Trouble In Paradise

In October I was blessed to be able to travel to Greece. In the weeks leading up to the trip each time I told someone my destination their reaction was always the same, “oooh how nice!!” And my response was typically a half-smile accompanied by the word “well.”

You see I didn’t go to sit on a beach and work on my sunburn. I went to talk to people. I went to share hope in a hopeless place. I went to share about Jesus and His love.

The island I spent most of the time on was the Island of Lesvos situated just 4 miles from the coast of Turkey. Lesvos is home to an infamous refugee camp named Moria, a camp built for 2,500 people. When I went in October there were more than 13,000 people living in Moria and the surrounding hilly olive grove. As of my writing this my sources in the camp tell me that the number of individual souls, people with real stories, real names, real dreams, is now at an unfathomable 20,000.

One thing, of many, that stuck with me was the incredible contrast that I saw there on the island. If you were to look around and only see 95% of the island you would see an absolute paradise. The sea was clear and beautiful. The olives were plump and picturesque. The sky was clear, and the weather was neither too hot nor too cold. It was beautiful.

And then there was the camp.

The sights, the sounds, the smells. The fear, the pain, the hopelessness.

It serves as a picture of our world. There are great and wonderful beauties, and yet in the same world, there are great and terrible evils.

I am finding that writing this post is a lot harder than I had anticipated. The memories of my time in the camp, the people that I met, and the conversations that I had are all flooding back, and it is truly overwhelming. I will, in time, share more of those stories.

But for now, I have a simple message. Jesus loves.

Jesus loves the half-naked child that I saw playing with a rusty nail and splintered wood next to excrement.

Jesus loves the mother of 5 little ones who stands in line every day for hours upon hours in order to feed her family.

Jesus loves the father who told me his arms were sore from holding his sleeping children above his chest all night so that they didn’t get wet in their flooded tent.

Jesus loves the orphan kid who tried to steal water.

Jesus loves the two grandmothers who got in a fistfight over a piece of cardboard they intended to sleep on.

Jesus loves the 12-year-old who told me he can’t remember life before they left home.

Jesus loves the girl who put his trust in Him and was secretly baptized.

Jesus loves the wealthy person reading this on their phone, tablet, or computer.

Jesus loves the sinner saved by grace who is writing.

There is good news in the midst of all of this. God has a habit of using terrible circumstances for His glory and our good.

Pray that the Good News of the Gospel would shine bright in this darkness. And be willing to be used by God in whatever way He would choose.

Matthew 25:31-46

Thinking of Others

In order for a commercial to be successful, it needs to communicate to the audience what the product is, why the audience should need or want it, and cause the audience to remember the product so that a purchase can be made. Companies usually accomplish these goals by either appealing to our humor or by tugging on our heartstrings.

Every once in a while a commercial will grab my attention, not because of the product being peddled, but rather because of the underlying message in the ad. These messages can be intentional or completely by accident. Either way, I do appreciate when the message is positive.  A while back I wrote about McDonald’s subtle, fresh, and positive perspective on The Importance of Dads. And now, the Golden Arches have delivered once again.

Just the other day I came across a commercial for a new product that McDonald’s was introducing. It began with a kindly elderly man ordering at a drive-through. He was alone in the car and yet he ordered two coffees. After a brief pause, he then ordered way-too-many orders of the new product being introduced.

When he pulled forward to collect his order the employee said something along the lines of, “wow you must really like these things!” And the man responded with, “oh, they’re not for me…they’re for them.” And just then he looked in his rearview mirror and the camera pans to a tired looking dad with a car full of energetic and loud pre-teen girls enthusiastically singing a song.

Perhaps the funniest part is when the song lyrics play “I’m losing my mind just a little.” We, the audience, are treated to a zoomed in shot of the dad wearily mouthing the words.

But that’s not what drew me to this particular ad. I remember this commercial because of the underlying message.

It is good to think about someone other than yourself.

The kind old man bought breakfast for a family he, more than likely, had never met before. And he supplied some much-needed coffee to a weary parent. And it made me think…

How often am I putting the needs of others before my own?

How often am I kind to others while expecting nothing in return?

Luke 6:31 records Jesus’ words, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And Philippians 2:3 says that we ought to count others as more significant than ourselves. Colossians 3:12 urges believers to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Now you may be thinking, “ok slow down this is just a fast food commercial.” And yes, you’re right it is. But I also think that small and silly little things like commercials can cause us to stop and do some serious self-evaluation. Do we care about others enough to go out of our way for them or are we too self-absorbed to even notice?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. And then He says, “and the second [greatest commandment] is like the first, that you love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now, am I saying that in order to love others you need to buy them McDonalds? No, not necessarily. But what I am saying is that there is a Biblical mandate for us to love others.

We are called to show kindness, to love and care for people, and to put others before ourselves.

I am grateful that a silly commercial can remind us of those truths.

I pray that we all would be kind and love like Jesus loves each and every day….even when we are not in a drive-through line.

9 Qualities To Stuff In Your Stocking

This is a very busy time of year for most people. There are times that I feel as though my hustle can’t keep up with my bustle. But through it all, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the real importance of the season. The true “reason for the season” has always and will always be Jesus. His relentless and wonderful love for us caused Him to leave the splendor of Heaven to come and be born in a dirty feeding trough. He exchanged streets of gold for streets of dirt.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Unfortunately, we are all so susceptible to the oppression of busyness and the disease of self, and we can quickly forget (or ignore) what really truly matters most. It’s times like this where we might only focus on what we do, and we forget who we are supposed to be. But the truth is, it’s less about what you do, and more about who you are.

Who we are will dictate what we do.

So, let’s take this time and check our hearts. Let’s be sure that who we are is who God calls us to be.

Here are 9 things that we should be this (and every) season.

Loving- Romans 12:9 tells us that we ought to “let love be genuine.” Love is something that we can’t fake. We can’t hide behind a fake smile and just try to be polite. No. Our love for people needs to be real. But, as 1 John tells us, we can only truly know and show love if we first truly know and love God. God loves, and God is love. So, it is imperative that we love people, no matter who they are or what gifts they have or have not given us.

Present- There are too many distractions floating around and vying for our attention. Be present with the people you are currently with. Our family and friends deserve to have our attention. If we are physically present, but not emotional or mentally present, we are doing a poor job of loving.

Joyful- Joy is not an emotion. We can be happy and yet joyful. We can be sad and yet joyful. Joy is not dependent on your current situation, rather it is an attitude of the heart. We can be joyful in the midst of great happiness and in the midst of great pain. Joy is from God and we can share it with others. Romans 15:13

Patient- Chances are that during this season you will be forced to occupy the same room as a person or group of people that are somewhat difficult to deal with. It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and produce patience in us. Graciously show patience to others because God has already shown great patience to you.

Forgiving- We all have been hurt by people. A flippant remark. An offensive joke. Old wounds. Yep, they happen. But we can’t hold grudges. When we hold onto past hurts and pain it destroys us from the inside out. Reconciliation should always be our main goal. God has forgiven us so greatly, we need to forgive others as well.

Selfless- Life is too short to only think of yourself. Philippians 2:4 tells us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Ask yourself, how can I make someone’s day today? How can I show Jesus’ love to them right now? How can I put others before myself?

Thankful- We all, no matter what our current situation is, have something to be thankful for. First, let us give thanks to our God for the salvation that is available to us! Second, let us be thankful for the people in our lives that are there for us, who bless and encourage us. Don’t forget to thank them in person!

Welcoming- As we huddle around our friends and families we can’t forget that there are people who may not enjoy the same sort of relationships we do. We ought to be ready and willing to include them and show them the Love of God. As believers, we should be beacons of hospitality, warmth, and care. Family isn’t always built with blood.

Ready- We need to always be ready, both in this season and out of this season to share the extraordinarily Good News of Jesus and His love! This particular season gives us many opportunities to share that good-news message. Let’s not miss out, we need to be ready!

Many of the things listed flow from or build off of one another.

I hope that this list helps you to be reminded of who we are called to be. And I pray that we would not get caught up with the “stuff” of the season. Instead, I pray that we would allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and make us look more like the Savior that came all those years ago.

Back To School: 4 Reminders to Put in Your Backpack

Summer is over. School has started.

Alright, that may have been a pretty depressing start for most of you. But this post will get better I promise, so please read on.

The beginning of the school year can be a mixed bag of emotions. Excitement, fear, anticipation, frustration, hope, despair, happiness, sadness, nervousness, peace and stress just to name a few.

Because there are so many mixed feelings surrounding the “back to school” season I think it is important for us to remind ourselves of a few important truths. While these reminders might be geared towards students, teachers, and parents at the start of school, I do think that they can apply to anyone during any time of year.

1-This is a time for opportunity.

Forget about what happened last year, the good and the bad. Today is a fresh start to a new year. What will you choose to do with these new opportunities that have fallen into your lap?

This new season opens the door to the opportunity to make new friends, learn more, experience new things, and trust in God to carry you through. Don’t squander these new opportunities.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Trust in God as you face these new opportunities and make the most of them.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

2-It is going to be OK.

You don’t know how this year will turn out, and that can be scary. But God does know, and we should be encouraged by that. No matter what this school year may throw at us we can be confident that, if we trust in Him, God will carry us through.

We need to remember and practice Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

And God’s words to Joshua in the Old Testament can be just as encouraging for us today. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

If you have a bad day just remember – tomorrow is always a new day. Don’t be anxious, it is going to be OK.

3-You are going to teach.

Your actions and reactions will teach others about who you really are. We need to remember that our words, deeds, and even our thoughts are a reflection of where our hearts are at. As we live our daily lives we need to make sure that we are both talking the talk and walking the walk.

Philippians 2:14 tells us to, “do all things without grumbling or complaining.” Why? Because, if we are children of God, then we are called to something so much better.

People are going to watch us. They will learn about us, and before long they will know who we are and what we represent. So, what will we teach them?

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

4-You are going to learn.

You can be sure that someone is lying if they answer the question, “what did you learn today?” with an unenthusiastic, “nothing.” We learn something new every day. And there is no age limit on learning either. The Proverbs make it very clear that fools despise wisdom, knowledge, and learning. Those that are wise, however, love to learn and are willing to be corrected.

Proverbs 3:7 reminds us to, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

The school year is an excellent time to learn, not only that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” but also life lessons that impact our daily lives. We can learn how to better interact with and love others, who we are, and how God sees us. Ultimately, though our hope and prayer should be that we learn how to love God and love others.

“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

Class dismissed.