For All My Friends Who…

It seems like I have so many friends who are struggling and battling tough situations in life right now. Some have lost a marriage… others a ministry… still others their health. Some long to see a hurt healed… some long to hold their own baby… some long for companionship. And it breaks my heart.

So for all my friends who are suffering and struggling tonight, know this…

1) You are not alone. Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us. He is walking through this tough time with you.

2) You will win if you stick with Jesus. He said that we would have trouble in this world, but we should be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. He knows what it takes to come out on top, and He will help you do exactly that.

3) I love you… I am in your corner… and I am praying for those of you who have told me about your situations. I’m not Jesus. I know I don’t have all the answers. I know I can’t fix most of your issues. But I can be your friend. And I can encourage you. And I can let you know that, not only is Jesus with you, I am with you also. My heart aches with yours, and so I am keeping your need in front of the Lord on a regular basis.

Some of this sounds so cheesy and trite. I promise that I don’t mean for it to be that way. I mean it from my heart. And I hope you are encouraged by these reminders!

The Struggle Is Real

I was reminded today that we all seem to want to make everyone else think that we have it all together, that we don’t struggle.

That’s a lie.

We all struggle. We all face challenges. We all wonder… and doubt… and long. Then, because we do, we think we don’t match up to everyone else.

News flash… No one has it all figured out. We’re all doing the best we can.

Yes, even Christians. We may be forgiven, but we are still works in progress as we try to match up to what has been done for us.

So listen, friend, if you’re sitting there wondering if you “missed something in Sunday School” (a phrase I borrowed from a friend recently) because you thought you weren’t supposed to have those thoughts or feelings, I want to welcome you to the club of all humanity. You, my friend, are 100%… certifiably… undeniably… NORMAL!

So relax. And for Pete’s sake, could we please just be real… and authentic… and genuine with each other so that we don’t all going around feeling like failures?

Phew. Thanks. I feel better just getting that off my chest.

P. S.- If someone is vulnerable enough to open up and admit they don’t have it all together, please be kind enough to reciprocate. You might even encourage them while you’re at it. Who knows? They might even encourage you.

Bold Predictions

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?

After This…

Ever noticed how when a child… or maybe even a teenager… has one little thing go wrong, it feels like nothing will ever go right again?  Yet mature adults can look at the situation and say with confidence that everything is going to be okay in the long run.  We burst off-key into song with, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there will be sunshine.”  But the child doesn’t see it that way.

We don’t change much between childhood and adulthood when it comes to this, do we?  Oh, it takes a lot more than a skinned knee or our crush dumping us to make us feel like the world is caving in on us, but we have our moments…

Maybe it’s one health issue after another.  Or maybe you don’t get treated fairly at work, and then you lose your job.  Or perhaps your spouse leaves you, and then your kids get mad at you for the split.  It could even be as simple as every major appliance in your home seeming to break down within the same month. Whatever the case, we all hit some rough patches in life when we don’t see a ray of sunlight ahead… only dark times.

Job, of ancient Scripture, knew these kinds of times better than any of us.  He literally had the devil working against him.  He lost his wealth and all his kids within days. Then he got painfully ill.  His friends told him he must have sinned and made God mad… that he needed to repent for being such a spiritual loser.  His wife told him he ought to cuss God out, give up and die.

The crazy thing is, God knew Job wouldn’t cave.  He was actually showing Job off to the devil and everyone watching.  And He intended to bless Job doubly for all the trouble he went through.   But that ray of sunshine was hard for Job to see in the midst of the dark times.

Just like us.  When you get another downer of a report from the doctor… or when finances aren’t rolling in like they had been… or when it seems like everyone is against you… it’s kind of tough to see yourself as a trophy example God is showing off to the watching world.  It just all looks hopeless… and dark… and senseless.

This is why I am so glad for the 16th verse in Job chapter 42.  It reads, “After this, Job lived 140 years.”  After this.  I love that!  It’s like a parent telling their child the skinned knee will stop hurting and will heal up sooner than they think. It’s a reminder to me that… in those times when there seem to be no reasons, and no answers, and no improvement in the situation… there are better days ahead.  I have an “after this” ahead of me.  So do you!

I know it looks bad right now.  I know things are piling up on top of you.  I know there doesn’t seem to be an end to this rough patch.  I know it seems like your friends and family have turned on you.  I know you don’t think you can take any more.

But when God’s involved, you have an “after this” coming.  It may not look like it right now, but you do.  Job lived another 140 years after what he faced, and God blessed him even more than He had before.  And God will be there for you through your time of difficulty.  One day soon, you’ll come out of this rough patch, and your story will record that “after this, you lived and God blessed 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.

Scars Before Trophies

I laughed till I cried and could hardly catch my breath.  Three or four of us older teenagers were helping our youth pastor build a float to represent our church in a local parade. Someone hurt themselves a little, and someone else told a story of a time when they got hurt.  We each took a turn telling a story about getting hurt.  Then Mike told a story about getting hurt that topped them all.

Not to be outdone… because now this was a competitive display of our manhood… we each began pulling out our best injury stories. There were lots of “ohhhhh’s” and “no way’s.”  And after each person told their next story, Mike would tell one of his… usually rolling up a pant leg or lifting a sleeve to show us the scar related to that story.  This got us laughing.  As it went on, we all ran out of stories, and Mike just kept telling his till we laughed harder and harder.

That night, building that float together and telling stories of injuries we had survived… Mike winning the manhood trophy, of course… drew us all together.  Looking back, I get it.  The greatest inspirational stories… the ones that open our heart to hear what others have to say… the ones that draw us to them… the ones that make us want to know them… are the stories which involve someone overcoming injury and adversity.  It’s when they show us their scars… because scars prove they know what it’s like to be hurt, and they also prove that healing can take place.

I love watching the Olympics.  And I can be planning to cheer for one person, but then the network hosting the airing will show a video telling of a different athlete’s trials they had to overcome to make it to the Olympics.  Suddenly, I’m drawn to that person… caught up in their story as it unfolds… wanting them to succeed and win.  And when they do, it’s all the sweeter because I know what they had to go through to win that medal.  Their scars made me celebrate their victory.

Mark Lowry said once, “When someone won’t show you their scars, I don’t really care to see their trophies.”  You see, it’s not the successes people achieve which inspire us and engage us.  It is the scars they show us which they got on the way to winning the trophy.  It says to us that we may get hurt, but we will heal… and we can even go on to win.

Lots of people hate on the disciple known as “doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe Jesus had risen from the dead till he saw the scars, but he had not been there when Jesus showed Himself alive to the disciples the first time.  In my opinion, his response was totally normal to the human condition.  Yet when he saw the scars, it gave him hope… caused him to believe… inspired him… motivated him.

It’s not so different today, is it?  People want hope.  People want to believe.  But they need to see some scars.  They need to hear someone say that they got hurt, but they also healed.  Once they see our scars, they will be able to believe that they, too, can heal from their hurts in life.

So let’s pull down our defenses some today.  Let’s be real… genuine… authentic… vulnerable… a little less than perfect.  Let’s do like Mike, and keep showing our scars till everyone else listening to us thinks, “Hey, my life’s not that bad.  And they healed up, maybe I will, too.”  When we do, our trophies will actually shine a little brighter in their eyes, and we will inspire them to pursue victory for themselves!

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!

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