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.

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.

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.

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.

Squirrel Determination

Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands.
So his hands held steady until sunset.

As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.
Exodus 17:12-13 NLT

His determination paid off; he had emptied my bird feeder and satisfied his hunger.

I decided to take my new cedar bird feeder to the church and hang it outside my office window. Soon, birds of many varieties showed up. So did squirrels.

On one of my trips to fill the feeder, I noticed both side panels were missing. I picked up the panels from the ground and carefully slid them back into the grooved slots. No squirrel could do this, I thought. Thinking someone was playing a prank on me, I silently blamed it on the young guys who maintain our lawn. But I was wrong on both accounts. The next day, I noticed the top of the bird feeder was cocked sideways, and again one of the panels was almost out. Now I knew who the culprit was. Because of his determination to get sunflower seed, Mr. Squirrel was destroying my feeder.

Tittle tattle may lose the battle—and so will laziness. Moses and his counterparts, Aaron and Hur, were not about to let that happen. As Joshua the military commander carried out God’s command to fight and defeat the Amalekites because of their wickedness, Moses mounted a mountain and raised his arms. When his arms tired, Aaron and Hur sat him on a rock and held up his arms. As long as his arms were raised, the Israelite army prevailed.

Determination can apply to any number of life areas, but it is a must where my spirituality is concerned. Without determination, I won’t prepare financially for my or my children’s future. Without it, I won’t do my best in my profession or place of employment. Apart from determination, life will topple me instead of me conquering it.

More drastic, if I’m not determined, my focus on developing spiritual disciplines, serving, worshiping, and loving others will suffer. And this will affect my existence more than slacking on anything else. The Israelites battle with the Amalekites was more than a physical encounter; it was a spiritual war. Only with squirrel determination—fueled by the power of God’s Spirit within me, can I win my daily battles with temptation and make choices that please God.

Be determined to be the person God created you to be and to get what God has planned for you.

More Than I Can Handle

And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

Series: The Things We Say

My arms were full, and I didn’t know whether or not I could make it to the car.

At 14 years of age, I began my first real job: bagging groceries at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Though I had helped my grandfather on the ice cream truck for several years, this job installed me in the real work world. In addition to bagging the groceries, we carried them to the customer’s car. Most customers bought enough groceries that we needed a buggy to transport them, but occasionally a customer would have only a couple of bags. Trying to impress them and whoever else, I attempted to carry them. Today, that wouldn’t be an issue. Bags are plastic and have handles. Then it was. Bags were paper and had no handles. A shifting of the contents of the bags might mean groceries spilled and got damaged.

I’ve heard numerous believers say, “God won’t put any more on you than you can handle.” A statement normally spoken when someone is going through a difficult period or even a series of unfavorable circumstances. It’s another one of those statements we’ve formulated to comfort and encourage. And perhaps it does, but the problem is it can’t be supported biblically.

Though I don’t know where the saying originated, it may be based in part on Paul’s statement that God won’t allow us to be tempted to the point that we have to give in. But difficult circumstances and temptations are necessarily identical.

In reality, God will put more on us than we can stand. And He has a reason. I, like most, tend to think I can handle life myself. Just as I thought I could handle the grocery bags. Trying to maneuver through life without help from anyone else—and particularly God–is foolishness. When God allows more into my life than I can handle on my own, it forces me to turn to Him, which is what I should have done in the first place.

God wants to be our burden bearer. He will give wisdom and courage for every situation we face.

Let God give you strength to face each life situation.

I Know How You Feel

Series: The Things We Say

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.
John 11:21 NLT

Tragedy had struck. What could I say?

As a minister, I’ve watched people endure their share of tragedies. A husband whose wife decided to drive drunk. Her actions led to the death of their small child. A father whose daughter was innocently riding her bike through their subdivision and was hit and killed. Good friends whose daughter tried to ride a bicycle that was too large and accidentally rolled into the path of an oncoming truck. A couple whose child was born prematurely and languished in the neonatal intensive care unit for months and then grew up mentally challenged.

I’ve probably been guilty of saying it, but even if I haven’t, I’ve heard many others say those infamous words: “I know how you feel,” or “I know what you’re going through.” Innocent words spoken with good intentions, but words that mean little if anything to the one who is grieving—and perhaps questioning God at the same time.

Mary and Martha were probably feeling a little confusion themselves. Their brother, Lazarus, was sick. So they sent for Jesus, thinking He would heal him. Instead of coming immediately, Jesus waited until Lazarus had died. Martha was confused.

Even if I’ve experienced something similar to what a person is going through, saying “I know how you feel” isn’t the best response to their grief. I don’t know how they feel. I know how I felt, but I can’t get inside of their body and experience their emotions. The statement usually falls on deaf ears. They may also perceive the words as an empty platitude that means nothing.

When a person is grieving, spending time with them and saying little is a good practice. If I feel the need to speak, saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” or “How can I help” are helpful statements. Better yet is thinking of some way to help without asking the person. In their state of mind, they usually can’t think of what they need anyway. If I have experienced something similar to their tragedy, I can always tell my story and share how God brought me through.

Depend on God to give you the right thing to say when you’re helping a grieving person.

God of the Deep

For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God.
Psalm 7:9 NLT

A surgeon’s eyes look where others’ eyes don’t.

While in his sixties, Dad was diagnosed with a defective heart valve. He could have a mechanical valve or a pig’s valve implanted. He chose the mechanical. Shortly after the surgery, the valve malfunctioned. We took him to Atlanta for a second surgery.

In both instances, surgeons were able to see what I never have—and don’t want to: the inside of a chest. Scalpels cut apart Dad’s chest and rib spreaders separated his ribs, allowing the doctors to see my father’s heart and all other organs that God hid behind the rib cage. They could watch the heart beating, see the valves working, observe the blood pumping and flowing.

Had I been there, I wouldn’t have watched long before passing out. But the doctors and nurses take a regular view of people’s insides. They see what most people never witness.

God has the ability to do the same. He made us, knows every intricate part of our anatomy, and understands how all the parts work and fit together. He knows which bone is connected to which bone—and didn’t have to attend medical school to learn. But His look goes deeper than the physical.

God looks into my mind and heart. Not merely at all the electrical forces taking place in the brain and not just at all the pumping of blood that occurs in the heart. He sees with eyes I can’t. God sees the motives behind my actions. When I do a good deed, He knows if I’ve done it for honorable reasons. He knows if my heart is sensitive to others’ needs and if it’s tender toward Him. He sees the hurts and the damage done by others.

Pretending is a waste of time. God gets to the heart of the matter. I may fool others, but God knows what’s really pumping inside of me. My heart and mind are open books before Him.

The good news is that what’s broken is fixable—just as my dad’s heart valve was. Improper motives, unhealthy emotions, hardened hearts, hidden agendas, unforgiveness, hurts. None of these pose a problem for God. All I have to do is allow Him to work on me.

God sees what you can’t in your heart and mind. Go to the God of the deep for the healing you need.