For a Time Such as This

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This oft quoted phrase comes from the book of Esther. In chapter 4 of this story, we find Esther in the precarious position of being the only one in that historic moment, who might save her people from slaughter. She must take the risk of approaching the king uninvited, in order that he may become aware of and put a stop to, an evil plot to erase an entire nation of people from the planet. She was placed there, “for a time such as this”.

As we wake each day, looking to determine how to navigate this particular moment in our history, those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers are asking, “how does God want us to use this time?” We are not here by accident, but “for a time such as this”. But what is it we’re supposed to do with this time? To help us in that, it may be the perfect time to ask ourselves that great question that cropped up in the 90’s, “What Would Jesus Do?” Let’s take a quick look at some of the highlight reel of Jesus’ life, and see if we can’t derive the answer to this question.

I love the passages in Luke chapter 8, where Jesus seems to define multi-tasking, as he moves from casting demons out of a crazy guy into a herd of pigs, to traveling to heal a synagogue leader’s daughter, to healing the bleeding woman and back to healing the daughter…all while crowds were following and pressing in on Him! This was a busy day. And notice He didn’t shy away from a crazy guy, a bleeding woman or a dying girl.

Or what about the man with leprosy we hear of in Matthew 8:2-4? It says that “Jesus reached out and touched the man…” No social distancing here!

Now let me be clear. I’m not suggesting we all run out and jump into a pile of coughing, sneezing, feverish people. I am suggesting that we have a hurting world around us and that Jesus never shied away from the sick and hurting. In fact, He ran toward them. That’s what we should do…not so as to put ourselves at risk, but wisely surround them with love, prayer, provision…whatever it takes for them to feel the love of Jesus; and perhaps see it for the first time.

But let’s look at the other side of the “what would Jesus do” coin. In Luke 22:39-41 and Mark 1:35, we see examples of Jesus retreating to a quiet place to pray. In John 17:1-25 we see the heart of Jesus expressed so clearly, as He prays to the Father for Himself, His disciples and all believers who would follow. The clearest instruction from Jesus on prayer is found in Matthew 6:6 where he instructs us: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen…”

Lots of quiet time with God here. So what would Jesus do, in a time such as this? Go off to a quiet place to spend intimate, uninterrupted time with the Father, or forge out to meet the sick, broken and hurting where they are? There’s one answer of course, and that is “yes”. We can and should do both.

Jesus said it best in Matthew 23:23. While arguably referring to a slightly different matter, He said: “…You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former”. In other words, do both.

If we spend the time in prayer and solitude with the Father that we should and meditate on His Word, then the Holy Spirit should be convicting us to go into the broken places of our world to help and heal. We are here, “for a time such as this”.

 

Not Seeing the Trees for the Forest

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If you’re thinking that the title of this post is backwards, you’d be right. The famous saying is the reverse of this. It says; “you can’t see the forest for the trees”.  It’s a statement that basically says that you’re too close to the detail to see the big picture, and it certainly has its application. We can often be so close to a problem, that we fail to step back and recognize the larger issue.

In today’s culture however, I’d suggest that more often, the opposite is true. Everyone and everything is categorized, pigeon holed and put into a box with a name on it. We’ve lost the ability (and frankly the interest) in taking the time to know those who may be a little different from ourselves. We don’t even take the time to know the people that are not so different, which in reality, is most us.

As we do with the trees, we stand at a distance and see the forest, but each individual tree just becomes a blur. The fact is that each tree is unique. It has it’s own root system, each is a different size and there’s typically a number of different species within the same forest. They’re different ages, with different life experiences.

Some trees have had healthy, uneventful lives with plenty of sunshine and water. Some of the older trees may have seen seasons of drought, flooding or fire. There are trees that have been attacked by disease, infestation or the ax.

But if we stand too far back, we don’t see any of that. It’s just all a bunch of trees…no real differences and if there are any, we’re not all that interested. It’s a forest and we don’t really need to know much more than that.

But this is not what Jesus teaches us. In fact, his life and ministry demonstrates just the opposite. Story after story demonstrates Jesus’ interest and care for the individual. Beginning in Luke chapter 8 vs 40 we see Jesus’ care for the dying daughter of a synagogue ruler, and the bleeding woman. In Luke 19:1-9 we see the calling of Zacchaeus from the tree (there’s that tree again!). These are just a few of the many examples, of Jesus stopping to recognize, care about and for, the individual.

There are perhaps, no greater teachings on the value of the individual, than those found in Luke 15. Here we find in succession, the stories of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and culminating with The Lost Son.

In the first, we see the story of the sheep owner who leaves his 99 sheep, to find the one that’s lost. Bare in mind that he must first recognize the fact that one is missing. Not an easy task in a flock of a hundred. In the parable of the lost coin, the woman must have kept careful account of her coins to have recognized that one was missing. Are we as cognizant when “one” is missing at work or at church, or do we just see the forest and not notice?

The Story of the Lost Son (or the prodigal son as it is commonly known), is perhaps the most poignant in terms of driving home, not only the value of the one, but the joy that takes place when that one is found.

As we walk through our day, let’s make a commitment to do three things. First, recognize the one among the many. Next, place value on that one and recognize that the one has a story that needs to be told and heard. Lastly, render care to the one. That care can take many forms, but if we’re listening, both to the Holy Spirit and to the one, we’ll become sensitive to what that care should look like and how we’re supposed to provide it.

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this. If a man begins to fall among us, we must have our radar up so that we hear the falling and once having heard it, are there to catch him. The one is unique and matters to God, and so of course, should matter to us. Let’s take the time to see the “tree” and not just lump it in with the rest of the forest.
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Hiding or Healing

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This morning, I was going through some notes and scraps of paper that had been stuffed in my bible. Most were notes from studies I had taken my men’s group through. One note however, was on a napkin (I kid you not, a napkin), scribbled as God had given me an idea for a message. This was from a few years back, when I was blessed to serve in the recovery ministry of Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, where I would periodically deliver the evening’s message.

The notes on the napkin contained the title of this blog post, followed by a few scripture references. I don’t know if that message will ever take full form, or be delivered, (that’s up to God) but I felt Him nudging me to share its premise here.

All of us have gone through painful experiences, whether that be loss of a loved one, financial or relational struggles, devastating illness, deep addictions or other poor life choices. The question is not whether we have or will encounter these valleys in our lives (we have…or we will). The question is what do we do with them when they come? We have two choices.

The first is to hide and frankly, this is our nature. It started with Adam and Eve attempting to hide from God in the garden (Genesis 3). That didn’t turn out well for them, or us. We see it again when Jonah attempts to hide from God by hopping a ship going in the opposite direction of where God told him to go (Jonah 1). He ended up in the digestive system of a large fish…not a good turn of events for Jonah!

Through the profit Isaiah, God gives us clear warning about hiding our plans and activities. I’d encourage you to read what He says about that here. The bottom line is, there’s never a good outcome when we hide our bad habits or hurts, thinking somehow that the darkness will cover them over. It never does. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “…He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts…”. This is not to punish us, or because God is a mean, stick wielding God. This is because He knows that our healing, and the healing of those we may have impacted, cannot begin until the issue is brought into the light. In fact, it is to save us from the punishment we inflict upon ourselves, by attempting to keep it in the dark.

So what about that second choice; the choice to bring our problem into the light. How do we know that’s the way to go? Just look at the bleeding woman from Luke 8:43-48. A woman with bleeding of this type, in that time and culture, would have been considered unclean. She certainly wouldn’t do anything to draw attention to her plight. Yet because of her faith and her desire to be healed. she stepped out boldly to encounter Jesus in a very personal way. Because of her willingness to bring her circumstance into the light, she received the healing she so desperately needed.

Or what about the ten men with leprosy (Luke 17:11-14) who called out to Jesus for healing. Lepers were kept separate from the rest of society, barred from any interaction with others. These men however, knew that Jesus brought the healing they needed and so they stepped out from the shadows and asked. That’s exactly what we need to do.

If you have a bible app that allows you to search key words, plug in the word darkness and see how many times it comes up, and how God talks about it…and keep in mind, it’s not just physical darkness He’s referring to. It’s the spiritual darkness that permeates our lives, when we refuse to seek the light…His light. To hide in the darkness is a ridiculous notion. Simply read Psalm 139:7-12 to see why.

But there is great news to be found; in the stories of the bleeding woman, the ten lepers and in Psalm 112:4 which tells us: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man”. Whatever you’re tempted to hide in the darkness, bring it into the light and allow God’s grace and goodness to do for you, what He’s done for so many others.

To my brothers and sisters who have shared with me, the healing you’ve realized through bringing your hurts into the light, thank you for your inspiration and example; you know who you are. You demonstrate to those around you, that the healing light shown to the bleeding woman and the ten lepers, is not simply a historical story of a God that used to be, but a tangible living reminder of a God that is.

All Things Great & Small

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Now more than ever, we are living in a world and a culture that values the big, the glitzy, the grand, and the extravagant. Just watching the evening news we find that, not only is the overwhelming majority of the news bad news, but it’s also all about the enormity of the story.

Earthquakes have to be at least a 6.0 to garner any interest and if no one is injured, or if no buildings collapse, we really don’t pay much attention. Shootings where only one or two people are killed might make your local news, but will certainly be passed up by the national networks.

If a Hollywood star or music icon makes a statement, our culture rushes to listen, and share it as if it came from Solomon himself. But the grandfather who likely has experiences and wisdom that few others posses, is never heard…And why is that? Because the entertainer is grand and glitzy in our eyes. The grandfather?..not so much.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers, run the same risk. We know well, and are drawn to the grand stories and characters of the Bible; and we should be. Noah building the arc, Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. These are fantastic stories that encourage us in knowing that truly, all things are possible with God.

But what of Tychicus, without whom several of Paul’s letters would never have been delivered? Without the delivery of those letters, we have no way of knowing what the impact to the early struggling churches might have been, or whether we would even find them in our Bibles today!

And how can we forget Jonathan, son of King Saul, confidant and loyal Christian brother to David? Jonathan literally saved David’s life from his father Saul, and supported him through incredibly difficult circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that we may never have had “King” David, had it not been for Jonathan.

In our present day, we marvel at missionaries who are instruments of salvation for entire remote villages, or raise up orphanages in impoverished communities…and marvel we should. We are captivated by preachers (communicators they’re now called) who bring God’s Word in bold and innovative ways, and I for one am so very thankful for them. If these pastors really want to leave a mark, they’ll need to be published, and be on the speaking circuit at major Christian conferences. Only then, will they be looked to, followed on Twitter and quoted by the larger Christian community.

But what of the “missionary” right here in our own backyard that is ministering at a coffee shop to a brother or sister that is hurting and broken. No book deal, no entire community being brought to salvation…just changing one life at a time for Jesus.

What of the pastor shepherding the 50 person country, or inner city church? No speaking invitation to a 5,000 person conference, no Twitter account with thousands of followers…just a man or woman discipling and caring for a small group of believers who’s lives are enriched by that pastor’s commitment and dedication to God’s work.

Our worship (and I’m a huge fan of contemporary Christian music) is only considered worthwhile, if the decibels are high enough, the band cool enough and the lights so over the top, that you need solar eclipse glasses to even look toward the stage.

Don’t hear criticism in any of these examples. I truly am thankful for great worship, dynamic and insightful preachers and bold missionaries who throw away the comfort of the first world, and in some cases risk their very lives, for the cause of Christ. Surely all of these warriors will one day hear, “well done good and faithful servant”.

This writing is simply to help draw attention to and encourage, the millions of missionaries who are impacting God’s kingdom here on earth, one or two, or a few of God’s kids at a time. I know many of you reading this are one of those, and I pray that God counts me among you.

God’s Word says; “Who despised the day of small things…”. Today I stopped at the supermarket to pick up breakfast treats for my team; something I do each Friday. As I left I saw Logan, the young man who often bags for me. He is always incredibly friendly and engaging; traits not often found in supermarket baggers. I stopped and said: “hey Logan, you want a donut?” (I don’t often offer people food from my grocery bags so I’m thinkin’ God has something to do with this). Logan paused and said: “yeah, I could use a donut”. So I set my bags down at a vacant check-out, opened the box and let him pick out a donut.

No angelic choirs sang out, I won’t be invited to speak or write a book about “the famous donut incident”, and my Twitter feed won’t likely light up as a result. But I hope that in some small way, Logan saw Christ in me through that donut.

My encouragement is that each of us continue to go and share a smile, a cup of coffee, an encouraging word and a little of God’s Word…and to do it one or two people at a time. I believe God honors that, and smiles a little Himself. I also believe it’s one way of living out Matthew 28:19 which tells us to “go and make disciples”. So let’s share a donut and see if we can’t make a disciple or two along the way.

His Journey, His Glory, Our Gratitude

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So many wonderful friends have followed our journey since we left Knoxville just over two years ago. This has been an amazing journey of faith for us. We left a church family and so many brothers and sisters that we loved (and love) so much. But God said we were to go and try and make a difference for Him here in Colorado. Yes it’s beautiful here, but that didn’t make leaving the people and place we called home for nearly 20 years, any easier.

We came knowing very little; about where specifically we’d live or how He’d have us serve. We came with having to leave our oldest son Ryan in Knoxville, who chose to stay. We came knowing no one and without jobs but having faith God would provide those as well. We came in obedience and holding on to specific promises He made about our family being brought all together here and about ministry work for us. We’ve kept as busy as we can by serving through our church, a home for single mom’s at risk, and at a local recovery program. We served, waiting on the promises.

Our youngest son Graham came, having just completed his first year at ETSU and leaving his close friends behind. Our middle son Travis came, despite being in the midst of a serious relationship with a wonderful young lady, trusting that God would work in that for the good of all. We all had a lot to lose and so much uncertainty to gain. But because that uncertainty came from Him, we knew it was His best for us.

Shortly after our arrival here, Travis returned to Knoxville to propose to that young lady. Her acceptance would mean that she too, would have to leave her family and join Travis here in Colorado. She did that without hesitation, they married last year and now we have a precious daughter in law here as well.

This past winter, a year and a half after our move, Ryan called and said he was ready to come and in April, we returned to Knoxville an moved him out.  God indeed, brought all our family together as He promised, and added to it as well!

While we knew that my journey toward the ministry job God had for me could be an extended one, we did not expect it to last over two years. Occasionally we’d have thoughts or questions like; “God, what’s going on here…Have you checked the calendar lately?” Or, “God, you probably haven’t looked at our bank account in a while, but if you could check that out and then make a move, that would be great”.

Largely though, we slept well, served Him and trusted that He had all this under control. “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). His word is replete with stories of trust, faith, obedience and reward. Because God cannot lie and is always faithful, He had delivered on His promise on bringing the family together, and He’d deliver on the job thing as well. As most of you know, God never disappoints, He’s never late and He’s always working. This Monday, I start my new position as Ministry Services Manager at David C Cook. If you’re not familiar with them, they are a publisher of Christian books, curriculum and music. If you’re interested, you can visit them at www.davidccook.com.

Needless to say we are very excited for this next chapter and I am so blessed to be able to bring my love of leading and developing others, into a Christian organization that’s focused on equipping churches and leaders around the world,  so they can better disciple those entrusted to them.

We can’t say thank you enough, to all of you that have prayed for us along our journey. You continue to mean so much to us. There are still more victories to win for Jesus and promises God has made to us, so don’t hesitate to throw up a prayer now and then. But we step into those as we did with the others; with faith, confidence and trust in the one who gave it all and gives it all. The thanks and gratitude are ours…The Glory is His.

Love you all more than you know…Peace & Blessings

 

 

Life from Death

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Most of us have faced some type of tragedy or crises in our lives. These events may stop us in our tracks. They may cause us to cry out for help or send us running for cover. In the midst of our plight, we may feel hopeless, as if there is simply no way out. The hole is too deep, the hurt to painful, the damage to devastating.

But that is never the case. There is always a way out. Even from the clutches of death, life can be restored. That’s not some motivational hyperbole…I’ve seen it first hand in the lives of real people. These are people who believed they had reached the end of their rope be it physically, spiritually or both, and saw no path to restoration.

Recently I was privileged to walk with man who’s spent his entire life living in the midst of extreme dysfunction. Physical and emotional abuse as well as rampant drug use surrounded him since he was a boy. This led to issues of anger as well as terrible life choices of his own including drug use & dealing, gang affiliation and violence. After an arrest he was offered the opportunity of entering a 15 month residential rehab program. Today, a graduate of that program, Dennis, 35 and 18+ months clean, is working for a missionary catering company and studying to become a world class chef. He has a positive outlook as he builds a promising future. From near death, came life.

My dear friend Bobby lived a life of alcohol and cocaine addiction that spanned 38 years. He affiliated with organized crime and had one priority in mind…Bobby. At age 55, his kidneys and liver failing, he reluctantly entered a rehabilitation program. It was there that he hit his knees, cried out to God for rescue, and began the journey from death to life. Today he is 7 years sober, physically and spiritually restored and actively helping other addicts find hope.

A few years back, I had the honor of baptizing a man named Steve, who had been watching our church’s service on line. He’d never physically been to the building. He had been watching on line, not because he lived far from the church, or because he had other obligations that kept him from visiting…He watched on line because he was wheelchair bound and simply found it easier. ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) had ravaged his body and taken most of his mobility.

He came to be baptized on a Monday evening in front of a small crowd of about 100 people. His lifelong friend and I basically carried him from his chair, into the baptismal pool. After a brief discussion and his affirmation of having accepted Jesus, we took him under the water and raised him back up. Water mixed with tears dripped down his face as he turned to me and said: “Now I feel complete”…From the shadow of death, came life.

The photo above was taken this past week in the Black Forest region of Colorado Springs. Four years ago, a fire destroyed over 14,000 acres, 500 homes and took two lives in that beautiful community. The spot that photo was taken from was part of the area scorched by the fire. In the background you can see what’s left of a few of the thousands of trees that were decimated. But in the foreground, at the feet of death, new life has been brought forth.

In the movie Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) eloquently states; “Life finds a way”. He is so very right. Life does find a way. And that way is only because of the goodness of God. Death is permanent; except where God is present. If we can press through the valley of the shadow, He will always bring life on the other side. Watch for it; work for it; wait for it; believe it.

For Jason…and for you

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Each day, there is a fight that we must face. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle. For some of us, that battle is strikingly evident. It comes in the form of serious illness, relational, or financial crises, addiction or loss of a loved one. For others, the battle may be a quiet, more hidden one. A private struggle with depression or anxiety or the stress of raising children in a fractured society. It may simply be the daily challenges of sorting out a world that seems to be changing at breakneck speed…all too often, not for the better.

There’s a race to be run as we fight. At the end of his time here, the apostle Paul, in writing to his young protege Timothy said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Notice the order here. Paul had to first, “fight the good fight” before he could “finish the race.” Many of us start things that we never finish, or in some cases, don’t finish well.

This past week, we received the devastating news that my 37 year old nephew had died from a heroin overdose. Jason had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for some time. He had overdosed and nearly died two years ago, but came through it and spent those last two years in recovery, seemingly doing well. Jason was a kind man with a big heart and unfortunately, a big addiction that gained mastery over him. That’s what addictions do.

I have worked with people in addiction for several years now and it is a voracious and relentless enemy that requires a constant, and equally relentless, fight to stave off. Those who struggle with it know all too well, how it’s claws continue to snap at you, attempting to get a foot hold and pull you back in. It is, as we are witnessing across our nation, a battle that far too many are unable to win.

So many start that road to recovery, convicted that they must make a change, yet many of those souls are lost before the finish line. It is in between the starting line and the finish line that we fail. We often don’t plan, or put the right support structure in place. Luke 14:28-30 reminds us that if we want to build something (a tower, a business, a life) we should first lay out some plans and be sure we have, not only a solid foundation from which to start, but all the things we’ll need along the way to complete the project…or as Paul would say, to finish the race. It is in the “in-betweens” that we stumble.

We all have battles to wage everyday. But in this moment, I speak to those who struggle with addiction, or are close to someone who does. Be sure to make plans to prepare for the in-betweens. Recovery is often a one day (or even one hour) at a time battle. Be sure to have a support structure in place; people that have your back and hold you accountable. Be engaged in serving others, steer clear of any person, place, or thing that might remind you or draw you back into old habits. Never, ever isolate yourself. It is a battle that can be won. I have have been blessed to do life with people who are, as we speak, walking in victory over it.

This is anything but easy, but it is part and parcel of fighting the good fight. Do these things so that like Paul you’ll be able to say, “I finished the race.” I pray that you (or that someone you love) will be able to claim that; and as they do, it will be not only because they fought the good fight, but just as importantly because they “kept the faith” that started them on the race to begin with. And I pray also, that someone will read this and be convicted that Jason’s finish line, which came much to quickly, does not have to be theirs.

Jason, you’ll always be loved. We just wish we had you longer.