5 things to start the new year

As school is getting back into the full swing, I wanted to share five things to help us all look at the school year afresh. Even though I have students in mind, these things can apply to anyone, anywhere.

1) Start with God. I know it seems like a given but there’s no doubt that as time, busyness and complacency set in, starting each day with God may become a challenge. It’s important to not only be disciplined in having time with God but also to be directed. What does that mean? It means having a plan. Decide when and what you are going to read and study. Make it part of your homework routine. Use the Youversion Bible app for reading plans and then use a journal to record your thoughts and prayers. You’ll be amazed at how different your days will be!

2) Start praying for your classmates and friends. Inevitably there are people in your classes and friends on your bus…people that you work with who need your prayers. You don’t have to blatantly ask for prayer requests…just listen for needs that you overhear and pray silently about what God wants you to do. He may want you to speak up to help meet the need or He may simply want you to seek Him in prayer over a period of time. Praying for the people around you is a great way to see and be part of what God is doing.

3) Start seeing yourself as an agent of change. Regardless of where you are or how much you like being there, God can and does want to use you to bring about godly and lasting change. He can use you to demonstrate His mercy, grace, kindness, and love if you are willing to be that vessel for Him to pour it through. God isn’t limited by our inabilities but our unavailability. Will you be available to Him to bring lasting and effective change?

4) Start looking for ways you can be involved. As a servant of Jesus, you have to take a position of service. In what way can you help another? How can you serve your school or job better? How about the community? How can you give back? One of the greatest ways God uses us is by being involved in acts of service to those around us. Look for a way to be involved today.

5) Start giving your best. No matter what, you can always give your best to the situation. Remember you are not responsible for what someone else does but you are responsible for you. You can always rise above the gossip, crude jokes, meaningless banter and give the best version of yourself to others and to the Lord. Don’t withhold the good that is in you for fear of standing out. Be all that you can and were created to be and that will bring God glory. Use your brain, your gifts, your talents and your time wisely and give all you have to achieve the greatest good you can. Don’t compare your best with someone else. You’re not in a competition. You only have to answer for you and you and God know what your best is. So start giving your best to everything you do and you will most certainly bring the change God desires and the glory God deserves.

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4 Ways God Connects With Us

connect with God

What would it be like if you knew a celebrity had called your phone but you missed it? Would you be sick to your stomach? Would you try to call back as soon as you realized you missed the call? I would dare to say that many of us would really hate to miss a call from someone of such stature. Yet, when we hear that God wants to connect with us, it seldom if at all excites our hearts. The crazy thing about a celebrity is that they may or may not try to connect with you ever again but God consistently seeks to convey His love and care about you. In fact He has given us 4 very clear ways that He is using to connect.

1) God connects with us through Creation.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1

Psalm 19:1 makes it clear that even for the non-believer God is speaking a language everyone can understand. From the blue sky cradling the clouds to the night stars pinpointing God’s glory, all of creation is shouting there is a God seeking to connect with us. All that we see in the world around us is pointing us to a Creator; that’s the job of creation. This Creator wants to connect.

2) God connects with us through His Word.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
    and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
    and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
    for I delight in it. Psalm 119:33-35

No book in the history of mankind has the credentials of the Bible. With more than 6 billion copies printed, in close to 2000 languages worldwide, the Bible has been ridiculed and ostracized yet endured. God has made sure that His Word remained so that we would know Him and see how He is seeking to connect with us. God’s word conveys His thoughts, His commands, His will, His pleasure and His purpose. When we read God’s Word, God connects with us and teaches us about Himself.

3) God connects with us through Prayer.

‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:3

Prayer is not unique to our religion. People from all walks of life express prayers in some fashion whether it is called “self-talk” or meditation.  The difference for the Christian is that we have a God who actually connects with us through prayer answering very specifically to requests and desires. God invites us to call out to Him and to know His ways. Through prayer not only do we connect with God but He connects powerfully with us!

4) God connects with us through Christ.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:1-2

Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate attempt at connecting with us. Hebrews 1:1-2 directs our thoughts to God’s intention from the beginning. God uses various things to show us and connect but His grandest connection is made through the person of Jesus Christ. For the pre-believer to the old Saint, there is no other name under heaven whereby we can connect with God. Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, or any other religious leader cannot make the connection to God for us aside from the Lord Jesus Christ. God is using  Creation, The Bible, and Prayer to connect  with us but none of it matters apart from Jesus Christ.

God may not have “celebrity” status but He is truly the only famous one; and He is seeking to connect with you.

Observations Of A Prodigal #6

Prodigal

 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Luke 15:22-24

Father Says.

The father said to the servants. I like this because he doesn’t tell the son to go get cleaned up. Immediately, the father restores the son and treats him like a son. Isn’t that wonderful? Sometimes, we feel like we’ve got to go through some restoration process with God but that’s not the case, He always welcomes us home as sons and treats us like one immediately.

Hurry up! There’s no more time to waste. Enough time’s been wasted already! Get the clothes, ring, sandals, and food, quick!! Chop, chop! I love the thought that this father is in such a hurry to receive his son back. He wants the son to be aware of the extreme amount of love he has and the excitement that he has for his return. The father does some very important and symbolic things for his son.

“Heir-aspotle”.

First he says bring the clothes. Get those rags off my boy! He’s going to wear the finest. It’s time to go from rags to riches. He wanted to immediately restore the boy’s image. The boy had been low in self-esteem and this was a way to immediately impact him: make him look different. I don’t care what anyone says, I always feel better when I’m dressed nicer. Clothing has a lot to do with image and how we feel about ourselves. The father knew this and had the servants bring the very best. Isn’t it awesome to know we’ve been clothed in the righteousness of Christ?

Lord Of The Ring.

Secondly, the father puts a ring on his finger. This was to signify his identity with the family. It was probably like a signet ring. He was back home where he belonged. He was still part of the family; a son, nonetheless! A ring symbolizes we belong to someone and typically, such items are passed down from generation to generation. This ring was given to remind the son to whom he belonged. It was given to show such a restoration that the father wanted it passed along. The ring would be a reminder of the love and acceptance, the empowerment that comes from being a son.

All-Stars.

Thirdly, the father puts sandals on his feet. This was to represent the father’s answer to the son’s desire to be a servant and not a son. Slaves during this time did not wear shoes. The father would have none of that! This was his son and yes, sons serve but he would not be treated as a mere servant or slave. How could he be treated that way when he’s a son? The father did not want the boy to lose sight of the complete unconditional love the father had for him. The boy probably sold his shoes trying to get food. Now he would have a new pair and dine in royalty.

What Beef?

Fourthly, the fatted calf was killed. This meal would be a great celebration. Only the best food, the best meat would be served; and plenty for all. The father wanted everyone to know, to join in the celebration because something of incredible significance had happened: his child had come home! Isn’t it simply amazing to think that God would make any big deal out of you or me and yet the fact remains: He does!

EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED IS ON THE (2)

Are you ever in a hurry for anything? Do those things matter? Is there something that you should be in a greater hurry for than what you are?

Is there someone in your life that needs to be restored? What can you do to assist the healing process?

How does the way you dress communicate the way you feel? Have you ever tried a completely new style, trying to find a new you? Did it work? Have you ever been given something that was “just not you”? How about something that was you “perfectly”?

Do you have some old rags you can get rid of? Go through your closet and get rid of some things. Go out and get a new outfit. Splurge a little?

Have you ever been given an heirloom? What was it? What kind of value does it have to you and why?

What piece of jewelry means the most to you? Why?

Have you ever given a piece of jewelry to someone significant? What was it and why?

How important are your shoes? What do they communicate about you? How important are they in our society? What do they communicate in our world?

What’s your favorite meal? What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a meal? Was it worth it?

Why not take someone to dinner and just let them know how much they mean to you. Communicate God’s love through a meal together.

Devotionals For Leaders: Where? What?

Devotionals For Leaders (2)

It was by faith Abraham obeyed God’s call to go to another place God promised to give him. He left his own country, not knowing where he was to go. Hebrews 11:8

Obedience Is The Key.

Where do I need to be and what do I need to do? I have struggled with those questions often throughout my time on earth. You may have too. They are very important questions. However, I’m finding this to be true over and over again; God is more concerned about my obedience than my location.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God has specific places for specific people. This does not negate the fact that God carries those people there. He sends those people there. He somehow manages to get those people there as would be the case for Jonah and the great fish.

Who I Am? vs. Where I Am?

The issue with God is not can He use me where I am or where He’s taking me. The issue is who I become along the way and through the situations. God’s greatest ambition is conformity to that of His Son. There is none who was or is more obedient than Jesus. Obedience is a benchmark of Jesus, even obedience unto death on a cross (Philippians 2).

God seems to have a greater concern about developing me into a certain person than taking me to a certain place. How does He do this? No other way than through the revelation of Himself. So often, I want God to reveal His plan instead of Himself. I want to know the in’s and out’s, the details, the lowdown but God does not cave into my desires. He instead fulfills me with Himself. For me to become all that God wants, I have to stop looking ahead and start looking up.

Which Way Do I Go?

Abraham went out not knowing where He was going but He knew Who he was going with. He was going with God. I wonder how many times I have gone without God…knowing where I was going but oblivious that God was not with me? The knowing of the Christian walk is not to a place but with a Person, the person of Jesus Christ. As we walk with Him we become. We move forward at times but we move inward all the time. Obedience is an inward job and the only way to accomplish it is to obey.

Maybe God is not sending me anywhere except to Himself? Maybe that’s the ultimate destination?

The Inspired Mission: The Story Of Us

inspired mission

Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:21-22

At the moment we obtain a glimmer of hope we have inspiration. This inspiration leads to a renewed since of mission. All-of-a-sudden hope that was lost is regained. This is how mission works: someone is inspired and they transfer their hope to another.

Hope is not wishful thinking but the belief and assurance of a promised reality. When one is truly inspired they are fueled by a passion greater than any possible pain they may encounter in seeing the mission completed. They are able to see the possibilities and are willing to make any sacrifice for those possibilities to be realities. That’s hope. That’s inspiration.

In 2 Peter 1:21-22 the Bible tells us that scripture was inspired by God but written by man. These holy men of God were “carried along by the Holy Spirit”. This reveals how God has chosen to work: He inspires and we are moved to action. God’s Spirit carries us along in our mission. God’s Spirit gives, leads, enables, and seals the hope of every missionary. The mission is accomplished in us and through us when we embrace inspirational hope. The mission only becomes the mission when we are willing to embrace the potential pain and suffering to realize it.

David Crowder has a song called a Beautiful Collision, which seems to describe the moment when inspiration hits reality. Isaiah overheard God one day Who was basically asking: “who will tell the story of us”? Isaiah answered and gave himself to the mission. How about you? Have you overheard God talking about anything lately? That’s the story of us. People carry the mission along by conversations with others, by inspirations of God, which lead to pure motivations of love, sacrifice and service.

The story of all of us is really the story of God in us, inspiring us all to good works. God’s mission is fulfilled when His people move on the inspiration He has given and trust Him with the results.

Observations Of A Prodigal #4

Prodigal

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ Luke 15:17-19

Centless And Senseless.

When he came to his senses. Why is it that sometimes it takes losing a whole lot of dollars to bring us to our senses? And not just dollars but opportunities, relationships, and friendships? It’s not surprising that the boy came to his senses, I mean they should have all been working well: the sounds of pigs squealing, the smell of manure, the feel of mud in-between his toes, the sight of a pig pen, the taste of humble pie. Sometimes the only way God gets our attention is when we begin to pay attention to our surroundings. It’s been said often, either change your environment or your environment will change you.  We must muster the courage to really look and admit that we are not where we want to be, need to be or were created to be!

This boy was the heir of a wealthy man. He was not made for this. And neither are we! We are heirs to the King of Kings, yet often we live like pigs. We live for so much less than what we were created for. It’s time to quit the nonsense! Maybe that’s it, you have no sense: no sense of direction, purpose, meaning in life. Maybe the joy, the pleasure of the Father’s house is a distant memory. What has to change?

At Last Will.

Well, his will was where he started. He asked for the father’s last will and testament but now it was his. He had to “die”. He had to lay aside all the earthliness and become one with the earth: a servant. He was willing to identify with the meekest, humblest, of His father’s employees, just to be back in his father’s care. How much more for us? It’s easy for me to think that I can or will only serve God in certain ways. But this is not the case. One who is a servant has no say in what, when, how, where, things get done. They just simply follow the wishes of the Master.

Back To The Beginning.

He went back to where he started. There are times when this is impossible but when it is possible, I think it’s very important! Go back to where you started off wrong. Figure out why you went down that path and make the necessary adjustments so you don’t do it again! Backtracking can be a great tool to keep us from backsliding! I’m sure as the boy traveled back home, he remembered certain parties, women, “friends” that helped lead him astray. The trip home was a lesson in remembering how much he lost. He grew from this time traveling back home. He became wiser, more mature, and turned his loss into gain.

Don’t Pay Out Without A Payoff!

I must admit that I have wasted invaluable lessons by not taking time to learn the necessary lessons God had for me. Let me encourage you that in each difficult time you pass through, make note of the mistakes; no sense in paying twice! You wouldn’t do it at the store, why do it in life? Turn your pain into gain. He came to his senses and made his mistakes pay off!

EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED IS ON THE (2)

Can you think of a time when you made a serious mistake? Do you remember how you felt? What you ate that day? What you were wearing? What you were listening to? What you were watching?

How about now? In a place you don’t like? What senses is God using to reveal that to you? What senses is God using to reveal Himself to you?

Does anything make sense to you right now? How much nonsense do you have in your life?

Where do you want to be? Need to be? Where are you created to be? Has God’s sense revealed that to you? If so, why have you not obeyed?

How much of your will is still alive? Why not let your last will and testament be to please God in everything?

Have you ever died to your flesh and sinfulness? How do you die daily? Are you more dead than alive?

How have you changed your environment for Christ? Has your environment adversely affected you? How does your environment reflect your current standing with God? Do you think it does reflect your standing with God?

If you could go back to the future, where would that be? What mistakes would you fix? What do you need to take a mental journey back and take note of? What lessons can you pass onto someone else?

Is there any way that you are paying twice or three times for something? Why not end the trend now? How can you make your mistakes pay off? What will you do with it?

Observations Of A Prodigal #3

Prodigal

14 He was broke, a terrible famine struck that land, and he felt desperately hungry and in need. 15 He got a job with one of the locals, who sent him into the fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man felt so miserably hungry that he wished he could eat the slop the pigs were eating. Nobody gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16

Lost.

Ever been spent? Completely wasted? Well that’s what this kid was. Everything. Everybody. Gone. For some reason it’s much easier to spend than to save. It’s much, much easier to lose than to find. Ever lost your eyeglasses that were on your head? Or how about the car keys in your pocket?

It’s one thing to lose something but quite another to throw it away. And that’s what this kid really did. He threw it all away. There was no thought of the future. No thought of any consequence. He didn’t do any retirement or nest egg.Not just the money either.

Thrown Away.

He threw away years of relationship with his family and friends. He threw away his reputation. He threw away time and opportunity. There was never a thought in his mind of being in need because he forgot a crucial and vital principle: you can’t enjoy the blessing of relationship without being in right relationship.

The boy left home where he never had a need go unmet. Now he’s out in the middle of nowhere with nothing. How is it that nowhere and nothing seem to be neighboring states? But what happens? This kid just takes it upon himself to try to meet his own needs.

Wow, is this a revelation or what? How many times do I try to do that? My relationship with God can be so/so and then instead of returning to Him, I just try to make life better myself. Again, it’s the numbing, anesthetic of pleasure. The pleasure was worth the pain to him, at least for a little while. I know for me that I can seem to bury my pain in any pleasure, which only postpones my pain. Instead I should bear my pain to God, which would secure my ultimate pleasure.

(Re)Member of The Family.

Membership has it’s privileges. The boy didn’t have his privileges because he left the house. He didn’t want to be there and that left him wanting. He didn’t feel like He needed dad any longer and that left him needy. So what does he do? Instead of going home, he joins another country. He takes on a new membership plan. Doesn’t really research it all too well. No time for that. Rush in because he needs a rush. He takes a job feeding pigs. Pigs of all things. He’s a Jewish boy! This is unheard of. This was the ultimate culmination of his prodigal life: dining with the swine. Except, he didn’t even dine.

You see, when you get that low and desperate, you’d do anything right? Anything but admit you’re wrong. That’s why he was still in that situation. One thing leads to another and somehow, someway, you feel like you can fix it. Get the fix and then everything will be all right. But that’s not the case.

No one would give him anything. He was giving the pigs what he had. At least they (the pigs) were eating, but not him. Can you imagine? He is worse off than a pig. Famine is all about location. He didn’t have to go hungry. He just had to go home! But that was too much to consider for a time.

EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED IS ON THE (2)

Can you remember (and maybe that’s the key word remember), a time when you were completely wasted? Not just on drugs or alcohol, but what about on life? Or how about emotionally or spiritually spent? Write it out.

Did your pleasure cause you pain? Does your pain cause you to seek pleasure? What pain do you have? What pleasures do you seek outside of God?

What’s at stake for you? What would you be willing to lose? What wouldn’t you be willing to lose? What’s the key to having the joy you desire?

How have you tried to have the benefits of a relationship with God without having a good relationship to God?

To what have you joined yourself to? In what way are you practicing your membership in God’s kingdom? In what way have you joined yourself to something or someone else that is not of God?

What do you feel like needs to be fixed and why? How far are you willing to go to have it fixed? Are you willing to be broken?