Monthly Archives: November 2013

First World Problems, Third World Realities

As I was driving home last night, I noticed the car in front of me. Their passenger side door was partially opened. Fearing the worst that could happen, I changed lanes and went to pass them. As I got beside them, I noticed why the door was open. They had a TV in their backseat that was wider than their car. I thought, “First world problems.” Then I glanced over to the right and saw Target and Best Buy’s parking lot. They were completely full and people were driving around looking for a place to park. “More first world problems,” I thought.

I’m not against having things or Black Friday shopping. I’ve just had my perspective adjusted by the realities of how the rest of the world lives. God has blessed us beyond measure and we don’t even realize it most of the time. He has opened the windows of Heaven on us and poured out blessings so much that we just assume this is how it’s supposed to be. The reality is that 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day according to GlobalIssues.com. That’s just over $3,000 a year. Sure the cost of living is less, but not so much that you can have quality things at that rate.

I’m not going to ask you to give up a coffee a day or to give to some great cause. I’m simply going to ask you to be thankful for what God has given you. Acknowledge Him as the source of your income and be mindful of the blessings He’s given to you. Understanding the realities that other people live in helps adjust our perspective of the “problems” we have here. Knowing that there are still people in the world that don’t have running water or electricity in their homes to keep them warm should help us to be more thankful. We should believe the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We truly have a lot to be thankful for. As you shop today, this weekend or holiday season, keep in mind that you are able to do so because God has blessed you. The long lines you’re in for great deals could very well be long lines to get food or clean water. Instead of complaining because of all the craziness, thank God you have more than enough and can go shopping for all these things. Our first world problems are nothing compared to the third world realities. Our inability to recognize God’s blessings could lead Him to shut those windows and open them on someone else. Stop today and truly give thanks.

Free Friday will resume next week.

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Changing The Pity Party Perspective

As things in my life went downhill ten years ago, my brother helped me to keep things in perspective. Over the course of a few months an employee of mine died in a crash with her husband and one child, I got pulled into the legal fight for the remaining child, my wife had an affair while i was distracted by the legal battle, she then left me for another man, my business went under and I filed bankruptcy. While I was having a pity party one day, my brother looked me in the eye and said, “Believe it or not, someone else has it worse than you do. You can be thankful you’re not them.”

No sooner than his words hit my ear, they pierced my heart. I had been feeling like my life was worse than what Job had experienced and the truth was that my life wasn’t as bad as it could be. When my thoughts of pity changed, my perspective changed. I quit trying to find others to feel sorry for me and started to find reasons to be thankful. My situation hadn’t changed, in fact, it continued to get worse. What changed when I decided to become thankful was how I saw myself in the storm I was in and the purpose of the storm.

Instead of asking, “Why me, God”, I began to ask, “What am I to learn from this?” Being thankful changed me from being a victim to a student. Even in my darkest hour, God had something to show me. In fact, He was desperately trying to get my attention. I had been stubbornly ignoring His call and living how I wanted to live. I had ignored His gentle warnings and signs to change how I was living and now He was getting louder and louder in His attempts to get my attention. God wasn’t content to let me live my life my way. He wanted me to live it His way. I’m thankful now that He didn’t leave me in the life I was living.

The theologian Albert Barnes said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” In my life I’ve always remembered that someone always has it worse than anything I will ever face. I can always be thankful for that. When times are tough and life isn’t going the way I think it should or I feel I’ve been dealt a bad hand, I no longer pretend I’m the victim. I know now that even when things appear bad or that they can’t get worse, God is there in the storm with me. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me. He’s there enduring it with me and wants to use the experience for His glory.

If you’re in the middle of a storm in your life where you feel like things can’t get worse, I challenge you to find something to be thankful for. Are you still breathing? Then you have something to be thankful for. Your life isn’t over and God can rebuild your life from the ruins of where you are now. Lose the victim mentality and become a student of what God wants to show you. To change your perspective, you have to change your mindset. A changed mindset begins with a thankful heart. Things may not get better right away, but being thankful will give you a purpose in hard times. That purpose, combined with a thankful heart, will pull you through.

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Reaping Where You Haven’t Sown

Today is the last day before the official holiday season. From now until the end of the year we’ll be bombarded by Christmas commercials, mall Santa’s, bell ringers and sales at every store. Everyone wants the money in your pocket because this is when we spend like no other time of year. Today, I just want to take a deep breath and relax in the calm before the crazy begins. I want to purpose in my heart that I won’t let all those other things get in the way or ruin the real reason for the Christmas season. Before I go, go, go, I want to thank the one who came.

A young girl sang a song in church on Sunday that asked the question, “Where’s the line to see Jesus?” It talked about the lines in the stores and the lines to see Santa, but where are the lines of people to see Jesus? We’re willing to camp out for great deals, stand in long checkout lines and endure cold weather, but complain when the sermon goes 5 minutes over. We wonder why our nation doesn’t turn to Jesus and we pray for an awakening, but we’ve got to wake up first.

I’m not against all the sales, standing in line or camping out. I’m just asking, “When is the last time we sacrificed for God? When have we truly given up something important for the advancement of the Kingdom?” I look at my life and wonder why there’s so little fruit, it’s because I’m planting in one vineyard and trying to reap in another. It doesn’t work that way. Not only will we reap what we sow, but we will reap it where we sow it. We can’t plant seeds of selfishness and expect to grow trees of righteousness. We can’t sow our time in things that don’t matter and expect a return in the eternal. Yet we do and then wonder why God isn’t bringing in a harvest.

If we want to have God move in our churches and nation, we’ve got to sow the seeds of time in prayer. If we want to reap a harvest of souls, we’ve got to sow effort in helping our communities. We can’t stand by the church door, ring the bells or put on amazing media presentations in the church and hope they’ll come. The law of God has always been about sowing and reaping. The Church has always understood that until this generation. We are expecting to reap without having sown. We are expecting an increase without having decreased. We are expecting gain without the pain.

Where does God want you to sow seeds in this holiday season? How can you water seeds that have already been planted? Are you ready to harvest? Look around you while you stand in long lines. You have a captive audience to plant seeds. God is looking for those who are available to work in the vineyard. He’s willing to pay full wages even if we don’t work the whole day. It’s up to us to see the opportunities, to say yes to His will and to begin planting seeds that will bring a harvest.

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Finding Happiness

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I enjoy this time of year. As much as I joke about it, I do like reading people’s Facebook posts of what they’re thankful for each day. About this time in the month though, most have quit doing it, a few will post the last several days together and some remain faithful to it. I believe that being thankful changes your perspective in situations. It takes your eyes off of what you don’t have to what you do have. If you’re constantly wishing you had more without being thankful for what you have, you will never be happy. You will never be satisfied in life and it will be a long, bumpy ride.

I saw two different children in Haiti that really got my attention. One little boy was running down the side of the road. He was pulling a string that was attached to the neck of a water bottle. There were two pencils stuck through the side of the bottle with bottle caps on the ends making wheels. He had a huge grin as he pulled his homemade car down the road. Another child I saw had a stroller wheel with a stick in it. He ran around holding that stick and pushing that wheel wherever he went. It looked like it was his favorite toy. Both kids were satisfied with what little they had. Both kids were thankful just to have a toy.

They both know that there are better toys out there in the world, but they’ve chosen to be satisfied with what they have. That’s the secret to happiness. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to improve your life, have a better house or a job that pays more. I’m saying, learn to be content and satisfied with what you have right now. Don’t get caught up in the lie that says, “If only I had ________ I’d be happy.” Being satisfied and thankful for what you have right now is a choice that only you can make. Things should never control how you feel. I say that as a person who knows what it’s like to have everything I want and as one who knows what it’s like to have nothing.

When we allow things to control our happiness, we lose sight of God. We are telling Him that what He thinks we should have is not enough. We are telling Him that He is not a good provider. Once we learn to see that the things we have aren’t even ours, but rather they’re His and we are just stewards over them, we can learn to be satisfied and happy. God’s message is different than the world’s. It always has been and always will be. Therefore, as God’s people, we should live our lives differently too. We shouldn’t be worried about the things we don’t have, but rather we should be thankful for what we do have.

There’s an old hymn that says, “Count your blessings one by one. Count your blessing, see what God has done. Count your blessings, name them one by one. It will surprise you what The Lord has done.” That’s the thought I want to leave you with today. Count your blessings today and see what God has done and where He’s brought you from. You’ll have a lot to be thankful for, I’m sure.

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Being Available

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Have you ever had a car break down on you? I had one break down on me in high school late at night after I dropped off my girlfriend. It was a cold night and she lived way out in the middle of no where. I was listening to the radio, signing along, when there was a noise from the engine and the car died. I coasted to a stop and began to look for lights. Cell phones were a luxury for the rich back then so calling someone was out. I got out and walked down the road until I came to a house. I went up and knocked on the door. A voice from inside asked what I wanted. When I explained what happened, they said, “We don’t open the door for anyone!”

I went down the road looking for another house. I was freezing cold and starting to jog to get my blood moving. I saw another house. It has the blinking, purple light flashing from a TV in the windows. I knocked and the TV turned off. I told them I knew they were awake and I just needed to make a call. No answer. Down the road I went to the next house. When I knocked, the door immediately opened. They were having a party. I asked for a phone, they let me use it and then drove me back to my car. I’m not sure how many doors I was going to have to knock on that night, but if was going to until I found someone available to help.

Our guest preacher yesterday mentioned in his sermon how God is looking for us to be available to Him. We say we want God to use us, but when He asks, we’re too busy. We have so many things going on in our lives that we’ve failed to be available to God when He wants to use us. He comes and knocks on our door, but it’s too late in the day or we just pretend not to hear it. We want to be used by God, but only when it’s convenient for us. We don’t want it to be in public, at a restaurant, in front of other people or when we’re in the middle of something else. We want to be used only when it’s at our convenience.

Sadly, He passes us by continuing to knock on the doors of hearts until someone is available to help. We wonder why He doesn’t use us very often. We think we are the model Christians, yet every time He knocks, we disregard it because it isn’t convenient. God wants our availability. Either we’re willing to be used by Him whenever He wants or we’re just not really available. What if Moses had been too busy doing his daily tasks to notice the burning bush? What if David had said he was too busy to go to the house to see Samuel? What if Peter was too busy to go to the upper room? You probably wouldn’t know their names. Instead you’d know the names of people who would’ve been available.

How’s your availability to God? Have you told Him you want to be used by Him, but haven’t made yourself available on His schedule? The good news is that you can change that in an instant. You simply have to let Him know that you’re ready when He’s ready, that His plans are more important than your plans and that when He asks, you’ll say, “Yes!” If you aren’t available when He knocks, He will move on to someone who will say yes. There is nothing here more important than what God wants you to do. It may not be convenient or easy to do, but it is the most important thing on your to-do list today. Will you be available when He knocks?

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Free From Ineffective Prayers

It’s Free Friday! What are you going to let go of today so that you are free? What’s holding you back from being who God called you to be? Every Friday is an opportunity to get yourself free. This week’s Free Friday giveaway is “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson. It’s a powerful book that will change your prayer life. Keep reading to find out how to win it.

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When our team was leaving Haiti, we pulled up to the airport in Port au Prince. As everyone jumped out of the truck and grabbed our suitcases, we drew a crowd of vendors. There was one last painting that I wanted. As I looked through the crowd of vendors who were walking between us shoving their wares in our faces, I saw the painting I wanted. I asked him how much it was. As we began to negotiate, a lady came and put her paintings between my face and him. She offered two painting for the price of his one. They just weren’t the style I was looking for.

As I made my way toward the airport door, still negotiating with him, she became more desperate. “Please, sir. I need the money. Buy my paintings.” I wasn’t interested and ignored her. As I got closer to the door, he and I got closer to a deal. When I pulled out my money, something in her snapped. She began to beg and plead for me to buy hers. She tried to block my transaction and made me look at her. She became very effective in getting my attention and making her request known. That’s how we need to be when we pray and ask God for things.

James 5:16 says, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Other translations say it produces “wonderful results”, “makes tremendous power available” and “is something to be reckoned with.” That’s the kind of power in prayer that moves God. We don’t see Hod move or answer many prayers because we haven’t learned to be fervent or effective in our prayers. They lack passion and desperation. They’re a list of wants and wishes rather than life or death needs. If we want to have more powerful prayers, we need to free ourselves of ineffective prayers. If we want to get into the Throne Room, we’re going to have to have some passion and determination in our prayers.

God is moved when there is nothing we can do to effect the situation and we realize He’s our only hope. Our prayers change in that moment. Our prayers move from ineffective to powerful when we get so desperate for God to work in a situation that we cry out to Him alone as the One who can resolve it. In “The Circle Maker”, Honi was so desperate for rain that he went to a public place, drew a circle on the ground and cried out to God. He refused to leave the circle until God answered his prayer. If you want to be free of ineffective prayers, quit cutting prayer time short for your favorite song, TV show or sporting event. Draw a circle, get in it and refuse to move until God does.

God appreciates passion in prayer. God loves it when we refuse to give up in prayer and won’t let go of the hem of His garment until we receive. Be like Jacob and wrestle with God. Hold Him and refuse to let go in prayer until He touches you and your situation. Don’t just toss up prayers to the ceiling and hope one sticks. Cry out to Him. Weep before Him. Be desperate in His presence. Those are the effectual, fervent prayers that produce powerful results. You have the choice today to be free of ineffective prayers by changing how you pray. The ability to move God is in your hands and on your knees. Are you willing to do it?

To enter the drawing for “The Circle Maker”, go to my Facebook page here and “like” one of today’s posts. If you haven’t liked the page, I encourage you to do that as well. Everyone who “likes” one of the posts dated November 22, 2013 by tonight (November 22, 2013) at midnight will be entered to win. I will announce the winner tomorrow on the Facebook page.

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Helping Those In Pain

I’m approached often by people who have friends or family who have been cheated on by their spouse. They want to know what they can do to help them, how they can reach out to them and what they need most. There’s not a simple answer. Everyone reacts differently to the situation, but the pain and emotions are very similar I’ve found. I don’t think I can adequately give you everything you need in a few hundred words, but I’ll tell you what I needed most during that time in my life.

The first thing to understand is that they’re in pain from the betrayal. If they have kids, they will try to be strong for them. I imagine they will find a place to weep once the kids are asleep. They need some kind of outlet for that kind of pain. Without an outlet, pain turns to rage and a bad situation can easily be made worse. Everyone has a different outlet. I had to do things to keep my mind occupied. I painted my house over and over. I cleaned the grout around every tile with a toothbrush. I needed someone to listen who could understand my pain instead of just saying, “I’m sorry” or “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” or “I never liked them anyway.” They were empty phrases from people who didn’t know what I was experiencing. For this, they need someone to listen without judging.

The next thing you should know is that it is unbelievably embarrassing for them. The hardest thing to do is face family and friends and admit your spouse cheated on you. I didn’t want anyone to know about it in case she came home. I didn’t want her to think she couldn’t come back because everyone knew. I didn’t want others to know because it made me look like a failure as a spouse. I thought that If I had been able to be the spouse they needed, they wouldn’t have cheated on me. I was the first person in the history of my family to go through a divorce and that made it worse. Not only did I feel like a second rate Christian, now I’m the guy in the family who couldn’t keep a wife. For this, they need acceptance without a bunch of questions.

The last thing I’ll mention in this post is that through all the pain and embarrassment, there is still a desire for their spouse to get their head on straight and come home. For months, every time I turned on the road to my house, I would look in the driveway and pray her car would be there. Even after all the pain and embarrassment, I thought that if she would just come home, it would be like nothing ever happened and I could get away from the pain. I thought everything would be better if she came to her senses and returned. Without her, it was like trying to walk without one leg. I had grown used to having two legs and if she returned, I could walk again. It may not make sense to you if you haven’t been in those shoes. For this, they need understanding without ridicule.

Above all else, they need prayer. They need someone to hold them up because they don’t have the strength to help themselves in their time of need. They need friends instead of judges. They need support instead of questions. They don’t always want to talk about it so don’t press them on it. When they’re ready, they’ll talk to you about it. Be a listening ear without attacking their spouse. Don’t say phrases like, “I never liked them.” That’s counter productive to someone who, at that moment, thinks that their world will be made right if their spouse returns. Offer to get a babysitter and take them out to eat. Get them out of the environment every now and then that is so rich with memories that remind them of the pain. Be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for.

These are a few of the things I needed in my separation. It’s not a complete list and reflects only what I went through and needed. If you’ve been through something similar, write a comment about what you needed so others who have friends or family will know how to be a better help.

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