Note: Clearly Spiritual Post

Hang in there! Don’t give up! The Lord impressed on my heart this morning that someone needs to know He hasn’t let you down… He’s just setting you up for something greater!

You may feel like God has forgotten about you. You may think He isn’t doing anything about your situation. You may have even asked where He is and what He is up to.

So, He invited me to be a part of letting you know that He is at work on your situation. He loves you. You matter to Him. He values you. He is putting all the pieces together in the right order for you to be the best you can be.

I know it may be a struggle to hope or believe. But you ARE going higher.

Now help a brutha out… If this is for you and your situation today, would you comment, message or text me to affirm that I heard clearly from the Lord? I’ll pray for you.

Maybe you’ve been wanting to add children to your family and haven’t been able to… for a long time… even though you’ve asked the Lord to bless you with them. Been there, done that.

Or maybe you or a loved one is battling a health or emotional issue that you haven’t been healed of yet… even though you’ve asked the Lord to heal you.

Or perhaps you’ve asked the Lord to open a door for you to fulfill your dreams and purpose, but every door you knock on seems to be locked up tight… even though you know His Word says He’s guiding your steps and He has a great plan for you.

Could be that you long to be married, but even though you’ve asked the Lord to bring the right person into your life… it just hasn’t happened.

When we come to times like this, it’s easy to wonder, “Why?”

– Why won’t You answer my prayer the way I want, Lord?

– Why is it taking so long?

– Why can’t I seem to have the blessings others have?

– Why aren’t you coming to my rescue, Lord?

The good news is that you are not alone. The man who might have been the Lord’s best friend records a story about some other friends of Jesus… two sisters and their brother… Mary, Martha and Lazarus who encountered their own “Why, Lord” moment.

Lazarus got sick, and so his sisters did what lots of people had done… They asked Jesus to come heal him. They were good friends of Jesus. He loved them, and they loved Him. So they assumed He would come immediately when He heard Lazarus was sick and would heal him on the spot. Why wouldn’t He?

And soon that became their actual question… Why didn’t He? Jesus chose to wait two days before making the two-day walk to their home in Bethany. That’s four days. And by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died. In Mary’s and Martha’s minds, Jesus was too late… and He didn’t have to be. He could have come earlier. He could have healed Lazarus. Why didn’t He come? Why didn’t He answer their request?

Why, Lord?

When they asked Him that question, His answer sounded odd… To give God more glory. What? How was their brother dying going to give God more game and recognition and praise? How would his death instead of his healing cause more people to think God was amazing?

Then Jesus showed them. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Their pain was eclipsed by their joy. And John records that MANY people believed in Jesus because of this miracle.

Then they understood. But they couldn’t understand till then. It didn’t make sense. It baffled the sisters that Jesus didn’t do what Jesus normally did in the way He normally did it. And their hearts were flooded with that one emotionally draining query… “Why, Lord?”

You probably know the weariness of that question. I know I do. And yet, each time, Jesus comes through and joy swallows up my weariness as it reveals the understanding that God’s plan is so much bigger and more amazing than I had the capacity to grasp before.

So, why do I still ask, “Why, Lord” anymore? Because in each new situation I face, it doesn’t seem like the situations before. And even though I know the Lord loves me… even though I know He is working everything together for my good… even though I know He has also come through for me before… this time seems different.

And still He loves me. Still He is gracious and kind to me. Still He is patient with me. He lets me ask “Why, Lord” all I want. Then… at the right time… in the right way… in the way that will cause the most people to be drawn to Him… He answers my prayer in a way I didn’t even know to ask Him.

The only reason I can imagine He hasn’t answered your request in the way you want… on the schedule you want… is the same reason He didn’t for Mary and Martha… God has a better plan. Just keep in mind how John laid it all out… Jesus loved Him, but He did it differently than they expected.

When you can’t understand why, you can at least rest in the truth that He loves you… and He has a better way.

Hang in there. He will show up and be there to go through it with you… all the way to the miraculous end!

I slowed the minivan to a crawl as we passed the house… slow enough for PR31 to look up the driveway into the garage and case the situation. “Nope, doesn’t look like there’s much there. Let’s go to the next one.” So, we did the drive-by, and headed for our next target.

A couple neighborhoods down the road from us a mile or two have an annual neighborhood-wide garage sale. This year, about 15-20 homes participated in the sale. It was a last-minute decision for us to try to hit some of the sales. The weather was cooler than normal, and there had been a few sprinkles of rain that morning. We didn’t get out till about 10:00am, which is hours too late to get the good stuff at a garage sale, but a great time to slip up on someone ready to give up and get rid of stuff at rock bottom prices. And since we had to go into town to run a few errands anyway, we figured we would have some fun and hit some sales.

The problem was that the rain had caused most of the families to move all the items they were selling into their garages. Now, you would probably think that this is no big deal. But you would be wrong. Psychologically, in my humble opinion as a garage sale expert, most people would prefer a “yard sale” to a “garage sale.” We want to be able to pull up near your house, cast a glance up the driveway, and determine from the comfort of our own vehicle if you have anything that looks of value enough for us to stop, park the vehicle, unbuckle, get out of the vehicle and walk the steps that it would take to get us to the desirable items in question. If we can’t see the merchandise available… or if it just looks like a bunch of clothes and videotapes instead of tools, electronics, sports gear, furniture and antiques… we will probably do “the drive-by.”

Now, to be fair here, we could have cost ourselves several great deals on some really cool stuff that Saturday… just because we weren’t willing to stop long enough to invest some time and interest looking into what people had to offer. It could absolutely have been our loss. People could have had the very things we were looking for, but we will never know because we did “the drive-by.”

Here’s the thing, in life lots of people do the exact same thing… just with people instead of garage sales. We look at someone and try to quickly evaluate whether or not we want to take the time and effort required to invest in a relationship. And while quality relationships should be more about what we can offer than what we can get from the other person, too often we do “the drive-by” because we don’t think there is anything positive in that person that is worth us stopping.

Look, sometimes we strike out at a garage sale… or with a person when we stop and “take a chance.” But sometimes we get surprised with a great bargain for a minor investment of ourselves.

Jesus was no “drive-by” kind of guy. He would stop at every person possible to see if He could connect with them, offer them love… or healing… or hope. And so many times He was rewarded by a new-found follower or friend. Sure, He struck out with some of His stops, but that didn’t cause Him to shift into “drive-by” mode. He just kept stopping and checking to see the value in people.

Sadly, too often I have been in “drive-by” mode with people. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great friendships simply because I didn’t stop to see the value in those people. I’m not proud of it… just stating a sad fact. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to be like Jesus… stopping at every person… looking them square in the eyes… smiling… and seeing their value. I want to make it home to Heaven at the end of this life and show the Lord all the great finds I came across during my time on this planet.

So, if you wanna “drive-by” a garage sale, that’s one thing, but let’s all strive to stop when it comes to people!

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!

If you are borrowing money, you know that the interest rate goes up and down multiple times even in one day.  If you are blessed enough to have money invested in the stock market, you know that the market goes up and down all the time and affects the value of your portfolio.  Real estate usually goes up in value, but can decrease in value.  Stores raise and lower prices. Amazon and eBay items can shift in value based on supply and demand.

The problem with living in a culture in which value increases and decreases all the time is that we believe our value does the same.  We think that if we work hard enough or hit our goals, then our value goes up.  And conversely, we tend to believe that if we fail or falter our value goes down.  Yet this is completely false.

Our value never changes… at least not with God. Regardless of whether others give us raises or divorce us, our value never decreases with God.  When we get it right, He doesn’t love us and value us more.  He couldn’t possibly love us any more than He already does.  And when we totally blow it, He doesn’t love us or value us any less.  His nature and eternal choice to value us immensely cannot be decreased by any market force around us or careless decision on our part.

The price of gold may rise and fall.  The stock market may soar or crash.  Oil may hit an all-time high or bottom out.  But your value remains constant… stable… enduring.  God has set your value, and He refuses to change it.  You are always the apple of His eye.  You are always worth Him sending His Son to be executed for your crimes against Him.  You are always worth Him preparing a place where He could spend eternity with you.

So whatever name that person called you… whatever promotion you got or didn’t get… whatever type of home you live in or vehicle you drive… whatever level of education you have achieved… whatever titles you have or don’t have… you are forever unchangingly & incredibly valuable!  Never let anyone tell you anything different!!!

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.

This is my “happy family” pic…


This is my “cute kids” pic…

This is my “yummy food my wife makes” pic…


This is my “we only do fun things” pic…


I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Now, if you’ve read this blog at all, you know that my life purpose is “to love and encourage, offering grace and hope.”  You know that I write to build people up, not tear them down.  So, please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to write…

Most of us only post the good stuff about our lives online.  Our social media posts would make people think we never have a problem.  And the more likes… or hearts… or comments… or shares… or retweets we get, the more valued and validated we feel about ourselves.

Truth be told, the mechanics of this blog give me analytics to help me which posts read more… or liked more.. or commented on more.  If I’m not careful, it can turn into one more way for me to judge myself and my abilities.

But when we live our lives based on whether people think we are cute… or amazing… or talented… or lucky, our emotions are going to end up all over the place.  Happy birthday greetings on Facebook weren’t quite what they were last year.  Sad face emoji.  Less people shared that video. Cry face emoji.  Wait, more people than ever read this post! Big smile, thumb up and fist bump emoji.

Yet our value far exceeds what our peers… or our bosses… or our followers… or our subscribers tell us.  We have inherent value placed on us by Someone who never changes His opinion of us. God gave us value when He made each of us unique and special.  He determined that the world would need someone like you.  And He placed even more value on each of us when He gave His only Son to come take our punishment so that we could be freely adopted into His family.

And the great thing about this value is that it doesn’t change.  It doesn’t change when I do something spectacular (and therefore post-worthy).  It doesn’t change when I fail as a partner… or lose a subscriber… or burn the grilled-cheese sandwich… again.  The value God gives each of us supersedes all our ups and downs.

So let me encourage you today to not let how your day goes be determined by what someone says or doesn’t say about you… by how many or  few people liked your “cute puppy pic”… by shares or comments or follows or hearts.  Find your value in the One whose estimation of you has never changed… and never will!

It has been such a fun week of celebrating Christmas in July as a family.  Memories have been made, and I believe a new tradition may have just begun for Team A.  We even drew names to get each other a small, inexpensive gift.

During this other “most wonderful time of the year,” I am reminded of the classic Christmas movies I loved watching growing up, and which our kids are now getting to enjoy. I loved those old claymation-type animated Christmas movies like Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

One of my favorite parts of the Rudolph storyline is when they need to find toys for Santa to give and Rudolph leads them to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”  There lived the toys that had flaws… and mistakes… and missing parts.  They were the toys culture said didn’t match up.  But Rudolph believed there were kids who would love having those toys.

Maybe sometimes you feel like a misfit toy yourself.  Maybe you don’t seem to match up to culture’s “ideals.”  Perhaps you don’t have the perfect shape or figure.  Maybe you’re not quite as young or glamorous as you once were.  Perhaps your résumé or ACT score isn’t what someone thinks it should be.

But for every person, God has a purpose and a plan.  There is someone out there who needs what you have to offer.  There is someone out there who will love you for you.  There is someone who doesn’t see your flaws and mix-ups as problematic.  Instead, they see you as unique and wonderful.

Ignore those purveyors of “perfect.”  Be yourself.  You have worth and value just like you are.  Ask God to reveal His purpose for your life, and point you toward His plan.  You’ll find Him pick you up off the “island of misfit toys” and place you in a healthy, loving environment designed just for you!

Election Lost

(Please note some self-directed, tongue-in-cheek sarcasm early on in this post.)

I had been Sophomore Class President, Junior Class President and Student Body Vice-President in my first two years at the university I attended.  So, with all this experience (and my given likability), it stood to reason in my fairly self-absorbed mind that I would be overwhelmingly elected when I ran for Student Body President in the spring semester of 1994.

Add to this factor that it was the second time I had run for Student Body President… and this was a lock, right?  I mean, surely my fellow-students would see my incredible leadership ability… along with all the fun I proposed in my very well-crafted campaign speech… and feel deeply compelled to vote in my favor.

Sadly, they could not see then what a blessing I would be to them and to the University.  The did not value my skills as an orator and my ability to produce a great atmosphere on campus which all could enjoy.  They lacked the foresight to see that I was created to lead the masses.  And yes, believe it or not, I lost the election…. again.

Campus Villain

And we all know that elections have consequences.  So like any rejected average Joe in a superhero movie, I determined that, if my talents and skill set were not appreciated for the good I could do, then I would utilize them for wreaking wide-spread havoc across the campus the following year.  I told my roommate that I was going to pull so many pranks and cause so much trouble the next school year that anytime something went wrong across the campus, the administration would just say, “Call Allen in again… we know it’s him.”

(Yes, I was immature.  No, I am not proud of that moment in my life.  Yes, I realize that I probably would not have gone through with all that.  No, I did not realize that I was letting my emotions due to rejection get the best of me.)

Second Chance?

Not long after that conversation with my roommate… yeah, I’m pretty sure he warned someone that I was unstable at that moment in life… my Dorm Pastor sent for me to come to his office.

You’d have to know Tom Hill to garner the proper sense of dread connected with being beckoned to his office.  Tom was a Vietnam vet who had been wounded in action.  He was missing one eye… there were chunks missing in one arm and part of his abdomen from shrapnel… and he was missing part of his index finger on one hand.  (Granted, that last injury came from a power saw during his construction years and not from his time in the military.  But it added to his persona.). Tom may have been shorter than my  5’8″ stature and nearly twice my 135 lbs, but he was strong as an ox and quick as a gazelle.  So, there was a certain amount of well-deserved awe and healthy respect which went along with a visit to his office.

To be truthful as always, I was surprised because I had not even done anything wrong yet.  I was just planning wrong… which added to wondering how much more there was to this man.

So I was plenty surprised when, upon entering his office, he welcomed me warmly and told me a story.  He took a plaque off the wall and told me to read it.  It read, “1st Runner Up, Mr. Southwestern.” (This was the popularity contest at the university held each year to recognize the guy and girl who best represented the school’s ideals.). I handed it back, and he replaced it on the wall.  Then he handed me another plaque and asked me to read it.  I thought it a little odd, but I obliged… because you didn’t say “no” to Tom Hill.  Same thing… “1st Runner Up.”

Tom proceeded to tell me the story of how he, too, had not been selected by his peers.  He told of how it stung.  He told of how frustrating it was to him.  He let me know that he could relate to how I was feeling.

And then he began to encourage me, letting me know that there was life after rejection.  He went on to tell me all that he had been able to accomplish.  He pointed out that the Lord had a good plan for him… and for me.

Selected

That’s when the conversation shifted, and Tom asked me if I would be willing to serve as a resident assistant on one of the halls in the guys dorm in which I resided and which he oversaw.  I was floored.  I couldn’t believe that someone saw something in me that I believed was there, but I thought apparently others did not.

When he had explained what the role entailed and I agreed to accept the assignment, he really blew me away.  He said that he would like for me to serve as the assistant dorm director and oversee the whole team of resident assistants… to help him lead the whole dorm.  I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  He valued me.  He trusted me.  He saw potential in me.  And he offered me the opportunity to influence… to do good works.

Interesting little side note… When Tom informed the committee who approved the selections for RA’s and assistant dorm directors that he had selected me as his choice for right-hand man, they literally laughed out loud at him and asked him if he was kidding.  I know that because he told me about it in a subsequent meeting.  He told me that he went to bat for me, telling them what he saw in me.  Of course, he followed that up with a wheezing, “You’d better not let me down, son.”  And I knew he was serious.

Transformation

Over that summer, I spent 10 weeks serving at a summer church camp and then went on a 10-day missions trip to Guadalajara, Mexico.  God did a lot of work in me over that summer.  By the time I got back to the university the next fall for RA in-service, I was a changed young man.  I was focused on my walk with God and the call He had placed on my life.

During that year as RA and assistant dorm director, God continued to work in my life and show me how He had good plans for me to do good works just like Ephesians 2:10 says.  He pointed out to me that He intended for me to lovingly lead and equip people to do the good works He has for them as well.  And so began the journey which brought me to my life purpose of loving and encouraging people, offering grace and hope.

I didn’t let Tom down that year.  I served to the best of my abilities.  And from there, ministry took on a whole new life for me.

Genesis

But the genesis of that transformation… at least in my opinion… came when one Tom Hill decided he would encourage me… would speak to me about the potential he saw in me to do good… would believe in me… would go to bat for me when others laughed at me.

(So, thanks, Tom Hill! Thank you for believing in me and trusting me. Thank you for encouraging me and, in so doing, creating another encourager.)

Whose genesis of transformation are you a part of?  Who are you breathing life into?  Who are you encouraging?  Who are you going to bat for?  Who are you believing in and trusting to step up?  Who are you telling that you see potential in them?
Realize this… You have the ability to shape someone’s future.  You have the opportunity to help propel them toward their destiny.  You can help them discover their purpose on this planet.  But you might have to take a chance on them.  And you have to say these things to them so that they know someone believes in them, even if they think others have rejected them.

And if you will do this… though few may ever know about it… you will have impacted many people’s lives forever!