Two Boats

Have you ever wondered like I do, “Why does God chose to move and work through me?” There are so many more qualified people for Him to partner with. Someone more pure, righteous, devoted and available than me. I look at my struggles and past and want to disqualify myself. At times like this, I think of the Apostle Peter. Forgive me. I know comparison is wrong. But, somehow observing the relationship between Peter and Jesus and seeing all the mistakes that Peter made, helps me feel better.

Here is how they met:

 Luke 5: 1-3 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. NLT

Jesus is preaching one day near the shore. As He shares the timeless truths about the love of God, people are drawn in and begin to swarm around him. Looking for some space so He could continue preaching, He gets in a boat. He doesn’t get into anyone’s boat. He gets into Peter’s boat. The rest is history. Jesus finishes preaching, then tells Peter to launch out into the deep and let down his nets. Peter obeys and he catches so many fish the nets begin to tear. Peter realizes Jesus is the Son of God, forsakes his fishing career, and becomes a “fisher of men”.

It is a great story. However, did you notice there were two boats? You see God has options. He always has options. He didn’t have to get in Peter’s boat. He could have gotten into the other boat. But, he chose Peter’s boat. He knew how imperfect Peter was but He loves working with flawed people.

The next time the devil whispers in you ear that your not good enough, just say to him, “Well, God must think so; He came looking for me!” God has other options but He chose you and He continues to choose imperfect people everyday. Put to rest all the negative things you use to disqualify yourself and trust in this simple fact: HE came looking for you! For more information, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekYgDb1fQ2E&t=5s

 

 

 

 

Do a 360 and Fully Live

Will you remember what you do today one year from now? I know it is impossible to live everyday in such a manner. I only ask the question to make a point. The point is that life is precious; it is a gift. How many of us are un-wrapping that beautiful privilege—every—single—day?

There is a great quote Dr. Edward J. Stieglitz used in an advertisement in 1947 that sums up my thinking. It says:

“It’s not the years in your life that count but the life in your years!”

I have the joy of living in the Smokey Mountains of Western, North Carolina, surrounded by spellbinding beauty. People travel from all over the world to vacation here—to take in the sights and sounds of our ancient views. Yet, as a local, I can honestly say there are days we get in our cars and hustle from one destination to the other and never drink in the gift we have just outside our front door. I promise today that I will not only get out and do a 360 turn to take in the views, but I will also deeply breathe in our pristine air.

I recently attended the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference and heard a similar thought echoed by best-selling author Yvonne Lehman (57 novels to her credit). A paraphrase of her thoughts went something like this:

“You write from who you are. Who you are is the sum of your experiences. If you come to this conference and meet a mentor, learn a tool that will serve you the rest of your life, or get inspiration for your next book, then you just lived a chapter SCENE in the book of your life. If you came here simply to get information, you didn’t live a scene; you had an INCIDENT. Most people don’t write because they don’t live scenes!”

In the act of experiencing the fullness of each moment—the need to express that with others greatly increases.

Today, you took the time to read this blog. Would you mind telling me in a comment below one thing you are purposefully going to do today that you might remember a year from now? I would like to celebrate it with you. For more on this subject,  go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLrQ3BBs278&t=2449s

 

Suffering Well

I met a worship pastor one time that couldn’t sing. No joke. His name is Bob Sorge and he was serving as a worship pastor when he had to go have a medical procedure done. The surgeon accidently clipped his vocal cords and now he can’t sing; he can only whisper for one hour a day. After this tragedy, Bob asked God what He wanted him to do with the rest of his life. God said, “Be a worship pastor!” Bob replied, “Uh, I can’t sing anymore. We have to do something different, Lord.” To which God said, “I didn’t make a mistake when I made you a worship pastor. I also knew the difficulties you would walk through. Go be a worship pastor.” Bob went on to write many books on worship, raise up worship leaders and he “whispers” (speaks) at worship conferences. I have had the privilege of meeting him and hosting him at our church. He is a hero in the faith.

Recently, a couple of my staff and I had an opportunity to go to a conference. We enjoyed worshipping together, which was led by Bethel Church’s worship team. We were inspired by the main speakers, which included Lisa Bevere, Jimmy Evans & Choco De Jesus. But, one of the highlights for me was a breakout session one morning that was being taught by a guy I had never heard of. His name was Joel Sorge.

Joel was teaching a class on developing an environment that cultivates creativity. While that title intrigued me, I was more interested in his last name…Sorge. I kept wondering if this guy was related somehow to my hero, Bob. Joel taught for about 45 minutes of his hour-long class and then he got personal, real personal. He started talking about all the failure and disappoint that he and his wife had went through. He had everyone’s attention. And then he said something I will never forget. He said, “I have been through all this hurt and pain, but thank God, my father Bob taught us kids how to SUFFER WELL. He taught us to always complain vertically, not horizontally. You see when you complain about God to other people, it is sin. When you complain about God to God, it is worship. Read the Psalms.” Wow. When we complain about God to God, it is worship. What a statement. What a treasure. I don’t like to fail and I don’t like to suffer. But, if I have to go through it, I want to SUFFER WELL. Thank you Bob for teaching your kids this lesson. Thank you Joel for learning it! My life is enriched because of the pain you both have endured. For more on this subject go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekYgDb1fQ2E

The Art of Awareness

Ever deeply admire a trait in people that most others overlook? I deeply appreciate and admire awareness. I respect it when people are conscious of others around them and what they are doing. Likewise, I am absolutely astounded at the lack of awareness that some people demonstrate.

Recently, Tina and I were travelling out of state and were at a local grocery store. When we pulled in the parking lot, we noticed a young lad that worked for the store, collecting about 5 grocery carts. As he was wheeling them in through the front doors of the store, he suddenly stopped right in the middle of the doorway. The couple in front of us pulled up abruptly and so did we. I looked around the logjam to see what was holding him up. There was nothing and no one in the grocery cart holding area. He was apparently daydreaming. I said, “Excuse me”, to which he responded, “Oh, sorry” as he promptly moved to the side (but left the 5 carts in the doorway) and added, “let me get out of everyone’s way”. I laughingly told Tina that I was sure somewhere in the training manual it said to never physically block customers from getting into the store.

Now, this incident wasn’t a big deal and it literally inconvenienced us for a grand total of 3 seconds. But, it was the genesis for this blog because it was a glaring example of someone so self-absorbed that he lost all awareness of the others around him, not to mention his job.

One of the things I regularly say to our staff is, “You can’t fix the problem you can’t see”. If there is a perpetual problem happening in their specific ministry, the first thing I ask is; can they see it? I surmise if it happens repetitively, they cannot. And, if they can’t see the problem, they can’t fix it.

When preparing a team to go on an international ministry trip I stress the importance of cultural awareness. One of the easiest ways to honor the culture of the places we visit is it to pay attention to the way they do things, and then do it like they do. If they sit on the floor when they eat their food, then we sit on the floor while we eat our food. If they eat the bones, we eat the bones. If they kick their shoes off before entering the house, then we do the same.

Being aware of other people allows us the opportunity to anticipate their needs and to serve them. Recognizing their unique way of doing things allows us the opportunity to honor them by trying it ourselves. For more on this subject, go to https://www.newcovenantchurch.com/sermons/2018/4/23/the-names-god-calls-me

 

Taking Evil Out of Circulation

I love this time of year when all of creation springs back to life. It is the season we celebrate the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Savior Jesus Christ. And, while the focal point of His story is that a holy God chose to leave heaven to take our place on the cross so that we could become the Sons and daughters of God, His sacrifice did so much more.

Too many people focus only on the gift of salvation but miss out on all the other gifts his death and resurrection provided for us. For instance, we know that Jesus was severely beaten across His back. This act of “suffering stripes” did not pay for our sins, so why did He endure it? To provide divine healing for us and to fulfill the following prophecy:

Isaiah 53: 4 – 5 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. NKJV

He came to save us…AND to heal us. He also came to deal with poverty, abuse, neglect, and so many other twisted and perverted worldly things.

We live in a day and age where people have lost the art of civility. We answer violence with more violence. We justify our hate because of the greater hate we see in someone else. We blow up people on social media, in front of unbelievers, and justify it by our Christian belief system. So, in celebration of Christ’s sacrifice, I’d like to us to consider this powerful statement made by N.T. Wright;

“God’s plan to rescue the world from evil would be put into effect by evil doing its worse to the Servant – that is, to Jesus Himself – and thereby exhausting its power…Jesus exhausted the underlying power of evil when He died under its weight, refusing to pass it on or keep it in circulation.” N.T. Wright

Wow! Jesus absorbed all that evil could throw at Him and instead of retaliating; He grasped it and fell back into hell, removing all that evil from circulation! Can you imagine how different our world would look if we chose not to pass on hate, violence, anger or fear and instead removed the accumulative amount of all that toxic junk from circulation? Our world would be better; we would be better. Let’s prayerfully take some evil out of circulation this week. For more on this subject, please got to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J03xHlJrnbI&t=2058s

 

Life Overflowing

Are you living your dream? When I was a youth pastor, I asked my students how many of their parents were truly living their dream. Out of about 50 kids, 4 raised their hands. Those four students represented two families in our church. I tell you that story because it breaks my heart when I see people struggling to get through life, not even close to living the dream they were created for.

I believe it is possible to live in such a manner that our life ends up being so full it overflows. This passage from the gospel of John describes the life Jesus intended you to have:

John 10:10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to     destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. NKJV

Jesus came to earth so that we might experience LIFE on three different levels.

With Jesus, we should be able to do the basics of life well. He teaches us to be content in all things and how to love. Living at peace and having true relationships is a great level one kind of life.

But, Jesus also promises us abundant life. That word abundant means “to exceed or be more than expected”. Jesus wants you to outlive your own expectation! Can you imagine living a life that is better than you could dream of?

And, finally Jesus offers us eternal life. Eternal life is based on a relationship with Jesus. If you have a relationship with Jesus, your eternal experience has already begun.

This quote from Julia Cameron’s bestselling book, “The Artist’s Way” sums it up;

“We have all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the unlived life is not worth examining”.

We each have one life to live. Let’s live an overflowing life. For more on this go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2058&v=J03xHlJrnbI 

I Have Been Smoking the Bible

The man sheepishly admitted to the jail minister that he had been doing it; He had been smoking the Bible. “You have been doing what?” the minister asked. “I’ve been tearing out pages of the Bible, rolling tobacco and other stuff in it, then smoking it,” the man confessed.

This infamous conversation took place 20 years ago.

Back in the early 1990s, the State of North Carolina went tobacco free. Cigarettes were banned in our local prison. The prisoners, always known for their inventiveness, started drying out grass, herbs, banana peels—literally anything they thought they could smoke. They would then take the pocket New Testaments that the Gideon’s brought them, tear out a page, and roll whatever they had to smoke in them. The jailers went so far as to ban Bibles from being brought in for a while because they were aiding the prisoners in breaking the smoke-free policy.

My friend, Jimmy Haynes, (the jail minister) recalled how this 20 year old conversation had fueled his passion to become a Gideon (Gideon’s place Bibles in hotels, hospitals, and jails).

The detained man went on to say, “Before I tear out the page, I read the front and the back real good. I don’t want to disrespect the “Good Book”; I just need the paper to be able to smoke. So, I read Matthew Chapter 1, two or three times, then I tore it out, rolled up some grass and smoked it. I ended up smoking all of Matthew. I then smoked all of Mark and all of Luke. But, when I got to John, John smoked me! I was reading those pages so I could roll me a cigarette and the words of the Gospel of John convicted me and I gave my life to Jesus!”

My friend Jimmy was overwhelmed with God’s goodness. This man might never have read the Bible if the State hadn’t went smoke-free. Because it did, this inmate discovered a profound truth. You can’t read His word very long until His Word starts reading you. Or, as our young inmate would say, “I smoked the Bible until it smoked me”. For more on this subject go to https://www.newcovenantchurch.com/sermons/2018/3/10/a-spiritual-awakening

 

 

SLOW Reps are Better Than NO Reps

She was screaming at me, barking out orders and calling me out by name, in front of everyone! This is not my normal and it messed with me.

Ok, it was at the gym and she was a trainer.

Though I have been going to this gym for a couple of years, I am not as consistent as I would like to be, but I am making progress. I’ve lost some weight, put on some muscle, and my cardio is better. On top of all of that, I enjoy going to the gym.

When working out, I generally choose a high impact interval training class by myself, or I work out on weights and the treadmill with my wife. I like doing both. It just depends on the circumstances. On this day, I decided to take the H.I.I.T class, which had 19 people in it. I was talking to a friend during warm ups and assumed we might end up as partners for the class. Just as it was time to grab a partner one of the trainers grabbed my friend. I was a free agent. Jess locked eyes with me, grinned wide, and pointed, “I want you, Nick”. Now you need to understand, Jess is a beast, one of the trainers at the gym that works out for hours at a time.

The workout that day went only two rounds. The only reason I’m still alive. Between each round there is a one-minute break. I have a difficult decision to make. Do I get a drink of water or do I breathe? You can’t do both. I choose to breathe. We start the second round and I am dying half way through—barely getting reps in while Jess is going strong, like the energizer bunny. She screams for me to give her more reps. By now everyone knows my name. Then she delivers the line I needed to hear. “Slow reps are better than no reps, Nick! Give me another rep.”

That’s one of the keys to life, right? We all know it. I don’t feel motivated today? So, give me one slow rep, no reps are not an option. Feeling depressed or discouraged? Call a friend or take a walk. You’re hurried and can’t get in a full day’s work or write a whole chapter? Read something inspiring.

Slow reps are better than no reps. Thanks, Jess. Words to live by.

For more on this subject, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhQzmCjXA_s&t=1506s

 

The Paradox of Parenting

Paradox – A proposition that seems self-contradictory but in fact expresses a potential truth.

Yes, parents should know better. They have more life experience, maturity and resources than their children. They are the ones that must take everything they know and submit it to the greater cause of raising great young men and women so they can become productive citizens of society.

Recently, I spoke on three important parental focuses. The response to that message mandated I write this blog.

Here is my Big 3 when it comes to parenting:

  • Show your child unconditional love (which builds worth and value)
  • Help your child discover their unique difference (this develops identity).
  • Let them make low-level mistakes while still in your house (this molds maturity and confidence).

If every child experienced unconditional love, had someone reflect back to them their unique brilliance, and gave them a safe place to take risk and test their mettle, the world would be a wide and spacious place of creativity and productivity. Healthy people would be connecting with other healthy people in healthy relationships. Sounds like societal bliss, doesn’t it?

Yet, the greatest challenge to this type of success is the parent. The parent has to discipline himself/herself not to bulldoze forward, parenting in a style that maximizes their own strengths, willing to adjust their style of parenting to maximize the impact it will have on each individual child. If you have three children, you may have to offer correction, affirmation and instruction differently. If not, one child will thrive and another child will wither

The paradox of parenting is while the parent has all the experience, wisdom and maturity, they have to let the child take the lead in their own development and support them in a way that they feel it.

The Smudge of Shame

Have you ever spilled something on your shirt? Sure. We all have. It is frustrating when dressed for an important occasion; we spill something on our pants or shirt that ruins the look. If the spill is bad enough it can permanently destroy our clothes and ruin our day.

Now most of us, upon realizing we had just spilled something on ourselves, would immediately attempt to keep the spill from becoming a stain. I have never been successful at this, but my wife, Tina, is. She has a college degree in clothing, textiles and merchandising, and understands fabric at a level comparable to a nuclear physicist understanding atoms. She can get any stain out of any fabric. Whenever I try to keep a spill from becoming a stain, I accidently create a smudge. A smudge is when you smear the spill around and make it bigger, deeper ingrained in the fabric and harder to remove.

The problem with a smudge is people can see I am clumsy and spilled something on myself, but also that I can’t clean up my own mess. Now imagine having to walk around all day wearing the clothes with a visible smudge on them. You might feel a little embarrassed or feel shame.

Sin—our deliberate wrong choice—is an event that leaves a mark on our soul. Though guilt is the conviction we did something wrong, shame tells us there is something wrong with us. I have heard that sentiment rebutted by this powerful statement: “Failure is an event, not a person.”

When we feel like we are the mess, we try to clean up the mess. However, we only smear around our mistake and create the “smudge of shame” we can’t help but see and other people do as well.

The good news is; Jesus died on the cross to deal with our sin and the “smudge of shame”. He, and He alone, has the power to permanently remove the spill (sin) and the stain (shame) that comes with it. Look at this powerful truth found in Isaiah 1: 18:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. NKJV

God has already provided for any mess you will make. When we sin, the best thing we can do is run to the loving Father, who accepts us where we are, and for who we are, and quickly moves to remove the stain permanently so shame doesn’t set in. That is my Papa. I hope you know Him and of His great love for you.