Big Brothers

In 1981, Angela’s family moved from Adel, GA to North Hodge, LA. Angela was in first grade, and everyone knows that adjusting to a new school is hard enough, but then she started having less to eat for lunch each day. One afternoon, she came home from school hungry as she could be, and asked her mama why she had only packed her half a sandwich for lunch. When Mama informed her that she HAD packed her a full sandwich AND other food that morning, they realized something was afoot. With a little attention paid to the situation, they discovered that a little boy in Angela’s class was bothering her and sneaking into her lunchbox to take food from of her each day.

As good parents, they tried to do everything they could do to help her deal with the problem. They told the teacher. They told Angela to watch her lunchbox carefully. But still, tears came each day when it was time to leave for school.

That is, until….

Until one day when her big brother, Tim… who just happened to be nine years older and in tenth grade… took matters into his own hands! Tim is typically fairly reserved and relaxed. But he had had enough of his little sister being bullied. So, one morning on the way to school he told her, “You tell that little boy that your brother said that… if he bothers you today… in the morning when he sees this old yellow truck coming, he had better run and hide!”

And guess what… No more tears! Suddenly, Angela was emboldened. Suddenly, she realized there was a remedy for her situation. Suddenly, she realized that her adversary had been outsized, outsmarted and outmatched. Confidence was gained that day by her big brother’s words! Simply hearing him speak those words gave her the strength and confidence she needed that day… and each day going forward. She knew that all she had to do would be to mention to Tim that she was having a problem, and he would be there to set the situation right.

Here’s the good news… each person who gives their life to God has a big Brother in Jesus Christ. Scripture calls Him the first-born… and our older brother. And He spoke words which should give us the same confidence to overcome our enemies. He said in John 16:33 that when we have problems in life, we simply need to let Him know because He is big enough, strong enough, smart enough, and capable enough to take care of them for us. In fact, He lets us know that He has overcome this world and its problems.

Facing a challenge today that seems like you just can’t fix it? Can’t make it go away? Can’t beat it? Can’t stop it? Can’t overcome it on your own? Just take a moment to let your Big Brother know. When the enemy of your soul sees Him coming, he had better run and hide!

Why? Just Why?

Last week, PR31 finally convinced me that we could do something I’d been putting off for four and one half years. For some bizarre reason, the people we bought our home from had put up a basketball goal in the back yard… in the grass… the yard even slopes there… like it does on almost the entire four acres. Yet there stood that eyesore.

The entire time we’ve lived here, I’ve mowed around. The past couple of years, it has stood watch over our garden. And every time I saw it, it was almost as if it taunted me. I would open the blinds to look out over the beautiful back third of our property to see all green… and the eyesore.

I didn’t think we could move it. I thought it would take maneuvering a truck around there, tying a chain to the thing and trying to uproot its cement base from the ground.

But it had rained quite a bit, and PR31 assured me that she and the boys would help me dig all around the cement, and that, if we all worked together really hard, we could probably get it out. The goal being that we would moved it around front to the flat, wide open square portion of our blacktopped driveway which would be perfect for a basketball court for the boys to use.

True to her word, she inspired the boys with her delusions of grandeur, and we all headed out to dig. But before we could discover how wide the cement went out, she decided to push on the pole. And it gave. I said, “Let me give it a try.” And with all my manly might, I pushed… and it gave some more. I realized the pole was so old that it was breaking loose where it met the cement. Could it really be this easy?

We pushed together and the pole gently broke at its base. We caught it, lowered it to the ground, twisted, and voila. A little hammering on the barely remaining edge of pole hitting up from cement, and everything was flat. We scooped dirt back over it, and it was as if it had never been there.

Team A grabbed that basketball goal, hauled it around front, bleached it, scrubbed it, repainted it, dug a hole, and the next day set the goal in place with its new cement surround. Twenty-four hours later, our boys were having a blast with their new goal… which cost us less than $20 including, paint, a new net, cement & a basketball.

There have been a couple of great 2-on-2 games and we’ve taught the boys to play horse. They’re having so much fun with it. I can’t believe I wasted four and a half years of staring at something ugly when I could do something about it and enjoy the results so much!

So, why? Why did I wait four years to do this? I’ll tell you why… I thought it would be too difficult, maybe outside what I could accomplish. But before you mock me too much for my lack of self-confidence regarding this super-simple task, let me ask you… what is it in your life that you have left undone because it just seemed too difficult?

We all have stuff like that, you know. And sometimes it’s more serious than a basketball goal… like forgiving someone who did us wrong… or pursuing that degree… or chasing that dream… or starting your own business.

Here’s the thing… it’s almost never as difficult in real life as it seems in our mind. And our procrastination only makes it seem even more challenging when, if we would just go ahead and do it, we’d find that is was easier than we imagined. Plus, there is great joy on the other side that totally makes tackling this tough thing worth more than we invest in it.

Don’t put off till tomorrow… or four and a half years from now… what you can do today. Just go after it! Do it today. You will find it’s not as hard as you thought, and you will be so glad you did it. Take it from a guy who now loves to look at out the back window at a beautiful yard, and out the front window at two boys hooping it up.

With You

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!

Guess Who’s Got This

After a few days of helping my sister get moved into her new house, we joined my cousin and his family at a local Mexican restaurant (my favorite  genre of food, unless desserts are a genre, for those who were curious).  The sign behind the counter was too good to pass up.  I was trying to take the picture quickly, and so it’s a little blurry… but the message is clear.

Yes, I know it says Jesús and not Jesus.  But it was a clear reminder to me of a couple things:

1) Someone is in control of everything in my life… and yours for that matter.  In fact, that Someone is in control of everything, period.  That’s good news.  Life is not a random set of occurrences.  There is a plan.  There is order, even when things seem chaotic.  When you want to rant because life seems ridiculous, and you wonder if anyone is in control, relax.  Someone’s got this.

2) That Someone who has everything under control is Jesus.  The guy who fed multiple thousands on more than one occasion with only a handful of food… the guy who walked on water… the guy who calmed a storm-tossed sea with only His words… the guy who gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and movement to the paralyzed… the guy who raised a few people from the dead… and also the same guy who, after taking some vicious torture and dying for our crimes against God, rose from the dead Himself three days later… Yeah, that’s who’s got this day under control.  Jesus is the Person in charge.

That means that, regardless of how weary you are… or how sick you are… or how lonely you are… or how broke you are… or how dysfunctional you are… or how challenged you are… there is Someone you can turn to for help.

In the local Mexican restaurant, they think it’s Jesús.  But in reality… in all of life… the Person who’s really in charge… the Person who truly has got this… is Jesus!  If you have a problem, bring it to Him today.  He’ll know just what to do to make things right.

Necessary

It was taco night at the Chapin house.  I was about five years old, and looking forward to a yummy supper.  Apparently, I was a little too eager for the meal because part way through my taco, I swallowed a bite that I had not chewed well enough.

Suddenly, the air which normally flowed into and out of my lungs abruptly stopped. A piece of taco shell had lodged in my throat, and I couldn’t breathe.  I must have looked panicked because Mom and Dad both noticed.

Mom tried to stick her finger in my mouth far enough to reach and dislodge the stuck piece of taco shell, but to no success.  They raised my arms.  They beat on my back.  But nothing was working, and my face was beginning to turn blue.  I think all of us were probably crying and fearful by this point.

My Dad turned to my oldest sister Cathy and asked her if she had been taking a first aid/CPR classes in high school.  She had been.  He asked if she had learned that maneuver where you squeeze someone and help free them from choking.  Cathy acknowledged that she had learned it, but wasn’t sure she knew well enough how to do it without hurting me.  Dad told her that she had to try because it might be my only hope.

My face was more like purple by the time Cathy stood behind me, wrapped her arms around my torso, clasped one hand around the other and suddenly thrust that fist into my diaphragm.  I grunted, but nothing came out.  She tried again.  Nothing. Mom was crying.  Dad was yelling to try again.  Cathy was scared, but she gave one more big thrust.

With that thrust, the air inside me blasted the triangle-shaped piece of taco shell up out of my throat, through my mouth, past my lips and hurled it across the room several feet.  I sucked in precious, life-giving air, and the the rest of the family drank in sweet relief.

There were lots of hugs that night.  And Mom and Dad were so proud of Cathy… so happy that she had been taking that class at that very moment in our family’s history.

I don’t know if Cathy enjoyed that class or not, but none of us cared that night because it paid off.  Her willingness to take on the challenge of that class ended up providing her with the very knowledge and skill I needed her to have in order to save my life.

In much the same way, God will often allow us each to go through some challenging situations in life in order to give us the ability we need to help someone else.  Our difficulty can be necessary for a moment down the road when we will be needed.

Your serious health issue may give you the ability to show someone else how to appreciate the life and health they have.  Your financial challenges may help you show someone else how to live on a budget.  Your broken relationship may help you show someone else how to love more.

So if you’re going through a challenging or difficult situation right now in life, respect it… don’t reject it.  It may prove to give you exactly what you need to make a difference in the life of someone else.

Render Them Shameless

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.

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.

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.

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