Sunday, December 24, 2017

Three Reasons Why Christmas Matters

It's Christmas Eve, 2017.  A joyful time!  And here is why it matters so much...

At Christmas, we are reminded God can do anything.  Young Mary was a virgin.  She had saved herself for her future husband.  But her world turned upside down when an angel said she was going to conceive and give birth anyway.  Needless to say, that made her scratch her head and wonder how this would happen.  After explaining that God was going to do a miracle in her life, the angel said in Luke 1:37, "For with God, nothing shall be impossible."  Isn't that awesome?!  God can do anything, anywhere, anytime, with anyone that He wants.  I find a lot of comfort in knowing God is all-powerful and without limits.  That lets me know that whatever we all go through, God can more than handle it.  He's omnipotent, and that's a vital truth to keep in mind.

At Christmas, we are reminded that God's plans are better than our plans.  Joseph was engaged to Mary.  He didn't understand everything that was going on, but he did know this:  Mary was pregnant, and the child was definitely not his.  So, understandably, Joseph was going to quietly walk away from the relationship.  But an angel appeared to Joseph, explained the situation, and encouraged Joseph to stick around.  The Heavenly being told the struggling fiancĂ© to take Mary as his wife and help raise the baby she was carrying.  Now Joseph had a choice.  He could live his own way and leave Mary, or he could live God's way and keep her and the unborn child in his life.  In Matthew 1:24, we see that Joseph "did as an angel of the Lord commanded him."  What a smart move!  He chose to live God's way.  And because Joseph followed God's plan, he got to witness the birth of Mary's miraculous child, name that child, and raise him in his own home.  Joseph experienced amazing, life-changing joys because he lived out God's perfect will instead of his own.  And so will we if we do the same.  Sooner or later, we will get a blessing if we follow God's plan for our lives.

At Christmas we are reminded that God is in the saving business.  In Matthew 1:21, the angel told Joseph to name the baby "Jesus" because "He will save His people from their sins."  And in 1 John 4:14 we read, "The Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world."  Amen to that!  We've all sinned.  We've all done wrong.  And we're all guilty.  But Christmas is special because it's when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came here to save us from our sins.  He saved us by paying for our sins on a cross.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven and rescued for all of eternity.  What a blessing!  God loves us enough to send His Son, Jesus, here to save us.  That's the best gift we've ever received.

So those are three reasons why Christmas matters.  God can do anything.  God's plans are better than our plans.  And God is in the saving business.  That's more than enough cause to celebrate!!  And that ought to light a fire of joy in our hearts.

God is good.  All the time.  May we remember this at Christmas and all the other days of the year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Leave A Tip

It's not something I've thought about much before my daughters started doing it.  Then it began to make sense.  All three of my girls have worked in a restaurant here in Sumter over the last couple of years.  And they've all had great experiences doing it.  I've been proud of them for getting out there and learning how to work hard.

I listen to them talking about what it has been like for them and their friends in that line of work.  And here is something I've noticed them talking about:  Some people really understand tipping and some people don't. 

Now that I've watched and listened to my girls, I'm much more aware of why this is so important.  And I interact with waiters and waitresses with more understanding now wherever I go.  I guess I understand them better because of what my girls have told me.

Here are a few quick thoughts to keep in mind when you go out to eat....

That guy or that girl who is waiting on your table does not get paid much money at all by the restaurant.  You'd be surprised at how little they make from their employer.  Their main source of income is tips.  That's how they make money.  They depend on tips.

I remember when I was a kid most folks tipped 10%.  That was pretty normal.  These days it's more like 15% - 20%.  I tend to lean towards 20% now wherever I go.  And if I can't afford to tip that day, I just don't go out to eat.  Please consider doing the same.

Remember that if your dining experience isn't everything you want, it's not always the fault of the waiter or the waitress.  They're not cooking the food.  They're not controlling the thermostat.  They're not in control of the noise level.  Be reasonable with them and keep in mind that if something goes wrong in whatever restaurant you're at, it's not always the fault of the waiter or waitress.  So don't financially "punish" that one who has waited on your table just because the experience didn't live up to your expectations.

Christians, that's fine if you want to leave a gospel track.  But do it in addition to a tip, not in place of one.  Yes, a track can help their souls get saved, but it won't help their bills get paid.

Be patient with that one who is waiting on you.  They're human.  They have good days and bad days, just like you do.  They have other things going on in their lives too.  So keep in mind you're dealing with a human being, not a robot.  Also, ask yourself, if that waiter was your son, or that waitress was your daughter, how would you want them to be treated?

I think ultimately, this is about more than tipping.  It's about being good to people.  It's about treating people the way we would want to be treated.  And it's about behaving like Jesus would.  He was loving, kind, patient, and forgiving.  It seems to me that whether we're in a restaurant or not, we ought to treat people the same way.

The next time you go out to eat, be good to that waitress or waiter.  It'll bless their heart.  And you'll have a good feeling for doing it.

Monday, December 18, 2017

My Magic Ears

For years, I've struggled with hearing.  It's been difficult, frustrating, and embarrassing.  At times it's been so bad that I've acted like I heard people when I actually didn't hear them.  Why?  Because I was too ashamed to ask them to repeat themselves again.

Finally, Marsha, a friend of mine, encouraged me to go get my hearing checked and do something about my problem.  After some gentle pushing from her, I gave in and went.  The experience went smoothly.  My hearing was tested.  The problem was identified.  And finally, I got hearing aids. 

Folks, let me tell you something:  It's like I'm living in a whole new world.  Finally, I'm able to hear.  Now I don't have to turn the tv up so loud.  When I go to the movies, I can understand what's being said.  The sound of birds chirping is beyond beautiful these days.  I can even hear Coke fizzing when I pour it into a glass, which I couldn't hear before.  Best of all, when family and friends are talking to me, I now can hear what they're saying with ease.

My family has nicknamed my hearing aids "magic ears".  Ha!  And that's a good name, if you ask me.  This transformation has been absolutely incredible and it has changed my life in some neat ways.  I'm beyond grateful for being able to hear!

With that in mind, here's something to consider:  God hears us perfectly.  He doesn't struggle to make out what we're saying.  Not at all!

Check these out...

I John 5:14 - "if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us"

John 9:31 - "if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him"

I Peter 3:12 - "for the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer"

That's awesome news.  When we sing praises to God, He hears us.  When we express words of thanksgiving, God hears us.  When we cry out for help, God hears us.  When we're lonely and just need someone to listen, God hears us.  There's a lot of comfort in knowing that this awesome God of ours hears us.  And not only does he hear us, He responds perfectly in the right way, at the right time. 

Yep, I'm mighty happy about my magic ears.  It's a thrill to hear what's going on around me.  But I actually find greater comfort in knowing that God hears clearly with ease.  That means He's in tune and fully aware of my joys and sorrows on a daily basis.  And He's the same way for you.

Today, let's praise God for His amazing hearing! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Why I Believe In Hospice

(Here is my hand holding the hand of a hospice patient under our care)

Since the summer of 2016, I have worked as a hospice chaplain.  Before my work here, I've never had any dealings with hospice.  Since I was brought on staff, however, I've come to really believe in it and appreciate what it's about.

When someone is dealing with a life-limiting illness, and it appears they may be approaching their final season of life on this Earth, a hospice team can come into the home of the patient and their family to provide needed assistance.  The team works hard to help protect the comfort and dignity of the person who is ill.  Also, hospice focuses on the emotional and spiritual needs of the family members who are providing care for the patient.

A hospice team is made up of many different members. Nurses, CNA's, social workers, marketing directors, bereavement coordinators, chaplains, office support workers, and volunteer coordinators unite as one group to help hurting families.  Each role is important, and everyone makes a valuable contribution to the care of the patients.

Obviously, many patients who receive hospice care do eventually die.  There are some individuals, however, who do get better, no longer need hospice care, and are discharged.  As one doctor told me, "I don't have a crystal ball and I don't know for sure who is going to live and who is going to die.  I just do the best I can when I recommend someone for hospice care."  So the end result is not always the same for every hospice patient.

Something important to know about hospice is this:  The patient is no longer treated to be cured of their illness; instead, the goal is to keep the patient as comfortable as possible.  If pain can be managed or reduced, that's a good thing.  And that is something hospice workers definitely want to see happen.

I enjoy working with hospice.  That does not mean I enjoy watching people suffer.  Not at all!  What it means is I enjoy bonding with patients and their families, ministering to their spiritual and emotional needs, and pointing them to God, who offers the greatest comfort they can find. 

Yes, I believe in hospice.  Totally.  It's all about ministering to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of hurting people.  And as a Christian, I believe that is really important. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

No Emotions

Like a lot of you middle age folks out there, I grew up watching Star Trek.  The original series.  And I always enjoyed it. 

Spock was a fascinating character.  While he was intelligent and helpful to the crew, what set him apart was this:  He had no emotions.  Zero.  None.  Because Spock was Vulcan, he did not get happy, sad, scared, angry, or anything else.  He was just the same guy all the time and was 100% logical.  Spock and feelings did not go together.

More than once in my life I've thought, "Man, it would be so good to live like Spock and not have to deal with emotions."  It has really appealed to me quite a few times along the way.  Maybe some of you think that's crazy talk, but I know a lot of you understand exactly what I mean!!

Think about it this way.  With emotions in the mix, many people have a "roller coaster" life with drastic ups, downs, twists, loops, and turns.  Furthermore, the phrase "I feel" is often uttered around drama, foolish decisions, and exhaustion.  It's hard to deny that life is complicated and difficult quite often when emotions are at play.

So what if we didn't have emotions?  What if we, like Spock, had no feelings?  Would that make life better?

Well, when I think about this, my mind always goes back to the same conclusions...

First, God made us in His image.  He created us the way He did for specific reasons.  And, He did hardwire us with feelings.  We are emotional beings because God formed us in this fashion.  He gave us the ability to experience happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and peace.  So when we say we wish we had no emotions, we are questioning God's creative workmanship.

Second, emotions add color to life.  It would be a dull, flat existence if we never experienced feelings.  Feelings strengthen relationships and enhance the journey of life.  They make life special and they add to our time here on Earth.  And feelings can be the spice of life at times.

Third, maybe the solution is in the middle.  Some folks are dominated by their feelings.  Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, some want a life that feels nothing.  It seems to me that the best life resides somewhere in between these two unhealthy extremes.  I think the answer to all of this is to accept and enjoy the reality of our feelings without falling into the trap of worshipping them.  The key is for us to manage our feelings instead of letting our feelings manage us.  Yes, we will feel certain emotions.  That's just who and what we are.  But we don't have to be controlled by them.  What is pleasing to God and what is wise has to matter more than what we feel.  And we've got to remember that.

So when I think about this, here is my conclusion:  As appealing as it would be to live like Spock and not have to deal with emotions, that's just not going to happen.  God has given us emotions.  And that's more than ok.  The key is for us to thankful for feelings, but not let them rule from the throne of our hearts.  It's far better if God, instead of our sometimes flawed feelings, is the dominant factor and guiding light of our lives.  Feelings can lead us down some dark paths, but God will always lead us the right way.

It's ok for us to have feelings.  Let's just be careful with them.  They can be enjoyed and even helpful.  But they don't have to dominate our lives.  That's God's job.  That's what makes our time on Earth better.  And that's what makes us wiser.

P.S.  May you all live long and prosper.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Learn To Take A Compliment

I've noticed this tendency in people for years.  And so has Dustin Wax, who is someone I don't even know.  Check out this brief statement he posted on a website I stumbled across:  "A surprisingly large number of people do not know how to take a compliment."

Since I've become a pastor in 1996, I've witnessed this in numerous churches I've served or visited.  When people get complimented for singing a song, preaching a message, overseeing a project, leading a ministry, or doing something really well, they just don't know what to do in response. 

Often times I hear folks say, "Don't thank me. It was a team effort."  A handful of times people have said, "Don't thank me because then God won't give me my reward in Heaven."  Sometimes folks will say, "I didn't do it for thanks, so you don't have to say that."  Once I saw a singer in a church service almost chastise a congregation for clapping after a song.  He said, "No!  Don't you clap for me.  Give God the glory."

Some people mishandle compliments because they wrestle with a low self esteem or various insecurities.  Other people do this because they're theologically confused.  And a few people fail to receive compliments well because they're unsure of whether or not people are sincere in praising their efforts.

If you're someone who does this, please hear me out.  I'm not picking on you.  I'm not down on you.  I just want to help you understand a very important truth:  It's ok for people to compliment you, and it's ok for you to receive it with a grateful heart.

Paul opened up the book of Ephesians in the sixteenth verse of the first chapter by telling his audience, "I have not stopped giving thanks for you."  He's paying them a compliment.  The missionary is acknowledging something good about them and is expressing gratitude for the church of Ephesus.  You see what's going on here?  God told Paul to compliment fellow believers! God is behind the words of affirmation.  I sure hope the Ephesians didn't write Paul back with the words, "No!  Please don't thank us."  Ha!  No, I've got a pretty good feeling they accepted his words and were just thankful for the meaningful message.

When someone gives you a compliment, it may be that God is blessing you through their affirming words.  Possibly He's whispering words of comfort and approval into your heart at that moment.  After all, everyone from time to time benefits from being told they're making a difference.

If you are a person who constantly shoots down compliments that come your way, you need to be careful.  Your response, though well intentioned, can actually be a turn off to the person who is trying to bless you.  It can come across as ungrateful, rude, or self-righteous.  Think about it this way:  If you gave someone a gift and they quickly said, "No, don't give me this", you'd be offended or confused, wouldn't you?  Well it's the same way when someone is pointing out something good that you did.  They're extending you a gift and you're saying "No, don't give me this."  It's possible you're confusing or offending the person who is simply trying to be good to you and encourage you.

Folks, it's important to be humble.  And certainly we do want God to get the glory and praise in our lives.  But with that being said, it's still completely acceptable for people to tell you that you did a good job with something.  And it's equally appropriate for you to take their words to heart and simply say, "Hey thanks for your kind words.  I really appreciate it."

In Matthew 25:23, we are introduced to the idea of God giving a compliment to one of His people.  "Well done, good and faithful servant", He says.  God deems it appropriate and right to affirm this man.  When those words are uttered, I think two things.  First, I'm sure the servant is thankful and wouldn't dream of telling God, "No, don't thank me."  Second, I'm reminded that the offering of appropriate, well-deserved, compliments is acceptable in God's eyes, and should be in our eyes as well.

Work on this, ok?  Learn to take a compliment.  Accept it as a gift that is intended to make your day a little brighter and your life a little better.  Ultimately, know that it's ok to kindly say, "Thank you" in response to the one who gave you a word of praise.  See it for what it is:  A special, blessed moment for you to cherish and enjoy.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Family Of Togetherness

It was a neat moment that a lot of folks probably didn't see.

Yesterday at church, we all were singing a worship song.  God's presence could be felt in our little sanctuary in a neat way.  About halfway through the song, I noticed something.  Two senior adult ladies were standing beside one another in the choir loft.  They've been friends and known each other for years.  As they sung out together, one of them reached down and held onto the hand of the other.  They both looked at each other, smiled, and sang out, united by their hands.  There they stood, connected in friendship and Christian love.  Sharing a moment together of praising their God as one.  Experiencing a bond as sisters in Christ.  Then after a minute, the song ended, they let go of each others hands, and the service continued.  It was a neat moment for me to see.

Those two wonderful senior adult ladies unintentionally reminded me of something:  The church is to be a family of togetherness.  We are to love, comfort, and encourage one another.  We are to assure each other that we all matter.  This can be done by the holding of hands or a number of other ways.  And this is all done under the grace, protection, and leadership of our awesome Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Church can become a lot of things for people.  It's easy to lose sight of its purpose if folks aren't careful.  Because of that, may God help us all to remember who we are:  A community of faith and a family of togetherness. 

I'm sure they didn't intend for anyone to see it.  And it only lasted for about sixty seconds.  But I'm glad God let me see that special moment those two senior adult ladies shared.  It was a needed reminder that we all who make up the church should care about each other and be willing to show it one way or another.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Whatever It Took

Three of us were sitting in the living room of their little home out in the country.  The husband was asleep in his recliner.  And the wife was talking with me.  A time or two I glanced over at the poodle that was asleep in her husbands lap.  The wife noticed me looking at it and she said, "That dog really isn't supposed to be here."  Then she proceeded to tell me, "A few years ago, we had another dog.  She got pregnant.  But she also had health problems.  So one day she crawled up under the house.  One of my sons kept a close eye on her.  Then, one day, she died.  We knew that she was pregnant and something had to be done or we'd lose the puppy she was carrying.  My son quickly pulled the dead dog out from under the house.  Then he took his pocket knife and opened up her stomach.  He pulled out the unborn puppy, quickly wiped it as clean as he could, and he did CPR on it.  That dog started breathing and he lived!  This dog, on my husband's lap, is that unborn puppy which my son saved." 

That story blew me away.  What an inspiration her son was.  He did whatever it took to save that little unborn puppy who was unable to save himself.

That has me thinking about our God.  He did whatever it took to save us.  We were born with a sin problem.  Because of this sin problem, we were guilty and condemned. Also, we were bound for a hopeless eternity in Hell.  Just as that little puppy was stuck inside of his dead mother, we were stuck inside of sin.  But God, in all of His goodness, didn't leave us in that position. 

Here's what He did about it:  God sent His Son, Jesus, down here to Earth.  He was born in Bethlehem to a young lady named Mary.  Then, a little over 30 years later, God sacrificed His Son on a cross.  Why?  God allowed His own Son to suffer, bleed, and die, so that our sins could be forgiven and our souls could be saved.  In a radical series of events, our loving God did what was necessary to rescue us.  And because of this, our lives have been changed for the better.

Thanks be to our God.  He did whatever it took to save you and me.  What an awesome expression of love it was!! 

I'm pretty impressed with what the young man did to save the puppy.  But I'm far more blown away by what God did to save us.  By all means necessary, He got the job done.  Let's thank Him for doing whatever it took.  And let's honor Him with our lives as long as we are on this Earth.  What an awesome God He is!!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sometimes, People Get On My Nerves

I find myself getting frustrated with people every now and then.

When I'm driving, I wish people would use their turn signals.  Travel would be so much simpler and the roads would be so much safer if people would simply take a second and let others know they are turning left or right.  That gets on my nerves. 

When I'm sitting in a movie theater, I wish people in front of me would quit looking at their cell phones.  The light from their phones shines right into the eyes of everyone sitting behind them.  That gets on my nerves.

When things like these happen, I find myself tensing up and wanting to vocalize my frustration.  I imagine really throwing out some verbal zingers.  But normally I just keep it to myself, shake my head, and move on.

When I calm down after a minute or two, I have to remind myself of some important truths.  And maybe if people sometimes get on your nerves, these could be helpful for you to consider too.  We all ought to keep these in mind...

#1  Everybody can be irritating at times...including us.  The older I get, the more I realize I have my own habits, quirks, and idiosyncrasies that can grate on people.  I'm just as weird as the next guy.  And before you get too smug, remember you're weird too.  Ha!  Ha!  We all are.  None of us are perfect.  All of us can be aggravating occasionally.  So let's stay humble and avoid putting ourselves above other people.

#2  Patience with others is a must.  Look, I get it.  We're emotional beings that can't help but feel frustrated at times.  That's normal.  But we still can choose to stay calm and conduct ourselves in the right way.  James 1:19 tells us "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry."  Before we make matters worse by shooting off at the mouth inappropriately or blowing our stack aggressively, let's slow down, take a couple deep breaths, collect our thoughts, and maybe even whisper a prayer.  Why?  Because when we do this, we have a much better chance of reacting wisely instead of saying or doing something that we later will regret.

#3  God sets the best example.  Always remember how He deals with each of us.  Psalm 103:8 tells us, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."  Did you catch that?  God doesn't flip out with knee-jerk reactions.  Not at all!!  He gives us time and opportunities to learn and grow.  He shows us grace.  And He loves us immensely.  That's how God handles us, and that's how we need to handle each other.

Yeah, sometimes, people get on my nerves.  And I'm pretty certain the same thing happens to you.  During those moments, let's stay humble and remember that we're not perfect either.  Let's stay calm and be patient.  And let's look to God for help in handling people the way He does.  If we do these things, we will handle stressful moments a whole lot better.

PS - But please use your turn signal when driving and stay off your phone during movies.  Ha!  Sorry, I couldn't resist.  :-)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Cremation. Ok or no way?

Because I'm a pastor, hospice chaplain, and have experience working part-time in a funeral home, I get asked about cremation quite a lot.  Some people are fond of the idea.  And others quickly reject it as an option for consideration. 

Just in case you don't know what cremation is, it is the process by which a dead person's remains are exposed to intense heat.  This process reduces the body to a pile of ashes.  Then the ashes are placed in a container and given back to the surviving family members.  At this point, the family can decide what to do with the remains.  Of course I have simplified the process in my description, but that is basically what happens.

With that in mind, I'll share a few quick thoughts on it now...

(1)  To state the obvious, the person being cremated does not know they are being cremated.  They are already deceased.  So he or she does not feel any fear, anxiety, or pain because they have already died and their soul has left their body.

(2)  On a financial note, cremation is normally a few thousand dollars cheaper than a burial.

(3)  The Bible does not address cremation.  There is no verse that calls it a sin.  And there is no verse that says it is a good thing.  Simply put, the Bible is silent on the topic.  If you're looking for a verse on cremation, you will not find one. 

(4)  Cremation ultimately comes down to your personal preference.  There is no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to this.  You should do what makes you the most comfortable in this matter.  That is why I do not tell people they should or they shouldn't be cremated.  It's a personal choice, and either way is totally ok.  Do what works for you.

Ultimately, I'll say this:  I'm glad to know that in the eternal perspective, it won't matter whether we are cremated or buried.  Regardless of how we're laid to rest, we are going to get a new body in Heaven anyway.  So it won't matter if we're buried or cremated down here because we're all getting a big time upgrade in Paradise!!  1 Corinthians 15:53 tells us that these new bodies will be "imperishable" and "immortal".  Also, Revelation 21:4 tells us these new bodies will never cry, hurt, or die.  So there we have it!  If Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord, we will have a new body in Heaven.  And a far better existence than we have down here on Earth.

Do whatever you think is right and practical when it comes to cremation or burial.  Do what you are at peace with in your heart.  And know that neither option is wrong.  It's ok either way.  Find comfort in knowing there is eternal life with God in Heaven when our time on Earth comes to an end.  And rejoice in the truth that new bodies await us all, regardless of how we died or were buried.

What a glorious, positive, safe, perfect future awaits us because of Jesus Christ!!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Jim's 8 Words Of Urgency

I was visiting my 96 year old friend, Jim.  We were sitting in his little apartment yesterday talking about life.  He was wearing khakis, a blue button up shirt, and a blue baseball hat.  On his walls were pictures of his family and an airplane he flew in World War 2.

At one point of our conversation, we were talking about time.  I asked, "Does it seem to you that time goes by faster ever year you get older?"  My elderly friend looked at me with a smile and said, "Oh yeah it does.  It flies by faster every year."  Then, he spoke the following 8 words with a sense of urgency in his voice:  "Go ahead and do whatever you gotta do."

Wow.  That hit me hard.  I've never had an older person put it to me like that.  And it made perfect sense.

James 4:14 states, "For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."  Psalm 144:4 proclaims, "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow."  And Psalm 78:39 says, "He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again."  These three scriptures all make a similar point:  Our life on this world is brief.  It does not last long at all.  And the older we get, the more we understand that.  The years we spend here will be over much quicker than we realize.

This was Jim's message to me, which obviously was anchored in scripture:  Time flies.  So whatever important things you need to do, go ahead and get them done. 

God created each of us for a purpose.  We're here to make a difference.  And He wants us to maximize our moments.  We are to make the most of our time on this planet. 

What should you be doing with your life?  It could be any number of things.  Making your house more of a home for your family.  Comforting hurting people.  Starting a new business that your community needs.  Writing a book.  Educating young minds.  Preparing meals.  Calling people and checking on them.  Encouraging people.  The list could go on an on.  Just think on it.  What should you do with however many remaining years you have left?  Now, let me ask you another question.  Why not go ahead and get started now?

Jim's 8 words of urgency ought to light a fire of motivation under each of us.  Time is short.  Life races by.  And because of that, we need to make the most of the days we have.  We have to carry out our purpose.  We must make our contribution to this world and to the people around us.  God didn't create us and send His Son to save us so we can lazily sit around on our posteriors doing nothing of significance.  No, not at all!  He put each of us here to do something.  So what are we waiting for?  Time is running out.  Let's get busy.  Let's get moving.  Let's fulfill the purpose for which God put each of us here in the first place.

Jim's right.  Remember his words.  "Go ahead and do whatever you gotta do."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

What God Has Been Teaching Me

Recently, I turned 47 years old.  Along with that, I've reflected on some of the things God has been teaching me so far.  There's no doubt I have A LOT more to learn in life.  But here are just a few things that have started to make some sense along the way...

IT FEELS GOOD TO WORK.  Here's a confession:  I don't think I truly began to understand what real labor was until 4 years ago.  Now I work multiple jobs, and I love it.  Being productive and having my hands in several projects gives me a satisfying feeling.  I don't think God put us on this planet to lay around lazily.  Not at all!  So let's maximize our opportunities and utilize our abilities.  Let's do something with our lives and leave this world a better place than it was when we entered it.

I NEED THE CHURCH.  Regardless of whether I'm a pastor or not, I need to be around other believers.  Encouragement, guidance, accountability, and inspiration are just a few of the multiple benefits that come out of spending time with brothers and sisters in Christ.  No, the church isn't perfect.  But she is the bride of Christ.  She is precious to Him; therefore, she is also to be precious to us.  And being a part of this body of believers makes us better along the journey of life.  Let's be an active part of His church. 

I WANT TO DEAL WITH MY OWN ISSUES INSTEAD OF GETTING WORKED UP ABOUT YOURS.  We all stumble and fall one way or another.  We all make wrong choices and do wrong things.  Because of that, I think it's better for me to just deal with my own struggles rather than give you a hard time about yours.  I'm not in a position to criticize and judge you when I have my own shortcomings.  Let's all deal with the person who stares back at us in the mirror before we even think of dealing with other people about their flaws and quirks.

I CHOOSE TO FORGIVE MYSELF RATHER THAN BEAT MYSELF UP FOREVER ABOUT FAILURES.  At times, I've been hard on myself.  Even after receiving forgiveness from Jesus, family, and friends, I still wouldn't let go of my guilt.  But over time, God and family have helped me to forgive myself and move on with life.  We can't charge into the future if we're still holding onto the past.  Let's confess our sins to God and receive His forgiveness.  Then we need to forgive ourselves and let it go.

I CAN'T SPEND MY DAYS WORRIED ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK OF ME.  When it's all said and done, what God thinks of me is far more important than what people think of me.  And I've realized that living for the approval of other people is an exhausting exercise that never really ends or satisfies.  Let's all live for God's pleasure and approval through Jesus Christ.  What He thinks of us is what matters most in life.  As long as we are right with Him and walking in His will, we are exactly where we need to be.  And that's what ultimately matters most. 

Those are just some of the things God has been teaching me in my life.  Hopefully He will continue to help me learn more lessons along the way.  Learning from Him makes our lives so much better.

May He continue to teach you and bless you as well!!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Fellowship Over Chicken Wings

I was the only white guy there.

Recently I went to visit an elderly lady who has poor health.  When I knocked on the door and was welcomed into home, I met about six people who were all very kind.  They were all African American, and I only knew one of them.  For a moment, we all stood there quietly and awkwardly. 

Then I noticed a plate on the table.  "Hey, are those Leo's Chicken Wings?", I asked.  One of the young men responded, "Yeah, they are.  Want one?"  I thought for half a second and said, "Sure, that sounds great!"

Then, they started passing out plates and napkins.   One of the wonderful hosts gave me a chair.  Then we all sat there together and ate chicken wings.  While we ate, we told stories, laughed, and had a blast.  It went from a silent room to a joyful place of fellowship.  I had a wonderful time with my new friends,  and I'll always remember it.

That whole experience reminded me of something important:  If we human beings will just sit down and talk with each other, we usually can find common ground and similar interests.  Though we may look different and have varying backgrounds, most of us are alike in many ways.  Most of us want our families to be ok, our bills to be paid, and our communities to be safe.  Most of us want to have purpose, hope, peace, joy, and strength.   And most of us just want to get along with our fellow man.

What I'm saying is regardless of whether we're black, white, rich, poor, Democrat, Republican, educated, uneducated, liberal, conservative, or whatever, we can usually get along with each other if we just put a little effort into it.  Let's sit and listen.  Let's try to understand each other.  And let's remember that the world will be a much happier place if we learn to calmly co-exist together.

I'm not so naive to think a plate of chicken wings is the key to world peace.  Things can be way more complex than that.  But I do believe with all my heart that if people would sit down and communicate with one another, usually some common ground will be discovered and a bond can be formed.  

Most importantly,  if we look to God, He can pull us together and make us one.  After all, when you and I both seek Him, it becomes obvious we're a lot more alike than we are different.  And that makes it easier for us to get along and work together.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Right Kind Of Church

We've got a Presbyterian church here in our neighborhood.  It's right around the corner.  Almost daily, I pass by it in my car.  But it wasn't until last weekend I noticed something on it's sign out front.  In big letters I could see the name of the church.  But underneath, in small letters, I finally saw this little message:  "A Place Of Grace".

I don't know much about that church.  No clue who the pastor is.  No idea what the budget might be.  No guess as to how many people attend its services.  But I do know this for sure:  A place of grace is the right kind of church.

See, we're all sinners.  I know I am.  And so are you.  We've all done wrong.  We've all made poor choices.  We've all missed the mark.  But the great thing about God is He forgives us and wipes our guilt away.  He doesn't hold our wrongdoings over our head.  And He doesn't expect us to live eternally in shame.  When we confess our sins to us, He forgives.  And He treats us far better than we deserve.  That's what grace is.  And it really is an amazing thing!!

So because God shows us grace, we also need to show each other grace.  That's what a good church does.  People fail.  People do dumb things.  People make foolish decisions.  And we have a choice:  We can beat up on these people, condemn them, and kick them while they're down, OR we can love them unconditionally, offer them forgiveness, and point them to our loving God who has all the blessings they could ever want. 

The older I get, and the more life experiences I have, the more I'm a grace guy.  Yep, I'm really thankful for God's grace in my life.  I'd be lost without it!  And I really want to show grace to others.  I want to show them forgiveness, love, and help, because that's exactly what God has shown me.  And I firmly believe with all my heart that no matter who they are, where they've been, or what they've done, the church should be the one place where they're welcomed, treated with kindness, and offered a word of hope. 

So may all of our churches here in Sumter, and around the world, be places of grace.  Let's share with others what  God has shared with us.  It'll bless people more than anything else we give them.

Friday, August 4, 2017

One Day At A Time

Recently I was sitting alone in a Mexican restaurant and enjoying a delicious lunch.  When I finished my meal, I sat there quietly and started thinking about my life.  Things I needed to do.  Places I needed to go.  Issues I needed to handle.  Challenges I needed to overcome.  All of these different thoughts were going through my head.  And I found myself not wanting to get out of my booth.  It was kind of like I just wanted to stay put and hide from life a little while longer.

As I sat there, I just froze.  I started feeling overwhelmed.  My life was feeling like an uncontrollable avalanche, and I started thinking, "Man, this is just too much for me to handle."

It was at this time that the waitress walked by my table.  I suppose my face was showing how I felt on the inside because she looked at me and asked, "Hey, are you ok?"   I responded, "I'm just feeling overwhelmed with life right now."  Then she smiled and said something I'll never forget, "You just gotta live one day at a time."


She was right, you know?!

Sometimes it can be a lot to process when we start thinking about all the things going on in our lives.  Things can begin to feel like a bit much.  The big picture can be overwhelming.

But when we live one day at a time, we're just calmly taking one small step after another. And we're not worrying about crossing bridges we haven't even approached yet.  Rather than stressing over the multiple issues we must address in our lives, we're instead dealing with a single issue right here and right now.  That's a little easier to manage, you know?!

When that waitiress said that, I was encouraged.  The dark clouds started drifting away and sunshine re-enetered my heart.  And I felt energized.  So I got up, paid the bill, left her a tip, headed out the door, and got back to work.  Simply put, my day was changed when I was reminded of that very important lesson.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with your life?  If so, let me assure you that we all feel that way at times.  You're not alone.  It happens.  But the good news is this:  You can find peace of mind.  Look to God and whisper a prayer.  Accept the fact that yesterday is over and tomorrow hasn't even arrived yet.  And decide to focus solely on today.  When you do this, you're living one day at a time.  And doing that will make your life so much calmer and better.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Just Like The Old Man

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.  Others have had the same experience in their own lives.  And I reckon it's probably inevitable.  What am I talking about?  Well, it's simply this:  I'm turning into my dad.

Seriously.  I'm noticing it in a few areas here and there.  And my kids are pointing it out to me at times too.

It's not that I'm trying to do this.  And I'm certainly not opposed to it either.  But it's just happening naturally without me thinking about it.

For instance....

It seems that daily I'm walking around my house and turning off lights that kids leave on.  "We're running up the power bill around here people", I'll announce loud enough for everyone to hear.  Dad did that.

Last night I was sitting on the couch watching a PBS documentary about South Carolina wildlife.  My oldest daughter, Katie, said, "You're watching that?  Wow, you're turning into Wade Richardson for sure."  See, Dad watches that kind of stuff all the time.

When my son, Emerson, pours a glass of milk and only drinks half of what he poured, I'll say, "Come on, man, you're wasting money right there."  Dad said that to me quite often about drinks and food when I was growing up in his house.  He'd always say, "Take what you want, but eat what you take." 

I like to drive with my knees and back into parking spaces.  Dad does that.

I listen to Garrison Keillor's "Tales Of Lake Wobegon" and enjoy every second of it.  Does does that.

I enjoy science fiction movies and quirky comedies.  Dad does that.

And I find myself caring less and less about what other people think of me.  Dad really does that!!

These are just some of the many things I and others have noticed.  And maybe you're going through the same thing.  It seems like a lot of us somewhat turn into a version of our parents.  I've heard plenty of women say, "Wow, I'm turning into my mom."  So yeah, it's kind of a common thing.

But you know what I've noticed?  The greatest person we can become more like ... is God.  He's our Heavenly Father, and if we become like him, that's a game changer. 

I like what Paul wrote here in Ephesians 5:1-2  -- "Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love."  Did you see that?  We're really becoming more and more like God when we love.  In other words, when we treat people right, we're "imitators" of our Heavenly Father.

Do you want to become more like your Heavenly Dad?  Then try loving on people.  Be patient with folks who are difficult.  Be forgiving towards those who royally mess up.  Be helpful to those who are in need.  Be encouraging to those who are down in the dumps.  Just treat people right.

Don't be so doggone critical, harsh, cruel, bitter, impatient, cold, and difficult.  That's not love.  And that's nothing like God.  There's already too much of that stuff in the world, and we'd be better off with less of it.  Choose a better way!!  Choose love.  Treat people right.  Be a blessing to folks.  Make days better for others.  When you do that, people will see a reflection of God shining in you.  And their lives will be better off because of it.

Yep, it's a simple fact of life:  We're most like the Heavenly Father when we love people.  So let's do that today, with His help from above.  Loving on folks will make the world a better place.  And it'll help others see what God is really like.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

We're All The Same

I once read about a group of kids who started their own neighborhood club.  They just got together and had a good time goofing off and playing around.  When they started the club, they came up with three rules.  And this is what they were:  [1]  Nobody acts too big.  [2]  Nobody acts too small.  [3]  Everybody acts just right.

It seems to me that those are rules we all would do well to abide by, even as adults.

Let's not act too big.  In other words, don't walk around acting like you're the greatest thing since sliced bread and Coca Cola.  Abstain from acting like you're better or superior to other people.  That's called arrogance.  God doesn't like that, and most people don't enjoy being around that either.

Let's not act too small.  In other words, don't walk around talking negatively about yourself.  Avoid putting yourself down and acting like you're beneath everybody else.  God didn't make you as a piece of trash or second-rate human being.

Let's act just right.  In other words, let's have a healthy perspective of ourselves.  We're not better than other people.  And we're not worse than other people.  We're all somewhere in the middle.  We all have strengths and weakness.  We all have moments of thrilling victory and agonizing defeat.  When we all strip away our bank accounts, jobs, homes, achievements, and images, we're pretty much just alike.

The truth is this:  We all are imperfect.  But we also are all created by God, loved by God, and offered salvation from God.  That means deep down, you and I, along with everyone else, are basically the same.

So don't get too cocky about yourself.  And don't get too down on yourself.  Just realize you're like everyone else on the planet:  A work in progress that is highly valued by God.

I like what my Grandaddy Richardson wrote about himself years ago inside the front cover of a book he gave me.  This is what we wrote:  "Leon Richardson.  An old sinner saved by grace."  He had a healthy understanding of himself.  And that's what it means to act right. 

Remember who God is.  Remember who you are.  And always keep in mind that as we stand at the foot of the cross, we're all on even ground.  Nobody is above us or beneath us. 

Yep, it's true.  We're all the same.  And that'll always be the case.  So act right.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Mermaids I Saw

Surfside Beach is where I was recently with my family.  We all had a great time down there.  One night, we went out to this big, all you can eat, seafood buffet.  When we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed something on the sign.  It read:  "Live Mermaids Inside".

Well, I've never seen a mermaid.  Have you?  So that kind of got my attention.  Yeah, I was mostly looking forward to the crab legs and shrimp on the buffet.  That's what really excited me.  But mermaids?  I was curious to see what this was all about.

So we all went inside.  This was a huge place.  Lots of tables and chairs.  A gigantic spread of food that was waiting to be devoured.  And then I saw it off to my left side.  A nicely decorated pool with a little fence around it.  And in this pool, were two mermaids smiling, talking, and swimming around.

Ok, I'll go ahead and state the obvious.  They weren't really mermaids.  As far as I know, those don't actually exist.  But what I saw were a couple of ladies dressed up as mermaids.  It was well done.  And their costumes were impressive, down to the smallest of details.  They pulled it off really well.  It was neat to see, and everyone seemed to be amused by the whole setting.

The ladies were just pretending. 

But they're not the only ones.

People all around the world pretend to be someone or something they're not.  I've done that before.  Most likely you have too.

We can easily manufacture this image that is not like who we really are.  Maybe we do it to impress others.  Or maybe we do it because we're ashamed of our flaws and imperfections.  Most likely it's for a combination of reasons.

But you know what life has taught me?  I've noticed along the way that it's always best to be real.  Be who you are.  And never hide behind a mask. 

It's a good thing when we are honest on the outside about who we are on the inside.  It's good because it is all about reality.  It's good because it means we're being genuine and sincere.  It's good because it allows people to know who they're really dealing with when they're in our presence.  And it's good because it means we're not playing games with God or other people.

There's no harm in a couple of ladies pretending to be mermaids at the buffet.  That's just a gimmick.  And it's for fun.  But when it comes to daily living in the real world, there's nothing gained by you or me acting like someone we're not. 

Let's be real.  Honest with God and everyone else.  Folks can far better handle us when we're real about who we are.

I'll never forget it.  In a church service here in Sumter back in 1996, my uncle, Phillip Reynolds, came up to me and gave me some advice.  And here's what it was:  "Be real, David.  Just be real."

He was right.  And that still is true.  It's alway best to be real.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

God Of The Stars

Let's just consider the stars for a minute...

A star is a heavenly body made of hydrogen and helium.  It is always burning because of a process called nuclear fusion.
As for the number of stars there are in existence, scientists tell us there are over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and we are just one of over 10 trillion galaxies in the universe. 
As for the size of stars, Betelgeuse is 1,000 times larger than the size of our sun.  And VY Canis Mayoris is 1,800 times the size of our sun.
As for the distance from Earth to stars, it is 93,000,000 miles to the sun from our planet.  The next closest star, which is Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years away from us.  In other words, we would have to travel the speed of light every day for 4.2 years to get there.  Or, to break that down even more, if we could drive all the way there from Earth, we would have to travel 60 miles per hour for 48 million years to reach it.

As you can see, stars are mind blowing.  There are more of them than we can count.  They are tremendous in size.  And they are spread way out over a gigantic universe that is impossible for us to measure or understand. 

But here's the really cool part of all this...

God made the stars.  In Genesis 1:14, we see that it was He who brought them into existance.  Intentionally and amazingly, He created each and every one of them.  That's impressive!

God knows the stars.  In Psalm 147:4, we see that He knows the exact count for how many of them there are.  And, as if that's not enough, we see that He has a name for each individual one.  That's incredible!

God controls the stars.  In Matthew 2:1-9, we see that God moves a star to guide the wise men in their search for baby Jesus.  That's remarkable!

As amazing as the stars are, they're no match for God!  He made them.  He knows them.  And He controls them. 

That really ought to be a comfort to you and me.  After all, if God is big, strong, and wise enough to handle the stars, then surely He is big, strong, and wise enough to handle us.  He can provide for us, protect us, and bless us in ways that are unimaginable. 

The next time you look at the stars, just remember what a mom once told her daughter.  They were laying out on blankets under the Colorado mountain sky one night.  As they gazed up at the stars in the sky, the daughter was saying how neverous she was about traveling to England the next day.  Her wise mom listened calmly and patiently to her daughter, and then she said this:  "The God who holds the stars holds you."  How true that statement was ... and still is.

The God of the stars loves you.  He is for you.  And no matter what, you can trust Him with your life, your needs, and your burdens. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wrong Path To A Good Goal

Sarai wanted to have a baby.  It was a big deal to her.  And it pained her to not be a mother.  So she came up with a plan of her own.  She asked Abram, her husband, to have physical relations with another woman, named Hagar.  Then, when the other woman got pregnant and had the baby, Sarai would claim that baby as her own.  So, Abram agreed with the plan.  He slept with Hagar and she conceived.  But things got complicated and didn't go as smoothly as Sarai had hoped.

What happened here:  Sarai took a wrong path to a good goal.  God did not tell her to do what she did.  It was her own idea.  And it led to problems.

Was there anything wrong with Sarai wanting to be a mom?  No.  Absolutely not.  That's a good goal.  It was ok to want that.  But there was something wrong with the path she took to reach that goal. 

Sarai took matters into her own hands.

Sarai stepped outside of God's plan.

And Sarai refused to trust God's timing.

Let's not be too hard on her though.  She's not the first person to do that, and she won't be the last.  It happens all the time.

How many times in life do people take the wrong path to a good goal?  It happens daily around the world.  People want things that are perfectly normal, but they go about it the wrong way.

Think about the things people want:  A close relationship.  A better job.  A good income.  A win on the athletic field.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting these things.  But there is something vastly wrong when we try to reach these goals in our own way and on our own timetable. 

Life has taught me this:  God's plan is better than mine.  God's timing is superior to mine.  And God's power is greater than mine.  And if I submit to His plan, cooperate with His timing, and trust in His power, life works out for the best.

What is it that you want in life?  Identify whatever it is that matters to you.  And talk with God about it.  Be real with Him.  Ask Him to give you the desires of your heart.  Then, get on with your life and know that God will orchestrate whatever He thinks is best for you.

Don't take matters into your own hands like Sarai did.  If you do, things will just blow up in your face.  Do this instead: Trust God.  He loves you and He is for you.  And if you allow Him to work out His plan, in His way, according to His schedule, you'll be more than satisified.  You'll be blessed and thankful forevermore.

May God help you and me both avoid taking the wrong path to a good goal.

** P.S. The story about Sarai is found in Genesis 16.  If you want to read it for yourself, just click here.

Monday, June 26, 2017


There I stood with my son on the sandy beach.  We were looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.  And the cool water was feeling good on our feet.  As we gazed at the massive body of water, I couldn't help but think about how huge it is, and how small I am.

The Atlantic Ocean is world's second largest.  It covers over 41 million square miles.  And it covers around 20 percent of the surface of our world.  Amazingly, the deepest this ocean gets is a mind-boggling 27,841 feet.  It's just hard to fathom how gigantic this one body of water is.

But wait, it gets even better.  This is only one of the Earth's several oceans.  And collected, they cover just over 70 percent of the face of the globe.  What a huge amount of water that is!

Then I stood there and thought about this:  Although I'm small compared to that, the oceans are small compared to God.  This verse (Isaiah 40:12) popped into my head:  "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?"  That's a rhetorical question.  The obvious answer is God.  He is so big and mighty, that all of the oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds of this planet could collectively and easily fit into His hand.  Because of this, He can measure how deep and wide this body of water is just by looking at what He's holding.

Wow. Nobody else can do that.  And it's just one reason we can say that our God is awesome.

He's big and powerful.  That means He's more than capable of taking care of us and handling any problems that come our way.  And that gives us one more reason God is worthy of worship.  Simply put, He is unlike any other.

The next time you see an ocean, remember this.  Yes, it is tremendous and impressive.  But God is even more so.  And we can trust Him with all that we are and all that we have.

Monday, June 19, 2017

God's Will And The Angry Girl

I was in Honduras for a few days.  While in that beautiful country, I met an American who was living full time down there as a missionary with his family.  He was good guy, and I really enjoyed visiting with him and learning what it was like to relocate from USA to Honduras.  He told me it was not easy at first.  Challenging, actually.  He and his wife were both convinced that God wanted them to make this move.  They were fully on board together.  And their young son was too.  But their teenage daughter was furious about it.  She did not see the sense in it and did not want to leave all her friends to move to Honduras.

He looked at me and said, "I'll never forget the Sunday before we moved down here.  We were back home in America at our church.  Our whole family was sitting on the front pew.  The preacher was just about to call us up in front of the church so everyone could pray for us.  It was at that moment my teenage daughter leaned over to me and whispered, 'I hate you for doing this to me!'.  That was one of the most painful things I've ever experienced."

He loved his daughter.  She really was a great girl.  It was just a difficult moment, and in her youthfulness, she didn't know how else to cope.  And even though he didn't hold a grudge against her, it did wound him.  Deeply, it hurt him.

But you know what?  He hung in there.  He stayed calm and loved her anyway.  He didn't get defensive or angry at her.  And he still moved his family down to Honduras.  Eventually she grew to like it.  His daughter adjusted emotionally and decided to have a positive attitude.  The family bonded even closer and had the adventure of a lifetime as one.

Sometimes in life, the right thing to do is the hard thing to do.  Obeying God is not always a happy cakewalk that is filled with ease and sunshine.  Not at all!  God's will for us includes pain at times.  But if we hang in there, cooperate with Him, and persevere, we will experience a blessing and enjoy the victory. 

In Galatians 6:9, Paul wrote this - "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  The apostle is encouraging people to stand strong and do what is right, even if it hurts.  And he is reminding everyone that there will be a reward waiting for those who follow God's leadership in their lives.

Maybe there's something you need to do, but it's really difficult.  And you know it's going to be painful on one level or another.  If that's you, just remember this:  God will give you eveything you need to get through those tough circumstances.  He will help you.  And when it's all said and done, your life will be better off because of it.

I'm glad my missonary friend hung in there.  He did not "become weary in doing good", and he did indeed "reap a harvest".  What an inspiration.  What an example!  May you and I do the same in our lives today and forevermore.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Scotty And The Gnat Question

I've got a good buddy named Scotty.  The other day I noticed something he wrote on Facebook.  And I liked it, because I've wondered the same thing he asked.

This is what Scotty wrote:  "Dear Lord, I try to never question Your creation here on Earth, but one night when it's just You and me talking, will You please explain the purpose of a gnat to me?  Thanks, Scotty."

That's a fair question, isn't it?  Who hasn't wondered that at least once in their life?  I know I have. 

So I decided to do a little research on gnats to find answers to the question Scotty and I both have. 

Here are some results from my research...

I learned a gnat is a tiny, flying insect (obviously) which is part of a group named Nematocera.

I learned some gnats bite, and some don't.

I learned that gnats are attracted to body heat, fruit, and sweet smells.

But what about Scotty's question?  Do gnats serve a purpose?  Well, it turns out they do.  Gnats do the following two things:  [1]  pollinate flowers.  [2]  serve as a food source for bats and birds.

That has me thinking now on an even deeper level that I was originally.  Even though gnats can be highly irritating, they can still lead to beauty in the world with flowers, and they can keep some of our impressive winged creatures fed and soaring in the heavens.  So aggravating things in life like gnats can still serve a purpose and be a blessing in the long run.

It's easy for us to be thankful and understanding when it comes to cirucmstances or people that are pleasant.  But when we begin to see the good in those things that are irritating, God is really helping us grow.  And this is when we begin to experience more of His life-changing joy. 

So, if it's ok with all of you, I'd like to close out this blog post with a little prayer.  You're welcome to join along and pray this too, if you'd like.  Here goes:

"God, You're amazing.  You have a purpose for everything You allow to exist or take place in this world.  Today I thank You for those circumstances, creatures, and people that are pleasant.  But I won't stop there.  I also thank You for those moments, experiences, individuals, and even creatures that irritating.  Even the gnats!  Because You are always up to something good, even when the circumstances are less than desirable.  No matter what's going on (or buzzing) around me, You are always worthy of worship.  I pray this in the name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen."  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Big Tipper

Shaquille O'Neal raised a few eyebrows earlier this year when he shared a true story about blessing a young lady in a restaurant.  She was the waitress who served him and his party that night.  And when she brought him the bill, he asked what she wanted for a tip.  The young lady responded with a bold request:  $4,000.  When she told him, Shaq responded, "Okay, no problem."  And he then proceeded to pay her $4,000!  Filled with gratitude, she said, "You just paid my rent for two months."

What an amazing story!  She was willing to make a big request.  And he was willing to come through with a kind response.

When I read that story, I thought about this verse in James 4:2 - "You do not have because you do not ask God."  It was there the half-brother Jesus explained that we miss out on some things in life because we have hesitated to make our requests known to God.  It's a simple principle that really does make sense.

Now it is important to be wise with this principle.  This does not mean that God is an ATM machine who throws cash at us whenever we ask.  And it does not mean that God is a genie in a lamp that exists for the sole purpose of granting our wishes.  But God is a loving Heavenly Father who cares about His children, and He can more than provide for them.  After all, He owns it all, and He has the resources necessary to bless those who call out to Him in prayer.  That's how awesome our God is.

What are your needs?  Maybe there's something you are lacking physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, professionally, financially, or spiritually.  Whatever it is, try this:  Talk to God about your needs.  Be real with Him.  Be specific with Him.  Tell God what you think and how you feel.  He wants you to be yourself and cry out to Him with faith about what is really going on in your life. 

God cares about what you and I experience in our lives.  Also, He can come through for us in countless ways if we will simply ask Him in prayer and believe He's capable of meeting our needs.  He is the kind of Father who delights in taking care of His children.  That's what Jesus had in mind when He said the following in Matthew 7:11 - "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him."

Shaq blessed that young lady when she asked.  What an incredible display of generosity.  And just think:  God can give far greater gifts and change way more lives than anyone else can.  That's just one more proof that our God is a good Father.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Too Much Free Time

I've been on both sides of the fence. 

Several years ago, when I was between jobs, I found myself with too much free time on my hands.  These days, because I work more than one job, my schedule stays full.  And even though it may sound crazy, I actually like my life better now. 

It's something I've discussed with several people lately.  And we all agree.  Too much free time is just not a good thing.

When we have too much free time on our hands, we can easily fall into some negative patterns.  Any of us are capable of these things.  Some of these include...

[A] Thinking too much and over-analyzing matters.
[B] Becoming too needy and demanding of other people.
[C] Getting too bored and vulnerable to temptation.
[D] Accomplishing too little and wasting our skills.

Life is better when we have things to do.  Having structure and a to-do list are beneficial to our productivity level, mental health, and emotional well-being.  And on a spiritual level, it's good for us to do something with the life that God has given each of us.

So how should we respond to those seasons of life when we have a little too much free time on our hands?  Well, let me share with you something Jacqueline Whitmore wrote on May 31, 2016 for Entrepreneur magazine.  Her article was entitled "6 Productive Ways To Spend Your Idle Time".  And these are her suggestions of what we can do when our schedule has a few too many openings:

[1]  Record your goals.
[2]  Listen to audio books.
[3]  Learn another language.
[4]  Check up on your loved ones.
[5]  Get moving.
[6]  Give back.

Jacqueline offers us all some fantastic suggestions in her list!

"An idle mind is the devil's workshop."  I've heard that statement many times.   And I really believe it's true.  Don't you?

May God help us all avoid two unhealthy extremes.  One is working all the time and never taking a break.  The other is having too much free time on our hands.  Somewhere in between these two radical ways of life is a happy and healthy medium where we all would do well to live.       

Friday, June 9, 2017

Just Glad

There he sat.  A tall and lanky old guy.  His legs looked rough and beat up.  And he was in a wheelchair at a nursing home.  He was not in the best of health.

As I walked towards him I said, "Good morning!".  He looked at me with a big grin on his face, raised his fists, and said "I lived another day."  We visited another minute before I walked inside.  But I was blown away by his awesome attitude.

Every day is a gift.  To simply wake up in the morning is something to be thankful for.  That's exactly what Psalm 118:24 means when it says, "This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."  That new day that just started is a nice present from God.

Just think about it.  Every day is a blessing.  If we are fortunate enough to wake up in the morning, we have been graciously given another opportunity to enjoy loving fellowship with God and be a blessing to our families and friends. 

Perhaps we all would be better off following the example of the old guy at the nursing home.  Let us wake up in the mornings just glad to be alive.  Thankful that God gave us more time on this earth.  And grateful for another opportunity to make a positive impact in this place where we temporarily live.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Before We Can Take Care Of Others

I was sitting in the home of a kind, elderly lady recently.  She was relaxing there in her big, cozy chair with a blanket spread across her lap.  And she had a pleasant smile on her face.

We had a great talk.  After a while, I held her hand and prayed with her.  Then, as I was getting up to leave, she looked at me and offered the following advice:  "Take care of yourself so you can take care of others."

I can't stop thinking about what she said.  It won't leave my mind.  She said it in such a way that it really hit home with me.

If we're going to take care of families, friends, churches, and hurting people, we've got to begin with making sure that we're ok.  It's a simple fact that we can't help bring wellness into the lives of others if we don't have it ourselves.  And we've got to accept the fact that it's ok for us to take care of ourselves.

1.  Let us take care of ourselves physically.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Get plenty of sleep.  When we do these things, we will physically be able to be present and helpful for those who need us.

2.  Let us take care of ourselves emotionally.  Talk with someone you trust about how you feel and what you think.  Surround yourself with people who lift you up and encourage you.  If necessary, see a counselor who can help you work through things you feel and think.  When we do these things, we are emotionally at a point where we can assist those who need us.

3.  Let us take care of ourselves spiritually.  Spend time in prayer.  Read God's Word.  Get alone daily with an edifying devotional book.  When we do these things, we will be able to encourge spiritually those who need us.

It's just a simple fact of life.  We can't give away what we don't have ourselves.  So let's remember it's ok, and even necessary, for us to take care of ourselves.  Then, and only then, can we be at our best to take care of other people.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yes, I'm All For Sunday School

I'd like to share a few thoughts with you today about Sunday School.

When I was a kid, my parents always took my brothers and me to church.  And yes, that included Sunday School.  Every Sunday, we were there.

Then, when I got a little older, I somewhat changed.  I still went to church on Sunday's, but I didn't make Sunday School much of a priority.  The way I thought at the time was "I'm fine just going to the worship service.  I can hear a good sermon there, and that's really all I need."  So for a while, I took a break from it.

Now, I think and feel differently.  I'm all for Sunday School.  And I humbly encourage you to be the same way.

Here is what I've realized over the years...

Sunday School fosters spiritual growth.  When we gather during this hour, the class can interact with each other.  We can study the Bible together.  We can ask questions.  We can share insights.  There is a freedom to communicate and help one another deal with real life matters.  And that's where we really take off and grow spirutally.  We can't do this during the sermon time of a worship service.

Sunday School creates community.  When we gather during this hour, we have a chance to get acquainted with each other.  We can learn about others in our group.  We can share prayer requests.  And we can encourage one another.  Real friendships can be found in this setting, and that's a blessing.  It's hard to do this during a worship service.

Different churches do this in different ways.  Ours, for example, has Sunday School on Sunday mornings, an hour before the 11:00 worship service.  Other churches have small groups that meet during the week at various times in the homes of church members.  Regardless of what each calls it, and regardless of when the meetings take place, I think many of us would agree with this:  Gathering with a small group of fellow believers outside of the worship service can help us grow in the Lord and enable us to develop meaningful friendships.  It's hard to be against something like that!

Yes, I'm all for Sunday School!  And you should be too.  Good things happen when people get together in the name of the Lord.

Friday, June 2, 2017

High Bill, Right Attitude

A friend of mine was telling me about her car recently.  It was having some problems and it needed to be repaired.  So she took it to the mechanic.  Finally, he was able to fix the problem.  She went to get her car back and then she saw the bill.  Needless to say, it was pretty expensive.  When she told me about it, she wasn't complaining.  Not at all.  But I did say, "I'm sorry the bill was so high to fix your car up."  She then calmly responded, "Well, I'm just glad I have a car to fix up."

Wow!  She was not having the easiest of times. And yet her attitude stayed right.  She kept a thankful heart.  And I admired that.

This is what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 - "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  Here we see in the scriptures an important reminder:  Always look for the good in every situation, and remember to thank God for it. 

I believe with all my heart that thanksgiving matters for two reasons.

First of all, we should be thankful to God just because He deserves it.  He's more than earned our gratitude.  Just think of how He blesses us daily.  Let's count our blessings and express our gratitude to him.

Secondly, looking for the good and being thankful protects us.  Thankfulness shields our hearts from negativity, pessimism, and bitterness.  When we're focused on the positive, it helps us deal better with those challenging seasons of life.

My friend responded right to the high bill.  She looked for the good, and responded with gratitude.  May we all do the same.

In closing, let me share this little story with you.  Years ago, Matthew Henry was robbed.  A man took his wallet.  Looking back on that unfortunate event, this is what he wrote:  "I am thankful that he never robbed me before.  I am thankful that although he took my wallet, he did not take my life.  Although he took all I had, it was not much.  And I am glad that it was I who was robbed, not I who did the robbing."

Today, let us all be thankful.  Why?  Because no matter what happens, God is still good.  And we are immensely blessed.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Meaning Of Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day.  Often times, this day is treated simply as part of a fun, three day weekend where people gather, grill out, and have fun.  Goodness, I'm all for those things, but it is vital for us to pause and remember what this day really is about.

The Department of Veterans Affairs describes Memorial Day this way:

"Memorial Day is a day for remembering
and honoring military personnel who died
in the service of their country, particularly
those who died in battle or as a result of wounds
sustained in battle."
So on this day, we pause and remember those military men and women who died in (or because of) battle.  They made the ultimate sacrifice.  And they gave all they had to give.
I decided to do a little bit of research on how many Americans have died over the years while serving their country in battle.  What I learned really opened my eyes to how many people have perished over the years while on duty.  Just consider how many lives were lost in the following wars...
World War I - 53,402
World War II - 291,557
Korean War - 36,574
Vietnam War - 58,220
Persian Gulf War - 383
Iraq War - 4,412
War In Afghanistan - 2,351

Then I read some accounts of what it is like to lose someone you love in military service.  Alva James-Johnson wrote about Kim Benford Weaver, a nurse, who lost her husband, Staff Sgt. Jason A. Benford.  He died in 2005 while he was on his second deployment to Iraq.  "There's not a day that goes by that you don't think about him," said Kim.  She was just one of many, many people grieving the death of military personnel.

Many Americans today will decorate the graves of these heroes with flags and/or flowers.  It's a way to say "Thank you", and "I remember you."  And this will take place all over the country.

If you're like me, you haven't lost a relative or close friend in military service.  I personally have not travelled that road or felt that pain.  But I can tell the grief weighs heavily on the hearts of those who have endured that experience.

There's nothing wrong with having some fun today.  We all would probably benefit from that.  But in the midst of a day off, may we all pause and acknowledge the true meaning of Memorial Day.  It's about remembering those who have died while serving their country and defending freedom.

In closing, here is a prayer I've written for this day.  Feel free to join in and pray this too, if you'd like.  It's how I choose to remember what this day is really about:

"Almighty God, today is Memorial Day.
It's that special time where we remember
those who lost their lives in, or because of,
military conflict.  On this day, I lift up
in prayer to You those grieving families
who have lost a loved one in battle. 
I ask that You graciously and lovingly
pour out your comfort on those hurting families.
Please soothe their aching hearts and help them
through their season of grief.  On this Memorial
Day, I remember those who died, and their families. 
And I know that You do too.  Thank You for
being the God who cares about hurting people.  
I pray this in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Happiness On The Diamond

My son is playing baseball for the first time this year.  It's all new to him, but he's having a blast.  And I've enjoyed watching him learn the game.

Recently, he got his first base hit.  His bat hit the ball towards the shortstop, and Emerson raced to first base.  He made it just in time, and was called "safe" by the umpire.  Needless to say, we all cheered and rejoiced.  My parents were there to see it, and they were mighty proud of their grandson too.

In the midst of our brief celebration, I noticed something.  A boy on the other team was playing at first base.  He knew that was my kid's first base hit, and he did something really classy.  He gave my son a high five.  It was a cool moment of great sportsmanship.

And it reminded me of something very important:  Be happy for other people when things go their way.

If we're not careful, we can fall into negativity when other people succeed.  We know this is the case when we begin to think things like...
"He doesn't deserve that promotion.  I work harder than he does."
"She doesn't deserve to marry a guy like that.  I know what kind of person she's been in her past."
"He doesn't deserve to be the starting pithcer.  I practice way more than he does."

A better way to respond to the victories of others is to be happy for them.  This requires humility and selflessness on our part.  And it protects us from being miserable and in life.

Of course, another key to this is realizing we have our own blessings to be thankful for.  God is good to each of us every day.  He extends to us grace for our souls, forgiveness for our sins, strength for our battles, wisdom for our decisions, peace for our hearts, and assurance for our future.  Keeping this in mind helps us to be more content with what we already have, and it makes it easier for us to be happy for those around us when good things happen in their lives.

Part of growing up spiritually is wanting the very best for other people.  This is what Paul was saying when he wrote the following words in Philippians 2:4 - "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too."  Did you catch that?  Life is about more than the person who stares back at us in the mirror.  It's also about the other guy or girl who also is trying to have a good life.

That first baseman for the other team showed tremendous sportsmanship towards my boy.  His happiness on the baseball diamond made life even better for Emerson.  And it showed he has a good heart.

May God help us all to be happy for others when good things happen in their lives.

Monday, April 24, 2017

When Spider-Man Got Biblical

I have a confession to make.  Here goes:  I enjoy comic book movies.  Whether it's Avengers, Batman, or whatever, I enjoy them all.

Years ago, I was watching a Spider-Man movie.  In one scene, Uncle Ben was talking with young Peter Parker.  Sitting there in a car, the older, wiser man imparts this bit of wisdom to the young superhero:  "With great power comes great responsibility."  What a quote!!

This morning, I read a Bible verse that has the same idea.  Jesus said the following in Luke 12:48 - "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded."  Did you catch His point?  He's saying that God expects His people to utilize and maximize the talents and abilities that He invested in them.

What skills and gifts has God hardwired into you?  Maybe He equipped you to be a caregiver, farmer, teacher, janitor, receptionist, lawyer, housekeeper, musician, administrator, waitress, nursery worker, sales clerk, writer, or something else.  Whatever it is, do what God put you on this Earth to do.  Do it with excellence and enthusiasm.  Give it your best and have a positive attitude about it.

I firmly believe that God expects us to put into practice whatever He has put into us.  And doesn't He have the sovereign right to expect us to fulfill our roles as long as their is breath in our bodies?  Of course He does.

So let's all identify what power God inserted into each of us.  No, we're most likely not superheroes.  That stuff is for comic books and movies.  But we do have something with which God has blessed us.  Whatever that may be, let's use it to make this world a better place.  And let's use it to bring a smile to God's face.

Jesus said it first in real life.  And Uncle Ben said it later in a fictitious story.  We must be responsible with the powers we have been given and use them to the fullest. 

So let's get busy and do what we were put here to do!