A one-sentence response to a jacked-up world

We live in a world that’s a bit … well … jacked up. Perhaps you’ve noticed. The recent massacre in Las Vegas just adds to the evidence. There are many things we can and should do in response to the evil in our world, but the results are out of our control. It’s frustrating and, at times, depressing. Rather than letting it get you down, however, you might try repeating the words of Habakkuk.

You remember Habakkuk, right? He’s one of those Old Testament guys who knew all too much about God’s displeasure with a jacked-up world. Habakkuk 3 records a song by the prophet, and near the end he lists all sorts of legitimate reasons for being worried about the condition of the world. Then, he provides something we need just as much today as he did thousands of years ago: perspective.

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,” he says, “I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:18)

No matter what was going on or would happen, Habakkuk was choosing to rejoice and be joyful – not in the circumstances, but in the Lord who was his savior. The world was out of Habakkuk’s control, but not God’s. Jesus told us something similar in John 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

That doesn’t mean we don’t actively fight against evil. It means we fight with a God-focused perspective on the outcome. It hit me recently that my first response to our jacked-up world should be to have the wisdom-soaked attitude of Habakkuk. Think about whatever irritates you about this world – large things or small – and give it a try …

A madman has fired bullets into a crowd?

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Hurricanes are bashing Texas, Florida and the Caribbean islands …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Earthquakes are crippling regions of Mexico …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

North Korea is going nuclear …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Your favorite team lost again …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

You can’t figure out this feud between President Trump and the NFL …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

You have troubles at work …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

You have troubles at home …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Crime … abortion … racism … politics … protests …

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

No matter what might cause you to worry, hand-wring or feel tempted to rant on social media or in person with your friends, there’s something powerful about saying that verse out loud. It’s re-orienting. Calming. Reassuring. Refreshing. It’s a reminder that despite your weakness, nothing is ever out of God’s control. And that’s a great perspective.

Why it’s so hard to do the next right thing

The best advice often is easy to believe but difficult to live.

This truth hit home recently when a close friend made what he would confirm was a stupid decision, and I offered up one of my favorite pearls of wisdom: “Trust God and do the next right thing,” which is a slight variation of a famous Oswald Chambers quote.

I love the simplicity of it. In my quest to grow like Jesus, I often find myself falling back on this uncomplicated approach. Our growth depends on our response to the perpetual series of choices we face. How do we make those choices? We start by trusting God. Then we do the next right thing. Rinse and repeat. Maintaining that process doesn’t keep us from failing, but it allows us to react well to both success and failure and to experience growth along the way.

It’s not easy to do. I know, because I’ve lived through many, many of my own failings wherein I was slow to embrace the advice I’m so quick to give.

My friend had broken a trust and damaged an important relationship. Thankfully, he was repentant. He felt shame, guilt, pain and remorse. Some might say those are bad things, but I would suggest they are necessary to move us toward the grace of God. He also was depressed. Self-focused. Overwhelmed. He struggled to get past his mistake and move toward restoration. So, I suggested, among other things, that he stop doing what wasn’t working, then trust God and do the next right thing.

His response: “Not sure I know what that is.”

I realized he wanted to make everything right – to magically transform his world back to the way it was before he erred. That wasn’t possible and he knew it. Still, he had allowed himself to be imprisoned by his mistake. Nothing he could do would fix it, so he didn’t know what to do and, therefore, he did nothing.

The next right thing just seemed way too big to even contemplate.

It’s not. In fact, that’s the beauty of the advice. We can apply it first and foremost with the smallest of things and, over time, it helps us with everything else.

Here’s what I’ve found: The “next right thing” never involves a million complicated actions; just one. …  Breathe. Pray. Ask for forgiveness. Perform an act of service like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Turn off the television. Read a book. Go to church. Have lunch with a pastor. Go for a run. … But don’t worry about the outcome. That’s why the advice begins with “trust God.” It not only opens us up to discover the next right thing, no matter how seemingly small that thing might be, but it takes the results off our plate and gives them to the One who is eminently more qualified to own them. It allows us to stop asking why so we can start acting in obedience on one small choice after another.

The time to adopt this pattern is now. When we’re overwhelmed by our mistakes – or the pain caused by someone else or by a huge decision or by anything in life – it’s hard to break free unless we’ve already built some muscle from this spiritual discipline. But no matter where we find ourselves, God is waiting to help us move toward something better. We just need to stop doing what isn’t working, trust Him and do the next right thing.

What the Secular World Misses from David and Goliath

David’s victory over Goliath is one of the world’s favorite and most revisited Biblical stories, perhaps because it’s so easy to draw secular lessons while ignoring the story’s main point.

Most folks know the story of the young shepherd rising to the challenge of the 6-foot-9ish champion from the Philistine army and slaying him with a stone from his sling. And there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from it.

For instance, Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, sees David as an agent for bold change. He used the story recently as a battle cry for leaders to create a new Renaissance by building more socially responsible businesses. “David made a choice,” Gilbert writes. “A choice to embrace risk and act, despite the long odds.” And he paraphrases the great Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “The future does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability; the future is created – it is created first in thought, next in commitment and last, and most importantly, in action.” Then he ends by calling his readers – the Davids (and Donnas) of our world – to action. “What is the future you want to create?” he writes. “Now, act to make it so.”

It’s all good stuff. I find myself nodding in agreement. But I also see the gaping hole – the critical missing piece from Gilbert’s otherwise fine essay.

Or, consider the TedTalk by the ever-popular Malcom Gladwell. He flips the script in a fascinating way, making the case that David, in fact, was not the underdog in the story, and that we often give giants too much credit and ourselves too little.

Cue applause. Great stuff.

Gladwell’s theory about why Goliath was really the underdog is open to debate, but much of it certainly is plausible. And his overriding lesson is valid, even if you can poke a few holes in the premise behind it. Yet, he, too, leaves out the key point and thus the most enduring lesson for us all.

In reading the story, it’s worth remembering that practice pays off, that we must embrace risk and take bold actions to achieve significant success, that looks can be deceiving, that even giants have weaknesses, and that underdogs (perceived or real) can win the day if they have the necessary skills, courage and self-confidence. But don’t stop there. Remember why David felt compelled to fight. Why he had courage. And why he won.

He fought because he was appalled that the Philistine had insulted God. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” he asks in 1 Samuel 17: 26.

He had courage because he knew he had the skills to win and, more importantly, because he knew God was with him. “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:37.

And he won because he put his faith in God and gave Him the glory. “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:47, “for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

So, you can leave God out of the story and still learn some valuable life lessons. But you’ll miss the point.

————————————————————————————–

If you enjoy this blog, please share it with others. If you don’t enjoy it, please tell me why.

Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

Singing to the Lord

When I became a follower of Christ in the early 1990s, I noticed something about the music of my youth: I still enjoyed it, but I listened to it differently. I heard messages, both positive and negative, that I’d never noticed in my secular state of mind.

My youth was mostly in the 1970s, which everyone knows was the greatest decade. Sure, there was disco, but there was also (to name a few) Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, The Guess Who, Rod Stewart, the Temptations, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones, Al Green, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, the Commodores, the Eagles, Waylon Jennings, and some guy named Elvis (until Aug. 16, 1977).

Most of those artists, with the exception of Elvis, have this in common: You don’t hear their hits in church. But many of the world’s most popular songs would work rather well in church if we simply looked at, listened to and sang them differently. That’s because many are love songs or songs about struggle, hope, forgiveness and pain – the topics, for instance, that we see scattered throughout the Psalms.

There also are many songs that, on the surface, seem like they would work great in church but have a message devoid of any really good news. “Take Me To Church” by Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an ode to some weird obsession with a woman. You don’t want that church. “Imagine,” the classic hit by John Lennon, paints a vision of hopelessness. No heaven? No, thank you. “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra (or, if you prefer, by Elvis)? Well, I don’t want to do it the world’s way, but my way is pretty flawed, too. How about God’s way?

There are a great many popular songs, however, that we could retrofit for church. Some are faith-based songs by secular artists. Some work if you sing them to or for the Lord (and perhaps with a minor tweak or two in the lyrics). I brainstormed a few dozen one day when I should have been working, and here, in no particular order, are 12 of them:

  1. “When Love Comes to Town” by U2 and BB King. Or almost any other U2 song – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” or “Yahweh.”
  2. “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers
  3. “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker
  4. “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
  5. “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis
  6. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder
  7. “Always and Forever” by Luther Vandross (or Lionel Richie)
  8. “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News
  9. “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
  10. “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner
  11. “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
  12. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis

Don’t get me wrong – I love the old hymns, and I’m a fan of praise and worship music, too. I’m pretty eclectic in my musical tastes. I’m not suggesting we sing any of these songs in church; I’m just saying we could. What matters isn’t the musical style, it’s the state of our hearts. Worship isn’t music. It’s a state of life.

————————————————————————————–

If you enjoy this blog, please share it with others. If you don’t enjoy it, please tell me why.

Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

Read this Blog and Earn 10 Points!

My wife tells the story of a teacher who motivated his students by awarding their obedience and success with points.

“What do we get for the points?” one student asked.

“Oh, points are great,” the teacher said with great enthusiasm. “They are the best! Everybody loves to get points. When you’re older, you’ll really understand. Points are great. Trust me. You want more points!”

We live in a world that keeps score, even if the score doesn’t always matter and the points don’t really hold any value. You can’t redeem them for money or merchandise or favors. All they buy is ego biscuits.

I, too, like points. I prefer points that matter, like the ones that get me a free cup of coffee. And I like it when my team (the Arkansas Razorbacks) accumulate more points than their opponents, especially when the opponent is Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, or Ole Miss. And don’t forget Texas. But I also like points that are essentially worthless – points in a computer game or points in a friendly game of cards with my wife (she usually wins).

Points are great. Trust me. You want more points.

The problem with points, however, is that we often come to expect them. We feel entitled to get points for anything and everything we do. And even when the points clearly have no real value, we expect to somehow redeem them for something. You owe me points, and, by the way, I’m ready to cash them in. It’s in the Constitution, right? But expecting a payoff for everything we do can suck the joy out of doing things for others.

When I cook breakfast for my wife, should I do it because I love her and want to bring joy to her life, or because cooking breakfast will earn me points? When I memorize a verse of the Bible, should I do it because it earns me points (and maybe a “level up”) on my Bible memory app, or because it draws me closer to God? When my wife and I lead a Bible study, should we do it because it earns us jewels in our heavenly crown, or because it’s a natural response to God’s love for us?

We all need a little help with motivation from time to time, and points and other rewards can be a good way to keep us engaged. But we’re wise to keep those points in perspective. God looks at the motivations of our hearts. If we want to grow in favor with God (Luke 2:52), we won’t get very far if our primary motive is to earn points. Such points are worthless in God’s economy. The Apostle Paul said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put it this way: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

That’s far more valuable than all the points the world can offer. Trust me. Points are great. Love is better.


If you enjoy this blog, please share it with others. If you don’t enjoy it, please tell me why.
Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

The Rocks of Our Hearts

Is the soil of your heart prepared for growth? … 

Our home rests near the top of a hill, and we’re mostly surrounded by woods. Bermuda grass thrives on the sun-soaked front and one side of our lot, but the back remains very close to its natural state – it mostly grows rocks, not grass.

We need fewer rocks and more bird seed.
Tuck surveys the rocks of our yard.

I’ve been thinking lately about investing some time into the backyard – more to make it easier to maintain than for aesthetic purposes. What’s stopping me? Well, it looks like hard work. Over the last few years, I’ve removed most of the bigger, blade buster rocks. But several areas are covered in smaller stones that seem to multiply like rabbits. I pick one up and toss it into the woods, and two more emerge in its place. If I really want more grass, however, I’ll need to remove the rocks, prepare the hard Ozark soil, put out some seed, fertilize, water and wait.

Hard work. Just like preparing the heart. If we want to grow like Jesus, we have to prepare our hearts. As pastor/author Max Lucado says, we have to pull the stumps and remove the rocks.

“God’s seed grows better if the soil of the heart is cleared,” Lucado writes in Grace for the Moment.

How do we clear it? We don’t; God does. But we allow it when we come to Him in humble confession, seeking His help with our stumps and rocks.

“Confession is the act of inviting God to walk the acreage of our hearts,” Lucado writes. And, he adds, “Confession invites the Father to work the soil of the soul.”

This is hard work. It makes us uncomfortable, and the more sins we confess, the more we seem to find. Like the rocks in my backyard, they often are hidden just beneath the surface. If we ignore them, they emerge and clutter our lives. If we give them to God, however, our hearts are prepared to grow.


If you enjoy this blog, please share it with others. If you don’t enjoy it, please tell me why.
Click to buy Grow Like Jesus 

The God of Tegucigalpa

I’m not a poet, but sometimes I’m compelled to write in my own, unique style of verse. So it is with my recap of the week Audrey and I spent this summer in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

We went with a team led by our dentist and friend Dr. Bob Ward of First Lavaca (Arkansas). And we worked under the direction of World Gospel Outreach, an organization that has learned through the years how to truly honor God and serve the physical and spiritual needs of people in efficient and powerful ways. It was, frankly, the most impactful mission trip I’ve ever taken, and this ode won’t do it justice. But it’s all I have.

We took a ton of photos, a few of which I’ve included. Click here to see more.

God Moved

I asked the Lord:
“Show me a revelation;
“Move within me;
“Move within us;
“Heal this land;
“Heal these people;
“Make Your Glory known.”

We flew in fast, and we landed hard,
Because this is Tegucigalpa – its mountains high, its runway short.

The adventure had just begun;
Pedro took us up and down the mountain,
Through the city and into the countryside,
Driving his yellow school bus like an Indy car,
Smiling all the time.

We came, of course, to help;
A “brigade,” they called it;
A troop of foreigners and nationals,
Joining together in the inward parts of this city,
Offering what we could ….
To provide basic medical, dental, and optical care …
To wash and style the hair of children, treat their hair for lice, paint their nails, and watch them smile …
To pour a concrete floor or paint the random boards
That serves as walls for a shack a family knows as “home” …
To listen, to pray, and to share God’s grace.

Could we make a difference? Really? In this city?
The pollution burned our nostrils, stung our eyes;
We saw pain and heartache holding so many in its vise grips;
Hopelessness attacking their souls, prisoners walking in the streets;
“Who are we,” I asked? “Who am I?”
Poverty had been taking root in these hills of silver for nearly 500 years;
We were here for just a week!
Could we make a difference? Really? In this city?

Evil lurked, whispered his lies,
Distorted truth, twisted hope into despair;
He will not win, I remembered;
He's already been defeated;
Christ's heal has struck his head;
Jesus lives and evil's hold will not prevail!

Could we make a difference? Really? In this city?
Could we make a difference?
Not us … but Christ within us.

So we served and watched Him work;
We saw a double rainbow from the clouds,
Vibrant colors painting the Honduran sky;
We saw God's face in those we loved:
A son, daughter, granddaughter, husband, wife … a stranger … a newfound friend; 
We saw God’s mercies, grace, and faithfulness, 
All written in the faces – of children, young men and women, the elderly; 
They had hope; 
They had Hope. 

We smelled the coffee beans as they roasted, 
High up in the mountains, where the air is clean and fresh; 
We saw papaya growing by a squatter’s shanty house, 
Nestled down a hill on a dirt patch just off an unpaved city street; 
We laughed with the lady who said she had "a zoo" in her tummy; 
We laughed more when we heard about the granny 
Who packed a pistol on her hip and Jesus in her heart; 
And we cried as we washed each other's feet; 
Tears of joy, tears of life, tears of love; 
And along the way we heard the words angels long to hear: 
"Yes, I need Jesus!" 
"Yes, I want Jesus!" 
"Yes, I love Jesus!" 
Another 80-plus souls signed up for heaven; 
Another 70-plus recommitted their lives to the Way. 

And when we stopped … 
When we paused to look and listen … 
All around us, 
All within us,  
All among us; 
Here’s what we saw … 
Our God moved; 
Our God moves! 
Praise His holy name!
  • Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 6/30/17

Practicing Rest

One of the key points in Grow Like Jesus is that rest is a critical piece of our walk with God. Jesus rested. So we should rest. What’s that look like? Well, this week, it looks like me somewhere on a beach. So this week’s blog is the attached photo. It’s from a vacation we took last year, but it symbolizes the rest I hope I’m getting while you read this. I hope you’re getting some, too.

The Face of Grief

A child doesn’t have to be born to be loved or for her premature death to be mourned. Our family experienced the joy of learning a new baby was on the way — a granddaughter for me and my wife — then the pain of learning she was very sick, the closeness to God that comes from desperately praying for a miracle, and the sadness that comes when God’s plans don’t align with our desires. She was unborn, but 27 weeks old when she left us. Don’t tell me she was anything other than a child, fully human and loved by her parents and all who are close them and to her.
I’ll never forget the courage and faith displayed through this process by my daughter and her husband — how they leaned into God and found peace in the pain, how they treasured each moment with their child. All of us, but especially the child’s parents, are left with a hole in our hearts that won’t be filled until we reach heaven.
When I learned that our granddaughter had passed away, I immediately connected to those raw psalms that cry out to God in pain and frustration. And I was thankful for a mysterious but loving God who allows us to express how we feel, even when — especially when — we are sad, angry, hurt, and confused.

The Face of Grief

By Podge, June 1 2017; For Hadley Reece White

Hello Grief, I know your face
You spit in my eyes
And claw at my joy;
That is who you are, I know,
A tormentor of souls,
Who lives to break hearts,
Leaving a tear-stain path of pain
Wherever you go.
Yes, I know your face.
You do your work well, of course.
Something in the way I’m made,
In the way we’re all made;
We can’t escape you.
Yet, we don’t give into you, either.
You play your part and have your day … or days … or longer
But that’s all it is – and then you fade
Never gone, but always smaller
Replaced by something bigger
Something more real and eternal
Yes, Grief, I know your face.
But I also know the face of God.

 

One Year Later …

A letter to a 1-year-old

Happy Birthday, Grow Like Jesus!

You were years in the making, so it’s amazing to celebrate this day with you. It was one year ago today that you officially “launched,” which is book-trade jargon that means you officially became available to the public. There were pre-orders before that, of course, but it was on this day that those orders shipped and sites like Amazon.com changed your status to “available.” No more waiting.

I’ll never forget that day, especially when it comes to Amazon.com. It seems the big, bad online bookseller didn’t have much faith in the demand you would create, so it didn’t stock up. Within a few hours it indicated you were “out of stock.” I took it as a good sign, but it would have been better if Amazon had started with, say, 1,000 copies rather than … well, let’s just say it was far fewer than 1,000. Nevertheless, it felt like there was a gold rush of demand for you.

Truth is, sales have not been spectacular. That’s no surprise, frankly, because, as you know, salesmanship and marketing are not my forte. Oh, I know how to market books. I just don’t execute it very well. It’s a learning opportunity, I guess. But the truth is, I’m pretty content in the background. I don’t mind speaking to audiences, but it’s not my calling to be a sage on the stage. I’m not naturally self-promotional, and, unfortunately, it’s hard to promote you without feeling like I’m promoting me. I have friends who are great at this. They promote themselves and their books, and somehow they seldom come across as egomaniacs who are only in it for the fame and the spotlight. I’m happy for them and all, but I’m not gifted in that way. As a result, my “platform” is limited and, thus, so have been your sales.

That’s not to say sales are non-existent. People are buying you. In fact, several people bought 50 to 100 copies. You’ve been read and shared and gifted. You’ve had an impact on teenagers, as well as folks who are older in life. You’ve been there for people who are new in their faith in Christ, and there for people who are looking for new ways to experience growth.

In fact, I want to make it clear that modest book sales is not an indication of success. Indeed, my first measure of success for you is found in the reality that you actually exist. I felt called to write you and find a publisher and, albeit reluctantly at times, I followed that call. So obedience is one measure of success.

Another measure of your success is found in the feedback. Not everyone who has read your pages has provided feedback. But among those who have, only one offered what I would consider a negative review. He said the book didn’t “connect to his heart,” which, frankly, stung more than a little bit. Many others have found your pages helpful. Here’s a link to read some reviews, if you’d like a few ego biscuits. Aside from those written reviews, I’ve also heard positive feedback from several pastors and friends and business leaders.

The greatest measure of your success, however, is still unknown. Audrey (that’s my wife) and I have prayed from the beginning that you would make a difference in the lives of people who read you. We believe that’s happened, but that’s still our prayer – that God will use this book to help people who want to grow in their faith in Jesus.

Whatever happens, with sales or with impact, God gets the credit. Everything valuable in your pages, after all, came from Him. And everything that happens with you or through you will come by His hand.

So happy birthday, and here’s to many more bright days and deep influence. God willing, you will continue to make a difference in the lives of more and more people.

Oh, yeah. Sorry I didn’t bring a cake or presents. What would you do with them, anyway? You’re a book. But I love you just the same.

———–

Click to buy Grow Like Jesus