasionally when we tell it, though, I think I see a little wince and maybe some moistness in his eyes as his mind recalls and relives the head-slamming incident.  But David quickly forgave me, even though I know he had to have been frustrated with me at the time.

The truth is, we all get our heads slammed in the van door of life sometimes.  Sometimes by enemies.  Sometimes by well-meaning, well-intentioned people who never wanted to hurt us.  But SLAM!  And suddenly we are reeling backwards from the unexpected blow.  When these head-slams come our way, it feels like the pain is never going to stop, never going to go away.

But it does… eventually.

In the Old Testament, Joseph faced a few head-slams himself.  His half-brothers hated him and threw him in a pit to die.  SLAM!  Then they changed their mind and sold him into slavery and told their dad a wild animal killed him.  SLAM!  For years he served his master faithfully and very successfully, but then was falsely accused of making advances on the boss’ wife and was thrown into prison.  SLAM!  He interprets dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants who promise to remember Joseph and help get him out of prison, but one dies and the other forgets.  SLAM!

But then the one living servant remembers Joseph at a crucial moment when Pharaoh needs a dream interpreted.  Joseph is brought out of prison, interprets the dream about a looming famine, comes up with a spectacular plan to save the nation and is made second in command over all Egypt.  A little healing.

Joseph’s half-brothers actually have to go to Egypt to get food due to the famine.  And they have to get food from Joseph.  A little more healing.  He does not reveal himself immmediately, but helps them.  Eventually, Joseph tells them who he is and that he no longer allows the damage they inflicted upon him to control him.  And in one of the most amazing verses in Scripture, Genesis 45:15 tells us that as Joseph wept with joy, he kissed each of his brothers and they began talking freely with each other as the relationships are restored.  Complete healing!

So, whatever head-slam you’ve faced in life, know this… If you will give the pain to God, the pain will stop at some point.  I cannot promise that it will always be immediate, though I have seen situations in which He has done that for people.  But He will bring about healing.  He will make things right.  And sure, there might be an occasional wince as your mind recalls the head-slamming incident, but that will fall away into the joy of being healed from the hurt.  Who knows?  You might even be willing to drive a van again like David!

Because I Just Know

Our family LOVES going to Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO!  It so fits our family-friendly, Christian-values idea of fun.  And there is so much for the boys to do.

One of their favorite areas is Half Dollar Holler.  And one of their favorite things to do there is climb through and jump around in the suspended netting of the “treehouse.”  At least, it’s one of their favorite things now.

It wasn’t always Austin’s favorite.

Last night, we sat around watching “old” home videos (from three or four years ago) with the boys.  Captured on video was Austin trying to enjoy the treehouse but with great trepidation.  It was obvious that he was unsure of the safety of that netting suspended ten feet above solid earth.

As we watched, Austin told us that he used to be afraid of the bouncing treehouse at Silver Dollar City because he was afraid he would fall, but that he’s not now.  Sure enough, were you to watch more recent videos or travel with us to SDC, you’d find him tearing through there with no hesitation whatsoever.

I asked Him if he reason that he’s not afraid anymore is because he knows if it will hold me up, it will hold him up. (I mean, I might weigh a little more than he does. Wink, wink.)  I must admit that I was a little shocked when he replied, “No, it’s because I’ve been on it enough times now that I know it will won’t let me down.”

Tested, tried, true.

Reliable, dependable, trustworthy.

Because it has never let him down before, he has unwavering faith that it will never let him down in the future.  And with that, I sat back in my seat, having been schooled in faith by my six-year old.

In Deuteronomy 31:8, Moses… the guy who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, through forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and all the way to the edge of the land promised to the Israelites by God… looks Joshua… his successor who will actually lead those people into conquest of their homeland… in the eyes and tells him, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.

Never.  It just won’t happen. God won’t let you down.  He is incapable of failing you. And He chooses to never abandon or give up on you.  He will go ahead of you and clear the path.  Then He will be right beside you every step of the way.

We can trust God because He has never let us down.  In fact, He has never let anyone down.  So unlike those investment commercials on the radio, His past results are indicative of His future performance.

This means you and I can relax and enjoy the ride now.  We don’t have to stress.  We don’t have to panic.  We can romp through life full of joy and hope and peace, knowing that He will neither fail us nor abandon us.

If you’re battling a lengthy illness, He won’t let you down.  If you’re dealing with a difficult divorce, He won’t let you down.  If you’re having trouble passing that class at school, He won’t let you down.  If the bills are stacking up higher than the paychecks, He won’t let you down.

So go ahead… climb the steep ramp of the treehouse of life… crawl into the netted area… and jump with confidence alongside Austin… because it hasn’t let him down before and it isn’t going to let him down this time either.

Neither will God.

Enough For Today

Anne Shirley Cuthbert says to her friend Diana in Anne of Green Gables, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a brand new day with no mistakes yet?”  I don’t recall Diana’s response, but I know mine… YES!!!

As a self-professed guy who tries to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, do right, be good, help others, love and lead his family, and the list goes on… I for one am glad that each day the sun rises and brings with it a fresh start. Sure, I cannot undo my yesterdays, but I can choose each day to point myself in the right direction and start heading that way.

I resonate with Anne’s question. It reminds me of what the prophet Jeremiah wrote in the Old Testament book of Lamentations… “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  In other words, no matter how yesterday went, the Lord loves us and gives us hope for today.  He helps us today.  He forgives and forgets.

That’s good news for imperfect people like me… and maybe you.  It’s good news for those who have a lot of days left. And it’s good news for those who have less days ahead of them than they do behind them. Each day is full of new, abundant mercies for all of us.

Bad day at work yesterday? Get up, get dressed and go back to the office or store or worksite because He’s giving you new mercies for today!

Feeling like a lousy parent for mishandling a situation with your kids at a crucial moment?  Roll out of bed, give them a hug, and ask their forgiveness because He has new mercies for today!

Broken relationships that have remained shattered for years due to your negligence? Make the call, send the text, get together for coffee because He’s giving you new mercies for today!

Failed a test at school?  Load your backpack, grab your books and get there before the bell rings again because He’s giving you new mercies for today!

Staring at a bad prognosis and a lifetime of regrets?  Pick up the Bible, bow your head, ask for forgiveness and a fresh start because He’s giving you new mercies for today!

His love never quits… He won’t run out of mercies… He is always there.  So lift your chin… and lift your heart… and lift your hands… because He has new mercies for you today!

Guard Duty

Call it a dream… call it a vision… call it a figment of my imagination… call it whatever you want.  I know what I saw.

PR31 and I were serving as lead pastors at a church in northeast Louisiana.  God was doing great things in peoples’ lives. The church was growing and getting healthy.  And the devil was not happy.

We began to be bombarded by fears of different kinds. Soon it became apparent to us that this was not the norm… it was something spiritual.

I remember waking up one night and sending such fear, like there was “something” or “someone” in the house and it wasn’t a human. And I recall being so afraid in the darkness.

But I also knew that we weren’t alone.  I knew that the Good Shepherd was keeping watch over us.  So I asked Him to help us. I explained our fears and let Him know that we really needed Him to protect us.

At that moment, I leaned out of bed and glanced down the long hallway of the 80-foot doublewide mobile home. What I saw almost startled me just before it instilled a great sense of comfort.  Standing in the hallway in full armor was another “being,” who I somehow knew was on our side. I could only see up to his chest because his head and shoulders were higher than the eight-to-nine foot ceiling. He was obviously not restricted by natural barriers. And he was on guard duty in our home.

As if I could see through the walls for a moment, I saw another similar being at our front door. And comfort washed over me in that moment.  The Good Shepherd had opened my eyes enough to see that “His rod and His staff” were protecting me from any harm which evil might try to bring my way. And from that time on, we did not struggle with fear in the same way.

It pays to walk with the Good Shepherd… to stay close to Him. He not only provides and points, but He protects us from the attack of the enemy of our souls.  Not matter how dark the valley, the Good Shepherd has got us covered.

If you’re battling fear today, ask the Good Shepherd to protect you and comfort you.  He’s close enough to hear your call. And He won’t let you down.

Oldie But A Goodie

Countless sermons have been preached from it.  I’ve heard it used at almost every funeral I’ve ever attended.  I have both been comforted by it myself and quoted it to offer comfort to others.  Apart from John 3:16, Psalm 23 may be the most widely known and most beloved passage from Scripture ever.

Since it has such power to encourage and comfort and lift, I am choosing to focus our attention for the next 5 days on The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23.  And while I am a preacher by career, I hope to present my thoughts in such a way that even those who are not Christ-followers can see how incredible it is to belong to the Good Shepherd.

Jesus calls Himself “the Good Shepherd” in John chapter 10.  I say that only to give us some point of reference as to who it is we will be looking at over these five days.  And I hope we find our hearts drawn to Him as we go along.

David, a shepherd writing a song about God from a perspective he understands, paints a portrait for us of a God who loves us and looks out for our best interest. And the first truth about the Good Shepherd is that…

He Provides.

I have been given one of those handshakes when someone slips you a $20 bill or a $100 bill in a time of need.  We have received the proverbial check in the mail when we didn’t know where the money was going to come from. I’ve also had work provided when I needed income.

And whether through work or gift, I have learned that God the Good Shepherd always provides for His sheep. And not just financially.

Psalm 23, verses 1-3 point out that the Good Shepherd provides all we need… food to eat, water to drink, our daily normal human requirements.  But He also provides for our rest… and our peace… and our emotional well-being.

The point is that He knows what we need and He provides it. He knows what we need on every level, and He knows how to provide for each one of those needs.  With Him as your Shepherd, your every need is supplied.

It’s a great thing to be provided for.  As kids, we don’t usually understand all that our parents were doing to provide for us.  But as we get older (and begin having to provide for ourselves and our own family), we often begin to grasp how much they provided for us.  And as God’s kids… as the sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd to use David’s analogy… we are completely provided for.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.”

If you feel like you are lacking something today, ask the Good Shepherd.  He knows how to provide for your every need.

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