Beyond Grand Master

I was playing chess with Alex last week, when I made a move that caught him off-guard. He asked, “How did you do that? I never saw it!” I explained that I had plotted out my moves three or four moves ahead, anticipating what his reactive moves would be to each of mine. Truth be told, he has not played very much, and it really isn’t a fair competition because I’ve played so much more than he has.

That concept of thinking moves ahead is nothing new, though. And I’m no great chess player. It is said that master chess players think as far as ten moves ahead, and make adjustments if their opponents make moves different than those anticipated by the master.

I was listening to someone on a video the other day who said, “God plays chess while the devil is trying to play checkers.” It was a funny statement. But as I began to think about it, I realized that the concept is right.

God knows the end from the beginning. He has thought through every move and counter-move possible in our lives. He has a strategy to make us victorious. And nothing the enemy tries can work. No mistake on our part can hinder Him from accomplishing His goal of bringing us to victory if we stay submitted to Him. He may make adjustments because of the poor decisions we or others make, but it won’t stop Him from winning.

And the game of life is practically rigged in our favor when we allow Him to maneuver all the pieces. He is beyond the level of grand master, and He is playing an opponent who would barely qualify as a beginner.

So today… don’t sweat what looks like a bad situation. The One who is beyond grand master has a strategy for your life, and He knows exactly where to move every piece to guarantee victory! Just let Him work His plan.

Trek Or Tent

Note: Straight-Up Spiritual Post

Last night, standing in a church service where I was about to speak, the person leading worship said something about following God as He leads us like the Israelites did when God led them through the wilderness using a pillar of cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire at night.

Looking into Scripture for the reference point, the cloud/fire pillar was where God would be as He led His people to the Promised Land after delivering them out of slavery in Egypt. When it was time for the people to move and go in a particular direction, God would lead them using this cloud/fire pillar. It was tall enough for the millions of them to see and follow. As long as God moved, they moved.

But there would be points along the journey when God knew they needed to stop and rest. So, the pillar would stop moving. When it did, everyone stopped, and they would set up camp there. They would erect the Tabernacle… the place of worship where man connected with God… right underneath that cloud/fire pillar. Then they would all set up their tents, and they would camp their till the pillar lifted from the Tabernacle and started moving again. As soon as it lifted, they broke camp and followed again.

Now I don’t think God has ever chosen to lead me with a pillar of cloud or fire. I sometimes wish life was that simple. But He does lead and guide us in definite ways. If we are playing attention to Him, He will help us know when it is time for us to get moving. He’ll lead the way so we know which direction to move. He will shield our eyes from what would blind us from our path, or He light the path in the dark so we know where to walk. And He will also help us know when to take a break.

Sometimes, however, when it’s time to move, we procrastinate because we hate to leave our campsite. We’ve gotten used to the lay of the land. It’s familiar and comfortable to us. Other times, when it is time for us to stop, set up camp and rest, we want to keep moving. We think we are strong enough. We think we are prepared for the challenges ahead.

The thing is, we need to learn to recognize when it is time to move and when it is time to camp. To do that, we have to keep our spiritual eyes trained on God for His prompts. He knows better than we do what is up ahead. He knows better than we do when we need to rest up and gain strength.

Let me ask you… Is it time to trek or tent in your life right now? If you’re not sure, why not take a few moments right here, right now, and just ask God to show you whether He’s moving or stopping. Then whatever He’s doing, do that, and you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

Trust The Dot-Placer

Remember those dot-to-dot picture puzzles we used to do as kids? PR31 and I were just talking about those. I loved doing those things. It seemed so simple. Sometimes, you could just look at all the dots and actually see the object in your mind before a single line was drawn. Others, however, were not as simple. You might think the line needed to go a certain way, but there was no dot there, or it was definitely not the next number in order. So what did you do? You looked for the next dot, and you drew your line to it.

Maybe today, your life feels like one of those dot-to-dot puzzles. Mine certainly does sometimes. Just about the time I think I see where I think the line is going… or should go… there is no dot there. So what do I do? I stop, look for the next dot, and draw my line there. Then I may have to stay on that dot for awhile as I search for the next one.

Why? I trust the Dot-Placer. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6 that we should trust the Lord with all our heart and not depend on our own understanding… that we should acknowledge God as the Dot-Placer, and in doing so He would direct us to the next dot to which we need to draw our life’s line.

It’s not always easy. At some points along life’s dot-to-dot, we think we have it all figured out. We think we know what the shape is going to turn out to be. We think we know where the next dot should be and where we should draw our line. But God has a magnificent, intricate plan laid out with all the dots in the right places. And if we will just draw our line to His next dot, we will end up in the right place… at the right time… in the right way.

If your life feels like a crazy dot-to-dot puzzle today, hang in there. Don’t draw your own line or add your own dots. Stop on the dot where you are, and look for the next dot God has laid out for you… even if it takes a little while to find it. Trust the Dot-Placer. The picture is there, and it is coming into focus a little bit at a time. One day, you’ll look back and see why He directed you along those dots in the way He did.

How About A Do-Over

We have several friends who are currently serving as foster parents. It is amazing how they are investing their lives in the lives of these children and teenagers. It is temporary investment for permanent life-change.

Recently, I was talking with one of my foster-dad friends, and he was telling me about one of the kids they are caring for having a total attitude meltdown. Whether you are in favor of physical disciplining of children or not, you cannot discipline that way with foster kids for a lot of serious reasons. So he told me about how they handle correction in their family now…

When one of the kids displays a bad attitude or a wrong action, they address the issue by stating what was wrong. Then they do something powerful… They ask the child if he/she would like a do-over. If the child accepts the do-over and makes things right, they reinforce that right attitude and action with encouragement.

As my friend told me about an actual instance when this had been applied, I couldn’t help but blurt out how that is exactly how God treats us when we display our own bad attitudes or wrong actions. He’s not waiting to strike us down with a plague or fire from Heaven. He lovingly, patiently points out where we were wrong and then asks us if we would like a do-over. He’s the God of second chances… and third chances… and hundredth chances. But He doesn’t stop there. When we finally get our attitudes and actions right, He lovingly reinforces our right choice with encouragement.

Sure, you were wrong, but you don’t have to stay wrong. Take the do-over today. You don’t have to live in guilt and shame today. God is not waiting to take you out back to the woodshed and give you the whippin’ of your life. He stands ready instead to give you a do-over and a dose of encouragement. And isn’t that what we really need?

To all my foster parent friends, thank you for the amazing example of God’s love and grace you are to me! Keep up the great work. You are making a difference for eternity.

Not Just Ice Cream

This past weekend, we had a massive garage sale. Friday in particular was brutally hot, and we spent most of the day outside. Although I must admit, I tried to stay in the actual garage with a fan blowing on me as much as possible.

In the middle of the day, a dear family friend stopped by and visited with us for awhile. She is the sweetest lady you could ever meet. She is thoughtful, gracious, considerate, and never to be outdone when it comes to generosity. After her visit, we all commented how fun it was to have her stop by.

Later that afternoon, she texted me to let me know that she was picking us up some ice cream and would be by to deliver it to us shortly. I told her she didn’t need to do it, but she insisted. And sure enough, about ten minutes later, she rolled into the driveway with her delivery. For the record, it wasn’t just ice cream… It was Blue Bell. I grew up in Texas, and so the jingle… “Blue Bell, the best ice cream in the country,” actually means something to me.

I thanked her profusely, as did the boys. What she didn’t know until I told her, was that when I slipped inside to gobble down a quick lunch earlier, I wanted some kind of dessert. I had thought to myself, “It is so hot, some ice cream sure would be good.” But I knew none of us would be going to the store that day because of the garage sale, and so I figured ice cream was just out of the question. It was just a fleeting craving and a fanciful whim… so I thought. Until she brought ice cream.

I had not said a word to anyone about ice cream. I didn’t have to. The One who knows all things delights in every detail of my life, according to Psalm 37:23. He knew that He could nudge her heart to buy ice cream, and she would do it. So He did.

She did not know that I needed that ice cream reminder that day to remind me that if my Heavenly Father can cause someone to bring me the dessert I wanted on a whim, then He can tackle the other part of that verse, which says He also directs the steps of my life. It was a subtle reminder, but it was not lost on me. He threw it, and I caught it.

So when is ice cream not just ice cream? When it reminds that person receiving it of how intimately involved God is in their life. You see, it wasn’t just ice cream she delivered Friday… It was love… It was encouragement… It was hope.

So, this week, let’s be sensitive to those nudges… because we never know when it is not just ice cream.

You Get What You Order

When you go to a restaurant to eat, and you place your order with the server, they typically bring you exactly what you ordered. You asked for it and expected it, so that is what they brought you. What’s interesting is that you can also tell that server you believe they are going to do a great job serving that meal… and they will do just that.

People will rise to the level to which they are challenged to rise. It’s because they believe that someone else not only believes they are capable, but that someone believes in them.

We all struggle from time to time in believing in ourselves. It’s part of the human condition. Yet, within each of us, there is this ability to help others rise out of that struggle and achieve all they are capable of being and doing.

I have chosen to believe the best in people… to hold them to high standards… to cheer them on and believe in them… to let them know all the potential I see in them. And you know what? They typically respond by becoming exactly that… or more.

This is what Jesus did with the disciples He selected, and with basically anyone He met. He called them to a higher standard. Those who were genuine may have faced challenges and struggles along the way, but for the most part they rose to the occasion and became more than anyone else expected.

Whose challenges will you look past today in order to see their potential? And what will you call them to? How will you cheer them on and celebrate them as they begin to make progress? And how will you both feel when they reach that potential?

It’s time to stop reading for today and start reaching. You get what you order!

Wondering In The Wandering

Note: Straight-Up Spiritual Post

God may lead you into the wilderness, but He won’t leave you in the wilderness! Check Matthew chapters 3, 4 and 5. God publicly declares that He loves His Son, Jesus, at His baptism. Then the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness. Wilderness in Scripture is not necessarily a desert, but rather an uninhabited place… a place of isolation, solitude and maybe even loneliness.

But God the Father doesn’t stop loving Jesus while He is in the wilderness. And He doesn’t leave Him. He remains with Him in His Word, giving Him the ability to overcome temptation. And when the time of testing in the wilderness comes to an end, the Father sends angels to minister to and strengthen Jesus. Then He leads Jesus out of the wilderness to live out His purpose.

Perhaps today you feel like you are in a wilderness of sorts. Know this… even if God led you there, He won’t leave you there. He will go through the time with you. He will give you power to endure and overcome. He will strengthen you. And He will lead you out to live in your purpose!

In the middle of this week, don’t let your wandering in the wilderness make you wonder if God loves you or knows where you’re at. He loves you… He’s with you… He’s leading you. Keep walking with Him, and He will lead you out soon enough!

Missing Something?

Ever had something missing in your life? When something important is missing in our lives, it’s like it becomes the sole focus, taking up all our extra attention, energy and time trying to find that last piece which we think will complete us. When you’re depressed, it takes everything you’ve got to try to find the missing joy. When you’re stressed about a situation you’re facing, it takes almost all your energy to try find peace. Missing pieces can drive you crazy trying to find them.

The boys and I have this 1,000-piece puzzle featuring a photo of a New Orleans Saints football game in the Superdome. It’s ridiculous. I’m not even sure we have found all the edge pieces inside the box yet. We work on it for awhile, and we set it aside because something is missing that we just can’t find. But I guarantee you that when we get down to the last few pieces, we won’t be stopping till we complete it. We won’t leave that last missing piece out.

The truth is, that’s the way God is when it comes to the missing pieces of our lives. Jesus illustrated how focused God is on what’s missing in the three stories He told in Luke chapter 15. It’s one of my favorite chapters in all of Scripture… mostly because it reminds me that God goes looking for what is lost and doesn’t stop till He finds it.

We all have something missing in our lives from time to time. People came to Jesus regularly with what was missing in them. Some of them were missing health. Some of them were missing a second chance. Some of them were missing friends. Some of them were missing finances to pay their bills. Some were missing answers to tough questions. In reality, what they were missing was Jesus… because He could provide whatever they thought they were missing. So they came to Him to get His help in finding the missing pieces.

What’s missing in your life today? Are you out of work and missing a job that you would love? Are you suffering from illness and missing healing? Are you down to the bottom of your financial barrel and missing money in the bank? Are you lonely and missing true, authentic friends? Are you struggling with deep issues of life and missing genuine understanding and solutions?

Whatever you’re missing today, God cares deeply about it. He cares deeply about you! He cares so much that is willing to go to great lengths to find what’s missing in your life and fill that void. So if you’re missing direction, wisdom, love, provision, or anything else… bring your emptiness to Him and He will find your missing pieces!

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