A Prayer for the People of Walmart A Prayer for the People of Walmart

A Prayer for the People of Walmart – by Joe Wickman

Three children are screaming at the top of their lungs. And I mean scream-ing!

Believe me. I have 4 kids. They have screamed in stores. It happens. I get it.

But here, in the checkout line of our local Walmart, I’m bombarded with these cries of frustration. So is everyone around me. I can feel the tension building in our collective shoulders.

  • One mother (Is she the mother? Dear God, I hope not.) lashes out in frustration.
  • Another family ignores their little guy. “Maybe the kid would stop screaming if they acknowledged his existence.”
  • The third screamer? I can’t even see them. But oh, I can hear them.

The cashier laments, “My head is killing me!” (I wonder why.)

I try to be compassionate, telling her I hope she feels better. She’s so sweet and helpful. But really I just want to get out of there. I feel like my own head’s going to explode, and I’ve only been there a half an hour.

In the parking lot, people are cutting each other off, much like they were in the store, just now with cars, not carts. The collective angst spills out of the doors, past the smiley-face price tags, and into the world at large.

“I’ve got to get to my vehicle.”

There’s that angry mom again. Now she’s angrily buckling her toddler into the seat. I can’t quite make out her words. They’re somewhere between a curse and a grunt. My stomach turns.

  • Do I step in?
  • What would I even say?
  • How does a man, by himself, approach an angry Mom in a parking lot?

All this rushes through my head in 5 seconds as I walk toward my car.

Too late. She drives away first. Gone. Now I wonder what life is like for the little girl in her care.

I drive away.

I’m stunned. I can’t escape the thought, “That was awful!”

I’m not trying to be all “emo” here. But my heart is heavy. What was intended to be a casual stop at the store to pick up a few things turned into a deeply disturbing experience. I’m actually sad.

“What the heck just happened?”

It’s not Walmart’s fault.

As a pastor, I deal with broken people on a daily basis. I’m one of them.

But it seems like here, in the aisles of the discount store, we come face to face with the reality of who we are. At our modern day market, where prices are low enough to lure us in from every corner of our community, we come face-to-face with the unvarnished “us”.

A lot of times we don’t like what we see.

As a people, big picture, we are broken.

People don’t treat each other poorly for no reason. It’s a sign of a deep brokenness within that person. As the old saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.”

As I drive away from this brief encounter with the hurting people of my community, I think:

  • “How does Jesus love people like that?”
  • “Wait. That’s exactly what I’m like without Him.”
  • “Jesus, how can I love people like you do?”

As I pray, a Scripture flashes to my mind, a fragment of a verse.

“harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”

I look it up. It’s Matthew 9.

Jesus’ attitude toward deep brokenness is laid out here. Let’s see what we can learn:

Matthew 9:35 Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.

When Jesus came to earth, He immersed Himself in the everyday. He descended into our brokenness and brought Good News!

35 And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

He didn’t just preach. He got his hands dirty. He healed. He reached into broken lives and changed them for the better. Jesus is capable. He is willing. He is able. Am I? Are you?

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

This is how Jesus sees the broken people. What right do I have to see people any differently?

37 He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. 38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

Jesus came to earth. He laid down His life for broken us. Then He left. He returned to Heaven. Why?

Jesus wanted us, broken us, healed by Him, to carry on His work until He returns.

He sent His Holy Spirit to fill us, to equip us to love like He loved. He calls us to touch broken lives with the “Good News of the Kingdom”!

If you are a Christ follower…

  • How do you respond to brokenness when you see it?
  • Are you part of the solution?
  • Are you stepping into the harvest field?
  • Are you praying for the Lord of the harvest to send more workers?

Don’t let brokenness repulse you. Let it propel you.

Jesus sent His followers into this world to love people. So let’s get to it.

Compassion must be followed by action. It can start with a prayer.

Here is a prayer for the people of Walmart:

Lord, my heart is heavy when I encounter the ugliness of brokenness.

Help me understand that all people are broken, and in need of Your repair (including me).

Open my eyes so I can see like Jesus, instead of judging and complaining.

Turn my anger and sadness into deep compassion. Help me love like You do.

May the light of Christ shine through me, overcoming darkness wherever I go.

Make me a part of Jesus’ healing, transforming ministry in my home, through my church, and in my community.

In Jesus’ brilliant, healing, life-changing name I pray. Amen.

 

I opened up our local newspaper and an article immediately grabbed my attention.

YouAreWhatYouDecide 205x300 Book Review: You Are What You Decide By Sean Brady

You Are What You Decide by Sean Brady

Three revelations, one after the other, rushed to my mind.

  1. “Hey, someone local wrote a book!” (I’m slowly writing a book too.)
  2. “Hey, that book is about a topic I’m interested in!” (Decision Making)
  3. “Hey, I know that guy!”

It turns out that Sean Brady, my one-time teacher, has made a career out of helping people make decisions. Since he taught the Middle School “Apex” program, he has acquired a wealth of life experience and specialized training that makes this unique profession viable.

The Company

Now “Mr. Brady” (he no longer lets me call him that) leads Prism Decision Solutions. Their mission is to “Provide dynamic group processes and state-of-the-art systems to accelerate group decision making.” In short, if your organization has a high-stakes, complex decision to make, Prism can lead you through to the solution.

The Book

Sean (I still want to call him “Mr. Brady”) has now consolidated years worth of decision-making research and development into an accessible resource. “You Are What You Decide” provides “8 Keys to Better Decision Making” that will help you navigate simple and complex situations in your personal and professional life.

But the book here:  You Are What You Decide: Eight Keys to Better Decision-making Book Review: You Are What You Decide By Sean Brady

Sean Brady 150x150 Book Review: You Are What You Decide By Sean Brady

Sean Brady – Author of “You Are What You Decide”

Why buy it? In Mr. Brady’s words:

This book is about how to improve deliberate, high-stakes decision-making.

Who doesn’t need help making decisions?

Here’s my “Quick Hits”:

  • The book was a quick read. You could knock it off in an afternoon.
  • The “8 Keys” are easy to understand and apply.
  • It is an entry-level book on decision-making, but extremely useful.
  • This book is serving as a launchpad for my continued study of the art of decision making.

It’s short. It’s simple. But it’s helpful.

I found myself quoting the concepts in meetings at work the week after I read it. And maybe more importantly, the concepts continue to resurface in my mind as I navigate personal and professional decisions.

Pick up a copy for yourself. Heck, I recommend picking up a copy for each of your teammates at work.

If we make better decisions, our lives will be enriched. After all, “You are what you decide.”

photo 12 e1398696234821 298x300 How NOT to Pray Part 10: Dont Change

How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don’t Change

I’ve been writing my first book for about 150 years now.

This is Part 10 of 10. Now I’m going to go back through all 10 parts, rewriting and developing the content. When I’m done, I hope to have something that’s helpful. I hope it’s at least worth putting together into an eBook format.

Part 1 of “How NOT to Pray” is right here.


How NOT to Pray Part 10: Don’t Change

You know what happens when you don’t change?

Not much.

Eventually, if you dig in your heels for long enough, you’ll calcify. You’ll rust tight. You’ll stop moving forward and you’ll rust tight.

By now it’s safe to assume you’re reading this because you want your relationship with God to go somewhere. At least I hope that’s why you’re still reading, and it’s not just because, like me, you have this weird thing about finishing every series you start, no matter how terrible it is.

I promise not to tank this last chapter. But I’m going to need some participation from you too. It’s time to put hands and feet to your prayer life. It’s time to pull all of this talk about prayer out of the theoretical realm and secure its impact in the here and now. It’s time for you to change.

Ready? Let’s go.

Let me ask you a point blank question:

Does your prayer pass the “so what” test?

What I mean is, “Is your life changing as a result of your prayer?” If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong. If you learn “how to pray”, but don’t ever change as a result of connecting with God, then “So what?” It’s all for nothing.

The fact that it’s possible to pray without changing should make you sick to your stomach, at least a little bit. But it is. It’s possible to “pray” all the time and not change a bit.

Jesus actually pointed out how NOT to pray:

5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. (Matthew 6:5)

The Jews didn’t have a word to accurately describe the spiritual fakers Jesus was talking about here. So he called them “hypocrites”. It means “stage actor”. You think, “That doesn’t sound too bad. Actors are celebrities!” It wasn’t a compliment. In fact, it was a pretty harsh insult, a slap right in the face.

In Jesus’ day and culture, actors were considered professional liars. The Jews looked down on the Greeks in more ways than one. The “pretending” that actors did was despicable. So to refer to someone praying as a “hypocrite” was about as big of a slam as you could imagine.

Jesus says, essentially, “Don’t be a pretender when you pray. Don’t pray for show. Pray for go.”

So, if you don’t want to fall into that category, maybe you should take a minute and do some evaluation.

You’ve got to answer these honest questions about prayer:

  • What if I DO hear from God?
  • What if I come to Him in prayer, and He speaks to me?

I don’t mean, “speak” like an audible voice. But what if you pray and God answers? Are you prepared to change what you’re doing and how you’re doing it? Are you move-able? Or is all your prayer just your effort to act spiritual?

As we pray, God might ask you to:

  • Stop sinning
  • Leave your life as you know it and start following Him
  • Sever ties with a toxic person
  • Develop a new habit
  • Answer the call to ministry
  • Ask forgiveness from someone you hurt
  • …and a thousand other things, all requiring you to respond

God seldom says, “Stay the course.”

It’s not because that’s never the answer. But it’s usually not the answer you’re looking for. What I mean is you’re typically approaching God about things you know you need help with.

You come to Him with a problem you can’t fix. You need God to open His toolbox and do the work you can’t. You approach Him with a sin that you’re stuck in. You desperately need His mercy and grace. You call on Him to be our GPS when you’re peering down two roads that take you to very different destinations.

  • You ask God for guidance.
  • You place our problems in His lap.
  • You go to God for the power to change.

Be honest. Sometimes you hope He won’t answer.

Why? Answered prayer comes with a whole new set of consequences. And you and I, being human, would often rather stay put, mired in our misery, than risk the unknown. Even when we ask for God’s help, we’re often unwilling to change in order to step into His new reality.

Don’t think so?

  • Ever heard a teenager whine about not having any money?
  • Ever heard a Dad say, “I’ll give you a few bucks if you mow the lawn”?
  • Ever seen said teenager roll their eyes in response?

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

In spite of your most impressive spiritual gymnastics, if you’re not ready to actually move in response to God when you pray, you risk short-circuiting the whole process. Prayer requires response if it’s to foster close relationship. Remove real-life response from your prayer life, and it’s pointless. Or worse.

Prayer without response can be hazardous to your spiritual health.

Solomon put it this way:

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

“Stiff-necked.” Not a term we throw around at the office. Stubborn. Unchanging. Un-lead-able. You get the idea.

My point? If you come to God, asking for help, you’d better dang-well be ready to be helped. And if you’re not, you’d better start moving anyway. Otherwise you’re just flapping your gums. Praying to the God of action (Creator, Healer, Comforter, Sustainer… He is a doer) often requires you to move in ways you’re not prepared for, that aren’t easy, and that cost you something.

Consider Jesus’ prayer life.

Jesus was in constant communication with His Father. And I don’t think anybody could make a case for his life being a cake-walk. But the intensity of His life and ministry necessitated constant communication with God Almighty. The mission He was on required Him to be constantly responding to the leading of the Lord.

It it’s true that Jesus prayed to and responded to His Father in Heaven, then it’s all that much more applicable to us.

You were not designed to just float through this life.

God has in mind for you a life that is filled to the brim with adventure. Hang with me. I’m not suggesting everybody is destined to be Indiana Jones. But I do know this: Developing a responsive relationship with God is the most invigorating thing you can ever do.

Your joining God in this adventure has little to do with your outward circumstances. It has everything to do with your inner response to Him.

Whether you’re a sky-dive instructor or a desk jockey, the one thing that is guaranteed to fill your life with a sense of purpose is an authentic, responsive relationship with Almighty God. Only He can bring a Universe worth of purpose to what might otherwise be a very vanilla life.

If you’re in constant communication with the God who holds your days in His hand, you enter into a whole new realm of possibilities. Suddenly, the sky is the limit for your life. No matter what your outward circumstances, your relationship with God gives you the opportunity to soar!

Do you know what this means?

Your limitations do not limit your life nearly as much as you thought they did!

Maybe you’re __________. (Insert disability / limitation here.)

You’re fat. Skinny. Hurt. Sick. Poor. Dyslexic. ADHD. You were born at the wrong time… in the wrong place… to the wrong people… to really live a life of significance.

Or maybe your life, full of bright promise, took a terrible turn. You were sideswiped somewhere along the way, and things will never be quite the same. The hope of the perfect life has been snatched away. You’re forever on plan B.

Stop it.

Do not define yourself by your limitations.

This is not a pep talk. I’m not going to promise you that God will magically whisk away all your hardship. Instead, I’ll point you to the fact that a full-contact prayer life is vital for a life full of challenges. Take a quick look at the numerous examples in Scripture, and you quickly realize you’ve got no reason to count your obstacles as larger than God’s grace and mercy.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul… take a look at their lives and it gets squirrelly quick. They were some messed up guys whose one redeeming quality is that they learned how to live out an authentic walk with God. In-between outrageous obstacles and personal failures they learned how to God to God honestly, and respond as He spoke.

You can do the same. In fact, you can do better because you have some advantages over those guys.

Did you ever stop to think that Abraham didn’t have a Bible? Or a church. Or a pastor. He worshiped God, served Him, moved when He said to move, all by discerning God’s will through prayer.

So, what’s your excuse?

If these guys managed to live a life connected with God, through prayer, you can too. And you can do it with the advantage of a Bible that God wrote down and packaged together for you. You can do it in the context of a body of believers that’s as messed up and in need of Him as you are. So do not act like just because we have challenging lives you cannot hear from God in prayer. You can.

And as if that’s not enough, consider your Savior.

You serve the God who was dead. Yep, dead. Jesus died. Talk about a show-stopper. The God of our salvation, the Messiah that came to save the world from sin, experienced death. But he also experienced resurrection. Don’t lose sight of this fact. This is the game-changer for you.

The fact that Jesus, God in flesh, died on the cross, means that your stupid sin habits are not only forgiven (1 John 1:9), but their power is broken! I don’t know if you’ve realized it yet, but you’re free (Galatians 5:1)! You just need to start stepping into the freedom that was purchased for you with Christ’s blood.

So since you’re free, you no longer have any obligation to sin (Romans 8:12-13). There is literally nothing holding you back from accessing God directly (Hebrews 4:16).

So start praying like you can step right into God’s throne room. Because you can. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in you, then you have been granted access to the Father. You are His child. You have been adopted into the family.

So pray. Pray like you’re asking your Dad for advice, for what you need. And then do what He tells you to do.

Each “Yes” leads to the next “Yes”

Prayer, coupled with response, opens up the next opportunity for you to respond to your Father’s will.

God’s revealed will is clear. It’s found explicitly in the pages of Scripture. This incredible gift is under-utilized by many Christians. We have exponentially more access to God’s Word than any previous generation. It’s all laid out in black in white, just waiting for you to open the book, or the site, or the app.

God’s Word is clear on so many things. You certainly do not have to guess who God is, what He is like, and what He desires for you. You can open up the Bible and see, page after page, what He’s all about. Exposure to God’s Word, over time, will reveal to you an accurate picture of Who He is. Then you’ll know better how to interact with Him.

God’s discovered will is different. There’s no app for that. It’s unearthed one conversation at a time, in the context of a life that’s continually responding to God’s revealed will. How do you find out what God’s discovered will is? Through prayer.

The Bible isn’t going to tell you who to marry, where to apply for a job, or how to respond to a nasty email. But your Father in Heaven cares about all those things. So, after you run your day-to-day decisions through the filter of God’s Word, then you take them to prayer. As you repeat this process, you will discover His guidance is ready and waiting.

You will grow to daily pray within the boundaries of God’s Word as a constant discipline. Then, all you have to do is respond as you hear His voice.

  • So, are you prepared to move when God answers your prayers?
  • Your answer to this question will either inhibit or accelerate your growth in Christ.

 

My final advice to you? Pray. Respond. Repeat.

Step into the adventure one prayer at a time.

 

“How NOT to Pray” is my first awkward attempt at writing a book. It’s taking me forever and I’m not sure it’s any good. With any luck, it will be available by mid-2050. Thanks for reading so far.

STOP TEXTING!

April 25, 2014 — 4 Comments
photo1 169x300 STOP TEXTING!

STOP TEXTING! by Joe Wickman

Stop texting if…

  1. You’re angry.
  2. You’re not sure what their text meant.
  3. Your question cannot be answered with a yes, a no, or a number. (i.e. I’ll be there at 8:00)
  4. You value the relationship.

Look, texting is great, but only for a few things. My thumbs can sail over the surface of my iPhone keyboard. Texting is one of the modern conveniences I don’t know how I’d live without. It works great for shooting a quick question or note.

But there’s also a downside. People mistake texting for actual communication. It’s just not. Texting in order to communicate important, complex ideas is like trying to describe your favorite movie via email. It doesn’t work. It’s not the right method.

At best, a text is a short, limited message. It’s like talking on a telegraph. Type. Send. Wait for response. It’s stripped of all the rich verbal cues that color in a phone conversation. And even a phone call misses the all-telling body language that brings life and meaning to a face-to-face talk.

At worst, texting is the most easily misconstrued way to transmitting actual ideas. And forget about feelings. That’s why texts are often confusing.

I cannot tell you how many times I have told people, “STOP TEXTING!”

  • Husbands and wives text instead of calling or talking face to face, and can’t understand why they’re misunderstood.
  • Friends fight about stupid stuff that could be solved with one conversation if they just put in the effort.
  • Business people text instead of calling, and wonder why they’re losing money. (This numbs my mind.)

Seriously, people. We’ve GOT to get better at communication.

The next time you’re angry, or confused, or questioning someone’s motives, kick the communication up a notch.

Instead of texting, call. 9 times out of 10 you’ll solve your problem. It’s amazing what gets cleared up when you can hear the tone of someone’s voice. It’s like wiping the fog off your mirror. Suddenly, you can see clearer.

If a call doesn’t work, get face to face. Expressing complex thoughts and feelings, as well as listening, happens best when people are within 6 feet of each other.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just common sense. But I see people screw it up all the time.

Do you need to stop texting?

If you value your relationships, maybe you’ll use texting more selectively.

For more relationship help:  “Winning at Relationships

Do you know someone who texts too much? Share this post with them.

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Double Vision Double Vision   When Pain Blinds YouPain has a way of blurring our vision.

  • Friendships end.
  • Disappointments break our hopes.
  • Dreams die.

It feels permanent. Pain, when you’re in the middle of it, seems inescapable. It’s not. I know the way out.

Have you ever been so shattered by life that you couldn’t see straight?

Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ faithful follower, was broken in the wake of His death. It’s easy for us to say, “But the resurrection was coming.” That’s hindsight. For her, Jesus was dead, and He wasn’t coming back. Hope had evaporated.

We find this woman wracked with pain on Resurrection Sunday (John 20):

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The thought that Jesus had risen from the dead did not occur to her. She was so wrapped up in grief that, even when angels asked her why she was weeping, she could only focus on her worst fears. Not only had Jesus died, but now she thought that even his body had been stolen.

But then…

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus stood right in front of Mary, but she didn’t recognize Him. Her pain had blinded her.

  • Ever been there?
  • Have you ever been so wrapped up in the pain of your life that you did’t recognize God when He reached out to you?

Pain is unavoidable in this life. We live in a fallen world, and even followers of Christ are effected by the fallout. But just because we experience pain doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. Even as Mary hurt, she stood in the presence of the resurrected Savior of the world.

Finally, Jesus breaks through her fog of confusion.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” 

He called her name. How personal. How just-like-Jesus. I imagine that the tone of His voice must have somehow cut through her pain, calling her back to clarity, pulling her out of the depths of despair.

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

  • Is it possible that pain has blurred your vision?
  • Is it possible that Jesus stands right in front of you, but you don’t even recognize Him?

Your God is not dead. He’s alive! And so is your hope, if your hope is in Him.

Jesus calls your name in the midst of your pain.

Turn to Him.

 

Feeling Empty?

This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.

Ill pray for you 225x300 Stop Saying, Ill pray for you.

“I’ll pray for you.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

It’s often a Christian cop-out. I’m guilty of letting it roll off of my tongue.

Christian, be honest for a second. When you say, “I’ll pray for you”, do you really? Or are you just saying, in a nice Christian-ese way, “That situation sounds bad / concerning / difficult and I sympathize with you”?

Are you a “prayer warrior”? Do you actually tuck away each prayer request and go to God with it? Or do you just tell people you’ll pray for them, and forget about it 5 seconds later? (I’ve done both.)

If you say it and don’t mean it, you risk becoming a non-praying hypocrite.

If you’re a super-conscientious pray-er, if you really write down a prayer request, and then lift it up to God, then by all means tell people, “I’ll pray for you.” But if “I’ll pray for you” is just a hollow pat on the head to the people who come to you with honest requests, it’s time to change up your approach to handling prayer requests.

I know people who are true prayer warriors. God has given them the gift of intercession. They are not only called, like every Christian, to the ministry of prayer, but they are specially gifted with the ability (and time) to intercede, to go to God, on the behalf of others.

But what if you’re not one of those people?

Maybe it’s time to stop saying, “I’ll pray for you.”

What’s the alternative? This is what I recommend:

1)  Pray immediately.

When someone asks me to pray for them, whether it’s on the phone, on Facebook, or right after church, I most often pray immediately. Sometimes they’re stunned. They weren’t ready for that. “Please pray for me” meant later. Not now.

But look. If it’s important enough to ask, it’s important enough to take to God immediately.

My advice for the honest Christian? Pray immediately. You’ll be surprised at how powerfully God uses immediate prayer. And you’ll like not feeling guilty a week later when you realize you forgot to pray.

2)  Pray close.

How do I keep from being overwhelmed with the level of need in this world? Heck, if I just consider all the needs in my world, I get overwhelmed. And instead of praying for what matters most, I can be immobilized, and not pray at all.

Pray close. Start at the center. Then move outward.

  • Pray for your walk with Jesus. Always.
  • Married? Pray for your spouse. A lot.
  • Kids? Pray for them like crazy! (If you don’t, who will?)
  • Then your other family.
  • Your small group.
  • Your teammates at work.
  • Your church and pastor.

If your day “blows up” and your prayer time is interrupted, at least you’ve prayed for God to grow and strengthen you and for your immediate family. If you don’t start there, you’ve got no business praying for someone else.

3)  Pray big.

You may not be a “prayer warrior” yet. But you can train to become one.

As you “flex your prayer muscles”, God will train you how to lift up others. Someday you’ll be the kind of Christian who teaches others how to pray. But that will only be true if you start at the start.

Don’t just say, “I’ll pray for you.”

Pray immediately. Pray close. Pray big.

 

For more on prayer:  “How NOT to Pray

Empty

April 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

Empty EmptySometimes I feel empty.

I have a great life. A beautiful wife, 4 healthy daughters, a job as a pastor at a thriving church in my hometown. In many ways, all of my dreams have come true. But even when things are going well, the fact remains that I live in a broken world. I deal with the same stuff you do.

  • People disappoint or hurt me.
  • Heck, I disappoint me.
  • I pray, and wait for God to answer. But it seems to take Him a looooong time to answer.
  • I could add a dozen more things to the list. You could too.

I lose sight of Jesus from time to time. And when I can’t seem to find Him, when He’s gone from my sight, I find it difficult to maintain the hope and joy that I once had. Love wanes. Life becomes a chore. I am drained.

I know you feel empty sometimes too.

The everyday ebb and flow of concerns, worries and problems has a way of sucking the life out of even the most optimistic believer. We’re not the first ones to doubt, to wonder if God will really come through, to feel empty.

Can you imagine how empty Jesus’ disciples felt in the hours and days between His death and His resurrection?

The bright hope Jesus birthed in resurrection was preceded by His death on a cross. It’s easy for us to forget, but Jesus’ disciples didn’t know He was going to rise. Yes, He told them. But they didn’t pay attention. Or they forgot. When He was arrested, they scattered. They betrayed Him. The One they had followed for three years was left alone when He needed His friends the most. The disciples failed in faith and friendship. Jesus was dragged away as they ran. He was crucified for all to see. And now He was dead. But fear and failure were not the end of the story.

This is how it played out in John chapter 20:

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

This was empty, not hopeful. The assumption Mary made was that robbers had stolen the body of their teacher. This was a blow. Insult and disgrace were added to this great injury.

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.

What could this mean? The tomb is empty. Jesus is not there. Could His Words be echoing in their ears? Could it really be? Was he really the Lord?

8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Empty is not the end.

Empty is the beginning.

Empty makes room for resurrection.

If empty is where you are, maybe you’re on the way to something new.

 

This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.

Logos 5 Final New Wine > Old Water   Logos Part 5

Jesus made some pretty great wine at the wedding feast at Cana.

I’ve seen people do back-flips trying to explain all the different ways that Jesus couldn’t have possibly made actual wine (with alcohol). All I can say to that is this: The master of the banquet thought it was pretty dang good. (John 2:10)

This post isn’t about alcohol.

This post is about how Jesus, fully God and fully man, stepped into a world filled to the brim with the same-old same-old. He offered something undeniably better than what we had tasted before.

When Jesus walked the earth, he gave us an accurate view of our Father in Heaven. Being God himself, Jesus was called the “logos“, the word. He was the representation of God in flesh. His first miracle, at the wedding feast in Cana, “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory…” (John 2:11)

Jesus’ first miracle started with a problem at a party.

The wine ran out at a wedding reception. In this culture, running out of wine for wedding guests would be a crushing embarrassment to the hosts.

Mary, Jesus mother, was somehow involved in the arrangements for this feast. Given the fact that she pointed to Jesus and ordered the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), it is presumed that Mary may have been doing the catering for the wedding.

Whatever the case, Mary knew two things:

1) There was no more wine.

2) Jesus could fix this problem.

Jesus didn’t really want to do what she was asking. He said, “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) But like any good son, he did what his mother wanted him to do.

Old Water = the Old Covenant

Sitting nearby were six empty stone jars, each able to hold between 20 and 30 gallons. Without running water, people would store their water supplies in these tall jars.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The water in these jars would have been used for the Jewish purification practices. The guests at the party would have washed their hands with this water. Their dishes would have been ceremonially washed as well. All this kept the Jewish laws of the Old Testament.

But the water had run out.

These empty vessels, now exhausted of their usefulness, sat there, waiting to be filled.

Jesus ordered the men to fill these jars with water. They did.

New Wine = the New Covenant

All the servants had to fill these jars with was water. But Jesus’ intervention made a whole new product.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:8-10)

Wine. New wine. Brand new wine. Wine so good the master of the banquet questioned why it hadn’t been put out yet.

Jesus stepped into this world to bring the new, the better, the best. All that had been poured out prior was good, but its usefulness had run its course. Now, in the fullness of time, the Savior stepped onto the scene. He came to fulfill the Old Covenant, where animals were offered as a temporary sacrifice for sins. He came to usher in the New Covenant, in which He would offer Himself as a poured out offering.

New Wine > Old Water

New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce says, of Jesus’ first miracle:

Christ has come into the world to fulfill and terminate the old order, and to replace it by a new worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ which surpasses the old as much as wine surpasses water. (The Gospel of John, Introduction, Exposition and Notes pg. 72)

Jesus offers us something completely better than what we could ever attain on our own.

Would you like a drink?

 

Want to know more about Jesus?

Check out the other 4 parts of this “Logos” series.

1) “In the Beginning”

2) “Unworthy”

3) “Come and See”

4) “Go and Tell”

 

This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.

3 Weird Things Final 300x199 3 Weird Things About Being A PastorI love being a pastor.

I’ve been in ministry 15 years now, and I’m ruined for doing anything else. I just can’t imagine spending my life any other way. I love getting to share the Good News of Jesus with as many people as possible. It’s my calling, my life work.

But I’ve got to tell you, there are some unique things that go along with being a pastor.

Here’s 3 Weird Things About Being A Pastor:

1)  Every Sunday is “Take Your Kids To Work Day”

Don’t get me wrong. I love my girls more than life itself. (We have 4 daughters.)

But just imagine, for a moment, that your whole family came to work with you once a week. Or twice, if you have mid-week events. There you are, at work. Your mind is running 100 mph as you factor in everything from A to Z…

  • …the lighting level
  • the coffee
  • the 15 people you need to talk to
  • the crisis that just popped up
  • the grieving friend who just arrived
  • the volunteers who called in sick
  • and OH! that 25 minute presentation you have to make in T minus 30 minutes…

…when all of a sudden, you’re immobilized by the 5 year-old who just ran through a crowd to throw their arms around your legs.

It is pure joy to see my kids while I’m “at work”. But it’s also challenging in a unique way.

The last thing I ever want is for my kids to resent me, church or God. I don’t want them to feel like they’re competing for my time and attention, but they often are. The nature of the role just won’t allow that tension to be removed.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s just weird. My kids have to share me with a bunch of other people, and not just on Sundays.

On the up-side, there are, occasionally, times during the week when I can adjust my work schedule to be there for important stuff for them. Like everything, it’s a trade-off.

2) You’re Learning the Message AS You Preach It

Maybe there are pastors who are experts. They’ve got it all figured out. But I doubt it.

Preaching is a tricky thing. Yes, any pastor worth his salt studies his tail off in preparation, learning lots of stuff, most of which doesn’t make it to the sermon, but falls to the cutting room floor. But the learning part doesn’t mean anything unless it’s attached to life change. And if the pastor doesn’t live out what he’s preaching, well, we all know what that’s called.

Being a pastor is weird because your’e not teaching math. Math facts are math facts. They don’t change. There are 1,000 ways to teach history, but the dates and events have not changed, nor will they. But the content you’re bringing from the stage at church is living. It transforms you, as well as the hearer. So you’re always being impacted by it yourself AS you teach it.

So, how do you, a real, flawed person, maintain transparency with your congregation without freaking them out?

Finding that balance can be a little weird.

3)  What’s A Weekend?

My week builds to a crescendo. Sunday is “Game Day” 50 weeks a year. It’s not down-time. It’s go-time. The day we invite everyone to come and “be filled” is the most emotionally, spiritually and physically draining day of the week. Every pastor I know suffers from the “holy hangover” on Mondays as a result.

Friday is my day off (unless there’s a church event), which is weird because the kids are in school and my friends are at work.

Saturday I get some time off while the kids are off too, until I have to prep for Sunday and go to our Saturday night service.

Rest is a weird thing for pastors. So much of the time you’re “on” when everyone else is “off”. So you have to learn how to adjust your life to a different rhythm. I struggled with this for years, but have learned how to survive and thrive while working a job with a schedule that doesn’t mesh with everyone else’s.

Being a pastor is weird for a lot of reasons.

But it’s a great, wonderful weird that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Being a pastor is a privilege, an honor. And I wouldn’t trade one moment of it. (Well, yes I would. But there are many more good moments than bad.)

What about you?

Are you from a ministry family? Are you a pastor? The spouse of a pastor? Or a Pastor’s Kid? What would you add to the list?

Logos 4 Final Logos Part 4: Go and Tell

Logos Part 4: “Go and Tell”

Jesus’ first followers couldn’t not GO and TELL others about Him.

This Jesus, our Savior from Heaven, was called the “Logos” (word). He was the self-expression of God Himself. Looking at Jesus gives us a clear representation of what His Father is like. Looking at how Jesus’ followers responded to Him gives us great insight on how to live.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he recognized who He was and pointed Him out.

36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

Andrew was within earshot of John’s declaration about the Messiah. And as soon as he heard it, he decided to follow Jesus.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus.

What!? Just like that? He didn’t require Jesus to do anything, to jump through any hoops, or do a magic trick, a sign, to make it plain that He was God?

Nope. Andrew heard John’s word about who Jesus was, and followed. What a faith-filled guy!

What Andrew did next should be a lesson to us all.

When Andrew realized who Jesus was…

 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

Today we might think, “Well, maybe I should wait a while before I tell someone about Jesus.” We’ll go to great lengths to keep our mouths shut about Jesus.

Our list of cop-outs is never-ending:

  • “I don’t know enough about Jesus to go and tell someone else.” (If you know Jesus, you know enough)
  • “I can’t go and tell anyone because they might reject me.” (Jesus was rejected on earth. Are you too good to be rejected?)
  • “I don’t want to offend anybody who doesn’t believe the same way.” (You didn’t believe at one point. How can others have faith if you don’t go and tell them?)

Evangelism isn’t a program. At least it shouldn’t be.

Evangelism, telling those disconnected from God about how they can be in relationship with Him through Jesus, should be a natural outflow of our own relationship with Him. If you fall in love, you don’t need a class to learn how to go and tell other people about how much you love that person. You just do. You can’t contain it.

When we follow Jesus, we enter into a life-altering relationship that transforms us from the inside out. When we experience His love, joy, and peace bubbling up from our hearts, we can’t NOT go and tell others about this One who is transforming us.

Andrew’s simple example should make us bold.

  • He heard.
  • He followed.
  • He decided to go and tell his brother.

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. (John 1:40-42)

Andrew could not have known that this introduction would alter the course of history.

Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

This Simon, now Peter, changed the world. Peter became the anchor of Jesus’ movement on earth. God used him to establish the Church in the years following His death and resurrection.

So, are you willing to go and tell?

  • Have you decided to follow Jesus?
  • Who is God calling you to go and tell about Him?
  • What might God do with the life of the person you go and tell?

You’ll never know what God will do until you’re willing to step out in faith.

Meet Jesus. Follow Him. Go and tell others. It’s that simple.

 

Here’s the post that started this series:  Logos Part 1: “In the Beginning…”

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(This post also appeared on the blog of New Vine Media.)