Welcome, 2014

New Year’s is not usually a big deal for me.  It is just another number as time goes by. But this year, I felt a great sense of relief speckled with a bit of optimism at the calendar change.

2013 sucked. I am still tremendously thankful for many blessings throughout the year, but a few things were challenging and then one incredibly painful incident that transpired cast a dark shadow over the entire second half of the year.

And thinking back, the last six or seven years have been a very difficult season with a number of traumatic and painful events. So I was ready to be done with this valley.

Usually on New Years Day I am just looking forward to watching some terrific football games. But this year, on the morning of 1/1/14, I was walking around the house singing the Whoville Christmas song: large_grinch

Fah who For-aze

Dah who dor-aze

Welcome, welcome, 2014!

I have no idea what this year holds, but I am hoping that things will be different.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43

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You Are Not Alone

I like to sit in different places at church. Last week, I sat near the front. After the first worship song when we were instructed to greet those around us, the man behind me asked if I was visiting.

That struck me because I have been attending this church for a few years. It is a fairly large church for our area, so it is not surprising that I had not previously met him, but what hit me was why he would assume I was a visitor.

After the service, my new friend John and I talked about it a bit more. I asked him if he thought I might be a visitor because he knew the people that normally sit in that area and I was not one of them. He agreed that yes, that was the case. Let me just insert here that I was in no way offended by what transpired, just quite curious about this dynamic, as was John as we analyzed it.

Here is one reason this touches me: There are some people who come to church in deep emotional or mental pain, with no physical signs of distress. Often these people will sit in the back by themselves. If the people in our church who are able to help others always sit in their usual spot with their regular friends in the front, how will we ever reach the ones in the back?

And yet another disclaimer: Not everyone who sits in the back is hurting, and not everyone who sits in the front is emotionally available to help, so it is not just about the physical location, but the point is actively watching for those in need and breaking our routine in order to be available. Some people like to sit in one particular spot for whatever reason, and that is fine. But what if, once in a while, we sit somewhere else? At the very least, we could make some new friends. At the most, we could makes someone’s day, or even save a life.

The message of the gospel is all about connection. We all need Jesus, and, like it or not, we need each other. The people that are feeling alone are not going to be the ones walking up to the front and introducing themselves to everyone. alone-1_0 Sometimes, this is because the enemy of our souls is telling them lies like “You deserve to be alone,” “Those people will only hurt you,” or just putting them in such a state of depression and confusion that they might not even be able to realize why they do not want the connection with other people that they truly desire deep down inside.

Sometimes the loneliest place can be in a crowd of people. Even when there is a greeting time, the standard handshake with those around you quickly becomes rote. What good is it if we never even know their names? We talk about mission trips to foreign lands but what about the mission field that walks in and out of our church building every week?

Sometimes we need to catch certain people at church, I get that. Things need to be coordinated and Sunday morning is when everyone is in the same place. But let us never be so busy doing church business that we forget to be about the business of the church – which is connection.

How do I know these things? Because I was one of those people. 10 years ago I walked into a church, terrified and in tremendous internal pain. I stood all by myself in the lobby as many people walked by, and I threatened God that if He was real and wanted me there, He had better let me know, otherwise I was walking out and never coming back. I was already planning my next suicide attempt in my head.

Many people will come to church on Christmas Eve who do not normally attend. If one hurting person comes in feeling alone and then leaves after the service still carrying that burden of disconnection, we have failed as the church. Not that we need to have a long conversation or get anyone to dump their purse in the sanctuary, but just let them know that someone cares.

If we are all on the lookout for someone not smiling, or tearing up, or just standing by themselves, and just walk up, find out their first name, and tell them that you are glad they are there with us, that could make a world of difference for them. Somehow, just let them know that they are welcome there and that they are not alone. Let’s not even ask if they are visiting for the first time, because that carries the connotation that they are an outsider. Make sure that they know that they are one of us. They might not be a Christian or go to a church, but they are a child of God, created in His image, and maybe no one ever explained that to them before.

Posted in Life Application

NES Guest Post

Hello all! I recently wrote a Christmas devotional guest post for my alma mater Northeastern Seminary’s blog, and they published it today.

Hop on over and take a look: hub.am/1d10Ykc

Be blessed! :)

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JFK and the King

50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy was the most powerful man in the world. Money, fame, power, adored by a nation, influence around the globe; he seemed to have everything a person could want. JFK

But in less than 3 seconds everything changed. The king of Camelot was instantly stripped of all titles and honor as he found himself face to face with the real King of kings. Suddenly nothing else mattered. All the hard work spent building his empire was now worthless. The election, the Cuban missile crisis, all the dramatic speeches encouraging and rallying the people, his stellar approval rating, none of that was anywhere near enough to buy him a ticket into heaven.

At that moment, there was only one thing that did matter – whether he knew and believed Jesus. That single item would determine his status for all eternity.

No one is promised tomorrow. No one is promised their next breath. “I’ll come around to Jesus someday” does not work when you don’t know which might be your last. He just wants you to know Him. All you have to do is tell Jesus you want to know Him, and the gates of heaven will swing open so that whether you live on this planet another five minutes or fifty years, your future in heaven will be secured.

Settle your eternity so you can enjoy your today.

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Rebuilding The Ancient Ruins

Recently I worked on a project for a neighbor who wanted her picnic table painted. Sounds like a quick and easy job, right?P1070848

Not so much.

The old paint had been flaking off in spots, leaving an uneven surface.  And some of the wood had pretty significant rotting.

Most notable P1070841was one of the lateral support pieces and the top of that set of legs. The worst parts crumbled if you touched them.

The top boards were no longer connected to the rest of the table because they had nothing to hold on to.

I advised her that it would be easier to just get a new table and scrap this one, but this particular table had sentimental value to her.P1070851

Now, it was personal.

So I set out to see if or how we could restore this table. I cut away the rotted pieces, screwed in new supports, and added bracing so the table was once again strong and stable.

After a good sanding, the surface was ready for a nice chocolate brown paint.

Here is the finished product: P1070852

My neighbor was ecstatic and moved by the end result. She said the table had been “Brought back to life.” Most people would have looked at the mess and sent it to the junk pile, but because it was personal, we put the effort into reviving it and it turned out fantastic. And that uneven surface created a beautiful pattern that gave it character.

Isaiah said that Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted and to rebuild the ancient ruins. No matter what has happened or what state a person is in, God takes it personally. He will never give up on you.

There is no pain you have experienced that Jesus cannot heal. There is no pit of sin so deep that God cannot pull you out. It is never too late. He can  do so much more than add some support and a fresh color. God is life and He is in the business of restoration. He can breathe new life into any willing heart. He can strengthen weak legs. And in Him all things hold together.

Whether your life is falling apart or you just need a new splash of paint, Jesus is more than able. The One who was a carpenter is also the Resurrection and the Life.

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