Don’t Miss It

The Gospel of Mark has become one of my absolute favorite reads of all-time! I have spent the better part of 18 months digging into this gospel during my personal study time. The themes of urgency, intentionality, and perseverance are so practical and applicable to our lives.

Recently, I was teaching the high school students at our church on a Wednesday night. We are exploring Mark’s Gospel together over the next few weeks. It’s been a joy to share with them the things that God has revealed to me in His Word. As I was teaching, I pointed out that people tended to have an “immediate” response to Jesus. Additionally, Jesus responded with immediacy when it came to ministering and caring for others.

As we were surveying the first few chapters, we discovered the ways in which Jesus served. He performed healings, teachings, exorcisms, and miracles. In the sixth chapter of Mark’s Gospel we discover that Jesus sends out His disciples, two by two, to do ministry. After some time had passed, they returned to Jesus to share all that they had done and taught.

There is this sense of excitement and fatigue at the same time! So what happens next? A crowd makes their way to Jesus and the next thing we know He is feeding thousands of people with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish!

Imagine the exhaustion of Jesus and the disciples. The disciples had been on the road for some time – serving and teaching – only to return to another incredible ministry opportunity that seemed to blow right over their heads.

Mark tells us that following the feeding of 5,000, Jesus sent the disciples on a boat toward another town. He then dismisses the crowd and Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray. As Jesus is looking over the water He notices that the disciples were having a hard time making their way across the sea. The winds were strong and the waters would have been choppy to say the least.

Jesus makes His way down the mountain, casually walks across the water, and intends on passing by the disciples who were struggling in the boat. The disciples see Jesus from a distance and confuse Him for a ghost. Jesus speaks words of peace and makes His way towards the men. The disciples were terrified as Jesus got into the boat and the waters stopped.

Some amazing things just transpired! However, the disciples were so busy trying to be obedient – teaching, serving, and healing – that they missed the miracles happening all around them. They missed Jesus create baskets of leftover food when it seemed there wasn’t even enough food for a small group. They missed Jesus walking on the water. They missed Him controlling the raging seas. In fact, they were so caught up on trying to figure out how Jesus fed all those people that they missed the peace that Jesus brought when He was in their presence.

How well can we relate to the disciples? Think about it for a moment. Reflect on your own life. I know I’ve been reflecting on mine.

Do you find yourself working so hard to make Jesus happy that you forget to take a moment and rest with Him? Are you serving your church, community, and family to the point of exhaustion – but lack joy? Has life been so all-consuming that you find yourself asking Jesus where He is?

Well, I’ve been there too. I want to encourage you in this today: Jesus has not left you. He is working all around you and sometimes even through you. Take notice of Mark’s observations and guard your hearts from spiritual busyness. Find rest, joy, and peace in the presence of Christ.

Comfort & Fear

I have come to realize the scariest and most comforting place to be is in the midst of God’s Will. It’s scary because the details are uncertain. It’s comforting because I know Who is writing my story. God says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,’” (Jeremiah 29.11).

One of those moments for me took place during the summer of 2002. I had just finished my freshman year of college and accepted a youth ministry internship at the small church in which I had made a profession of faith 11 years earlier. My relationship with the church was rekindled when I asked the pastor to baptize me just before my college career began. We had stayed in touch over the past 8 months, which led to my internship.

I had known for a couple of years that the Lord was calling into fulltime ministry. However, I had no idea what that even looked like. With one year of college education under my belt I was highly unequipped to lead in the areas for which I was responsible.  I’ll never forget the day I was literally handed the keys to the church and then told by the pastor that he was going to be out of town for a week. You need to understand, cellphones were not an everyday thing at this point in history. So I was truly on my own.

Ministry is a serious calling. It is not something that should ever be taken lightly. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy that some have the desire to minister but not everyone is equipped. I had the desire. I didn’t know if I was equipped. The only thing I knew for sure was to be completely dependent on God.

That summer transformed my prayer life and affirmed my calling. I preached my first sermon. I led a weeklong retreat for students. I learned how to negotiate pricing on building rentals and booking bands. I rallied my friends to partner with me in ministry.  I ordered way too much food for events and lost all track of time when leading weekly student events. We had a lot of fun. But more importantly, we made a big deal out of Jesus.

I look back on those days and I am reminded of God’s faithfulness through the uncertainties around me. What I didn’t tell you is that was also the summer my mom had been diagnosed with skin cancer. She had the spot on her arm removed but was unable to go to work until she was fully recovered. In my experience, cancer is a nasty beast that causes just as much emotional damage as it does physically. The moment the possibility of a diagnosis is announced, the mind starts going places it should never go to. The fear of the unknown can overwhelm you. It can rob you from your sleep, distract you from what is important, and cloud your judgment.

Today I praise God that my mom made a full recovery and has been cancer free for 16 years!

Paul has taught us that God’s Will is good, it’s pleasing, and it’s perfect (Rom. 12.2). Walking through that season with my family was one of the scariest moments of my life. I didn’t know much about cancer at the time so my mind was an awful place to visit. I was serving in a capacity in which I was fully unprepared and uneducated. That season of my life drove me to my knees and taught me that living in God’s Will can be the scariest and most comforting place to be.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Do you remember the Verizon commercials from a few years back? The one where Paul Marcarelli was the “Test Guy.” Paul would find himself in hard-to-reach places and ask the question, “Can you hear me now?” You could see Paul on a tropical island, Rocky Mountains, desert, or on a boat in the middle of the Hudson River. Verizon was trying to communicate that their signal was strong and you wouldn’t experience a poor connection with them – unlike their competitors. Verizon was confident that they had the best cellular phone coverage than anyone else in the country.

With that in mind, this has been one of the busiest summers of my life.  I have visited seven different states, racked up over 5,000 miles of road time, camped in the Rocky Mountains, swam in the Gulf of Mexico, and floated down the Current River. I just wrapped up a two-week journey of teaching and hosting “equipping conferences” for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. In the middle of all this travel I have been working on strengthening our church discipleship strategy, expanding our student ministry efforts, and preparing for future events and assignments. Our family expanded by two cats (what was I thinking?!), our girls started school again, and my wife had surgery.

It would be an understatement to say that there were moments when I have felt overwhelmed over the past few months. There were days when my plate was so heavy that I didn’t want to get out of bed. Then there were days where the burden was so overloaded that I couldn’t fall asleep. Sometimes the days would run into each other and I didn’t know if it was Tuesday or Friday.

My world had been so clouded with decisions, uncertainties, and deadlines that I found myself relying more on ibuprofen and coffee than on the promises of God’s Word. It’s not like I wasn’t reading Scripture or burying myself in teaching, preaching, and podcasts. In fact, I was deeply intentional about being filled with truth. The issue was that somewhere inside of me, between my heart and my mind, there was a “poor connection.”

It was as if God was asking, “Can you hear me now?”

My response was, “Are you still there? God. I’m trying to connect with you but I can’t hear.”

“I’m here David. Listen carefully.”

“God…I’m trying…I need you. Where are you?”

“David. I’m right here. I’ve never left you. I’m here.”

It wasn’t until recently when a friend of mine made a comment about his own life that my connection with God strengthened. Considering his circumstances, my friend said, “If I believe in the sovereignty of God then I have to believe there is a reason for all this.”

Those words of reflection instantly resonated with my heart. It was like God was still saying, “Can you hear my now? I know your life. I know your heart. I know your burden. There’s a purpose for all this. I have great plans for you. My Son’s burden is light. Give it to Him. I’ll give you clarity.”

The Bible teaches us that God speaks to us in several ways – His Word, the Spirit, His Son, creation, and other people. In fact, Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

Just think about it, if God can use a donkey to speak (Num. 22.28), he can certainly use someone in your life! So here I am, finally hearing the truth that I’ve been pursuing for months. It just took a while to connect.

Here’s the point of this pastor’s confession. Whatever your circumstance – be faithful in your pursuit of God and don’t be discouraged if your connection seems weak.It is easy to try to take our lives into our own hands. It’s easy to lean on our own wisdom, experience, and knowledge. It’s easy to take control. However, if I believe in the sovereignty of God, then I have to believe His Word when he says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3.5-6).”

The kicker is this – I still don’t know what caused the “poor connection.” I’m not sure what was keeping me from hearing truth. I can’t pinpoint a moment that led to cloudiness or burden. But in many ways I can relate to the blind man in John 9 when he said, “One thing I do know, I once was blind, but now I see!”

My prayer is that whatever cloud you’re walking through, whatever uncertainties you face, whatever fears are keeping you from moving forward – may you see clearly the promises of God and experience His presence in a vibrant and life-changing way!

           

           

The Seventh Word

Each year our church takes a moment of worship and reflection as we look at the seven last words of Jesus as He was nailed to the cross. Tonight I had the pleasure of sharing “The Seventh Word.” I thought I would share that with you here.

The Seventh Word. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

In this final saying, Jesus gives us a beautiful picture of love and sacrifice.

I remember as a child, that every major holiday my grandmother would invite my

family, my aunts, uncles, and cousins to her home to celebrate together. Whatever

the holiday was – Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving – the day always included a meal.

Now I’m not talking about any simple, put-it-together-in-one-day type of meal. No.

That would be too easy.

This was the kind of meal that began a week in advance. The pecans were purchased

the weekend before. The potatoes and green beans were always hand picked from

her garden. The corn had been shucked, shaved, and set aside.

The noodles were always made from scratch: some flour, some eggs, water, and

shortening. They were mixed, rolled, and cut by hand. It always left a floury mess on

grandma’s hands, clothing, and countertops.

Grandma made certain that everyone had something to eat that they particularly

enjoyed. For me, it was always chicken-n-dumplings. My sister always had “cheesy

noodles.” Others were given pan-fried chicken, rhubarb pie, German-chocolate cake,

deviled-eggs, or whatever your delight. We knew that if we wanted something

special on that day, we simply had to ask.

Grandma worked hard in the kitchen – hot or cold – it didn’t matter. She lived to

serve.

She set the table; plates and utensils in their proper place. The food was presented

in a glorious fashion. The chicken stacked up on fine china. The noodles staying

warm in a decorative bowl. The eggs waited on a crystal plate. And the desserts

were reminiscent of a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

All of this was done because she loved us and valued our time together.

When the time came to eat, we would gather around the tables and thank God for

the food and our family. Then we would partake of the great presentation before us.

The word “commit” here means to present. While my grandmother would plan,

prepare, and present a meal for our family over a weeks time; Jesus had spent His

entire lifetime preparing for this moment. He knew what what was being asked of

Him and He followed through with incredible precision. He was tempted, mocked,

beaten, betrayed, written-off, and abused. But that didn’t keep Him from doing what

His Father asked of Him. He had lived a perfect live and is now surrendering that life

unto His Father.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Father, this life and now this death, is for Your delight.”

Jesus is trusting His Father with His life, death, and future. He is trusting that His father will do what He said He would – raise Him from the dead in 3 days time. In this final moment, Jesus is showing us how to follow through in faith. What a great example He has set before us!

Tiger Woods & Jesus

            He did it! Tiger Woods won the Master’s this past weekend. What a great story. Here are the three things I learned over the past few days.

America loves a redemption story.

Just in case you were unaware, Tiger Woods is slated as being one the greatest golfers in the history of the world. He is ranked only behind Jack Nicklaus according to the PGAIn a span of 10 years, Tiger had earned 15 majors and was on his way to shatter Nicklaus’ record of 18.

However, that all changed in November of 2009 when Woods’ lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a fire hydrant outside of his house. It was at this time that rumors began to fly about multiple affairs, sex addiction, and alcohol abuse. Over the next several months, Tiger lost many endorsements and was written off as a waste of talent. It seemed in that moment that the world had turned its back on their once beloved king of the sport.

But on Sunday, with Tiger never carrying a lead throughout the tournament, America collectively held her breath and then celebrated as Tiger closed the Master’s as champion.

America loves redemption!

My life is not defined by my sin and setbacks.

            As 2010 rolled around, it seemed as if Tiger would never be able to step out into public again. He was written off, shamed, slandered, and forgotten in many ways. His sin was front-page news and was even earned an edgy (if not over-the-line) skit on SNL. The world made a mockery his failures and public disappointments.

I am in no way endorsing or softening the choices he made. In fact, he has never claimed to be a Christian and I would be in the wrong to hold him to any other standard than that of God’s Word. What I am suggesting is that in a time when someone should have experienced great compassion and love, he rather experienced a deeper since of shame and scorn from an unapologetic world. But thank God our sin does not define us! In fact, we are defined by the one who paid for our sin – Jesus Christ!

Not only did Tiger suffer from a great since of shame, he also suffered several medical setbacks that would keep him off the course both physically and mentally. In 2018, Woods’ had his best year since 2007 as he finished second in the FedEx Cup standings. While he showed moments of greatness throughout the season, he also had moments of mental breakdowns and physical pains that would cause him to miss the final cut or withdraw from tournaments.

But once again, that was in 2018 and this is a new year and a new season!

My life is defined by WHO made me, not what others think of me.

“Tiger Woods is totally, completely, unequivocally, and utterly done.” – Shane Ryan

That’s what was said of Tiger Woods in July of 2015. He was written off and thrown away. But I for one am grateful that Tiger did not let those words define him. Instead of accepting the world’s dismissal of his ability and future, he crawled, bled, worked, and eventually made his way back to the top.

In fact, the same article that wrote him off said:

Lastly, if Tiger Woods or anyone else says something different on the topic of him being done, you should understand that they are lying or misinformed. Into perpetuity, forever and ever, Tiger Woods is done. Tiger Woods. Is Done. Done.”

Well. I do believe someone else has something to say about our fate. Scripture makes is clear when it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”– Genesis 1.27

Furthermore, God tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”– Jeremiah 29.11

What we know is that each person has been uniquely made in the image of God. The Psalmist proclaims that we were, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139.14)! Our identity is grounded in God’s image. In His character. God is good. God is faithful. God is just. God is right. I can go on and on and on and on.

We also know that God has a plan for us. The Apostle Paul says that God’s will for us is good, perfect, and pleasing (Romans 12.2). The Bible teaches us that God will “never leave us or forsake us,”(Deuteronomy 31.6-8; Hebrews 13.5).  So what we have is a promise that the God who formed us, also has a plan for us, and that throughout that perfectly good and pleasing plan, He will always be by our side.

While Tiger Woods’ story of redemption from hero-to zero-back to hero is powerful and exciting, it pales in comparison to the greatest story of redemption the world has ever known. This weekend we will celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So no! I am not defined by what the world says about me. I am defined by whomy God made me to be. I am His workmanship (Ephesians 2.10). I am His creation (Genesis 1.26-27). And because of the cross and what Jesus accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection, in God’s eyes, I am worth it (John 3.16).

The Power of God’s Presence

Recently I listened to a sermon by the pastor of the Village Church, Matt Chandler. He shared with this church what a “Day in the Life” of their pastor looked like. When it was all said and done, he suggested that each person consider one step towards deepening their relationship with Christ. He warned that if a person tried to do everything at once they would likely stumble and ultimately give up (I’m paraphrasing here).

One of the steps he shared was how he prayed for his day while he was in the car. This is a simple step and a core element of personal-discipleship. Recently, I began doing just that. I have about 8-10 minutes of personal time between our girls’ school and the office. Typically I listen to music, make a phone call, or catch on ESPN radio. However, this simple task of prayer has changed my days.

I’ve learned to take each meeting, each interaction, and each daily surprise before the Lord in prayer early on. What I’ve discovered is that by the time I arrive to the office, or that meeting, or unscheduled encounter – Jesus is already there and waiting for me. This is poetic of course. But the reality is I’m learning to put every action, thought, and word into perspective.

What stuck out to me this morning was when I prayed, “Lord, forgive me when I fail to make decisions without considering Your plan for me. To make a choice without Your consideration is foolishness. I don’t want to be a fool.”

Those words just rolled off of my tongue and stung me directly in the heart. I knew in that moment that I wasn’t only seeking guidance for the day but I was confessing sin that I hadn’t considered before.

God’s presence has a way of doing that to us! I think of Paul on the road to Damascus, he’s confronted with Jesus and immediately falls “prostrate” to the ground. Without diving too deep, you need to know that being “prostrate” through scripture is a position of worship. In other words, Paul saw Jesus and his first response was a posture of worship!

I think of Thomas. He doubted the resurrection of Christ. But the moment he saw Him, he believed!

God’s presence reveals our sins, directs our paths, brings comfort, joy, peace, and assurance. God’s presence relieves fear and gives strength.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t consider prayer-time during my commute. But I’m grateful for the encouragement of Pastor  Chandler. So let me encourage you as well. Consider God’s presence in every moment of your life. Seek His guidance, will, and wisdom.

Busy But Not Satisfied

It has been some time since my last post. A lot has happened in the past two months. My wife, Alicia, and I traveled to the Philippines with a group from our church. My parents came to Paducah to celebrate Christmas with us. Then Alicia and I took the girls to Indiana to bring in the New Year with our families. I couldn’t even begin to calculate the hours and miles we have endured over the past 67 days.

In addition to the travel I accepted a position as President-Elect for the Discipleship Network of Kentucky Baptist Churches. I know it’s a mouthful but it basically means I have the privilege of working with fellow ministers across the state as we aim to provide discipleship coaching and opportunities for training throughout the year. We have already started planning our first event and have a few others on the docket for 2019!

It had been a busy season but as 2018 was coming to an end I had a sense of longing. I didn’t know what was going on internally but I knew something was missing in my life. My joy was diminishing and my energy was beginning to fade day-by-day. I thought if I read more I would be filled. So I read 4 books in the course of 3 weeks but that didn’t fill the void in my life. I started going to the gym again. I ran. I lifted weights. I ate better. While those things made me feel better and did help with my energy, my joy was still struggling. I prayed more. I mediated more. I searched God’s Word for hope and direction, but I was still missing something.

Have you ever had a season like that? It seems that no matter how hard you try, nothing can scratch the itch! It wasn’t until recently did I realize what was missing. And now that I look back at it, it makes perfect sense! The problem wasn’t a lack of filling in my life. Obviously I was doing more than I had in some time. I filled myself with God’s Word. I filled myself with exercise and healthier eating habits. I filled myself with knowledge and sought wisdom. But what I wasn’t doing. What I was missing. What I needed to be doing all along was pouring out to others all that I was pouring into myself.

The Bible tells us that we all have gifts. Paul calls them ‘gifts of the Spirit,” (1 Cor. 12.1). Each person who has professed Jesus Christ as Lord has received the Holy Spirit and therefore received ‘gifts of the Spirit.’ Some are given one and others given more. There are several gifts and I won’t go into them all right now but I know that one my gifts is teaching. This has been affirmed to me over the years. My greatest joy comes from studying God’s Word and then teaching others how to apply His truth in their lives. Truth be told, that was one of the motivations for this blog. I want to encourage you, challenge you, and motivate you to live a life that brings glory to God. There is no way we can do that apart from His Word.

What I discovered was that I had not had an opportunity to teach in nearly 3 months. I poured out everything I had while we were in the Philippines. When we returned I welcomed the thought of a short break. But then Thanksgiving was around the corner. Christmas came and went. We were busy at church planning for special services and programs. My family was busy with the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I was busy but not satisfied.

Then last week everything clicked. We launched a 4-month initiative focused on Evangelism that allows me to teach every Sunday morning from now until Palm Sunday. I have the honor of working with every class in our church from 7thgrade thru senior adults as I teach them how to share their testimony in 2-minutes or less.

Four days prior to the Evangelism training I kicked off an 8-week series on Spiritual Gifts during our Wednesday night ministry. As I write this I am preparing to teach for the fourth time in 8 days and I couldn’t be more energized! The Apostle Peter writes, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God,”(1 Peter 4.10-11a).

Let me end with this. There is an undeniable joy that comes from using what God has given you. I can testify to that! If you have trusted your life to Christ, you have been given a gift to be used for His glory. Maybe you are like me: you know your gift but haven’t used it in some time. But maybe you don’t know what it is. If that’s you, I encourage you ask God to reveal His gifting to you.  Ask others what they see in you and then begin to, ‘use whatever gift you have received to serve others.’

 

 

***SPECIAL NOTE***

There are several ‘tests’ you can take to begin the process of determining your gifting. Understand that these ‘tests’ are not the answer. They are however a great place to start. If you have never taken a Spiritual Gifts test I recommend the Spiritual Gifts Survey provided by Lifeway. Click on this link to download a free test, https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/women-leadership-spiritual-gifts-growth-service   Find “Spritual Gifts Survey (Discover Tool).” Print it. Take it. Pray over it. And post your spiritual gift to this blog! Let me know where the Lord is leading you and how I can pray for you.

Sleep

I can’t sleep. It has been a week since I returned to the States from the Philippines. The mission was impactful on so many levels. I saw hearts changed, souls saved, and walls torn down – both spiritually and literally!

I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the jet lag. Maybe it’s the food I’m eating. Maybe it’s the quiet turmoil in my mind that restlessly keeps me awake as I wrestle with God’s will for my life in so many different areas. Whatever it is, I can’t sleep.

Time and time again we are told to be like Christ. We are instructed to be faithful, obedient, intentional, compassionate, and so much more. So today at 4:00 AM on a Monday morning, unable to sleep, I picked the Bible and continued my reading through the Gospel of Mark. As I was reading the fourth chapter I noticed something I had never seen before. Jesus is really good at sleeping!

If you’ve read Mark’s Gospel you may remember the time Jesus and His disciples were traveling by boat. Jesus had just finished teaching to the masses and left shore for the country of the Gerasens (Mk. 5.1). Two things stood out me for the first time: 1) There was more than one boat (Mk. 4.26) and 2) This storm was bad! (v38).

Think about it. A strong majority of the disciples were professional fishermen. Jesus lived in a day and age where traveling by boat was as common as people traveling by car and plane today. Storms were commonplace and part of the life on water. However, this storm was so strong that the disciples thought there were going to die. I’m sure they had experienced storms before. I’m sure they had plans, strategies, and tools to navigate the ravaging waters. But nothing seemed to prepare them for the storm they were in. They cried out to Jesus – who was fast asleep – for their salvation.

I’m not sure how I missed it all this time but I had assumed that Jesus was in the same boat as all the disciples. But He wasn’t. He may have been by himself. He may have been with some of the disciples. The boats may have been tied together or drifting apart. But I don’t think our focus should be on the boat. Nor do I think our focus should be on the storm. I believe our focus needs to be on the presence of Jesus.

All too often we get caught up in our own little boats. Our lives. Our schedules. Plans. Savings accounts. Education. Church. Family. We think we have it all together. We are like the disciples. We have experiences, strategies, and tools. Whatever comes our way, we can make it work.

Then there are the storms. Storms are the challenges that we prepare for and sometimes even expect. Sometimes storms come from out of nowhere. Death. Loss. Sickness. Storms come crashing into our lives and wreak havoc on our plans. Where we once thought to be in control – we now find ourselves floating recklessly in our little boats hoping not to capsize.

What I love about Mark’s account of this night is that Jesus was present with the disciples in the middle of the storm. Not only was He present. He was asleep! He was calm. And we get this idea that He actually expected the disciples to respond the same way. They cried out to Him. They woke Him up. Jesus tells the storm to stop. It does! Then He looks at His disciples and asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”(v40).

Whatever you are going through right now I want you to know that Jesus is with you. He may not be in your boat or He might be. Maybe you’ve asked Him into your plans or you have kept Him at arms length away. Whatever your situation you can know this: Jesus is present in your storm and is only a cry away. He has the power to give peace and the authority to calm the storm around you.

When I think of what it looks like to have Upside Down Faith I don’t have to look much further than this. Upside Down Faith looks like peace in the midst of chaos. Upside Down Faith looks like confidence when moving forward in the darkness of the night. Upside Down Faith looks like sleep even when my little boat is about to capsize. And I could really use some sleep right now.

Manila Bound

As I write this, I am flying above Canada at 32,000 ft. I am leading a team of 12 incredible people who will spend the next 10 days ministering to our new friends in the metro area of Manila, Philippines. Our journey started 21 hours ago as our team left Paducah, KY by bus and spend the night in Nashville, TN. We unloaded our luggage and supply bags at 4:45 AM and took flight from Nashville to Atlanta. After a 2 hour layover we boarded another plane for Tokyo, Japan.

When we arrive in Tokyo we will have another 2 hour layover before our last 5 hour flight to Manila! Once we land in Manila we will be greeted by our missionaries in the Philippines, go to dinner, and then off to bed. All-in-all our journey from Western Kentucky to Manila will take about 40 hours.

Before we left, I told my oldest daughter, Brooklyn, that her parents were going to be “time travelers.” We will spend the next week living 13 hours ahead of our friends and family back home. The jet lag will be hard. The language will be a barrier. The living conditions will be foreign. And the food will be “experimental.”

So why in our right minds would we trek half-way around the world leaving the comforts of home and our loved ones behind? In fact that is what Brooklyn asked me two days ago. However, her question was much more simple: “Why do you have to go?”

At the time I gave her the “Christian” answer: because God wants us to go. However, as I have reflected on that question I don’t think it truly sums up the reality of our journey. How can I put into words the effectual calling of mission in a way that a nine year old girl would understand?

To be honest, I still don’t think I have the right answer. But this is what I do know:

1. God loves the world so much that He sent His Jesus to restore a broken relationship between God and mankind (John 3.16).

2. The restoration work that Jesus performed resulted in His death (which was freely and sacrificially given) and then His miraculously powerful resurrection (John 19.20; 20.1-23)!

3. Before Jesus left His disciples he gave them one last directive: “..be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1.8)

That last thought gets me every time. As I look at the state of church in America it has become increasingly obvious to me that we are doing a really good job of going the “ends of the earth.” We partner with missionaries. We send money. We send supplies. We pack our bags and visit them. We join in work for 5-10 days. Return home with a revived heart and excited about the next opportunity to go on a mission trip.

All these are good and right and biblical. However, I think we often miss the first thought of Jesus’ command: “be my witnesses in Jerusalem.” We need to understand that when Jesus gave this command He and the disciples were physically in Jerusalem. Judea and Samaria were regions surrounding Jerusalem. The point Jesus was making was that we need to begin to tell our story where we are and then work our way out as we move towards the end of the earth.

The problem with our view of “missions” is that we think we need to go far away to do God’s work when the truth is, Jesus says, “Start right where you are and tell the story about how I brought you from death to life. Tell them about sin and how it keeps them away from God’s perfect will. Tell your family, your friends, your co-workers, and strangers about how I lived a perfect life them. Tell them that I was beaten, bloodied, bruised, stabbed, and murdered – all the while I knew what was going to happen. Tell them I was buried and hidden behind a large stone. Tell them that guards stood watch too keep my disciples from taking my body. But then! Oh you can’t forget this part! Tell them that the grave couldn’t keep me. Tell them that I defeated death! Tell them that I rose from the dead! Tell them I did all of this because I love them so much that I valued their eternal live as greater than my own. Tell them that if they just believe this to be true and trust me with their life that my Father promises to give them an eternity in heaven. But no matter where you are; whether it’s in your hometown, on vacation, during a work trip, or on a mission adventure- make sure you tell your story.”

So where does that leave us? Where does that leave this awesome team as we make our way over Alaska, Russia, Japan, the Pacific Ocean, and then into Manila? What does it mean for us. It means that we need to tell our story. It means that when we hit the ground, we are focused and driven by the words of Jesus. But it also means that when we return home we don’t forget about our “Jerusalem.” For most of us, that is Paducah, KY. Others that could be Richmond, IN or Grand Rivers, KY.

So let me ask: where is your Jerusalem? Where is it that Jesus wants to use you in a powerful way? How can you share your story with this week?

Be Still

There are many spiritual disciplines that followers of Jesus should be practicing on a daily basis: prayer, worship, fellowship, scripture memorization, meditation, and the reading of the Bible just to mention a few. However, there is one that I often overlook. Truth is, it is probably the most non-threatening, least intimidating, and simplest discipline of them all. That discipline is stillness.

Recently I attended a piano concert performed by a friend of mine. She is the most accomplished pianist I have ever met and has a heart of gold. She loves Jesus and prayed that God would be worshipped during the concert. The weeks leading up to the performance I would walk into the church office and hear her practicing for hours. When the night of the concert came, my mind was scrambled with the chaos that is Sunday morning ministry. If you’re a pastor or serve in any capacity of ministry on Sunday morning, you know what I’m talking about. I was tired. I was already thinking about Monday. I even brought a book to the concert with me to read so I could prepare for a new class I was developing. However, all that changed the moment my friend began to play. I put down my book. I closed my eyes and drifted into an hour of peaceful stillness as my heart was comforted by the melodies of familiar hymns and modern worship songs. In fact, it was that night that inspired me to write this post.

The Psalmist writes, “For He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’” (Psalm 46.10). We find two truths in this short verse. First, we are called to be still. That means let go of what keeps us from staying focused on the Lord. The word, still, is a military term used in the Hebrew language that calls for a cease-fire. In other words, the Lord is telling us to stop fighting, to drop our weapons, and let go of what we think will give us satisfaction or fulfillment.

I don’t know about you but I have a hard time finding clarity in the midst of distraction and chaos. Have you ever tried to drive through downtown Atlanta or Chicago? It’s not easy! I remember the first time I tried to navigate the complex roadways of Chicago. Trains were moving around me in all directions. Cars were passing under me and over me at the same time. Semi-trucks were merging onto the highway from the right and the left! You need to understand, I grew up in a rural Midwest community where we had to watch out for cows instead of pedestrians. You could drive to a four-way stop and wait 15 minutes before you saw another car. When you came across a vehicle on the side of the road, it was probably a farmer checking his crops or a hunter set out for whatever was open that season. The insanity of large city highways was nearly enough to make me lose my mind. However, after some time, I began to familiarize myself with my surroundings and adjust. But isn’t that what we do with just about everything. We are surrounded by chaos, so we adjust. We learn to maneuver around the challenges and obstacles in our way and keep moving forward. But here’s the problem with that approach, the chaos hasn’t stopped, we just got used to it.

God never intended for us to live in chaos, certainly not on our own. That’s why He sent Jesus; so that we can have a constant, stable relationship. Jesus wants us to give Him our burdens, stresses, fears, frustrations, tiredness, and whatever tends to burden us at any given time (Matthew 11:30). So we must learn to let go and seek stillness. That brings us to the second truth: Know that He is God.

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Artwork by Philip Barlow

Know is in this passage means to “have the right perspective.” When we see things the way God intended them to be we will experience clarity and confidence. My family has a history of poor eyesight. Without my contacts or glasses, the world looks like a painting by the hands of Picasso, VanGogh, and Philip Barlow all-in-one. I remember when my oldest daughter, Brooklyn, received her first pair of glasses. At first she was excited because of the design. We spent nearly 45 minutes trying on glasses before she settled on a pair of dark brown plastic frames with teal-blue leopard-print arms. After a week of waiting for the glasses to arrive we received the phone call that they were ready and off we went to the eye doctor. What I enjoyed most about the moment was when she actually put them on. She was excited to have glasses but she wasn’t expecting them to make a difference. For the next 2 days she would put her glasses on and then take them off. Each time with a play-by-play action report about what she could see. It looked like this:

Glasses off. “Daddy, I can’t read that sign.”

Glasses on. “Daddy, the sign says ‘Home Depot.’”

Glasses off. “Daddy, I don’t know what that says.”

Glasses on. “Daddy, it says ‘Speed Limit.’”

Glasses off. “Daddy, I don’t know who that is.”

Glasses on. “Daddy, I didn’t know my friend’s dad is on that billboard!”

The beauty of perspective is that we experience life the way God intended it to be. When we have clarity we develop confidence. Over the next several weeks, Brooklyn’s grades were better. She made some new friends. She joined a soccer team. She could catch a football. She even beat me at corn hole! Her perspective was clear and her confidence was high.

That is exactly what the Lord wants for us. He is calling us to find peace in Him by letting go of distractions. He wants us to have confidence in who He is and who He has made us. He wants us to experience peace, rest, and clarity. So turn off the TV. Put down that book. Place your cell phone out of sight. Close your eyes. Breathe. And for a moment (or two or three) experience the presence of God.