Peace and Pumpkin Spice

It’s October, and there’s plenty to look forward to. Fall weather, flannel and familiar flavors. That’s right. Pumpkin Spice!

Maybe it’s a recent phenomenon but I feel like the pumpkin spice people are getting pushy. It’s started off with the lattes but now they are invading every aisle in the store: muffins, donuts, cereal, candy, candles, cologne and body spray… Ok, I may have stretched it a little. But pumpkin spice is pervasive.

While pumpkin spice is everywhere you look, the same can’t be said for peace. Watch the news, scroll though Facebook, have an everyday conversation and you see it, feel it, and most likely take part in it. Anger, bitterness and conflict.

Many seem intent on division. And many more are content to avoid conflict and keep the peace. But few would be defined as peacemakers.

We either stir the pot or step out of the situation. But, if we want to live like our Savior, it means being a peacemaker.

Maybe it means sacrificing our preferences for the good of others. Maybe it means putting a stop to gossip. Maybe it means offering forgiveness. It can take a thousand different forms, but peace is needed. And Jesus calls us to make it.

I don’t know whose job it is to market this fall flavor, but they need a raise. It’s everywhere.

What if we were as determined to spread peace in our families, friendships, neighborhoods, churches and workplaces.

I could stand for a little more peace and a little less pumpkin spice. What are some steps you could take to pursue peace in your relationships?

Pure Hearts, Pure Moments

Well, I got off track. I’d been faithful to post once a week, but a busy weekend got the best of me. Our student ministry took a trip to raft the Chattahoochee. It was an incredible trip. We rafted a class five rapid. We zip lined from Georgia to Alabama,. We took time to worship with one another.

To be gut honest with you, it was much easier to be purely in the moment when rafting and zipping than during worship. We had a great speaker, an amazing worship leader, and a pretty awesome set-up. At the same time, there was a party going on in the street below, my shoes were wet from the water, and I couldn’t help running through the weekend schedule and to do list in my mind.

I want to see God. More than anything else, I want to see God through His Word, in answer to prayer, and working in my life for the benefit of others. At the same time, being pure in heart, single-minded and focused is such a struggle. 

Why can I have pure moment rafting but skimp on time that could be spent savoring the Savior?

Let’s go back to the boat. First of all, there’s no escape. We are in the boat for better or worse. Second, I’m not alone. There’s six of us paddling together in unison. Without working together, we are bound to fail. Third, there is a clear situation calling for my attention. 

Perhaps if I saw my everyday life the same way, I would experience more pure moments with my Master. Maybe if I was aware of the potential dangers and pitfalls, I’d be persistent in prayer. Maybe if I more closely walked with others, my worship would be more purposeful. Maybe if I set aside uninterrupted, non-negotiable time with Jesus, I’d experience more of His joy.

There’s plenty of things in life worth seeing. Let’s not miss out on seeing Jesus. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. 

Songs that Stick

Every so often someone asks a question that flips the world upside down. Nearly, 19 years ago, the Baha men accomplished that feat with this simple question: Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? Who? The question probably isn’t significant nor is the song really that good, but it is catchy. Songs are like that. 

We can go years without hearing a song, but in a moment those words come rushing back to our mind and hold on tight, not wanting to leave. It could be a pop song, a Youtube sensation, a TV theme song, or even a commercial jingle. Some music we just can’t get out of our mind.

The same could be said of offenses. When people insult or hurt us, it stings and we remember. We hold on. We don’t forget. And, then there’s Jesus.

Jesus didn’t hold on to our offenses. He took them to the cross, paid the penalty, and offers us forgiveness, over and over.

I could stand to be more like Jesus. I could stand to extend mercy.

But, mercy isn’t simply about forgiving those who have caused you suffering. Mercy is seeing and serving those who are suffering around you.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see Him reaching out to the rejected, the sick, the outcast, the broken. 

While certain thoughts and words hang around in our head, we are able to dismiss others fairly quickly. That’s often how we view the suffering of others. Out of sight, out of mind. 

God calls us to more. We must learn to forgive those who have caused us to suffer. And we must learn to serve the suffering. 

I love what Mother Theresa had to say:

I never look at the masses as my responsibility; I look at the individual. I can only love one person at a time – just one, one, one. So you begin. I began – I picked up one person. Maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up forty-two thousand….The same thing goes for you, the same thing in your family, the same thing in your church, your community. Just begin – one, one, one. 

My Prayer: Father God, may your story of mercy be continually playing in my mind. Help me to see the needs around me and faithfully step in to serve those suffering.

Ice Cream and Jesus

The Tchoupitoulas Challenge. It’s impossible to pronounce but worth the effort. This ice cream creation is a product of the Creole Creamery in New Orleans, and it’s the only food challenge I’ve ever seriously considered. I have little interest in the worlds spiciest wings or the nations meatiest burger. But, something seemed magical about eight scoops of ice cream, eight toppings, whipped cream, sprinkles, cherries and wafers.  

I never attempted the feat, partially for the fact that it cost $30 but also out of fear I may come to hate ice cream, which would be an unparalleled tragedy. The truth is no one wins these food challenges. It may start off fun, but they always end in stomach aches.

I’ve never craved kale and quinoa. I know I should. I know I need to fuel my body well. But, what I crave is pizza, cheese covered anything, and an Outback Bloomin’ Onion.

In much the same way, I’m not naturally inclined to hunger for righteousness. I hunger for what umps up my pride, provides pleasure, and allows my mind to momentarily check out. I know I should pursue righteousness, but there are so many other tantalizing options. How do we change? How do we transform our spiritual tastebuds?

The Fit Friend:

The more I’m around my carrot eating Cross-fit friends, the more I care about the food I consume. The more I’m around prayerful, mission minded, heart-for-Jesus people, the more I hunger to live like them.

The Registered Race:

If I’ve signed up for a race, I’ll eat well. Jogging isn’t enjoyable on a stomach full of junk. When I’ve signed up to serve, I depend on Jesus, and I seek His righteousness.

The Definite Difference

When I see a change in what the scale says or how my clothes fit, I’m more likely to keep my good eating habits. When I notice a change in my heart, words, actions, it reminds me that Jesus is working in my life. And, I’m satisfied.

Do any of those jumpstart a hunger for righteousness in your life? What would you add to the list?

Praying that we would hunger after what really matters!

Stretch Don’t Snap

While they’ve faded as fast as the fad arrived, fidget spinners were all the rage for a few short months. You couldn’t go anywhere without the seeing a child spinning the trinket between their fingers. Although the fidget spinner was absent from my childhood, I had something far better: the rubber band.

There was no end to the possibilities. You could wear it, stretch it, connect it, or shoot it.. But, in elementary school, our game of choice was sending little paper projectiles flying across the classroom. We called them wasps, and for good reason. If one connected on bare skin, it was sure to leave a mark.

Most of our games were anything but gentle. There had to be some degree of violence. Slapping, thumping or pencil breaking. As an adult, I’ve left those games behind. But, sadly, I can be pretty quick to snap at others with similar force. James pretty much has me pegged.

from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing—James 3:10

Let someone mess up my order, cut me off in traffic, or simply be rude, and I’m snapping back. The smallest outward inconvenience turns into an intense inner situation. And, then I think of Jesus.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth—Isaiah 53:7

In the midst of undeserved and ultimate insult and humiliation, Jesus kept silent, living out His teaching from the Beatitudes.

When most of us hear gentle or meek, we think weak. We think getting run over. We think spineless. But, do any of those words describe Jesus? Jesus was gentle, but no one would call Him weak. Nails did not hold Jesus to the cross. He chose in his strength to stay and suffer.

Instead of weakness, gentleness is simply surrendered strength. Gentleness is choosing to submit your strength to the Savior. Strength isn’t for your benefit. It’s to serve others.

No doubt you will face insult and inconvenience today. Be the rubber band. Stretch, don’t snap. Surrender your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Follow the footsteps of Jesus.

Skipping the Sad

Jim, Pam, Dwight, Angela, Kevin and Creed. If you’re anything like me, you love them more than Dwight loves beets, bears and Battlestar Galactica. If you don’t recognize the names, they are characters from my all-time favorite show, The Office. 

While these people may not be your crew, you’ve probably found a similar affection for other TV characters from Friends to Cheers, Happy Days to the Andy Griffith Show. When we watch characters for years on end, they become a part of our lives.

I’ve got a confession. I’ve watched The Office two complete times, and I’m currently on my third trip through. That’s probably not too unusual, we all have shows we continue to watch. But, here’s what may be unique to me. I skip certain episodes. I skip the one where Michael, the show’s main character, leaves. And, I also skip the last two episodes.

They are excellent but sad. I don’t like to be sad, so I avoid them. I don’t believe in being unnecessarily sad. Life can be sad enough, I’d rather not pay for a movie that makes me cry. Nobody enjoys sorrow. And, in the midst of that mindset, Jesus’ words seem strange.

I believe it’s a wise choice to move away from unnecessary sadness. But, to be completely transparent, sometimes I avoid sadness that is needed and necessary. There are certain situations worth mourning. 

We have a perfect heavenly Father, and a Savior whose love led Him to the cross. Yet, we still choose sin over our Savior. That’s worth mourning.

The world is a broken place. People suffer abandonment, hunger, hatred, sickness and slavery. That’s worth mourning.

We interact with individuals on a daily basis who are headed into an eternity of loneliness and suffering.  That’s worth mourning.

Mourning is necessary. It moves us from sin to repentance, from apathy to acts of love, from silence to sharing. 

Don’t miss out on mourning, for it may be through the sorrow that God begins to grow and use you. And when we mourn, we have this promise: We will be comforted!

Ugly Orange Life-Vest

It was orange, goofy and uncomfortable.  There was no way I was wearing it. As I stood staring at the ocean in front of me, a kayak at my feet and a paddle in my hand, the thought of wearing this ridiculous life-vest seemed unimaginable. I boldly tossed it to the shore, confident in my ability as a swimmer.

Three separate times I was tossed from the kayak. I remained in the deep water, paddle in hand, as I watched the boat rode the wave back to shore. Three times I made the swim back to the beach. 

An hour before I was determined not to use the lifejacket. It was ugly, uncomfortable and in my mind, unnecessary. I could handle this. Fast forward a few minutes and pride and arrogance gave way to desperate dependance.

Here’s my paraphrase. Happy are the desperate and dependent.

If I’m not careful, sometimes the same ridiculous thoughts I had standing by the ocean can seep into my heart and mind. While I’d never be so bold as to toss my faith to the side, there are times when it does feel unnecessary. Aren’t there certain things I can handle on my own? 

Sometimes walking with Jesus becomes uncomfortable, He may call me out on a sin or call me to step up as a husband and father. Sometimes a walk with Christ causes me to stand out and look a little stranger than I already do. 

But, like fighting a current, and swimming with your hands full, a life lived in our own power is utterly exhausting. If we want to experience the kingdom of God, we must live a life of desperate dependance. 

What are you desperate to see happen in your life? 

What would it look like to live dependent on Jesus? 

Monday Morning Meditation

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.”Psalms 1:2 

There are few outlets that can keep my attention day or night. Buzzfeed is one. It knows me. It draws me in…with the most ridiculous, random lists. 45 Things from Your 90’s Childhood You Probably Forgot. The 25 Most Loved One-Hit Wonders Ever.  31 Horrendous Pinterest Fails.

When I think about living out this verse, it’s one big Pinterest fail. A mind wandering, dozing off, what am I doing right now fail.

It’s a beautiful picture, waking up and delighting in Gods Word, going to bed meditating on His Law. But what does meditation actually look like? Do I need to wear yoga pants? Should I light some incense? Will I need to invest in a gong?

I love the idea of meditating, it sounds meaningful and important. But what exactly am I supposed to do? I envision sitting on the ground, cross-legged humming until my mind is empty.

The Hebrew word translated as “meditate” actually carries the idea of uttering, muttering, or even roaring. Muttering I can do, even in the morning, before coffee.

Meditation has become an important part of my spiritual walk but in a different way than I would have imagined a few years ago. 

Whether I’m taking a walk, driving to work, showering, or falling asleep, I’ve found I can meditate. Here’s what it looks like for me…taking one phrase, verse or passage and repeating it in my mind focusing on one word at a time. Take the Lord’s Prayer for example.

OUR…God is my God. I belong to Him, and I’m not alone. He’s our God. I have a family in God that spans the entire globe.

Our FATHER…God is my Father. He loves me, He cares for me, He provides for me, He looks after me.

Our Father WHO… Our God is personal. He is a who. I can know Him. I can talk to Him…

The process is simple, allowing one word at a time to roll around in your mind. Simple, but so meaningful. 

I pray this practice makes meditation a more practical part of your spiritual walk. I’d love to hear from you. What other passages would work well with this type of meditation?

Our Adoption Story: Part One

We’re adopting! It’s a journey that’s been years in the making, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be walking down this road together.

Shannon and I knew having biological children might not be a possibility for us, so the seed of adoption was first planted during our dating years.  But, after three years of marriage we were blessed with a beautiful, red-headed boy. God was faithful.

After a couple years of parenthood, we decided it was time for our family to grow. And it did. Three times! Sadly, each of those pregnancies ended in miscarriage. It was terrible. But, in the midst, God was faithful and we grew in our walk with Him and each other.

In 2016 we welcomed little Luke into our family, all 3 pounds of him. He was a miracle and a fighter. After a month in the NICU He came home and has been thriving ever since.

At the beginning of the year Shannon and I began praying about adoption. While we’ve had friends walk this path, but we honestly had not idea where to start.  We spent a couple of months praying and decided to take steps our next step after I finished a weekend retreat with the youth group.

As I spoke with the retreat worship leader that first night, who I knew had adopted, I learned that his wife worked with Lifeline Adoption. Before the weekend was over, I had information hand-delivered that outlined our next steps. God is faithful!!

The process is long. It seems like there are a thousand steps to take. But each step of the way God has been faithful. Thanks for reading our story. Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for your support. I can’t wait to update you on all that God has done and is doing. 

Want to be a part of the story? We are currently fundraising to cover adoption costs. Check out our adoption shirts HERE.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God–1 John 3:1

 

Gummy Bears for Breakfast

I’ll admit it. I’ve been proud, arrogant and probably a little bit stupid. Blame it on seminary. Blame it on being raised in the church. Or, more likely, blame it on my tendency to float towards pharisaic tendencies. But, for the longest time, I have rejected the idea of devotions. All I needed was the Bible. One verse, a story and a sentence prayer wasn’t going to cut it for me. I needed meat. 

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat… (1 Corinthians 3:2 KJV)

While I still agree that we all need the meat of God’s Word, usually I’m better prepared after a few hours of wakefulness. I’m learning that I’m not ready for steak at breakfast, but milk is pretty delicious.

If I’m honest with myself, my mental intake first thing in the morning has often been the nutritional equivalent of gummy bears. As soon as I silence the alarm on my phone in the morning, my fingers take me to my email closely followed by Facebook. 

My first thoughts are not of my Savior and what He has done but instead about what I need to do and what others around me are doing. And, to be a little more honest, this practice hasn’t set me up well to focus on Christ’s work in my life throughout the day to come.

For the past few weeks, I’ve allowed the first few moments of my morning to be spent in a two minute devotion, specifically Rick Warren’s Transformed devotional, available through YouVersion’s Bible app. While it is no substitute for focused time in God’s Word, it has helped me to have a more Christ-centered focus as I start my day.

If you haven’t checked out the app, or it’s many Bible reading plans, take a look. You can even set up a daily reminder. Mine comes at the same time as my morning alarm.

Steak beats milk, but milk beats gummy bears. Praying you find a way to start your day focused on Jesus!!

How about you? How do you start your day focused on Christ?