Take a Break

Before daybreak the next morning,
Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 1:35 NLT

When you’re spastic, taking a break isn’t easy.

I’ve never been one to sit and twiddle my thumbs. Sitting and doing nothing makes me feel lazy. Since I only have so much time in life, I want to make the best use of every minute. Having this tendency opens me up to the possibility of over-commitment and burnout. What others ask of me, I usually agree to do—often not pausing long enough to pray first. I love seeing how much I can accomplish in 24 hours. Not that I crave recognition or do things for recognition, but like most people I enjoy being appreciated. Sitting for hours watching a movie or relaxing in conversation with company is difficult. My mind races, thinking about all the things I could be doing that would seem more productive.

Jesus was a busy man. Knowledge of His ability to heal spread like a California wildfire. Crowds crowded around Him. Everyone wanted healing for themselves, a friend, or a family member. Had He taken advantage of every opportunity, He would have never gotten any rest or sleep.

After a long day and evening of healing, Jesus rose the next morning, went to an isolated place, and prayed. When some of the disciples found Him and told Him everyone was looking for Him, He told them He had other places to go. He couldn’t stay in this one place forever.

Breaks from the daily grind of life are essential for good health—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. We can’t do everything everyone might ask of us. There’s not enough time in the day, nor does God expect that of us. Jesus knew He needed rejuvenation, and it came through a quiet time with the Father.

Quiet times—whether in the early morning, late morning, or evening, are crucial in our service for God. Not only did Jesus’ spirit receive refreshing, but He also received instructions from the Father about His next move. Ironically, it wasn’t where He was—even though there were many there who needed His help. Rather, the Father told Him to move to a different area.

Enjoying life and making sure we’re on God’s track only happen when we’ve taken a break long enough to discover God’s will. So go ahead, take a break—and don’t feel guilty about it.

Prayer: Father, remind us we need breaks to refresh our spirits so we can do our best for You.

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An Army of Misfits

So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there.  Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men. 1 Samuel 22:1-2 NLT

What others consider misfits, God often considers fits.

My father served as interim pastor for a small, struggling church after he retired. Once a thriving church on the local lake, it now struggled to survive. Dad tried to get them to take their eyes off their situation and focus outwardly. If the church grew, many of their problems would disappear.

At Dad’s behest, the church began reaching out. They ordered door hangers and placed them on houses in the community, inviting any and everyone who would come…planting seeds. When the church called a new pastor, the preparatory work had been done. He picked up where Dad left off and continued going into the community, inviting all.

People from all walks of life began to come. Most of them from the wrong side of the tracks. People who had sordid backgrounds and lived questionable lifestyles. The people in the church found the people in their community were quite different, but they didn’t let that stop them. They loved them and took them in. Soon, the church became the fastest growing church in the local association. But it was a church of misfits—at least according to many.

Jesus also had a tendency to invite those to follow Him who were considered misfits. His 12 disciples weren’t who others might have picked to change the world: fishermen, a tax collector, and who knows what else. Nor were those who collected around David as he ran from King Saul’s attempts to kill him. But they became a great army. And those 12 disciples initiated a world revival.

Thinking God can’t use me because I have a sordid background or because I’m enduring unfortunate circumstances in the present is the Devil’s ploy. If he can convince you, he will keep you unproductive. God, on the other hand, has good plans for us. We were created in His image, and nothing we’ve experienced—or are experiencing, can hinder His work unless we let it. Confession, repentance, and trust wipe the slate clean.

God loves to use those the world considers misfits because when great things are accomplished through them He gets the credit. And after all, shining the spotlight on God is what life is about.

Don’t let others—or Satan—convince you God can’t use you. All God requires is your willingness.

The Death Vigil

Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies,
for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT

He lay almost motionless—a Superman tattoo on his arm.

My brother-in-law often kidded that he was Superman. And he had been. He had survived things that killed many people. Though a young man, several heart attacks had damaged his heart beyond repair.

Not only had he survived health issues, but he had also made it through many years of reckless living. He had endured beatings, robberies, and a near fatal shooting. He made it through work injuries. When the list was perused, I could understand the Superman tattoo on his arm as well as his mentality.

At last, the great leveler of all mankind had conquered him. Doctors had done all they could. Now he lay in a hospital bed in a local Hospice house. The doctor talked to the family. His body was shutting down. There was nothing else they could do but make him comfortable. My wife swabbed his mouth, used a machine to suck draining body fluids, held her phone to his ear while playing one of his favorite songs, and cried. Family members took turns talking to him and expressing their love.

Had his dilemma happened six months ago, we would have been more worried. A part of his reckless living was holding God at arm’s length. He grew up going to church but had left that part of his life many years before. Though filled with grief, we weren’t as worried now. He recently made his peace with God and spoke often of his readiness to meet his Savior. Our hearts were comforted.

Paul also took security in knowing that if persecution took his life he would immediately be in heaven with his Savior.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but knowing they will enter heaven’s gates and that we will see them again in eternity makes the process easier. Heaven isn’t a pie-in-the-sky fairy tale believed by those who need courage to face death but an actual place prepared for those who choose to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus said there are many rooms there—enough for as many as believe in Him.

Our family took comfort in knowing our loved one would be waiting on us. We invite you to join us. Believe today. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Dropout

For we are God’s masterpiece.
He has created us anew in Christ Jesus,
so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

I hated school, so I decided to quit.

Elementary and middle school, I enjoyed, but when I got to high school, a sudden distaste evolved. By the time I reached my senior year, I’d had all I could take. I had no interest in learning, didn’t see how any of what I was learning would benefit me, and wanted out. So I pranced up to my parents and said, “I’m quitting school.” Dad didn’t take the news well and politely told me if I quit I would be going to work. I was okay with that. I had no plans to sit around and do nothing.

After three or four months, my high school dropout status wasn’t fun anymore. The job I found ended, and I was on the unemployment line. I decided I’d return to school. I couldn’t graduate with my class, but I did graduate that summer.

The statistics for high school dropouts are alarming. More than one million students drop out of school annually—one leaving every 26 seconds. An additional 25% don’t graduate on time. But school isn’t the only place people drop out from. Church follows on its heels. Among 18 to 22 year-olds, around 70% drop out. The reasons vary: life changes, move to college, work, judgmental Christians, changes in their religious views.

Dropping out of church, however, isn’t relegated to this group alone. Others do as well. Some burnout. They take on too much—perhaps because others aren’t doing their part. They try to pacify guilt over past mistakes or because they misunderstand salvation and think they can work to get it or keep it. Some drop out because they atrophy, like unused muscles.

God doesn’t intend or want us to drop out of His work. He saves us by His grace and mercy, creates us as His masterpiece, and wants us to do good works that will disseminate His love across the world. These works don’t save us initially or keep us saved thereafter, but they are proof of our faith connection with Him.

When asked, God will give me wisdom to balance my life so my chances of dropping out of His service diminish significantly.

Don’t drop out on God. With balance, serve Him faithfully to the end of your life.

Healthy Habits

Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots?
Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.
Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

Old habits are hard to break.

For four years, we lived in a small townhouse. Our Chihuahua, Twix, was accustomed to the way the doors to the bedroom and outside opened and would stand at the appropriate side of the door to enter or exit. Then we moved. Although the townhouse we moved into had the same floor plan, it was a mirror image of our previous one. Our dog was confused.

On Twix’s first trip outside, he stood at the left side of the door. That’s what he had been accustomed to. But now the door opened from the right. He repeated the same action for the bedroom door and had to change sides when I opened it. After a week, he managed to break his old habit and stand at the proper side for entering and exiting.

Being born with dark skin was a genetic habit for the Ethiopian. So was having spots for the leopard. An Ethiopian has no power to change his color, nor can a leopard become spotless. According to the prophet, humanity has a genetic flaw of sorts as well. We can’t do good because we’ve all done evil. The reason is the sin nature we’re born with which leads us down the wrong path to sinful behavior and attitudes.

My dog’s habits were neither morally good nor bad. They were just habits. I’ve had a few habits like that myself. Among them, biting my fingernails. It took my grandmother giving me $20 and one finger getting infected for me to break that habit. But I’ve also had some habits that were morally wrong and difficult to break. Those habits emerged from the sinful nature I was born with. By myself, I was helpless to do good.

In my own power, I can’t break the habit of doing bad and adopt the habit of doing good. But it is possible when I appeal to a Higher Power. Christ in me enables me to change the color of my skin and lose my spots. He enables me to consistently do good things instead of evil things. Accepting His offer of forgiveness opens up new possibilities for an abundant life.

Accept Christ into your life so you can break the old bad habits and adopt new healthy ones.

God’s Safe Place

As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock
and cover you with my hand until I have passed by
.
Exodus 33:22 NLT

She had been abused and needed a safe place.

Johnnie was in a situation of her own making. For 13 years, she had endured an abusive marriage—one she entered to escape the harsh atmosphere of her upbringing.

When the opportunity came for Johnnie to move out, she took it. Jim seemed like a good guy when she dated him, but his true identity revealed itself shortly after she said, “I do.” Abusive words, demeaning remarks, bruises. They all became the norm. Johnnie tried to fend them off but had to admit they were taking their toll on her self-esteem.

Eventually, Johnnie decided she’d had enough, but she needed a safe place. She didn’t turn to a home for abusive women but rather contacted her parents. By this time, her dad had mellowed. She thought she could endure life with them until she could make other arrangements.

Moses needed a safe place too. While he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people were below partying as if they had no God they were accountable to. When God told Moses to leave the mountain and take the people with him—but that He wouldn’t be tagging along, it was more than Moses could stand. God decided to give them another chance, but Moses needed reassurance. So God placed Moses in a crevice and let him glance at His presence as He passed by.

Life is tough and filled with many experiences I’d rather not repeat. Wallowing in self-pity or in the memory of the event only keeps me smelling the toxic nature of what I have experienced. A better course is asking God to put me in His safe place.

When God places me in His safe place, He reassures me of His presence. If separation has taken place, it’s because I left Him—not because He left me. He promises never to abandon His children. In God’s safe places, I’m also reminded of who He is and who I’m not. He is the all-powerful Creator who is qualified to lead me through any and every circumstance, protecting me in the process.

Moses had nothing to fear; nor do I. And neither do you. When life gets tough, ask God to put you in His safe place where you can find grace, reassurance, and peace.

Swallowed by Sorrow

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.
Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Matthew 26:38 NLT

Sorrow can be a bitter pill to swallow, and I felt as if I was being swallowed by it.

Days stretched into months. An act of betrayal by another had turned my family inside out and headed it straight for dissolution. Though the situation could have been fixed, it wasn’t, and the shadow of depression soon hung over my head like a thunderous cloud.

Unemployment followed on the heels of everything else that had disintegrated. Months passed as I sent out hundreds of applications to various places, looking for anything that would help me support my family. Finally, a job opened, but the depression hung around. My outward appearance and actions seemed normal, but my insides churned.

Various trips to the emergency room for chest pains alerted my family doctor that something was wrong. “You’re depressed. Take the medication I’m giving you, and stay out of the emergency room,” he said. I followed his advice, and slowly the depression receded.

One translation has Jesus saying, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow.” I suppose He felt that way. He was overwhelmed by what was ahead, but His disciples couldn’t keep their eyes open to comfort Him. He felt alone…that He was fighting the battle by Himself. And He was. They could not go to the cross and die for humanity’s sins. Only a perfect person could. He wasn’t sorry He was doing it, but the weight of what was ahead had the power to swallow His soul in sorrow.

Situations that cause grief and intense sorrow aren’t easy to face, but they are faced in a healthier way when others support us. Trying to face sorrow alone often leads to depression, whereas having a support system tends to ward off the dark clouds of depression. If Jesus needed companionship in His time of sorrow, I do too.

Of course, my greatest support system is found in my relationship with Jesus. I can’t physically experience Him with my senses, but His presence is felt through my spirit. This spirit-to-Spirit relationship surpasses anything I might feel with my senses.

Don’t try to face times of sorrow alone. Depend on God and godly people to help you through your trying times.

Stir up the Gift

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God
which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV

I sat in the ladder back chair, wondering what I should do and feeling a bit useless.

The day prior to our move had arrived, but my wife and I were already at our new residence unpacking boxes. At least, she was. With no internet or satellite, what could I do? If I unpacked, I’d have to wait for her to tell me where to put it. So I sat.

“Is there something I can help you do,” I asked.

“No, just sit there,” she replied. So I did.

A few minutes later, she yelled from the next room, “See if you can find me a magic marker.”

Finally, something I could do. I walked in each room, perusing the boxes. No magic marker. How she expected me to find such a small item among the mounds of boxes and bags sitting in every nook and cranny, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.

“I don’t see one,” I finally surrendered after searching in vain.

“Well, it won’t jump up and grab you,” came her curt reply. “Look in the boxes.” I searched again. No luck. I failed at my one chance to do something.

Tomorrow would be different. I’d have something to do. Move in the large pieces of furniture and hang pictures.

Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father and had commissioned him into the ministry. Now he reminds him to stir up that gift of pastoring a church.

Sitting around in a ladder back chair twiddling my thumbs isn’t the way to discover God’s gift to me. God has things for all of His children to do, and He gifts and talents us accordingly. There have been times when I’ve wondered what my gift was—or if I had one, but each time God showed up and showed me what it was.

Through prayer and effort, I can discover God’s gift. When I wondered if He had gifted me to teach, all I had to do was try. Had teaching not been my gift, I would have quickly discovered it—or someone would have kindly let me know. Some gifts all believers have—such as serving, but God gifts all believers. Gifts are His presents so we can accomplish His kingdom work in this world.

Don’t sit around wondering what your gift is. Ask God to show you, and then stir it up.

Hot- and Cold-Running Christians

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV

The sign read: House for Rent. Hot and Cold Running Water.

Though laughable now, there was a time when having indoor plumbing was a luxury only the wealthy knew anything about. Water was drawn from a well or creek and carried indoors. Getting hot water meant cutting wood and placing cold water in pots in the fireplace or on a wood burning stove.

On a recent mid-August trip through the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, my wife and I noticed the tree leaves in the highest elevations turning. Odd I thought, this early, but then again that’s what tree leaves do. As the summer season draws to a close and the daylight hours get shorter, the leaves lose their luminescence and reveal their natural color. The yellows were shining through beautifully.

Christians shouldn’t run hot and cold or change annually like tree leaves. Paul encouraged the early believers to be steadfast in their love for the Lord as well as in their work for Him. Only by steadfastness would they be able to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

We hear a lot about pastors burning out and leaving the pulpit, but I’ve known quite a few regular Christians who burned out too. Burnout can come from trying too hard to alleviate feelings of guilt over past sins, from wrong motives for serving, or from trying to boost one’s self-esteem.

Another entire set tends to drop out rather than burn out. Among 18 to 22-year-olds, around 70% drop out of church after graduating high school. Reasons they give for doing so include life changes, needing a break, moving away to college, work interference, judgmental or unfriendly pastors or church members, a change in their views, or an acknowledgement that previously they were only trying to please someone by attending.

God’s work requires steadfast determination. The abundant life Jesus offers requires the same. Otherwise, we’ll change like the leaves or run hot and cold like water. The power to remain steadfast doesn’t lie in us, but in God’s Spirit indwelling us. He provides the want to that keeps us keeping on—and for the right reasons.

Don’t run hot and cold or turn like the leaves. Serve God with consistency and diligence.

Sidetracked

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say,
“This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.

Isaiah 30:21 NLT

Getting shoppers sidetracked is a retailer’s dream come true.

After a long day of sweating in the hot, humid temperatures of a South Carolina August, my wife and I showered and readied ourselves for church. Moving isn’t fun, but we had no choice.

Following church, we stopped by the local Wal-Mart for a few necessities: curtain rods and a gallon of milk. Tired from a day of moving, I said, “Now, we’re just going to get those two things and leave, right.”

“That’s all,” my wife remarked.

As we entered the store, we began walking in the wrong direction: the garden center. “You mom said they had chair cushions on sale.”

And so our visit went. Though we only came out with four instead of two items, I had to continually keep my wife pointed in the direction of what we came to get. My recliner was calling my name, but the retailer’s reputation for putting things in my wife’s path that attracted her kept getting her sidetracked.

God did His best to keep the nation of Israel on track. He sent prophets, priests, and judges who kept His ways before them, but they kept getting sidetracked. The pagan nations around them put more attractive things in their path.

I’m not much different than God’s people of old. In fact, I’ve been known to get sidetracked in Wal-Mart myself—just not over the same things my wife does. That’s how the enemy of my soul works. Through experience, he learns what attracts each individual. He won’t try to sidetrack me with clothes or shoes because he knows they don’t interest me. But he will throw up a few tech gadgets, a fancy calendar, or a recently released DVD movie.

I had to continue telling my wife not to get sidetracked. “Keep your eyes focused on what we came for,” I reminded her.

I have to do the same for myself. If I don’t, Satan will lead me in sinful or unhealthy directions. And like a puppy on a leash, I’ll follow if I’m not clothed in my spiritual armor. By the power of God’s Spirit, I can say no, get what I came to get, and go home.

Don’t get sidetracked by Satan’s attempt to convince you that you need things you don’t.