Christmas In July

Awhile back, PR31 and I decided that our family would celebrate Christmas in July this year.  The boys are on a break from school this week… My current work allows me the freedom to adapt my schedule… Hallmark Channel has Christmas movies on all week… QVC is selling like it’s Black Friday or Cyber Monday… Hobby Lobby is already putting trees and ornaments out on their aisles… So why not Team A?

We love Christmas in our family!  No seriosuly, we LOVE it!!!  The song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and we believe the song is right.  Christmas is a time when people speak more kindly… when they are more generous… when they think of others and not just themselves.  Add to that the fact that we Christ-followers who say that we ought to celebrate all God has done for us throughout the year.

Stir that all up in a bowl, and just makes perfect sense to us to celebrate Christmas in July.

There are sugar cookies being made… Christmas carols are being played… classic Christmas movies being watched… a Christmas tree has been put up and decorated… an elf is being hidden each night after the boys go to bed… Christmas crafts are being made… and even small, inexpensive gifts will be exchanged toward the end of the week.

What’s crazy is… despite the fact that we live in the Deep South and it’s well over 90 degrees each day this week… when the skies were overcast the other day, and the air conditioner was turned down a degree or two, and the small lights on the tree and mantle are shimmering, and the Christmas decor is hung, and a Christmas movie is on… well, it’s easy to forget that it’s July.  In fact, the other evening I was almost so absorbed in the moment that I had to really had to think about whether it was July or December.

You can call it ridiculous.  You can say it’s just positive thinking.   You can say we’re just tricking our minds into thinking what we want to think, and tricking our feelings into what we want to feel.

Yet, it hit me that we have some power in our lives that is really quite amazing.  God has created us with the ability to transform the way we think and feel by changing what we see… or maybe more accurately, by changing what we choose to look at.  I can look at the thermometer and see that it is 92 degrees outside with a heat index of over 100 degrees…  too hot to go outside and enjoy much other than a pool.  Or I can look at the thermostat and turn it down another degree to create the atmosphere which helps create a sense of joy and fun for my family.

All this reminds me that Paul told the believers in Rome to “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”  And in II Kings 6, when an evil king sent a whole army to capture the prophet Elisha, his servant freaked out until Elisha prayed that God would help the servant see what he already saw… God’s army of angels with chariots and horses of fire completely surrounding the enemy army. What he saw changed his perspective.

That’s what I’m getting at today.  Instead of just looking at our situations and being baffled, or bored, or bummed, why not be proactive and decorate our world to reflect what it is more real and more in line with what God wants for us.  We might just be surprised.  We might forget the difficulties and challenges we currently face and relax.  We might just discover some extra joy we thought was only reserved for special occasions.

It’s up to us, though, to get out the decorations… roll out the cookie dough… and wrap the gifts… if we are going to change the way we think to point our emotions in the right direction.

So go ahead… toss a little tinsel… heat up a little ham… and have yourself a merry little Christmas now… in July!

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I love this quote…

“Long before Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus, the tree was planted to meet his need.”

Ficus sycomorus is the scientific name of the type tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus according to Luke chapter 19.  That type tree can take from twenty to fifty years to grow to its full maturity.  So it is possible that before Zacchaeus was born, that tree he climbed was planted. It also means that it was possibly planted before Jesus even came to earth as a man.

Here’s the good news we can take away from this for us today…

God already knows what you are going to need long before you’re going to need it. And He comes up with a solution to provide what you’re going to need before you even know to ask Him for it.

So you can relax now.  God has everything under control.  You’ll have what you need when you need it.

Just Be You

I have discovered something about myself… I am better with words than with wiring.  I am better at encouraging than correcting.  I learn better by listening or watching than by reading.  I do better living outside of town than I do surrounded by people in houses or apartments sitting right on top of each other.  I do better telling funny stories and tying them to truth from Scripture than I do attempting the old-school, campmeeting style of preaching from the 1950’s & 1960’s which I love to listen to. And that’s okay… because I was made in wonderful way. And I have chosen to just be me.

Maybe you are athletic.  Maybe you are artistic.  Maybe you are incredibly intelligent.  Maybe you are irresistibly interesting.  Just be you.
Whether you are an amazing stay-at-home wife and mom… or a spectacular salesperson, just be you.

Too often we want to look like someone else… or sound like someone else… or dress like someone else… or live like someone else.  But Scripture tells us in Psalm 139:14 that God made each of us in a wonderful way.  One translation expands the words to mean that we are “set apart.”  In other words, you’re terrific… just be you!

We were designed to be unique.  Some are distinctively debonair, while others are fabulously folksy.  Neither is wrong, both are right… for that person.  Just be you.

Today, determine to embrace that you are good at the things you are good at.  Your looks are perfect for you.  Your age is perfect for the time you were assigned to live in history.  The ways in which you are talented set you apart and make you phenomenal.

Just be you.

We’re all looking for… and needing… and hoping to find… someone like you.  Someone who knows who they are and embraces it. Someone who doesn’t care if they are better with words than with Worchestershire sauce.  Someone who is okay with the fact that they are better as an assistant than as a primary leader.

You have been set apart.  You have been made in a wonderful way.  You are unique… and special… in every way.

Just be you.

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.

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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