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O Lord, I thought the day would never come

When I could lay my burdens down and walk with you

Two lines that I’ve sung more times than I can remember.  Two lines that I thought I understood the meaning to a long time ago.  Two lines that brought a tear to my eye and took the stress off my shoulders.

There are very few places that I go repeatedly to re-center and re-focus myself.  One of those places is Elk Mountain outside Lawton, OK.  I remember first going there with my youth group growing up.  I remember the first time I went back as an adult.  It seems that as we grow, places and events that hold great memories from our childhood seem to fade in those “special areas” where we’ve built them up over the years.  On my first trip back up the mountain as an adult, I can remember thinking that it wouldn’t be anything more than a mountain.  And then I got almost half way to the top.

About half way up the mountain there is a point where I usually stop and take a moment to soak in the sunlight and enjoy the view of the wildlife refuge surrounding Elk Mountain.  It’s a beautiful sight…trees, hills, lakes, maybe even some animals.  After a brief pause there I continue hiking up the mountain.  The majority of the rest of the trip up is covered by trees.  The view may have changed, but the feeling hasn’t.  Once we get to the top the wind picks up.  It gives some of the best views I’ve ever seen…even from higher mountains.

On my last couple of trips up the mountain I’ve had the pleasure of being with two of my closest friends.  Each of them know the mountain very well, but one of them taught us something new.  On the top of Elk Mountain, towards the back of the mountain, there is a cave.  Did I mention I love caves almost as much as I love mountains?

As we climb down into the cave we start losing sunlight.  If we hadn’t brought our flashlights the cave could have been deadly.  There are slick rocks, deep holes and all kinds of hazards.  At one point in the cave, after the sun has left us and we enter the belly of the mountain, we stop for a moment.  We had brought several youth with us this time and the “room” we were in was big enough for all of us to be together.  We turned off our lights and it was nearly pitch black.  The first song we sang was, fittingly, the Mountain Song.  That’s when the song gained a whole new meaning and importance to me.

The greatest friend you’ll ever find is on a lonely mountain

The highest high you’ll ever reach is when you kneel to pray

The brightest light you’ll ever see is when you close your eyes

O Lord, You are my first love at last I realize

With nothing to distract from the words, the meaning finally hit me.  And it hit me hard.  What truly matters in this life?  God, family, friends.  Taking care of those 3 parts of life is all that matters…why stress about anything else?  Turn it over to God.  Let him deal with the rest.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  (Matthew 6:25-27)

Father God, thank you.  Thank you for not making us worry about every little detail of life.  Thank you for caring for us like you do.  Please help us to not forget that.  Amen.

“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

–          John 17:25-26, ESV

Father’s Day is that one day of the year we make a special attempt to let our fathers know how much we appreciate them. The sacrifices they make, the love they show, the mercy and compassion they give, and the list goes on and on are things that we all take for granted far too often. As a father, I’m starting to understand why it was never a “big deal” to my dad that the things he did for me growing up got the thanks he deserved…that wasn’t why he did them. I don’t help my little girl with things so that she will tell me “thank you.” I remind her that she needs to say “thank you” because that’s how people are supposed to act. It doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter to a father if their child tells them how much they appreciate them. It’s nice to hear that genuine “Thank you Daddy,” but at the end of the day that’s not why fathers care for their children. They do the things they do because that’s what needs to be done for their children.

Our heavenly Father is just the same. He doesn’t need us to tell Him thank you. He doesn’t need us to constantly tell Him how much we appreciate the sacrifice He made for us. He doesn’t ask for any of that. All He asks is that we live our lives modeled after His. What does that mean? Well, to put it simply, since He cares about us we should care about others. Since He made a sacrifice for us, we should make sacrifices for others. Since He isn’t solely focused on Himself and making sure He gets all the credit He deserves, we should be humble too.

This Father’s Day, remember to tell your father thank you. Tell him how much you appreciate everything that he has done for you. But don’t stop there. Live your life with the lessons you’ve learned from your father. Lessons of what to do or even what not to do, use those lessons to better your life.

This Father’s Day, remember to tell your Father thank you. Tell Him how much you appreciate everything that He has done (and is still doing) for you. But don’t stop there. Tell people around you how great He has been to you. Maybe those people need to have a relationship with their Father that is closer than they currently have. Christ made sure that His relationship to the Father overflowed into the relationships He had with everyone around Him with the hopes that those individuals would live their lives the same way.

There’s a storm coming in tonight. We’ve had storms the last few nights, so it isn’t really that big of a deal, but tonight was different. Tonight I sat out on our deck and watched as it moved closer. I made the comment to my wife Jennifer that “I love these nights. You can see the storm moving in, but you can still see the stars too. It’s relaxing to me to sit and watch a storm slowly move its way closer and closer to you. Feeling the air getting cooler, listening to the sounds of nature as they know something is coming. I don’t sit and watch the storms often. Life is its own storm far too often for us humans. We get caught up in everything going on and forget to look around. Tonight, as I sat and watched the storm, I let myself forget about everything going on at work. My mind began to wander back to my childhood. I found myself sitting on the front porch of my grandparents’ house. My granddad would sit out there with me and we would watch the rain. For the first time in years I could hear his voice explaining to me how powerful our God is. He took every chance he had to explain to me the greatness of God.

As I sat and thought about the powerful God we have, a single lightning bug flew around our yard in front of me. The same God that causes the beautiful lightning storm I was watching move in that could produce lots of rain for the plants created that tiny bug that can be seen from a distance only because of the light it produces. The two (large) frogs that have decided to take up residence on our front porch each night, the birds that have nested near our front door, the mole/gopher (I’m not sure which it is or how to tell honestly) that continues to burrow around our yard, the fire ants that live toward the back of the property, that little lightning bug, and the storm that is continually getting closer as I write this are all reminders of the amazing, powerful God that created not only them but us as well.

Then a Bible verse popped into my head. “I tell you, if these [disciples] were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV). The people around Jesus begged (and even tried to make) Him to have His disciples hold back on praising Him and sharing the news about Him. Jesus’ response was one that echoes down through the ages. The world around us demands a Creator. It demands that its Creator be recognized and praised. But doesn’t this Creator deserve the praise from ALL of His creation? Should it be left for just the storms, plants, and animals to praise Him? Or should we, His “greatest” creation, realize the necessity of giving credit where credit is due?

It’s been a long time since I posted a blog, but hopefully I still have a few readers. I want you to join me in “crying out” about our great Creator, Lord, and Savior. There are opportunities every day for us to give Him the glory He deserves, let’s make sure that we are taking advantage of those opportunities. The rest of creation has carried the duty long enough, it’s time we join the effort.

God or Man

 

Paul presents an interesting point in Galatians 1.  He says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (v. 10).  Think about what Paul is saying here.  He is saying that it is not always possible to please man and God at the same time.  We will either make man happy and let God down, or we will make God happy and let man down.  So, let’s think about this in our own lives in 2013.  Who are we trying to please?  What are we doing with our lives?  There are a few other verses I want us to look at and consider in the light of this concept.

Firstly, let’s look at Romans 12:2.  Again we have Paul addressing a group of Christians and he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Paul starts his big challenge here with the idea of not “conforming” to this world.  We’ve heard lessons or discussions or devotionals on this before, but it’s something that is so important that we need to think about it again.  We live in a time where we are told to be “politically correct.”  Do you know what this phrase means?  It’s more than just not offending someone.  The very definition of this phrase goes against the teaching of Romans 12:2.  The phrase is defined as, “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”  The world we live in is calling us to conform to it’s way of thinking.  God, however, calls us to transform our lives to His way of thinking.  He says we need to test what is taught and see if it matches the will of God.  As a Christian living a transformed way of life, we cannot conform to this world.

Now let’s look at John 12:42-43.  To set the stage, we need to remember what has been happening.  John tells us that Jesus has been performing miracles and teaching the people.  The whole time, however, the Pharisees have been getting angrier and angrier.  John tells us that the unbelief of the Pharisees had been prophesied about by Isaiah.  Then, in verses 42 and 43, John gives us an insight into what some of the people were thinking.  He says, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in Him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”  How sad is that description!  Many of the authorities believed in Jesus but wouldn’t confess Him because they wanted the glory of man instead of God.  These people knew what they were missing out on, but chose the “good things” of this life over the truly great things of the life to come.  The saddest part, however, isn’t that these people passed on confessing and serving Christ, but that people are still making that choice today.  Our friends, maybe even some of our families, are choosing to accept the praise and glory of this world over the praise and glory of God.

There’s one other verse we need to look at though.  It’s something that Christ Himself said.  It’s something we are familiar with, but I want us to take a step back and look at it with the mindset that Paul brought out in Galatians.  When we are trying to please God instead of man it will be easier to follow the instruction of Christ when He tells us in Matthew 5:41 to go the extra mile.  By law, a Roman soldier could make a person carry their things for them for one mile.  The people were so upset about this law that they would mark off one mile and would not take another step further.  But Christ tells them to go two miles.  Go above and beyond what is required.  Don’t search for the minimum requirement, look for ways to excel.  This concept goes beyond the situation Christ was talking specifically about and should affect our entire life.  Do we want to show God in our lives?  Then we need to do more than the bare minimum.  Do we want to bring others to Christ?  Then we need to show Him in our lives.

How does this “extra mile” way of life work?  Well, take the not conforming to the world concept.  At face value, we would disregard the teachings of this world as a whole and only do the things that we know are right.  However, if we are truly going that “extra mile,” we would look at the concepts being taught and see if there is anything beneficial we can do.  When it comes to being “politically correct,” there are a lot of things that are spiritually incorrect.  However, we need to realize that Christ reached out to sinners while the Pharisees condemned them all.  As Christians, we must look past the sin in a person’s life and see the value that God gave them.  Don’t excuse the sin, but help the sinner.  This is not going to be something easy for us.  The world, and at times other Christians, may stand against us.  But, as Paul pointed out in Galatians, who are we trying to please?  Man or God?

“Don’t make me angry.  You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

The quote made famous by Bruce Banner, usually right before he changes into the giant, bulky, green monster that we all know as the Incredible Hulk.  Anytime Bruce Banner loses control over his anger, he loses control of himself as well.  We love the idea of a “superhero” that is nearly unstoppable, and the fact that it’s the man’s anger that makes him that way is even better.  We see movies and television shows that glorify losing your temper.  It’s shown as a necessary response to overcoming whatever obstacle we are facing.  Whether it’s a situation at work, an occurrence on the road or even a bullying situation, losing our temper is what we are told we are suppose to do.  It always works out for the people in the shows, so why shouldn’t it work out for us too?

Here’s the side of the story that Hollywood never shows though.  When the Incredible Hulk goes on his rampage, he destroys everything in his path.  Then someone has to fix it.  If anyone is in his way, they have to heal.  When someone runs another person off the road in what we deem “justified road rage,” injuries and damages happen.  Jail time occasionally follows as well, or at least court time.  If you try to fight back when bullied, someone is going to get hurt.  Usually it’s both people.  And then there are the consequences with the authorities.  No, losing our temper “Hollywood style” is never the right option.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in defending yourself and your loved ones in danger, but I don’t think the way Hollywood shows us to do it is right.  In fact, I’m completely against letting anger get the best of us and sinking us down to the level of those causing our anger.  Think about it, why would you want to act like the people or fit in with the situation that is making you angry?  Why not be the bigger person?  Why not see what is happening and then THINK before responding.  You can make just as big as statement, if not a bigger one, by standing up ethically for what you believe and what you know is right.

I know, it’s easy for me to sit behind a computer and say “don’t fight back” or “turn the other cheek,” but consider for a moment that I’m not the one saying it.  Christ says that when you are attacked (or persecuted or bullied or whatever word you feel fits your situation best), you should not return the violence.  In Matthew 5:39, Christ tells the crowd of listeners to “not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Retaliation is never the answer.

So, what do we do with anger?  Paul tells us in Ephesians 4, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  There is a balance that we have to find in life.  It’s not only understandable to get angry, but it’s approved to do so.  What we do with that anger is where the issue lies.  We cannot allow the anger inside us to take over.  We have to remain in control at all times.  It’s important that we not only keep control of ourselves, but that we also keep control of our anger.  We have to be able to let things go.  Holding a grudge does nothing but make the person holding it bitter and, according to Paul, gives the devil an opportunity.

What will you do with your anger?  Will you hold onto it and become bitter toward people, or will you let go and forgive?  The choice is ultimately up to each of us, but the safe and right way to handle it is to let go of the past and move on to our future.

Father God, help us to control our anger.  Help us follow the example of Your Son and not want vengeance.  Thank You for giving us a way to escape all sins.  Help us show love at all times, like You do for us.   Amen.

Some things just seem impossible.  As my friend and I were driving down the highway, we came to a stretch of road that had been blasted out of a mountain.  On either side of us there was sheer rock.  It’s an incredible sight that I’ve seen many times, but this time something was different.  For the first time, I realized there was something strange about the rock.  Along the top there was the normal grass and trees, but here and there, growing straight out of the sheer side of the rock, were some trees!  They weren’t too tall, but they were growing.  And these weren’t just regular trees, they were evergreens.  These little trees had fought their way through the rocks until they could grow into the small trees and bushes that they were designed to be.  As we drove by, I couldn’t help but think of the way these plants had fought against the odds to live up to their destiny.  And then my thoughts started to wander…

In Luke 8, Jesus teaches His followers the Parable of the Sower.  In this parable, a sower goes out to sow his seed.  As he does, the seeds fall on the road, on some rocky soil, among thorns and in the good soil.  As you can imagine, not all the seeds produced fruit.  Some were choked out by the thorns, others were eaten by birds and still others withered from a lack of water.  Jesus uses this parable to teach that there will be some who hear the word of God, but it doesn’t change them completely.  The cares of the world, the lack of spiritual depth or even attacks from the devil cause some to wander away.  Many times today, we start looking for the “good soil” to spread the word of God too, and forget that there was some growth in those other soils.  If we were to do as Jesus taught here, we would sow the seed everywhere we can and not worry about whether the person is “good soil” or not.  We are not called to be experts on soil, but to be sowers.

In Mark 5, Jesus encounters a very strange man.  This man is an outcast of society.  This man is feared by many.  This man is demon-possessed.  This man is Legion.  If you know the story of Legion, you know that he lived in a cemetery and was often chained inside one of the tombs.  The chains wouldn’t last too long, however, because he was strong enough to rip them out of the wall.  His clothes were so tattered that he might as well have not been wearing any at all.  This man was written off by everyone around, except for Jesus.  As Jesus’ boat landed on the shore, He was met by Legion.  Jesus wasn’t afraid, even though His followers most certainly were.  Jesus took the time to ask the man his name.  He then cared for Legion, healed him from the demon-possession and clothed him.  Legion was in no way, shape or form what we would consider to be “good soil,” but that didn’t matter to Jesus.  He sowed the seed, and it produced fruit.

The Bible is full of stories where people were written off by the world, but cared for by God’s people.  It’s full of times where the challenge to serve God faithfully is incredibly daunting, but His people continue on.  No challenge is too difficult.  No person is “unworthy” of the gospel.  At what point did Christians turn from sowing the seed to analyzing the soil?  We need to remember the mission we have from Christ:

Mark 16:15 (ESV)
{15} And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

We’re even told that God knows our hearts:

Romans 8:27 (ESV)
{27} And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Remember the words of Paul to the church in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 3:6 (ESV)
{6} I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

The growth is from God, and nothing is impossible for Him…no matter what the odds (Mark 10:27)!

Father God, thank you for giving us something so good that we must share it with everyone!  Please help us to always be watching for the opportunities that You send our way.  Thank you, Father!  Amen.

Most people I’m sure have already heard the story or seen the video clip of the mother duck leading her little ducklings across a multi-lane highway (for those who haven’t, it can be seen here). After many near misses, and several strong drafts from passing cars, they finally made it across to safety. As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of the amazing leadership of that mother duck. She kept her children as close to her as possible and led them to safety. The constant assault of cars seemed to not even phase her as she waited for just the right time to move to the next lane…sometimes mere seconds before a car passes right through where they were

There are some lessons we can learn from these ducks. First, when life blows you around it’s important to find your way back to your leader. As the cars and semis would pass by, occasionally the ducks would get blown around by the draft. They always seemed to find a way back to their mother, their leader. They knew that she would take care of them and get them across.

Another lesson we can learn comes from early in the trip. As they start out on the trip, there is some fear evident in the ducklings. The mother is walking, trying to lead them across and they have stopped. She has to come back and get them to follow her further. It’s almost as if she is comforting them, saying “Don’t worry. I’ll lead you through safely.”

The third lesson we can learn from these ducks is that we need to help each other out. As they are nearing the end of the dangerous trip, a semi’s draft separates them more than they were at any point. If you’ll notice what happens toward the bottom of the screen, you’ll see something interesting. Two little ducklings are taken further away than the others. As they scramble to get back to the group and to their mother, one hesitates a little longer. Seeing this, the other duckling out there circles this hesitating duckling as if to encourage him to keep on going.

Of course, this love is no better exemplified than in the love that God has for us. We find ourselves trying to navigate through dangerous situations where it seems like we are constantly under attack. The “speeding cars” of life won’t slow down for us. If we want to get from one side to the other safely, we need a leader we can trust. A leader who will take us under His wing and guide us to safety. We need the Shepherd of Psalm 23. We need the protector of Psalm 35. We need the Savior who offers to take us under his wing as a mother hen would gather her chicks (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34). We need to follow Him daily, no matter the challenges, struggles or fears we may have (Luke 9:23).

Father God, thank You for leading us through all kinds of trials. Thank You for protecting us as only You can and comforting us when we get discouraged. Help us to follow Your example and model our lives after You. Amen.