He Didn’t Have to Stay . . .

IMG_4919When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant and he knew he had nothing to do with it he must have paused and thought a long time about his future.

It would appear that Joseph was no ordinary man.  From the text, it is easy to see that Joseph was a man of compassion, integrity, decency and love.  He was a man who honored God’s will in his life, and was totally committed to doing God’s will.  Joseph was a humble man who was more concerned about what God wanted out of his life than about what he himself wanted.  He was a humble man chosen for a heavenly mission.

The fact is, that Joseph could have checked out of the whole thing. He could have walked away and no one would have judged him for it. It was a major issue and there was no practical explanation for why or how Mary was pregnant. Maybe it was the angel’s visit or maybe it was his deep love for Mary that made him stay.  What life lessons can we learn from Joseph and his actions? While not facing the same thing he did, there are situations that can test us at our core. They test our resolve to stand or collapse; to stay or run; to believe or doubt. Here are three ideas about Joseph and his side of the story that may be helpful to you and I as we journey through our own story.

  1. A Tragedy that Marred His Life: Shocking discoveries and shattered dreams 

“ 18The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) 19Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.” Matthew 1:18-19

Joseph and Mary had their lives planned and then this happened. What a true portrait of the harsh reality of life! We do our best to make our plans and get things all lined up like they thing they ought to be, then something happens and we see our hopes, our plans and our dreams come crashing down! When these things happen, it breaks our hearts because it isn’t what we wanted or what we expected and it looks to us as though it could be the worst thing possible. There will be things that happen in our lives that make us think our life is over. Sometimes it may be our fault and sometimes it is something completely out of our control.  What does the bible say we should do?

  8We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. 9We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. 10Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 15All of these things are for your benefit. And as God’s grace brings more and more people to Christ, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. 

    16That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! 18So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever. 2 Cor. 4-18

   2. The Task that Marked His LifeDivine revelations and definite requirements 

20While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. 21She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus–“God saves’–because he will save his people from their sins.” 22This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term: 23Watch for this–a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;  They will name him Emmanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).” Matthew 1:20-23

“While he was trying to figure a way out . . . ”  In the middle of this great tragedy in the life of Joseph, God placed a call upon him.  God assigned Joseph a task that many would have balked at; but it was a task that Joseph embraced and completed by faith.  A great tragedy may have marred his life, but this task marked his life.

Often the way we look at life is like watching a parade go by while standing between two tall buildings. All you are able to see of the parade is that portion that is passing directly in front of you at any given moment. You have a memory of what has already passed, but you have no idea about what is yet to come. You have to wait until it gets to you. But, if you were to climb on top of one of those tall buildings, you would be able to see the parade in its entirety. You could see the beginning, the middle and the end all at the same time. There would be no surprises!

That’s the way we see life, isn’t it? All we can really see is the part that happens to be passing before our eyes at the present time. We have a blurred memory of that which has gone before, but we have no idea about what is coming our way. Our God, however, sits above it all. To Him, there are no surprises! He knows the end from the beginning, because He had planned it all the way through.

The best thing we can ever learn to do is to simply trust Him to bring the best into our lives day by day. Even when our dreams are shattered and our hopes are dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks of reality, we need to trust the truth that our Father is still in control and He will take care of His children! Despite what you and I may think at times, God does know what is best for us!

    3.  The Testimony that Measured His Life: Unconditional compliance and unwavering commitment

  “  24Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. 25But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.” Matthew 1:24-25

You know Joseph could have said no. I believe that every human has been given the IMG_4955ability to choose the direction of their lives. God will never force you to do anything. Joseph could have said no to this role. He could have turned it down and disappeared from the pages of history forever, but he said yes. He did exactly what God asked him to do.

The real test of maturity is not what a person faces in life, nor is it revealed in what they are called on to do.  The real evidence of the depth of a person’s character is seen in what they do with what they are handed.  It is one thing to be placed in a trial; but it is another thing altogether to respond to that trial in a proper manner.  It is one thing to be called to carry out a task for God; but it is another thing altogether to do it without question.

Let God take your tragedy and show you the task you are being asked to do and you will find it turning into a testimony of God’s grace and purpose in your life.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the great Scottish author who wrote Treasure Island, was accustomed to bedridden illnesses. Although frequently ill, he remained eternally optimistic. One day his wife approached him after a terrible coughing spell and remarked, “I expect you still believe it’s a wonderful day.” Stevenson confidently replied, “I do. I will never permit a row of medicine bottles to block my horizon.” We can focus on the medicine bottles (or debts, disappointments, conflicts, etc.,) or we can keep our sights set on the horizon of God’s hope.

No matter what is going on around you in your life this December, I pray that the peace of God will fill your heart and mind and that you and I can learn to rest in Him knowing that no matter how life looks to others around us God always has a plan. He even takes brokenness and turns it into beauty that will honor and bring glory to Himself. I have taken an little longer this year to ponder nativity scenes when I see them and I especially have focused on the man on the left of the manger who stands there as a testimony to God’s grace to see us through whatever challenges come our way.

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52 Things I learned from Pastoring

My first church was in French Lick Indiana and my last was in Newark, Ohio. I have memories of some very wonderful people both from the church and the communities I was allowed to pastor. This is not an exhaustive list and it won’t be of interest to everyone. I wrote it for myself and maybe a pastor or two will resonate with a few of these things. These days are very different in my life but I am the same person with the same desires and thoughts about life. I have found His grace to be incomprehensible and rely on Him everyday.

  1. Your best moments in ministry probably will come outside the walls of the
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    French Lick, Indiana

    church building.

  2. The average church member has no idea that the church exists for mission and not Sunday mornings.
  3. Without continual reminders the average church member most likely won’t be welcoming to strangers.
  4. When it comes to preaching . . . less is more.
  5. Prayer meetings don’t generally draw as much interest as a carry in dinner.
  6. Big crowds may be fun but they are not necessary
  7. Bigger is not better.
  8. Self-absorbed worship leaders hurt more than help
  9. Surrendered worship leaders are priceless
  10. Youth pastors need to be more mature than the teens
  11. Church people should find and talk to someone they don’t know the first five minutes after the last amen. Then they can talk to their friends.
  12. Church is the best place for mentoring but it rarely happens. (musicians, teachers, etc.)
  13. As flawed as it sometimes is people really need to be part of a church family
  14. A lot of growth that happens in large churches is people coming from other
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    Mt. Pleasant Mills, Pennsylvania

    churches.

  15. A church staff can make or break you.
  16. Having the “right team on the bus” is critical.
  17. People will wear you down if you are not careful.
  18. Nobody thinks you are great because you don’t take days off. I should have taken every vacation day and every day off I had coming.
  19. The most effective leaders in the church are not necessarily on the church board.
  20. Sometimes very physically sick people will encourage you more than you encourage them..
  21. You learn a lot about people at wedding rehearsals.
  22. The older you get the more funerals impact your own emotions.
  23. There are some good people in churches that will really love you no matter what.
  24. Not everyone that shakes your hand and says good sermon really listened to it.
  25. Making disciples is the hardest job in the world.
  26. Observing a true Sabbath other than Sunday should not be optional for pastors.
  27. The “worship team” should use other people not just the same people over and over.
  28. Leading a small group of truly devoted followers of Christ is way more effective than having lots of “fans” sitting there week after week.
  29. Your first church will probably minister way more to you while you are there then you will to them. It might not feel like it but it is here that you will learn some great things.
  30. Start everything on time if possible.
  31. Lay people have often worked all day at their day jobs so be sensitive to that when you have evening activities that you are getting paid to attend.
  32. Love everyone the same.
  33. Always find ways to connect to the marginalized people that often get overlooked.
  34. Love older people and listen to their stories.
  35. Talk to kids and sometimes you need to get down on your knees and look them in the eye.
  36. The goal is to find ways to let everyone serve and have a ministry.
  37. Tell stories when you preach. Jesus told stories and people find the meaning of your message in the stories you tell.
  38. Care deeply about people outside the walls of your church.
  39. Care about the poor.
  40. Attendance doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does.
  41. Jesus already gave you a mission statement. You don’t need to meet about it. Just make disciples, baptize them and teach them to obey what He commanded.

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    Newark, Ohio

  42. Pray often.
  43. Call your people to pray.
  44. You can’t out give God so give as much as you can.
  45. Find a spiritual mentor that you can be honest with.
  46. Read, read, read and read. Leaders are readers.
  47. Don’t believe everything people say about you especially if it is all good.
  48. Trust in your staff or volunteers is critical.
  49. Love God with all your soul, mind, heart, and strength.
  50. Love your neighbors as yourself.
  51. Love people who fall and fail and do everything you can to stay close to them. They need you to love them back to God.
  52. In the end people will remember what you did and very little of what you said.

Three Birthdays in Three Days. . .

8I have a daughter, a son and a daughter in law that have their birthdays in three consecutive days every November. They are amazing adults and individually unique. Every day they make a difference in the lives of people around them.

Nearly everyday I thank God for who they are and what they have done with their lives in such a short time. From working and living outside of this Country in places like Croatia and Afghanistan early on, to choosing their places of worship based on racial diversity and locations purposefully chosen to cultivate relationships and opportunities in not so popular neighborhoods. I watch you live out your lives and give back daily and I am touched deeply by your love for others and in particular the marginalized of our society and your consistent commitment to truly changing the world around you and the lives of  people that you intentionally interact with and do life with.

This post will not say everything that could be said but briefly let me wish you a very happy birthday.

IMG_4559 2Emily, you care more about people and the kids you serve daily then almost anyone I know. You love and then love some more. You don’t see failures or mistakes but you see opportunities and people that need to be given the change to overcome generational poverty and poor life choices that have challenged families and in some cases destroyed lives. Yet you love on and push people around you to find a better way. You work hard everyday. You give and care and on top of all that you are really really good at what you do. It is so fun to watch your peers and leaders see you for what and who you are and affirm your gifts and strengths. Most of all I am thankful that you love God and that your care for others is rooted in a deep faith in our Lord. You take His words seriously and live them out every day.

Levi 7Levi, you are an amazing man. I long for a time when we live closer to each other because you are the kind of man I want to hang out with and do things with. You are kind and thoughtful of those around you. That is a gift that others have recognized and even in college in those first few months of being in a new city where you knew nobody I was amazed as you developed relationships in the most random places outside of your comfort zone. Quietly and unintentionally you work your way into the hearts of the people around you wherever you are. You also care deeply about our Lord’s teaching to love God and your neighbors as yourself. You did this around the world as you worked and served in so many different countries.  You are smart, a deep thinker, kind hearted and have grown to be a man that I am so thankful for. I miss you terribly but I think I am your biggest fan even from a distance.

Kaley, you love my son and for that I am thankful everyday. You are a great fit with theseThe two 2 other two that you share this birthday week with because you also love others and demonstrate Christ’s love on a daily basis. I know your parents are proud of you as you have served others in Memphis and around the world.  I watched you adjust to teaching in a Christian school setting when your heart was really yearning to be in more of an inner city school but you took on that opportunity and not only taught but led those around you to grow as human beings and to care for others. Now I look at the pictures and videos you post from your school and I can feel the love you have for the people around you. You are loving, kind, compassionate and have an incredible work ethic. I pray for you daily along with all the kids that are a part of my life these days.  I am thankful for your example and the way you are leaving a trail for others to follow. You are part our family and I love that.

Three “kids;” three birthdays in three days.  Thanks for being wonderful and awesome adults. Thanks for loving, living and leading like Jesus. I am challenged by your lives to always strive to be a better man and a better Christian. Happy Birthday!

Stan Toler . . . Thank you

You can always tell the influence of someone by the level of grief experienced by those left behind when they die. I heard a story of a young man by the name of Harold that lost his job at Wal-Mart. Someone called on the phone and asked to speak with Harold and they were informed that, Harold didn’t “work there no more.” They were surprised and so they asked who filled Harold’s vacancy and the response was very quick, “Harold didn’t leave no vacancy.” (Incorrect English included.)  Stan Toler has passed on from this life and he will leave a vacancy.

I awoke this morning to read that Stan Toler passed away in the night. I am quietly dealing with my own personal grief and reading of the hundreds of others that are sharing their pictures and memories on social media.

Who was Stan Toler? Why am I silently grieving so deeply inside on this day? Stan was a pastor and church leader. He was a preacher, author, thinker, motivator, encourager, and friend. He was a soldier for Christ. He was an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. He was someone I’ve known since I first started having memories. No matter where I was in ministry he was aware of it and cared about it. It didn’t matter how obscure the place or how small the title, he was interested and encouraging. Why am I grieving? It’s not like we talked everyday or even every week. In fact, it’s been several years since I’ve had a chance to talk with him other than by text or message. My last message from Stan begins with a “Thanks Bro” and ends with a “Love ya.”

A few years ago Stan asked me to travel with him to Kenya and be one of his speakers at a Pastor’s Conference. It was the trip of a lifetime for me and I will never forget it. I still go back often and look at the pictures and relive the moments, the relationships, the humor and the passion of that trip. I will always be grateful for that opportunity.

STAN 2Those of us that knew him all have stories and memories but allow me to share one from the Kenya trip. While on the three-day safari that was part of the week I interacted with a  village chief who admired my Timex watch. I don’t know why but I asked him if he wanted it and he did so I gave it to him. No great act of charity but it felt right to give it to him.KENYA

Later at dinner I told Stan that I had given the guy my watch and we had a brief conversation about it. It was no big deal. A couple of days later as we prepared for ministry at the University Stan walked by me and took his watch off and handed it to me. He wanted me to have it. Believe me, it wasn’t a Timex. I still have it and still wear it with fond memories.  STAN 1Many years ago while at a conference I made the mistake of admiring Stan’s tie and at the close of the day he took it off and handed it to me.  It’s not that I was special. There are stories like this that could be told by many other people.

 

 

 

When it comes down to it, all most of us want is to be loved. We long to know that someone genuinely cares about us and it is even more impressive when they have nothing to gain by loving us or maintaining a relationship with us. I regret not jumping at the chance to write a book together when he asked me years ago but maybe I will get a book done one of these days and I will remember Stan in the credits. Thanks for your support and love Stan. Thanks for caring about so many around the world in a way that made us all feel like we were your best friend. I am left today longing to be a better man because of remembering you.

Which world do you belong to . . . ?

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Philippians 1:27 NLT IMG_4349.jpg

Recently I engaged in a conversation with a younger person that listens to and watches what could be labeled as vulgar and unholy  entertainment. They floored me with their response to my questioning if Jesus would be pleased.  “Jesus has no problem with it.” What they were saying and believing is that the things we hear, read, watch and fill our minds with really have no bearing on our relationship with Jesus Christ. I could not possibly disagree more. This conversation is a small picture of a much larger issue.

There is no doubt in my mind that in most Christian’s lives and even families there is little fight left when it comes to “not being a part of this world.”  We have embraced this world mostly through the entertainment industry and brought pure filth into our homes. We don’t even flinch anymore or grieve the impurity, the sinfulness, or the things that are absolutely without question completely the opposite of what God calls us to be and do. If the world puts it out for us to see and be entertained by there is little discrimination left as to if this is pleasing to God.

Paul urged the church at Philippi to fill their minds with godly things and not the opposite:

Christian brothers, keep your minds thinking about whatever is true, whatever is respected, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever can be loved, and whatever is well thought of. If there is anything good and worth giving thanks for, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 NLT

One of the hardest challenges Christians face is the continual battle to stay in the right world with our heads and hearts. Too often we cross over and begin to think that the world around us is the “real world.” We assimilate our thinking to match what we hear at work, or school or in the marketplace. We compromise our values to fit in because, we reason, that’s the only way we will get ahead or not be made fun of.  God forbid that we might be considered weird or odd.  We laugh at the same jokes. We too easliy submit our minds, eyes, ears and hearts to things that are clearly not godly or holy. We are so deep into this world and this world is so deep inside of us that much like the proverbial frog in the kettle, we have no idea the heat is being turned up ever so slowly until it is too late. Our hearts and minds our filled with soul-destroying cancer from exposure to the ungodliness around us.

It is heartbreaking. It is shocking. It is a great mystery to me. It is hard to witness the death of authentic Christianity and true Christ following. It is hard to acknowledge the weakness of my own life.

The scripture is filled with the call to be holy, to avoid this world and its values and principles for living. This call is everywhere throughout the New Testament. Jesus spoke about it. The apostles wrote about it extensively and yet here we are. There is very little in our lives that distinguish us from the visible world we live in. If I understand this call to not be part of this world, I think we all must pause and evaluate our citizenship.

Which world do you belong to? Are you a part of this world which is truly the kingdom of darkness or a citizen of God’s Kingdom?

I am calling myself to this challenge. I am self-evaluating and trying to put my personal life up against the Word of God in word, thought and deed. What would we do or not do if Jesus were sitting beside us? What would you say? How would I act?

Here are some admonitions right from scripture that I have been praying through and trying to fully embrace. It is God’s word so take a deep breath and read through these word for word.

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father’s love is not in him. 16 For everything that is in the world does not come from the Father. The desires of our flesh and the things our eyes see and want and the pride of this life come from the world. 17 The world and all its desires will pass away. But the man who obeys God and does what He wants done will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17 NLT 

19 We know that we belong to God, but the whole world is under the power of the devil. 20 We know God’s Son has come. He has given us the understanding to know Him Who is the true God 1 John 5:19-20 NLT

19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world. I have chosen you out of the world and the world hates you. John 15:19 NLT

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. Titus 2:11-13 NLT 

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.[b] You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Colossians 3:5-8 NLT

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 NLT

Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life;  Philippians 2:15b – 16a NLT

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Ephesians 5:1-5 NLT

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:19-23 NLT

15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do.17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. John 15:15-19 NLT

IF you have made it this far in this blog please know that I am joining my prayer with yours and that I am working hard to immerse myself into the word of God and to make sure that I am a part of His Kingdom. I’m not judging you but trying to share what I beleive is nearly lost truth. Fight the good fight and be strong. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

I have a three year old in my life several days a week. She and I have been singing traditional Christian children’s songs from the past. I am amzaed that two years later she has most of the words memorized. Today I watched her singing as I drove across town. She was oblivious to me as she sang, “My God is so big, So strong and so mighty. There’s nothing my God cannot do.” She then sang, “The wise man built his house upon the rock.” I pray that somehow she will find a way to never lose these words and fight off the stench and pull of this world. It’s a fight to stay unspotted from the world around us.  Search my heart O God.

Worms, Wretch’s and Dogs . . .

Maybe it’s just cold, cloudy and rainy days that produce a soul-deep mixture of sorrow, repentance, forgiveness and grace but when it happens it gives me pause.  I slow down and take inventory of my life; past, present and future.  Ultimately what gives me the strength to go on with the day and to move forward with great anticipation into the future is yet another encounter with my Lord.

On days like this I feel the Psalmist words in Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!” Of course no one is despised by all or probably even a majority but scorn is a tough one and the worm analogy fits. No doubt it is what Isaac Watts had in mind when he penned the word from this classic hymn, “Alas and did my Savior bleed for such a worm as I.” John Newton didn’t shy away from the negative feelings when he wrote, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” 

I would like to suggest  that those feelings of unworthiness are easy to lose the longer you are confined within the comfortable walls of a church with no perceptible slip-ups or failures. In fact it is easy to adopt an entitlement mentality. We subconsciously reason that because of our church attendance and publicly clean record  that somehow God owes us something. Mostly like prayers answered the way we want and close parking spots at the local grocery store.

I am a worm and a wretch but by the grace, compassion, love and mercy of God I get to still partake in His fellowship day by day.

She was a Gentile woman living north of Galilee and she came to Jesus to plead with Him to heal her daughter. The disciples were pretty full of themselves and were not above discriminating against Gentiles and Samaritans and anyone else that didn’t fit their religious bias and understanding. On this day Jesus decided to teach them a lesson in love. He was hard on the woman for a few minutes because He was reflecting the feelings and attitudes of His disciples. Here is the conversation:

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

7404She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.” Matthew 15:21-28 NLT

When you find yourself outside the familiar walls of the church and estranged from those you thought you were close to both family and friends, it is easy to accept the name, worm, wretch or dog. I’m okay with it because it is outside the sacred walls that I have found Jesus to be the Friend of sinners. Not just the first timers but sinners of all kinds, shapes and severity. He loves and pursues. He listens and hears your prayers. No matter how low you may feel on a certain day. No matter how separated or rejected you may feel, God loves you.

Our little dog comes running every morning when lunches are being made and packed because he knows that usually there will be a piece of ham or a taste of cheese or even a potato chip that might fall (inadvertently of course) on the kitchen floor. They are mere crumbs. Never does he get the whole sandwich or a bag of chips but he is drawn to these morning rendezvous every day.

I can testify that I have received much more than scraps from my Master’s table. At my lowest point, filled with guilt, rejection, remorse and isolation He showed up time after time and blessed me with His love and care. I could hardly receive it but day after day He was there and He never let me go. I’ve been a “worm and a wretch” but I also have fallen on my knees and cast it all and myself on Him.

I am thankful beyond what I can convey. If I could go back in time to a Wednesday night prayer and testimony meeting I would be one of the first to stand and thank Him for leading me and feeding me and for never letting me go.

I am willing daily to follow my Master wherever He goes so that I might enjoy even a taste or “scrap” from His table.

“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 23:5 NLT

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. Psalm 81:10c NLT

I have become as a wonder to many, But You are my strong refuge. Let my mouth be filled with Your praise And with Your glory all the day. Psalm 71:7-8 NKJV 

“How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That He should give His only Son. to make a wretch a treasure.”

He Knew My Name . . .

hello-my-name-is-failureRecently I was asked to write something for a youth group at a church in another state. I loved being challenged to use my brain for ministry and so it was with great anticipation I made my way to a local coffee shop a couple Saturday mornings ago and wrote the following.

Parts of it are personal but I also tried to include non-failures from the great stories of the Bible. I am deeply thankful to have discovered in the last three years that God is forgiving. That God is loving and doesn’t hold grudges or shun or act out hatefully toward the fallen and broken.  So very thankful for His grace, mercy and compassion every day.  Jesus knows my name. He’s never forgotten it and He calls it frequently. Trying hard to hear His voice everyday. Here’s the lesson:

My name is Adam and I blew it. God made me and gave me everything in a perfect world. He gave me a wife and control over all the animals. It was amazing. It was like nothing before or since. There was only one rule. We messed up. We did the one thing we were told not to do. God was upset for sure but He came looking for us . . . yes, He punished us and then He made us clothes. Amazing love! We were so ashamed we tried to hide from God but of course that’s not very smart. He found us. He called us by name and then He clothed us.  God knew my name!

My name is Moses and I blew it. I had a pretty easy start to life. I was raised in a royal family but one day I tried to intervene in a fight and I killed a man. I ran to try to get away from it all and God let me run. But after many years on the backside of the desert He found me and called me and used me to do some pretty amazing things for Him. God set a bush on fire and He actually called my name from out of the bush! “Moses, Moses,” He said. And I said, “Here I am.”  God knew my name!

My name is Jacob and I blew it. I cheated my brother out of his birthright. I ran away and tried to hide but one night God found me and we wrestled all night long. At some point God asked my name and when I said Jacob He changed my name and called me Israel. I did wrong. I deceived my dad and my brother but God found me and rescued me from myself. He used me to do great things the rest of my life. God knew my name!

My name is Samson and I blew it. I was the strongest man on earth but because I did the opposite of what God said I lost my strength and wound up in prison and became the butt of everyone’s jokes. No longer could I defeat the enemies of God’s people.  But one day as my captors put me on display for all to walk by and mock me and my God I heard from Him one more time. I prayed this prayer that evening . . . ““Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. “  He did remember me! He heard my prayer and answered it and in one evening with one act of God’s strength I killed more of the enemy then I had ever done before. I died in the process but God knew and remembered my name!

My name is Rahab. I was a prostitute. I’m not proud of that but one night some men came to my house and they turned out to be spies that were on a mission from God. I hid them and saved their life and in return God saved me and my family! The most amazing thing is that I became an ancestor of Jesus! When Matthew wrote the first book of the New Testament he lists the lineage of Jesus and guess what? I am listed there. God knows my name! And you know what else? I am listed in Hebrews 11 as a person of great faith! God knew my name!

My name is Jonah and I messed up. I refused to do what God asked me to do and ran the other way but God found me on a ship. The storm was furious and instead of causing everyone else’s death I had them throw me into the sea. I knew God was coming for me. He arranged a fish to swallow me. I woke up in the belly of a great fish. It wasn’t pretty but an amazing thing happened. God caused the fish to spit me up on dry land so I could go and do what He wanted me to do. I couldn’t believe it. God knew my name!

My name is Samuel. I didn’t do anything wrong but my mom was so thankful to have me when I was born that she gave me to God’s work in the temple. One night I heard someone calling my name and finally I realized it was God Himself. I said, “Here I am” and God from that day on used me to serve Him and lead others to follow His ways.  I got to work with Saul the first King of Israel and David the second King. What an incredible life I was able to live because I followed His voice. God knew my name!

My name is David. I did everything from killing a lion, a bear and a giant with my slingshot. It was all God of course and then He called me to be the King of Israel. I wrote a lot of songs to sing about God and His awesomeness. I had everything going for me but I blew it. One day I did something I knew was wrong and it lead to others horrible things. Not only did I take someone’s wife but I had her husband placed in a spot in a battle knowing full well he would be killed. It was a despicable and horrible act. God found me in by using an old prophet to call me out.  I was disgraced and ashamed. But God never forgot me and I cried out to Him for forgiveness. I asked Him to create a new heart in me and to renew a right spirit in me and He did! He never forgot my name. He knew my heart and although it was broken He knew my name and made me new again.

My name is Lazarus and Jesus never forgot my name. I was one of His best friends but I died and was buried. My sisters were devastated but then Jesus showed up and He called my name . . .  somehow I heard Him and was raised back to life. He knew my name.

My name is Zacchaeus and I was a tax collector. I was a cheat and getting rich from being a cheat. I heard about this teacher and healer but the crowds were so great I couldn’t see Him and I am a little short so I ran ahead and climbed a tree just to watch the people and this guy walk by. You will never believe this but He stopped under my tree, looked up and called me by my name! And He wanted to come to my house. Unbelievable. He came, I changed. I’ve never been the same. Jesus knew my name.

My name is Mary and when I encountered Jesus I had seven demons living inside of me but He made them leave. I became a follower of Him and stayed with His mother at the cross until He died. A couple days later I went to the place where they buried Him. The tomb was open and this man started talking to me. I had no idea who it was. I thought it was the gardener but then He spoke my name and when He said, Mary, I knew it was my Savior and I fell at His feet and worshipped Him. He knew my name.

My name is Peter. I was one of the first disciples. I failed big time. It was at the trial of Jesus and we were just standing there watching and in shock, waiting for Him to call for help and overthrow the Roman soldiers. And then this girl accused me of being one of His followers. I panicked. I’m not usually afraid of anything but in that moment I was terrified and I denied that I even knew Him. Some others joined in and I really was scared so I cursed and stated again that I didn’t even know Him. About that time a rooster crowed and I remember Jesus saying I would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed. I didn’t need to do the math. Jesus knew. I left. I broke down and wept like a baby. I didn’t hang around with the disciples much for a few days. I did see the empty tomb but it didn’t matter. I failed and I was lost. I did hear that an angel of some kind told Mary to tell His disciples and Peter that He was risen. I was singled out. At first I was flattered but then I realized I was “not one of them” because of my failure. I went back to fishing for a living because it’s what I knew how to do. And then it happened. One morning a man called to us from the shore and told us to fish from the other side of the boat. It was a ridiculous suggestion but we did it and our boat nearly sank because we caught so many fish. I realized it was Jesus and I could contain myself. I jumped overboard and swam to shore. He was making us breakfast. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t believe He was there and that I was in His presence. He turned to me three times and asked me by name, “Peter do you love Me.” I was so happy to be able to say it again and again, “Lord you know I love You.” and He said the most amazing thing to me. He said, “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep” and Feed my sheep.” I had no idea what He meant but it became clear a few days later when I realized He was calling me back to ministry for Him. Of all the people on the Day of Pentecost, when we burst from the upper room where we had been praying, He chose me to preach and preach I did. With God’s words flowing through me I called the crowd to follow Jesus whom they had crucified. And you know what happened? 3000 people came to know Him and were baptized that day.  Just a few days before I was sure I had ruined my life but Jesus knew my name. He never forgot my name. He came after me and wouldn’t let me  go.

He knows your name!  He knows everything about you. He knows who you are and what you are feeling and everything you have done. He knows your disappointments and your successes. He knows how scared you are sometimes and how you do things to hide your insecurity  He knows if you have sinned and blown it and it doesn’t scare Him or make Him go the other way. He knows your name. He stands here today beside your seat and whispers to you these words, “I love you.”  Can you believe that? Can you receive that? Can you hear Him say today, “I love you not as you are supposed to be but just the way you are?”  He is calling your name.

He knows your name and has something big for you to do with your life if you will just surrender it to Him  Your failures don’t matter. Your sin is not too big. He will give you a new start and a new life and He will never forget your name.

Listen carefully and you will hear Him calling  . . . calling your name.